Last Sunday, our gospel reading was the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, five wise and five foolish. Although the parable does include a riff on the importance of being awake, I contended that "awakeness" was a red herring, and that it all comes down to oil: the wise bridesmaids had all that extra oil, ready for a long wait for the bridegroom's arrival.
I talked about the meaning of the "oil" -- some say faith, others say good works (as in "Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.") As a Lutheran, I can reliably be expected to come down on the "faith" side; however, I define "faith" as a relationship of trust that expresses itself in action.
One thing I wish I had brought up in my sermon was the whole idea of the bridegroom's delay. In popular Christianity, passionate faith and the imminent return of Christ are strongly linked. However, in the parable, those who expected the bridegroom any minute now were the foolish ones. The ones who believed it would be awhile before his return, and yet lived faithfully in the meantime: those were the ones deemed wise.
Matthew is advocating a spiritual practice that is good for the long haul: for centuries, maybe. It seems to me that this kind of spiritual practice would include not only prayer and worship (and worship that takes into account the many and long traditions of Christian worship), but also care for the poor, care for creation, and social justice.
On Sunday, I asked the congregation to meditate on two questions: "What keeps your lamp lit? What keeps you going in your faith?" and "What causes your lamp to flicker?" Then I asked them to share with the person next to them one thing that keeps them going in their faith.
I know, it was pretty risky for a Lutheran congregation! And all of the services went long, so I didn't get a chance to hear what people thought of my little experiment.
I also didn't get the opportunity to hear how people might have answered the question on Sunday. I hope a few of you will take the opportunity to share: what keeps your lamp lit? what keeps you going in your faith?