November 12, 2017

Give me Umption in my Gumption – November 12, 2017

Passage: Matthew 25:1-13

Bible Text: Matthew 25:1-13 | Preacher: The Rev. Dr. James R. Wheeler

There was a fun camp-type song I used to like to sing in youth group and relaxed fun Christian gatherings:

Give me oil in my lamp,
keep it burning
give me oil in my lamp I pray, Hallelujah
Give me oil in my lamp it burning,
keep it burning, burning, burning
Keep it burning till the break of day

Sing Hosanna, sing Hosanna, sing Hosanna to the King of Kings;
sing Hosanna to the King

The fun thing about the song are all the silly verses that go with it:

Give me gas in my Ford, keep me truckin for the Lord

Give me wax in my board, keep me surfin for the Lord

Give me joy in heart, keep me serving

And my favorite…

Give me umption in my gumption, help me function, function, function

What recharges your battery? What gives you the reserve in your tank to move forward in this life with hope and expectation? What do you need to do in order to face a new day, to be able to be productive in your work, to be a loving presence to your friends and family? I think most of us need a good night’s sleep. We need rest and relaxation. Maybe we need that extra strong cup of coffee in the morning. Maybe we need a couple days of vacation. Maybe we need some time in quiet. Maybe we need something to make us laugh or something – a good TV show, or a movie, or a good book, or a walk outside, or exercise or music – or whatever takes you outside yourself, whatever gives you something other than your worries to think about.

Let’s move that question to the spiritual realm; what do we need to recharge our spiritual batteries? Those same things that help us recharge our personal batteries are also important to our spiritual batteries aren’t they? But there’s more. To recharge our spiritual batteries we need also to plug into a strength beyond our selves. We recharge our spiritual batteries through connecting to God in prayer. I hope what we’re doing this morning, this weekly gathering for worship, to receive Christ’s Body and Blood, to sing God’s praise and to share in fellowship with one another is recharging your spiritual battery. There are also many other helpful spiritual practices to put fuel in our tanks: daily prayer, reading and studying the Scriptures, meditating on and praying with the Scriptures, service to and with those in need, giving some of our financial substance back to God in our tithes and offerings, having a spiritual mentor or guide, meditation, retreats, spiritual reading, etc. Those spiritual practices, as well as personally keeping in touch with God on a daily basis help us to recharge our spiritual batteries, so that there’s something left in the tank when we need it.

I think that’s a good part of what Jesus’ parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins today is about. He told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like 10 bridesmaids who took their lamps to greet the bridegroom for the wedding party, but the groom was delayed. 5 of the young women had extra oil for their lamps, but 5 did not. When the bridegroom finally arrived the 5 foolish ones wanted to borrow oil from the wise ones who were prepared. But they didn’t have enough oil to spare and so the 5 foolish bridesmaids had to look for a late-night convenience store but by the time they came back it was too late and they missed out on the party.

It’s not that the wise virgins were stingy. It’s not really possible to share one’s spiritual preparedness with someone else. One person’s virtue can’t be given away to another who doesn’t have it.

Jesus’ parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish bridesmaids is part of a section of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24 & 25, the second largest discourse by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The focus of this “sermon” is on the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus begins by talking about the Kingdom of Heaven breaking forth at some point in human history to usher in God’s ultimate reign. The disciples wonder when these things will take place. Jesus then tells them 4 parables about the coming of the Kingdom of heaven. First Jesus tells a parable of a slave in charge of his master’s affairs who, when the master is delayed, decides to mistreat his fellow servants and party and live high on the hog, until he’s surprised when his master returns unexpectedly. Today’s parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish bridesmaids is the second parable, about being having the personal resources so that one’s light can keep shining to meet that Kingdom’s day. The 3rd parable – next week’s Gospel lesson – is the parable of the talents. The King entrusts each of his servants with talents to grow and multiply before his return. The 4th and last parable in this series is about the judgment of the nations. The coming King will divide people like sheep and goat. The sheep will be those who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, visited the sick and lonely, clothed the naked and welcomed the stranger. For in doing so to the least they did it to the King himself. Likewise the goats are those who did not do those things.

In these parables Jesus is telling us that God’s Kingdom is coming. It is coming when we don’t expect it and yet we need to be ready. Elsewhere Jesus told us that God’s Kingdom is both now and not yet. It is hidden yet sometimes seen, in our midst yet never fully realized. God’s Kingdom is God’s life lived here and now in Jesus and God’s Kingdom will one day break forth in glorious light in this world. We are to hope for and embrace all the ways the Kingdom of God is here now and is still to come.

If there’s oil in our lamps we will be prepared to embrace the signs of the Kingdom’s coming. Without the oil in our lamps, if our light goes out, we may miss it. I find that God’s Kingdom often is revealed to me in people, usually in surprising and unexpected people. A friend of mine was visiting NY City with her sister and their husbands, when she happened to notice a homeless woman lying in a doorway, totally naked and it was cold outside. Instinctively and out of pity she went up to her, took off her own sweater and helped put it on her. Her husband and sister were embarrassed and wanted to prevent her. But she told me that she met Jesus in that poor, shivering, naked woman, who looked in my friend’s eyes and thanked her. We need oil in our lamp to see the moments when the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking into our midst. It may be a situation where we realize the words of scripture come to life for us. It may be an opportunity to serve Christ in another. It may be an opportunity to repent and turn away from something wrong or unhealthy. It may be just an awareness of Christ’s presence. It may be the opportunity to tell another person of God’s love. As much as we might want to, we can’t give somebody else that awareness, that readiness to see God’s Kingdom breaking through.

We also need to be ready for the Kingdom to come. Hymn 534 speaks of that Kingdom to come.

God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year;
God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

Whether we see that Kingdom some day in this world or we meet it on the other side of death, our ultimate hope as Christians is in the Lord and Christ’s Kingdom to come.

But it is not only individuals who need to have oil for our lamps and umption in our gumption. We just celebrated 275 years of St. John’s history. I wonder how many surprising and wonderful ways the people who proceeded us in St. John’s Church met Christ their Lord in surprising ways, welcoming him into their midst through service to those in need, in loving fellowship with one another, in welcoming strangers into their midst, in vibrant worship, in study and in prayer? I wonder too what opportunities to meet and greet Christ, opportunities for their light to shine, were missed because they weren’t prepared, their lamps had burned out and their reserves had dried up.

When I see the state of the wider Episcopal Church I see parishes closing and shutting their doors: Emmanuel in Springdale, Grace Church in Norwalk and Christ the Healer in North Stamford, which is planning to close early in the New Year. St. John’s isn’t immune. Many parishes around us are struggling. And it isn’t only about money. It’s about the ability to stay vital and relevant to sustain membership, to grow new members and reach out for the opportunities to serve God’s mission in the world.

What do we need as a parish church to have oil in reserve to keep our lamps burning so that we shine brightly with the light of Christ? On the collective side it is to offer the same opportunities that we need as individuals – teaching people how to pray, reading and studying the Scriptures together, service to and with those in need, giving some of our financial substance to God through programs that serve people in need, providing a spiritual mentors or guides to help people grow in Christ, offering meditation, retreats, spiritual reading, etc. that will equip the saints for ministry. We as a parish need to do what Jesus did – call and form disciples who can in turn call and form new disciples of Christ. We need to assist all our parishioners – our saints – to continue to grow and learn and develop in Christ so that we will each, individually and collectively, have oil in our lamps, umption in our gumption and love in our hearts, so that our lights might burn brightly to greet God’s Kingdom breaking forth in our midst.

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