Welcome to Lynnhaven Colony Congregational ChurchPastor's Blog - Thoughts from Rev. Kimberly Hodges
*This sermon delivered on Facebook live, Sunday January 7th as church was canceled due to snow.*
I understand that thinking right now about being dipped into a river could send chills up your spine – we are still not breaking freezing the point and I’ve only seen few patches of rivers here with unfrozen waters. However, today, we are talking about Jesus’ baptism by water.
It’s a ritual that many of us have experienced – as the one being baptized, as the parents of the one being baptized, or witnessing a baptism. Some of us remember our baptisms and some of us don’t. How often do we think back on our baptisms? If we were a baby when we were baptized, then thinking back on it doesn’t come with specific memories, but perhaps that random picture that was displayed in your childhood home. Did you ever ask your parents why they had you baptized? If you were old enough to remember your baptism, then perhaps you intentionally decided to be baptized. What were your reasons for doing so?
We celebrate baptisms of all ages at Lynnhaven Colony – we don’t age discriminate – we will baptize infants and adults. For us, we say that baptism is an outward and visible sign of the grace of God – it is welcoming someone into the care of Christ’s church, the sign and seal of their participation in God’s forgiveness, and the beginning of their growth into full Christian faith and discipleship. It means that, as a part of God’s family, you are loved, you are wanted – we recognize no one is perfect, we all make mistakes, and we will work together to learn and to grow toward our best selves as God created us.
As a pastor, baptism is one of the most delightful parts of the job, because it is welcoming someone into the broader church family and affirming that they are wanted and loved.
Jesus set the precedent for this, as with many things.
Jesus’ baptism affirmed his place as God’s Divine Offspring and affirmed his place as the Messiah, the Christ, for God’s people and his place among and alongside humanity. Look at the Divine response: you are in the family, you are loved, you are affirmed.
Jesus’ baptism is a highpoint in his ministry. At that moment, he is recognized as the Messiah, as God’s Son, and God’s message of affirmation and love and pride come upon him – and then he releases all that to other people in the years that follow. David Lose points out that “…as Jesus casts out unclean spirits, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and welcomes the outcast, he will only do to others what has already been done to him, telling them via word and deed that they, too, are beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased.”
At Jesus’ darkest hour, when he was nailed to a piece of wood and he was tempted to think God had broken this promise, and yet Jesus was affirmed again that God loved him dearly and had not abandoned him.
In our darkest times, we may be tempted to forget the baptismal promise, and yet we can learn from Jesus’ darkest hour that God’s love will indeed not leave us.
As Jesus’ baptism affirmed his place, so does ours. Our baptism affirms our place among God’s people.
Even the most introverted human soul has a need to feel that they are connected to others and affirmed, whether “others” means two other people or 2,000 other people. You introverts out there are loving this morning – being able to “go” to church but in the comfort of your home!
We live in an age of constant available affirmation – from Facebook likes to Instagram hearts to awards for simply showing up – we can get addicted to affirmation. Even the most level-headed of us can get carried away with seeing our online post received 200 likes! 200 people like what’s happening in our life!
Personal confession moment: I kept checking yesterday’s Facebook live post because it approached 700 people reached and 400 views! It’s exciting on one hand because that many people know about Lynnhaven Colony’s presence and our message of inclusion for all people in Christ’s body – and on the other hand I also know that a Facebook live video is fleeting. (Even as we have xxx people watching right now and I’m sure some others will watch later – because we all know who you are who are still sleeping…no judgment…I know that this video is nothing permanent.)
Our baptisms are a lasting affirmation that we belong to the body of Christ, and that affirmation is going nowhere. Scripture and life experiences tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)
- No matter where you move, no matter who you marry, no matter what job you obtain, no matter what wonderfully photogenic meal you are served, the affirmation of your baptism, your belonging to and acceptance in the body of Christ will not leave you. This affirmation and acceptance is something nothing on social media can offer, because it will not fade.
It is good for us to remember that for ourselves and for those around us – the others in our family of faith. We, as individuals and a community, are not always perfect and on our best behavior – we may sometimes get on one another’s nerves – and yet we belong to this and the collective body of Christ.
