Lamps Trimmed and Burning
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
November 12, 2017
Scriptures: Psalm 78:1-7 CEB, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 CEB and Matthew 25:1-13 CEB
Now days we can read blogs and listen to podcasts daily, rather than having to wait until next month’s issue of our favorite periodical. The whole world has access to share their thoughts and opinions via the internet, and one must be mindful to read carefully because some of it is purely opinion, not based in fact or scriptural integrity. Not every “expert” is really an expert. Everyone has a point of view and wise readers will bear that in mind. It takes some education to be able to discern bad theology. Hearing things that are actually going to lead people astray should be disturbing to us, if we are paying attention. This week I read a blog that was a positive and we saw a scene in an otherwise good television show that bothered me so much I took notes so I could tell you about it.
The blog, by Rev. Jim Burklo, was titled The Church: A Fitness Center for Love. Jim wrote: “Going to church is not a spectator sport. It is a gymnasium where we work up a spiritual sweat so that we can get good at love. It takes practice and effort to build up the muscles for mindful Christian prayer and service.”
I wonder just how many people “work up a spiritual sweat” when they come to church? How many people do more than come to watch the pastor pray, the choir sing, the pianist play, and think thank goodness, I made it through the sermon without nodding off? You see, just going through the motions of “going to church” leaves one spiritually malnourished. Spiritual malnourishment is the same as being a bridesmaid who fails to bring the extra oil.
You’ve heard me say that I wish Jesus would return today, but part of me wonders just how many Christians have fallen asleep as we wait for the Master to return? How many have gotten distracted by the cares of this world? How many have fallen prey to worshiping idols and if they do come to church it is more about watching than about worshiping?
While watching an episode of The Good Doctor there was a scene that really bothered me. Mind you, this is normally a pretty good show. In it, Shaun Murphy, a young autistic surgeon who has savant syndrome, joins the surgical unit in a hospital and we watch his successes and failures as he brings his giftedness as a surgeon mixed with the challenges of communicating with patients and staff because of autism.
The scene that challenged me was where he tells a roughly 12-year-old boy that he has cancer. The boy says he’s not afraid of dying and when Shaun asks if it’s because he believes he’s going to heaven, the boy says no. It’s because he doesn’t believe in God. He preferred to believe there is no God and everything is purely random. He stated that if there was a God, he would have to believe that God gave him the cancer.
So here is a scene that projects a viewpoint of no faith being better than faith in an omnipotent God that would cause bad things to happen. How would you discuss this scene with your child? How would you have a conversation with a non-believing friend that could make room for faith despite the existence of evil and suffering? This is going to be difficult if you don’t have extra oil for your lamp. This is going to be difficult if your spiritual muscles have atrophied and you’ve been phoning it in. This is much the reason for so many people saying they have no religion. They reason that life is what it is and then we die. End of story.
How much better would it be if everyone, including the boy with cancer, had a sense of the love of God surrounding them in such a way that no matter what suffering they encounter, they are not alone. The community of believers, the Church, comes alongside them in their hour of need and loves them through it, providing support and prayers every step of the way. There is power in prayer!
How much better it would be if each of us trusted our Lord and loved with our whole hearts rather than wandering off to see what’s over the next rise, forgetting how easily we can get lost and never find our way back. We chase that shiny object until the next one comes along and before we know it, we have lost the habits of daily devotion and prayer. We have stopped exercising our spiritual muscle that gives us the strength to love the prickly ones, the stranger, the black sheep of the family, the one who hurt us and now we just can’t bring ourselves to forgive. Now we live in a world of us and them, as if God had created good people and bad. Before we know it, the world is one of duality and we begin to separate ourselves from what we perceive to be a threat. We don’t want to be challenged to change or to be able to account for our spiritual life. We just want to go and watch – or stay home and watch, as the case may be.
Church is not a spectator sport. It is a full disclosure, contact with a hurting world, surround each other with the love of Christ in our hour of greatest need activity powered by the Holy Spirit. It requires spiritual strength gained through connection with God. Sometimes that is filtered through other people, but the Holy Spirit is still the source.
Being able to see God at work in the world is a sign that your spiritual reserves are well fueled. Being able to read, watch movies, television shows, and plays and reflect theologically on their content is a sign that you are well fueled.
God can speak to us through anything. The key is to be paying attention. The primary medium is through Scripture. We need to read the Bible and reflect on what God is saying to us, but not before reflecting upon the context of the writer, the form, and who the audience was. We live in a different world. We hope that slavery is no longer the norm. We cannot take everything literally but know that there are deep truths embedded there for us.
We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. No one knows. The early Christians thought it would be in their lifetimes, but here we are over 2000 years later, still waiting. Don’t give up hope, but don’t blindly bet that going to church will guarantee you to be “hell-proofed.” All the bridesmaids were waiting. Not everyone was prepared for the long wait and when they rushed out at the last minute to get more fuel, they missed the window.
The world has called Christian believers fools and weak-minded. The world today tells us that it’s better to believe there is no God than to wrestle with the notion that bad things do happen to good people. We can have faith AND big questions for God. The varieties of denominations calling each other names, shunning one another because of differences and rejecting their baptism and sacraments only gives evidence that evil will stop at nothing to keep our hearts divided; from being devoted to lifting up all God’s children, and serving Christ with our whole hearts in love and unity.
As you prepare for family gatherings in coming weeks, take time to pray. Ask God to transform hearts and make room at the table for the love of Christ. Ask God that forgiveness be served in large measure; even for things long in the past. May grace find its way into your heart as you listen and are tempted to judge. May the love that God has for each and every person find its way through you and help them to realize that God loves them, no matter what. May you be the role model that shines the love of Christ into a busy, stressful, sometimes violent, world. May you have eyes to see the beauty God has created and may you taste and see that the Lord is good, always and everywhere. Amen.