Here are my notes from Sunday. Thanks to all who attended the church conference in Pinole this year. I appreciate your dedication to the life of this church. The Christmas Eve Jazz Service is coming up December 24 at 7 pm. I hope you will put it on your calendars and invite a friend to join us on that evening.
Love and Joy,
A Servant Heart Matthew 25:1-13
Pastor Dan Damon, Richmond 1st UMC, 11-9-14
Eileen’s choir is singing the African-American spiritual “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.” Our choir sang it here one year. I am grateful for the music we make in service together. It lifts my spirit. Advent is coming with its theme of watching and being ready for the coming of the Christ child. We are in the closing weeks of the church year. The gospel lessons for the next three weeks are from Matthew 25.
Retell the Scripture Story
Our gospel lesson for today says the kingdom of heaven will be like this:
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God.” One way to understand the oil in this parable is to think of the oil as faith, good works, practices, or spiritual reserves that remain constant and shine during good times as well as during times of grief and waiting for God. If we look at the story this way, we can understand why the bridesmaids cannot share their oil. Just as we cannot share our spiritual reserves, development, or readiness, the bridesmaids cannot borrow these resources from others. Being ready to welcome the Christ is an individual matter, regardless of whether he comes more quickly or more slowly than we expect. We each understand the life of faith and service in our own way. We bring our own gifts and graces to the task. We live our own lives. We make our own choices. Now is the time for active discipleship. Now is the time to take the actions that future generations will thank us for. We use the oil we have. It is ours to use.
Faithful action, done now, prepares us to weather the unexpected timing of God, even as it prepares us for the great heavenly banquet. The Messiah comes in God’s time and we celebrate the feast as we bring our joys and our sorrows to the throne of grace.
In Fiddler on the Roof Tevye has ongoing talks with God. He talks to God about his lame horse, his daughter’s marital hopes, the changing culture around him. Tevye talks to God as one talks to a friend, a partner, or a spouse. He shares the immediate concerns of daily life. Will there be enough food, enough oil, enough faith, hope, and love? We get the sense that nothing in Tevye’s life is kept apart from God. He uses no lengthy, high-sounding prayers to accomplish this. He simply lives in relation to God every instant using short quips, honest pleas for help, and genuine expressions of exasperation and anger. The servant heart is represented in the character of Tevye, not because he is powerful and wealthy, but because he is faithful, hopeful, and loving. He is used by God. God [and the writers of Fiddler] created Tevye, blessed him with a family, a faith tradition, and a sense of history. Tevye lives on in us.
In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we heard Joshua challenge his people with these words: Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. The challenge comes to us today. What choice will you make today? What choices will guide you? Have you made a commitment to serve God with your life? There is nothing more important than this choice. Our choices make a difference. Our actions affect the world for good or for ill. Jesus says the servant is the greatest of all in God’s kingdom. What is your reasonable service? How will you choose?
Let us be in prayer.
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