When we baptize babies, we as a congregation are affirming our commitment to love and nurture that entire family in the love of Christ. When we baptize adults, we are affirming the same thing PLUS affirming their intention to be active in the body of Christ. In both cases, it is an acceptance and welcome – just as you are – into the family of Christ.
Baptism is affirmation. It is affirmation that God’s love, as shown through Jesus the Christ, will transform you – not change you were created – but teach you how to be more thoughtful, merciful, and loving.
Very simply put in the words of David Lose, “Baptism is the promise that God will never let you go.”
*sermon inspired from http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/baptism-of-our-lord-b/
Scripture: Mark 1:4-11
In preparing for today’s message and reading the scripture, I couldn’t help but to keep giggling. It’s not that this story of John the Baptist, also known as John the Witness, explaining himself to the priests is so hilarious. It’s because of the repeated question, “who are you?”
Back at Halloween, my 4 year old niece tried on her costume ahead of time and my sister recorded my niece on her phone to send to me. My sister was making a video; my niece thought she was live video chatting with me. What resulted was my sister asking my niece “Who are you?” – trying to prompt her to say “Peppa pig!” – and my niece just repeating what my sister was saying, thinking her mom was telling her what to say. My niece, with a pig snout hanging over her face, looking rather confused, kept repeating “Who are you?” into the camera.
That video is one of the most innocent renderings of a greater existential question… “Who are you?”
It’s that question which John the Witness faces repeatedly in today’s Gospel lesson. The religious leaders of the region of Bethany confronted John with this question because he was unabashedly proclaiming the coming of the Son of God, Jesus.
He was baptizing people, helping them to prepare and set their minds to receive God’s message through Jesus.
John’s response to the religious leaders’ repeated questioning of “who are you?” is significant. His first response here was not who he was – but who he was not. “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah. I am not the prophet.” Before John responded with an affirmative of who he was, he responded with a negative of who he was not.
In our Advent devotionals, today’s author makes a great point about John’s response. Matt Laney states, “John’s clear and emphatic no clears the way for an equally emphatic yes for his true calling to be ‘a voice crying out in the wilderness.’”
Jan Schnell Rippentrop (workingpreacher.org) explains that, in John’s stating who he was not, he reflected who Jesus is.
- Jesus is the Son of God.
- Jesus will baptize with the spirit.
- Jesus is the Messiah.
- Jesus is to be exalted.
John’s “no” made room for his “yes” – it made room for who he was, which was a witness to who Jesus is.
Last week we read about Jesus being like a thief – taking from us the things we don’t need. As individuals and collectively as Christ’s family – perhaps our ego, our self-reliance, our pride are some things we can ask be taken from us so that we know what and who we are not – so that more room can be made to glorify and witness to who Jesus is and what God’s spirit does.
What do we need for Jesus, the thief, to take from us – what void or “no” do we need to recognize so that we can live more fully and answer “yes.” I think we’ll find a great amount of joy in doing so.
This congregation already finds joy in such a variety of places. Again, looking at the word responses on our bulletin front, we see family as the top answer, but also there were so many wonderful responses about ways of giving of ourselves. We find joy in giving of our creativity, giving of our time, giving of our resources to help others.
I dare say that you cannot give of yourself and find joy in doing so, unless you know who you are to give.
In a conversation this week with a dear person, she was telling me about facing an upcoming difficult day in her life. At first thought, she decided she would just get through the day and then have some wine that evening to crawl into bed and put herself to sleep. But then – she thought “no. That’s not me. I don’t hide from life. I don’t hide from challenging times.”
She decided instead to spend that evening with friends, as she normally would. She may still have a glass of wine, but not use it that evening as a hiding place.
Her answer of “I am not…” gave room to the possibility of “I am…” She recognized her “no” so that she could more fully and joyfully say “yes.”
Matt Laney states, “Advent is about saying no to roles, duties, and callings that are not ours. No, I’m not responsible for that. No, I am not going to be your doormat. No, I am not going to be all things to all people. No, I can’t save this person or fix this situation. No, I am not the messiah.”
We must first recognize who we are not, so that we can joyfully be who we are.
