A Call To Christians To Complicate the Lives of Others – Be Sneaky

She looks harmless, friendly even.  She could pass for a librarian.  How many librarians have you met who seemed untrustworthy?

A lady.  Retired.  Smiles.  Sings in the church choir.  Not the type you would suspect would complicate your life, but she’s a Christian and Christians have a way of complicating the lives of others.  Seems to be in their job description.

The best ones complicate the lives of others subtly, gently.  They don’t knock people over with verbiage.  They don’t save you and the world in thirty seconds or even with a sermon.  They are wiser, sneakier, kinder, aware of their own need for daily conversions.

Cathy is a gardening buddy of my wife.

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Cathy Croy

When I got married I didn’t know it was going to be “for better, for  worse gardening.”  Getting my hands in the soil of the good earth is not quite the spiritual experience for me that it is for Cathy and Vicky, my beloved, but I do it because I love my wife of 35 years.  (I didn’t say I did  it without complaining.)

So how did a Christian, in this case, Cathy, complicate my life? It was done with a simple suggestion, a book recommendation.  “You’ve got to get Native Plants of the Southeast:  A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 460 Species for the Garden by Larry Mellichamp!”

nativeplants1000

Long story short:  book ordered, “This is the best book ever!” and now – and now half of my life is going to be spent re-doing the three, THAT’s THREE, gardens in our yard.  Thanks Cathy.  Cathy, how can I thank you enough?  The birds and animals are going to love the native plants and I’m going to LOVE being a garden boy.  Thanks Cathy.  Maybe I should say it one more time.  Muy gracias, Cathy.

Has your life ever been complicated, in a good way, by a Christian?

How might you, as a Christian complicate the lives of others?

Be sneaky!

Pray This Prayer With Me – (God Knows)

praying2reduced

God,

You know our mind is like an unmade bed.

You know we rarely do our best or our worst.

You know we have a lot of critical thoughts about other people.

You know we have questions and doubts, and more than a few about You.

You know we aren’t theological patsies and don’t swallow it’s all our fault suffering explanations.

You know life is hard and that more than a few people have good reasons to be atheists.

You know the Bible has its bright spots but also is pretty messed up.

You know grace better be true because complicated life makes for complicated judgment.

You know You knowing everything conflicts with us not being puppets.

You know you can only really know a person when all the stories have been heard, all the gene pool has been analyzed, and even then there’s more to know.

So God, know us thoroughly, know us gently.

Know especially those who do not feel known.

Amen.

Sermon: The Late Bridegroom

Matthew 25:1-13

 ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But 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.” 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

sleepers awake

Sleepers, Awake!, Rachel Rice Cummings, Best of Show – Charlotte Spins the Parables of Jesus

 

Help me make a list – a list of things for which you never want to be late.

 weddings

court appearances

airplane flights

doctor appointments

dessert

supper

child’s graduation service

flu shot

kick off

start of movie

job interview

first day on the new job

thesis defense

child or spouse’s birthday party

surprise party

first date

funerals

SAT-GRE

filing taxes

choir practice

applying for new passport

golf tee time

worship on Pastor appreciation Sunday

That’s a pretty long list of when not to be late.

So why are people late?

Perhaps they sleep too late. Hit the snooze button one too many times. Maybe it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier.  Hello.

Or, are you one of those humanoids who tries to get one last thing done? Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. Answer one more email, return one more phone call, put away one more load of laundry before you leave.

Other people walk in late because they under-estimate the commute time or do not apply Murphy’s law to traffic? Don’t ever forget Murphy’s Law applied to traffic. If it can go wrong, there’s a good chance it will happen on a highway.

Or, ooh this one hits home – You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses? Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late.

Then there’s the “Other people in our house are disorganized” reason. Good luck with that one.

There are many reasons we are late. And sometimes folk who expect us to be on time don’t care to hear our reasons for our lateness.

In November of 2012 in India Groom Jameel was going to marry Nagma, at 10:30 a.m. However the groom and his family arrived at the wedding at 6:00PM. The bride and her family were so angry that the groom embarrassed the bride by not showing up to the wedding on time they allowed the bride to marry another man.  Yeah, that’ll teach him. I’ll marry someone else.

In our scripture lesson for today the bridegroom shows up late. Midnight to be exact.

My mama said, and you don’t want to argue with my mamma, mamma said I needed to be home by 11 because nothing good happened after 11.

