Do not be afraid of the dark-2nd sermon for Hope (Nov 12, 2017)

Christ is not an economy, he is pure gift.“Shave your LEGS!” the cry would come over the telephone. My father was a special ops Soldier and we never knew when they were coming home. The only notice we ever got was from a wife who lived near the special airfield that was specifically for our helicopters. She would hear the blades cutting the dark night air and she would run to the phone and make the first call to the phone tree. Of course, with their husbands gone, many a wife had pointed their attention elsewhere as they focused on children and homes and the inevitable things that go wrong when your Soldier is away. So they ran for showers- to shave, smell pretty, and gussy to welcome their tired and homesick Soldiers.

I heard my mom tell this story again recently and it ran through my head as I thought of the bridesmaids who were not ready. Their cry of “Shave your legs” was the bridesmaids, “Look, Here is the Bridegroom!” Like the bridesmaids who knew the groom was coming soon, these wives KNEW their husbands would be back someday soon and they were anxiously waiting. They knew from experience what to do.

Unlike a military spouse awaiting their beloved service member, or bridesmaids holding on for a few extra hours, our community in Christ has become a little more forgetful. After all, it has been 2,000 years. It is almost as though we know it is supposed to happen, but not really, or at least not in our lifetime, so, as long as we are good for the funeral, why worry? But Christ IS coming and we need to be prepared.

My Dad was always ready. In an instant the call would come and he was required to be out the door in 2 minutes flat. His bag and gear were always ready- always being tripped over and taking up floor space. Unforgettable. He was ready. But then, that is what he did for a living right? All of our troops are ready. Their spouse and children are always ready. They never believe that they are safe from the call that says it is time to go. Even now, in retirement, my heart still skips a beat- until we hit that 1 year mark, when he can no longer be recalled as though he were still active with little to no notice. But this is what we do.

And the bridesmaids, well, waiting with the lamps is not something they do often. A wedding was cause for amazing celebration and it was not an everyday thing. So they were not old hands at it. But what about us? Are we ready? And more to the point, are we ready for what is really coming? They are not all glory- end times will not just be us all rising up in a happy party wearing gleaming white robes. It will mean death for many who are not saved. It will mean realizing that our mate, our child, our friend or neighbor is not with us. Our first reading from Amos sounds scary and it is absolutely meant to be. Amos is reminding the people that the end that they are crying out for is not the Disney movie version that is full of sweet singing birds and lovely happy endings, rather the Brother’s Grimm version- harsh, real, and full of deadly dangers. And in all honesty, the malaise we tend toward as modern Christians when it comes to the return of Christ is pretty prevalent. We have prettied it up and really think “not me.”

I wonder if we do that because it is scary to wait for the unknown. The bridesmaids were waiting in the dark. Now I don’t know about you, but I can tell you the dark in Riverside is NOT the same as the dark in a place with no light pollution. It is SO dark. And if you have ever been in that kind of dark, you know, it can be scary. My dad’s unit relied on that. They played on it in fact. Their motto for the unit was “Death Waits in the Dark” because you cannot see evil and danger coming for you.

Well as we wait for Christ, I wonder, did we become so afraid of what was out there in the dark that we had to immerse ourselves in a story that lets us separate from reality and fear? A coping mechanism for what we did not know and could not imagine?

These are dark times my friends. These are dark times because so many feel left out and isolated. Our schedules are crazy, expectations to commit more, more, more are high and even our techonology which is supposed to make things easier ends up making us give up more free time. We are so alone that we find ourselves caught up in our identities so that we can claim we belong somewhere, anywhere.  Identities caught up in which country we are from, which team we root for, which school we went to, or even which service we were drafted or joined. We even hear the bridesmaids stories and we identify immediately with the wise bridesmaids (didn’t we?). We do this in defensiveness- a desire to be on the winning side but more importantly to belong. This past month has been difficult for me for that very reason. Having moved so many times, I am acutely aware that I am always the new person who does’nt know the “ways” things are done. I work my rear off trying to find out the history, the customs, the traditions and habits, always scared to death to make a wrong move because I just want to belong too. I am sure you can relate

Our Veterans learn this lesson in the harshest way- no matter how deep their allegiance to our nation, we end up letting them down when they need us the most. They belonged when it was convenient for us, but now they wait for months for essential medical care, they are dismissed when they return home, they are noticed when it makes others feel good, and the rest of the time, they are a problem we don’t want to see or pay for.  We love to see them in uniforms and thank them by paying for lunch when we see them at a restaurant, but we look away when the visual evidence of their sacrifice is in front of us. No one wants to see or know just how many service members are saved in war today, because then we have to look at and pay for their broken, maimed, disfigured bodies and minds. We lose 22 Veterans a DAY to suicide because they have lost hope- because they are alone in the dark and there is no one there to share their oil until the bridegroom comes.

Veterans day is about celebrating those who served, but today is Sunday, now is worship and now is the time for us to ask how the Gospel of Christ leads and feeds us to manage in our world and circumstance. Maybe my dad’s unit is right. Death does wait in the dark. When those bridesmaids were not allowed into the home, they were left locked out in the wild with no protection. When our Veterans, our lonely, our grieving, our sick have been left in the dark by us- they have been locked out by our society because we do not have enough extra for them.

But there is good news my friends, in the midst of all that bad news, pain, lonliness, and law. The Good news has already come and there is a light that does not run out of oil. This come to Jesus talk is for all of us, me included.   Beloved, our identity is not in our team, our school, our nation or even our church. It is in Christ. Those others are lovely and create community, but they are not what saves us in the dark. Our true identity is safe in Christ- we are on the winning side. Without Christ, we are in darkness-all those other identities and allegiances mean nothing and will not save our soul or grant us peace.

As part of that identity in Christ, we are called to care for the least of these. That is what being prepared is all about. We are not supposed to be like either of the sets of bridemaids. We should not be so proud that we run off to get oil so we are not ridiculed for not doing our job well- because we will be kept out for our pride. But we also should not be so wise that we only ever care only for ourselves. Wisdom is not the same as kindness. Look to our lives and think ahead, think of another and prepare for their hard times so that we may assist them.

We do have enough oil. In fact, we don’t know if the bridesmaids who did not share actually did not have enough to do so. They just said so. And I think of our world and how easy it is to say, I don’t have enough to share or I will run out too.

But Christ is the oil in our lamps my friends. There is hope, as our Thessalonians reading reminds us, there is light for those who struggle with depression, addiction, PTSD and more. There is new life for those who are dead in their hearts and they will be raised up with Christ too. There is ENOUGH and we do not need to be afraid.

There is so much my friends- so very much- we can share and share generously because Christ first shared with us and his light is unending. Our job is to share that bounty and light with those who have none, just as Christ did for us.

Christ is Coming, beloved.

Be ready, and do not be afraid to wait in the dark, because hope waits in the dark too. In Christ, death has no sting and hope and the light of Christ will always overcome.

 

 

 

Author: mistressofdivinity

Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Riverside, California; a congregation of the Pacifica Synod in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Even though the diploma reads "Master of Divinity," the learning continues. I lean into this pastoral role more each day, learning to balance vocation and family, life and passion, living and loving.

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