- I am not responsible for x, I am responsible for y.
- I am not going to be your doormat; I am going to stand up for and respect myself.
- I am not going to be all things to all people; I am going to be a listening ear for my family.
- I cannot fix this entire situation; I can make sure they have food.
- I am not the messiah; I am a follower of Christ.
Our “no”s make way for our “yes”s. John the Witness set the example for this.
As we prepare for Christmas in this season of Advent, we should ask ourselves who we are not. Answer that first, so that you can more fully answer “who are you?” Let your answer be Christ-led and joy-filled!
Scripture: John 1:6-8,19-28
If you ever want to talk about impatience, it is certainly found in combining children and Christmas. (…or in children waiting to do their part of a Christmas pageant!) Advent calendars can help children (and adults) visibly count down the days until Christmas morning. We can do that because it is our human timing of days and weeks – and we can see the number of days get less and less.
2 Peter tells us that God’s timing is not our timing. God is simultaneously in the past, in the present, and in the future. And the years and years which stand between us now and the past or the future are but a blink in God’s realm.
God’s presence is already on Christmas morning, is already at the relief of any sorrow, is already in our actions of justice and peace – God is patiently waiting on us to get there, too. And, 2 Peter tells us that we find our salvation in the patience of our Lord. We find salvation from the things in this world that drag us down because God’s patience for us allows us to learn from our mistakes and grow toward a better world – a better peace.
In the meantime, the day of the Lord – the ultimate revealing of God’s presence among us – comes like a thief in the night. Funny thing about a thief – not only is their arrival surprising and jarring – they take some of your things. It’s the defining factor of a thief. If the Lord is coming like a thief, what is the Lord taking?
The Lord will take away the old order of things – the old earth – and replace it with a new way.
The Good News: We don’t have to wait for December 25th to arrive in order to start implementing a new way of doing things. We can use this season to think about what we would like for God Incarnate, Jesus, to take from us so that we can overcome the darkness of this world… and also what we can do to help get rid of those things.
- What sorrow do we need taken away?
- What misunderstandings are clouding our minds that we could do without?
- What bad habits do we need stolen?
- What fears about failure need to be removed so that we more often take a chance toward living?
Advent is a time for us to be reminded of God’s very real presence among us – even in the form of a baby. As we await the literal date where we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we can learn from God’s patience with us and work towards a life with less evil, less darkness in it and more light, more love.
Scripture: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
In reading today’s text, I think of a summer youth program I was involved with for so long called Workcamp. We would sleep in a high school for a week and do minor home repairs in the community. Each morning, one of the camp leaders would sound the alarm over the school sound system and then cheerfully say, “Wakey, Wakey, Campers! It’s time for another wonderful day of Workcamp!” And then, they would play some ridiculous song like “Manamana” from Sesame Street or “Where is my hairbrush?” from Veggie Tales.
It was rather annoying, but also rather effective.
After reading today’s Scripture and hearing Jesus say repeatedly “Keep awake!,” I can hear God saying to all of us “Wakey, Wakey, Believers! It’s time for another hope-filled season of Advent!”
This first Sunday of Advent begins the church’s season of anticipation. As Patricia E DeJong states, it is a time that “jolts the church out of Ordinary Time with the invasive news that it’s time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness.”
It’s the time of year we are reminded of the need for God Incarnate, Jesus, to live on this earth. It reminds us of the two-sided coin of despair and hope.
In Texts for Preaching explains it well: “…Advent begins not on a note of joy, but of despair. Humankind has reached the end of its rope. All our schemes for self-improvement, for extracting ourselves from the traps we have set for ourselves, have come to nothing. We have now realized at the deepest level of our being that we cannot save ourselves, and that, apart from the intervention of God, we are totally and irretrievably lost.” (Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 1)
Advent reminds us that we anticipate Jesus’ birth because we needed his earthly presence to show us the right path. Even beyond the specific expectation of Jesus’ birth, we are constantly faced with longings and and hope for renewal in our lives. Repeatedly we find ourselves in need of waking up! We need to wake up out of our despair and contentedness and move towards hope.
And that is what this first Sunday in Advent focuses on: hope.
