The sermon, Heading towards Midnight, begins around the 32 minute mark, with musical selections “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” (soloist Beth Zych and percussionist Chris Vandall) at around 28 minutes and Tom Trenney’s “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (soloist Mark Schmidt) at 54 minutes.
These are hard texts to read and unpack. These are not “kumbaya” passages! You might feel bad for the poor maidens who got shut out of the party. You might be angry at the maidens who didn’t share. You may wonder about the fairness of God. You may focus on Joshua telling the people that God will punish them if they do not follow the rules– and wonder about the love of God. I am with you….
But when you know that these texts are in the context of crisis and choice then they open up in another way – Jesus tells this story on the eve of his crucifixion. Joshua calls for the people to decide just before they enter the land.
These difficult texts were written when the people of God were facing difficult times. Joshua and the Jews, Jesus and his disciples were facing crises – and, of course a crisis brings an opportunity – because you have make a choice: when things get tough to what will you witness? Which God will you serve, are you willing to carry a cross, are you willing to keep awake with enough oil in the lamp to see it through?
Yes, these are hard texts written at hard times. And you and I are living in hard times. You and I as American Christians are facing a crisis and an opportunity.
Choices are to be made. Which God are we going to serve, will we stay awake as we head towards midnight?
Columbine, Binghamton, San Bernardino, San Ysidro, Killeen, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Orlando, Charleston, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, TX
This week I kept imagining the horror of a gunman coming into this space and killing some of you and our children. And I don’t know what to do, or what to say even.
We need more than hopes and prayers, vigils and tears. Is that really all we Christians have in our toolbox? And of course we support the victims.
But I am sick of our elected leaders saying it isn’t time to discuss guns and gun violence.
I am sick and tired of lobbyists supporting gun manufacturers that are making money hand over fist.
Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. There are between 270 and 310 million guns in America; one for every man, woman and child.
In 2013 there were 21,175 gun suicides, 11,208 gun homicides, 505 accidental gun discharge deaths. It has only gone up since then. Japan with 1/3 of our population had 13 total gun deaths.
As a friend said: “I don’t know what to do, but ‘Houston, we have a problem!”
And the NRA blocks research. House Bill 233 is on the floor right now to decriminalize concealed carry. The call for bump stock legislation has disappeared.
“How long, O Lord…. How long?” the Psalmist laments. I suspect the Lord laments too: “How long, America, how long?”
We look to God to protect, save, redeem, forgive – and all that is true but it is only incarnated in you and me, through you and me, by you and me; and I don’t believe that the kingdom of God arrives with a Smith and Wesson in my holster or a Colt AR-15 in my closet.
If you are waiting for God to come and fix things; wait on … because the fix won’t come.
We don’t have to wait for the judgment because we are living in the judgment right now.
We are killing one another in city, country, and suburb.
We are killing one another in the name of religion, and race, in the name of partisan politics, in the name of economic idolatry and nothing happens except another mass murder.
We are killing each other in ignorance – calling truth lies, and telling so many lies we can’t keep up.
Are the Trustees going to have to install metal detectors at our doors? Will we have to add a line item to the budget for a security guard?
And for all those who think we should bring our guns to church to help protect one another – how do I know that you won’t “go off” and start shooting?
It is on towards midnight. It is time to choose. If we let politicians and pundits frame our identities then we are in a mess and beyond hope and God’s kingdom will pass us by.
It is time to ask: what type of people are we? What do we really value and do these values align with Jesus Christ? As Amos the prophet once wrote: are we plumb with the Lord.
I can’t blame others – I am the “others.” We are all in this together.
This problem is my problem; don’t be pointing fingers look in the mirror.
It is a spiritual problem and we have to repent and then act spiritually and politically.
Anyone who thinks that religion and politics don’t mix – really doesn’t have a clue about either.
Today’s Hebrew scripture is all about choosing. Joshua lays it out with crystal clarity: “choose this day whom you will serve… put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord.”
And in our hearts we know we have it all wrong, we feel this dis-ease – we are serving the wrong gods, we have sinned and the truth is far from us.
I am calling out all sinners – and I am at the front of the line: – who turn a blind eye and make excuses; who wants to stay in the shallow end of the pool about issues that are complex.
I confess I want to protect my stuff, and get more stuff. I want to be safe and not face difficulty.
I confess I blame others, as we all do: blame black men, or undocumented immigrants, or those wearing hijabs… or the poor or the rich or yes, blame gun owners.
My blame is an excuse for not taking responsibility.
Sometimes I think the time for change has almost passing us by; The time to choose is almost gone; it is getting late. It may be time to close the doors and turn out the lights … it has been a good run! I don’t know what to do.
The Christ has come and gone leaving us to our own devises and hells of our own choosing and the time for filling our lamp with oil waiting for the Savior is coming to an end.
I totally identify with the bridesmaids in Matthew who get all excited, took no oil for the lamp, fell asleep and then look to others to “give me some!” I am one of those maidens – get all excited until crunch time.
Yes, I want this church to be a place of safety and sanctuary for all. I want this to be a place of celebration and rich community – where everyone is welcome.
But the church has to be the training ground for a new kind of people – who put others before self, and give things away, and are generous in time, and talent, and treasures and fool the wise with the foolishness of the cross – who will choose sacrifice over comfort and are willing to talk about difficult things and take the risks necessary to change.
If we don’t do it, it won’t get done – God doesn’t deserve the blame, only the glory – and you and I have to manifest the kingdom; make it real so the world can see that God has not passed us by… it is our choice as we head towards midnight.
We have to be filling our lamps with the oil of welcome! We have to be filling our lamps with the oil of prayer and study and deep community. We have to be filling our lamps with action: Greater Cleveland Congregation is now pushing legislation about safer guns, it is something – call your congress person.
But don’t pray for change if you are not willing to change.
Don’t pray and then not be willing to do something… anything.
As we head towards midnight we have to have oil in the lamp so we can shine the light and let Jesus know that we are awake!
And so whatever you have to do to stay awake: do justice and love kindness and walk with humility.
And whoever you vote for make sure that your choice is grounded on compassion, mercy and love – real Christian values; not on wedding cakes and fear of others and saying “Merry Christmas.”
Own a handgun – it is your 2nd amendment right. Go hunting – but no one needs an automatic weapon, cache of AR15s, your own a bump stock.
Which god are you going to serve?
It is not too late, but the hour is heading towards midnight – so we had better be about putting oil in our lamps!
Let your light shine!
And to God be the praise and the glory forever and ever.