Well, mamma – God rest her soul, mamma was just putting the fear of mamma in my soul—-good things do happen after 11 pm. Amen. But – showing up at midnight for your wedding – why, that’s not good at all.

Unfortunately, a late bridgegroom is not the only problem with this parable. A feminist reading of the parables notes that 1) the ten bridesmaids have no voice of their own, 2) the bride is not mentioned in the parable, 3) the division between foolish and wise is not as clear cut as patriarchal powers that be would have us believe, 4) five of the bridesmaids are unwilling to share their oil – isn’t sharing a fundamental virtue?, 5) only Matthew has this parable – perhaps the Matthean community was having trouble with some women in its ranks, 6) not only do five of the bridesmaids reject the five bridesmaids who run out of oil but so does the Lord – what happened to the Lord who told the parable of the prodigal son?, 7) the parable is told by a male, and 8) the parable more than like is written by a male for a male dominated congregation.

You weren’t expecting a simple reading of the parable at Wedgewood, were you? You weren’t expecting make sure you have enough oil because we never know when Jesus might show up?

Last time I checked it was 2014. The bridegroom is very late. It’s taken a lot of oil to keep the lamps burning. Amen.

You see, that’s the major problem with this parable, the late bridegroom.   If the bridegroom represents God, God is very late. And I know the Christians like to make a lot of excuses for God’s lateness but none of them – none of them set well with my liberal soul.

So – so thank you Rachel Cummings for picking out one of the most problematic parables. It’s a liberal preacher’s nightmare – people not let into the party, a shortage of grace, and a God – a God who puts the spotlight on bridesmaids who tried to rectify the situation. It’s not like they didn’t try. Only to get slapped down.

Have you ever tried to rectify a situation only to get slapped down?

Have you ever sought grace and they turned their back on you?

Have you ever tried to catch up, worked your buttock to catch you, only to be shut out?

Thank you Rachel Cummings for picking out, painting a very problematic parable.

Rachel, an attorney, worked 24 years for Bank of America, the latter years reporting directly to the Board of Bank of America. She was responsible for matters of board governance, rules and regulations, making sure important matters were handled – get this, in a timely manner. If Rachel had kept the board waiting until midnight.

Why do we let the bridegroom off the hook? Why do we turn our critical eye on five bridesmaids who tried to rectify an insufficient supply of oil due to a late, late bridegroom. I mean, that kind of harshness in corporate America is one thing, but that kind of harshness on the part of God or the church – well, it’s just not right.

Let me ask you a personal question. You are a thinking Christian. You are a person of faith but many of the old answers supplied by the steeples just don’t work for you. What do you do with a God who seems to not be on time?

Here’s what I do. I try to get to know people who do not have enough oil. Not enough – they do not have enough. And, then I share of my oil. I share some. Sometimes I share without knowing, but I try to make sure some of the sharing involves knowing so that I can be more than a Christian do-gooder.

Here’s how I would have written the parable.

The kingdom of God is like this. A bridegroom was delayed, but everyone gave the bridegroom a break for being late. There was so much joy over the uniting of the couple in holy matrimony lateness didn’t matter. And when the bridegroom heard how some of the bridesmaid had fun out of oil and how those who had more oil had shared, well, this made the day of joy even more joyful. The happy couple felt like everyone was working together to make their day the special day it was.

October 30 was a special day for Jack and Joyce Benton. After 24 years of being married in the sight of God they were married legally in the state of North Carolina. Lucky preacher me, got to officiate. Got to say, “let no one put asunder.” Got to say, “You may kiss.” Got to say, “I now present to you Jack and Joyce Benton.”

It was a day of joy and love. Nobody was all that late. The Greensboro fire department sirens did go off just as Joyce in wedding dress made her grand appearance but no harm done. It was a day of joy and love.

I’ve asked Jack and Joyce to serve at the Lord’s table today, the table at which Jesus said,

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:

for this is my body which will be given up for you.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it:

for this represents my covenant with you, and is a reminder of the forgiveness of sins.

Do this – this eating of bread and drinking of the cup – do this in memory of me.

 Feel free to congratulate Jack and Joyce as they serve you.

And let all of us today covenant with one another to make sure all have enough oil forever waiting is necessary, for whatever darkness much be confronted.

Eat, drink, and make sure all have oil so the darkness never overcomes the light. Amen.