Last week during worship, Debi was great to prompt everyone to think of their hopes, loves, joys, and peace. The word art on the front of the bulletin shows the result of the “hopes” – the more a word was entered, the bigger it appears. There was an overwhelming response for peace and health, with mentions of connection, hugs, etc.
Those are the things that we either don’t have in our lives currently or we want them to continue. We may or may not currently feel the promise of those things in the future and so we hope for them.
Our Scripture selections today show God’s people of past generations waking up to their need for God’s hope:
- In Isaiah, the Israelites, were at the end of their rope with despair – having been exiled and seeing their cities destroyed. Yet, having seen God’s great power at work previously, they were longing and hoping for God’s intervention and presence. They knew God’s power made possible the magnificent moves among the people and they so desperately hoped for that again.
- Israel’s pleas are not so distant, when we consider in our lifetimes people have experienced the Holocaust, genocide, temple shootings, and the like. We, too, find ourselves crying “Oh, Lord, that you would tear open the heavenly realm and make yourself infinitely known!”
- It is only the people who are awake to the despair in those events, though, that cry out for the Lord’s intervention. The people who are asleep to the despair and injustices, the people who don’t see those things, are not the people sounding the alarm. We need to be the people who are awake…Jesus commands us to be!
- In Mark, Jesus was reassuring the audience that IF THEY STAY AWAKE, then they will see the coming of God’s kingdom. Weeks ago we discussed what the “second coming of Christ” could be and how the language of trumpets in the sky and gates opening would certainly speak to the people of that time, indicating a triumphal victory. Today, though, we focus on the active waiting, the awakening, and the hoping that Jesus instructs us to have.
- In these verses, Jesus says to his listeners that they must keep alert and LOOK for evidence of God. Just as nature gives us evidence of growth and changing seasons, such as the fig tree, we also have evidence around us of God’s presence and work. We simply need to be awake to it.
- Being awake and aware means actively bearing fruit in the meantime and working to bring about God’s kingdom. Jesus was encouraging his listeners to be motivated by their hopes.
In modern slang, you may hear the term “woke.” Someone is described as “woke” if they have a “heightened state of political, social, and cultural awareness.” Jesus was basically telling his followers to “stay woke.”
And so we must “stay woke” and be motivated by our hopes. Motivated toward peace, toward interpersonal connections, toward more hugs, toward good health. Looking for ways to reach those goals with God’s powerful help.
In this Advent season, we must stay awake with our expectations. If we are not awake to look for that evidence of God’s, then we will risk becoming more discouraged. Rev. Kathryn Matthews (ucc.org) says “we look ahead with hope and expectation knowing that God is near in every difficulty and heartache, and yet also far ahead of us, calling us forward into the bright new day of justice, healing, and peace for which our hearts long.”
As a writing exercise to express hope, Chaplain Liz at the Santa Clara County Jail in California, asked some of the people there who are incarcerated to write about where they came from and where they are going. The following poem is an example from that writing. It is their personal Advent – acknowledging they were or are in despair, being awake to the realities in their life, and having hope for the future.
I am from the front yard.
I am from gunshots, running from cops.
I am from a broken home.
I am from a weed plant smokes that if you hit it you would choke.
I am from BBQs that end in fights and cops come and someone goes to jail tonight.
I am from where the fear of God is not number one.
I am from soups and beans were what we had and if you cried you got slapped.
I am from drug task kicking in the door.
I am from gunshots at our house, cops coming, someone hit.
But that’s not the end of my story…
I am to a loving wife.
I am to showing my wife that I am worth her love.
I am to being better than I was.
I am to God’s loving hands.
I am to never hurting my family again and making up for what I have done.
I am to better days where people see people for people not color or race and gangs see people not red or blue.
I am to the best I can be, not and until I meet God.
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-4, Mark 13:24-37
A disclaimer: for all you grammar and literacy buffs out there, I am probably going to make your skin crawl today with interchanging metaphor/analogy/comparison. I wanted to give you fair warning and ask that you show me grace.
A few weeks back in the teen class – during a week where the “big kids” (aka, adults) outnumbered the students – the lesson title was “Is God male?” and of course that led to discussion about names and analogies we use for God. Since then, you may have noticed a poster outside the sanctuary asking you to write your favorite analogy for God.
Your answers are wide-ranging! “mother hen…father/mother/parent…voice at midnight…binding force…the unconditional love of a dog”
Because this Divine Presence in the world is unique unto Itself and not something we can easily see, we need comparisons. We need the metaphors and analogies to help bring definition and understanding to God. Our Scripture today shows how people throughout time have used analogies/metaphors/comparisons to describe God’s character – God is our Rock, our Deliverer, our Shepherd, a Mother Hen, the Way, the Light, the Vine, the Beginning and End. We need all of these analogies in order to understand the full character of God.
There are both good and bad consequences to using metaphors beyond coming up with cool imagery. Lauren Winner, professor at Duke Divinity School, wrote about this in her book, Wearing God, which some women read last year in Circle I.
For instance, in medical studies, such as one done by the University of Miami, researchers have found a correlation between having a loving analogy of God and a person’s health. People who have compassionate and loving imagery of God have better immunity to illnesses. (Wearing God, p7)
This doesn’t mean it’s an easy fix if we are diagnosed with a cancer – that we can say a few prayers to the Great Physician and we’ll be healed. What it does mean, though, is that our ingrained imagery of how we see God affects us emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.
There are social consequences to our images of God. Theologians Mary Daly and Judith Plaskow note that, for Christians, the characteristics we attribute to God will be those characteristics we most value in society. “So if we say that a core characteristic of God is mercy, we will value merciful people. If we imagine God as one who nurtures, we will value nurturing. If we pray to a God who is a property owner (as in the parables of the vineyard), we will admire people who own houses and land. If we focus instead on God as a homeless man [as in Matthew 8:20 where Jesus says “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”], we might accord homeless people more esteem.” (Lauren Winner, Wearing God) Certainly something to think about.
For people who see God as judgmental and exclusionary and vengeful, then, sadly, they will feel “right” in following those ideals in life.
Our imagery of God and how we live into those images matters.
We need to be aware of all the consequences of our metaphors. If we use the same metaphors repeatedly then we could get stuck in our understanding of our Lord. We could only see God as a 1-dimensional character and not the mysterious, wondrous, and all-encompassing Divine Being that God is.
In using the same metaphors repeatedly, we also run the risk of worshiping that sole concept or idea more than we worship the source, God. At the risk of giving a ridiculous example, imagine a church that only talked of God as “mother hen,” named themselves the Church of the Holy Hen, and had chickens as their central image. Would they be worshiping chickens or God? Lauren Winner in Wearing God warns of this, saying, “…the repetition of familiar images can have the opposite effect [of the benefits]. The words become placeholders, and [we] can speak them so inattentively that [we] let them obscure the reality whose place they hold. [We] repeat them, [and] restrict [our] prayer to that small cupful of images.”
One of the most prevalent comparisons for God is Holy Father. I am sure that many of you, the majority of the time, think of God as Father, and please hear me say I don’t think that’s a bad image. However, I had an extremely loving and wonderful earthly father. For me, the imagery of “Holy Father” brings up guidance and love and good discipline and joy. For others, though, that image of “Father” brings up very conflicting feelings that could be coupled with fear from abuse or sorrow from abandonment. For that reason, we need to use multiple metaphors for God, so that we don’t worship an imagery over the actual source – so that we don’t let God become a 1-dimensional character – so that we don’t risk underestimating all that God is.
We need to let our metaphors grow and expand and be fluid as we grow and expand in our spirituality. At different points in our lives, we need to rely on different images of God that fill out the Divine’s character. If we are facing a major illness or injury, we need the image of God as the Great Physician. If we are feeling attacked or in danger, we need the image of God as Mother Hen, extending her wings over her chicks. If we are having trouble finding direction in life, we need the image of God as Shepherd.
And we need to let new metaphors enter our language as we learn more about life. Winner reflected on her realization that she was depending on metaphors of God she learned as a child and said, “I began to realize that my pictures of God were … like a seventh-grade health textbook from 1963: moderately interesting for what it might say about culture and science in 1963, but generally out of date.” She realized that the language that worked for her decades ago needed expanding upon.
Metaphors for God are best used when stacked. In Deuteronomy 32, God is identified as the father “who created you,” the rock that saved you, and the God who gave you birth. In noting this stacking of metaphors, Janet Martin Soskice writes, “Both paternal and maternal imagery are given in quick succession, effectively ruling out literalism, as does the equally astonishing image of God as a rock giving birth.”
Using these metaphors gives us puzzle pieces that create the whole picture of God. Looking at the images written on the board here, God demonstrates connection as The Binding Force. God demonstrates loving protection as a Mother Hen. God gives love as a Parent. God gives wisdom and guidance as the Light. God provides joy as the unconditional love of a dog.
- One image that wasn’t written on the board, but an anonymous member mentioned to me was a fondue fountain. The idea being that when we immerse ourselves into a God experience, we leave with a bit more of God within (or on) us.
We need all of those pieces because if I think of the Light, that doesn’t make me think of joy. And while I do feel joy in thinking of a dog, I don’t think of guidance in life or connectivity like I do when I imagine a parent or a binding force. We need to stack our metaphors of God so that we have a more full view of this wondrous Divinity.
One thing we learn from Scripture and experiences and metaphors is that we are in relationship with God. So, when you lean on any of these images of God, think about what it says of your part in the relationship. If God is the Great Physician, we are the patients – Are you following Doctor’s orders for better health? If God is our Mother Hen, we are the chicks – Are you letting those wings comfort and protect you? If God is the Vine, we are the branches – Are you staying connected in the ways that bring you nourishment and growth?
We play a role in these images. We are in relationship with God. In that relationship is where we find guidance and disciple from our Parent, we find connection from the Binding Force, we find wisdom from the Light, we find healing from the Physician, and we find unconditional love like that of a dog.
This week, as many of us will gather with loved ones, friends, and family, as we give thanks for the ways God is active in our lives, let us also give thanks for the people who have given us positive images of God. Think about what metaphor for God is your “go to” and challenge yourself to think of God in a different image as well. I hope you will be thankful that you did.
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 “For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, and all his ways are just.
Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Isaiah 64:8 “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Matthew 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Revelation 21:6 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
On Thursday this week, I joked with our church secretary, Stephanie, and asked her to write the sermon for me. She let out a good cackle on that one. I told her the overall topic – on anxieties in our waiting – and she “oh! Well, let me tell you about waiting!” And we ended up having a really great conversation about how life teaches us to wait.
If you are newer here, you may not know that Stephanie has essentially been hobbling around the office since last winter. She twisted her ankle last Jan/Feb and after months of trying to stay off her foot, going to physical therapy, and enduring multiple tests, she’s going in tomorrow for her second spinal injection for bulging discs.
On Thursday, she told me how the past months have taught her waiting. After all the doctors appointments – waiting for the appointment, waiting in the waiting room, and waiting for results – she is an expert in waiting. She says she doesn’t get bothered so much anymore with the waiting – she’s learned how to slow down and simply “be” – she’s learned how to wait.
Both of our Scripture readings today deal with people who are waiting – and are anxious. They haven’t learned how to wait. The audience of Matthew’s narrative was anxious that they had missed the Messiah – and Jesus was trying to reassure them that he was indeed the Messiah. The audience of 1Thessalonians was anxious that they had missed the second coming of the Messiah. Paul was trying to reassure them that they would indeed experience the fulfilment of God’s plan, no matter when they died.
While we can all absolutely relate to the struggle of waiting, the context and language of these two Scriptures may be a little harder to relate to. Hopefully by hearing my questions, you’ll be reminded that it’s ok to ask challenging questions of the Bible – it always only leads to better understanding.
- First, I have some questions about the Matthew narrative. (This is a safe space, right?) For example, why did the “prepared/prudent” bridesmaids not share their oil with the “Ill-prepared” bridesmaids? I hear Stephanie Tanner’s voice from Full House in my head – “How rude!”
- I really appreciate David Lose’s words regarding this. (http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/pentecost-22-a/) He says “The parable seems, quite frankly, a little unfair. All the bridesmaids brought oil, all waited, all fell asleep. And the decision about who gets in comes down to who anticipated the bridegroom would be this incredibly late and so brought more oil.”
- The setting for this parable puts a gap between us as readers and Matthew’s audience, as well, because it is the wedding traditions of the time – the groom would go off in search of the bride, while the bridesmaids and others prepared the ceremony, and upon the couple’s return the celebration would go on for days. So, that would mean that the groom would only return when he had found the bride.
- David Henson asks, “If the bridegroom is already with his bride when he arrives, then how can this parable be interpreted as the return of Christ for his bride?” In this parable, there is no mention of the bride but it would be assumed that if the groom returned, he had his bride with him. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2014/11/the-breaking-of-the-bridesmaids-how-scripture-undermines-a-parable/)
- Henson suggests that this parable isn’t about the return of Christ. Perhaps it is instead about those who are following Jesus’ message and those who are not. The concern in Jerusalem of that time was who was following Jesus and who wasn’t – who was “in” and who was “out” – this could be a parable addressing that concern. The concern of who recognized the Messiah and who didn’t.
- Nevertheless, the parable makes a point about waiting and preparedness: that it matters how you wait. What we are aware of or what we aren’t aware of while we are waiting matters.
- Second, in the 1 Thessalonians narrative, the audience is concerned about the timing of when they die and the second coming of Jesus the Christ on earth. Paul uses language that paints a picture similar to that of a king entering a town, complete with trumpets and fanfare. It is language that the Thessalonians would understand as meaning that a savior is coming to restore peace to the land.
- That literal language doesn’t particularly speak to me – possibly you. I lean towards the language of John M. Buchanan commentary from Feasting on the Word (Year A, Vol 4). Buchanan says “Jesus Christ comes when Christian people live in hope and never give up. Jesus Christ comes when faithful disciples express love and compassion and work for justice. Jesus Christ comes when critically ill people know they are ultimately safe in God’s love. Heaven breaks into earth when faithful women and men live in hope and give themselves to the work of the kingdom.”
I am sure that I could ask any person here what you are waiting for and you would have an answer. Let’s be honest, some of you are waiting and wondering how long service will be today so that you can eat. (There are pimento cheese sandwiches in there!) Some of you are waiting and hoping for a phone call or text from a loved one saying they’re sorry. Some are waiting in high expectation for medical results. Some are waiting for the day when you don’t worry about your child or grandchild’s safety at school. Some of you are waiting for “the other shoe to drop,” because life is going really good for you right now and it’s hard to accept.
The thing about waiting is that it means we have a future hope. It means we hope that there are still pimento cheese sandwiches on the plate when we get in line. It means we hope that the friend or family member will simply admit that they hurt our feelings. It means we hope for an “all clear” from the doctor. It means we hope for the day that random acts of mass violence aren’t a reality. It means we hope for the day that we can trust in God’s provision, no matter the circumstances.
And what we do from the waiting to the fulfilment of our hope matters. We need to balance the “waiting in the now” and “hoping in the future.” We cannot constantly live in the mindset of the future or else we will miss what is happening right in front of us.
- We’ll miss the pieces of wisdom and moments of fellowship found in the pews.
- We’ll miss the lessons learned in how to productively express our emotions.
- We’ll miss the ways our friends and family support us in love.
- We’ll miss the crossing over of political lines to reach a compromise and cooperation.
- We’ll miss the joys that are right in front of us. Now.
At the close of today’s worship, we’re singing a new hymn. The words are inspired by Julian of Norwich, a theologian. Last week, Chantal had said to me “All will be well” in the context of I-don’t-remember-what conversation – but one that included some anxiety. Those words are the start to Julian of Norwich’s famous quote “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Her radical optimism permeated her theology that when the fulfilment of God is reached and Jesus’ message of love and mercy reigns on this earth, all will be well.
Take heart, dear friends, in your anxieties and in your waiting. Don’t miss out on the things that happen in between. Be diligent in doing what you can do to bring Jesus’ message of love and mercy to this world; and then rest in knowing God’s presence in around you. For all will be well.
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18