Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keeping our Lamps Lit

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?


Lindy said...

I would like to have been there for that.

The thing that keeps my light lit is the knowledge that in having lit the lamp I am assured of there being enough oil, a la Hannukah. When the Jews discovered the temple desecrated they sent some people off for more oul. But, they also lit the little bit that they had, knowing that it was just a small amount. It turns out to have been enough. That's my hope, that no matter how little i have, it is enough.

Thanks for these thoughts. I've been seeking out sermons from last week because this has been a troubling passage for me. There's some thoughtful stuff out there but, I've gotta tell you, I am still not happy with my level of understanding. I feel like there's something I don't know that will make it make sense.

I'm glad you took this on.

Lori said...

There are only two things today that keep my lamp lit and keep me going. The first unleashed the second.

The first is the continuing miracle of the gift of being my son's mother. The second is writing.

I wish I could have been there too.

Terri said...

What keeps my lamp lit...? Hope

What causes my lamp to flicker? Unexpected joy!

Jan said...

That sounds like a good lesson to be there for. I would have liked to share with my neighbor, too.

My lamp stays lit with worship in community. It flickers when I look away and think I am alone.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I love your take on that parable

For me, it's prayer/meditation, worship, and doing my own fiction writing. Any time I neglect any of the three, I feel it spiritually.

Jennifer said...

I love the thoughts you've shared and your ongoing ones, too. I think we'll have another crack at it this week, too, with the talents, and next week witht he sheep/goats.

What keeps my light burning?
worship in community
What causes it to flicker?
inadequate self-care

Choralgrrl said...

Ooo...hey, what a cool idea! Great questions!

Love, beauty, music, friends, puppies, reading, and writing keep me going.

Inadequate self care causes me to flicker (thanks, Jennifer!).

Unknown said...

Great idea for worship - a very creative way to encourage the congregation to really engage with this text.

What keeps my lamp lit? My daughter, living into my call in this community, and preaching. What causes it to flicker? Seeing the pettiness and mean-spirited side of people whom I know have much love to share.

Elaine (aka...Purple) said...


What a wonderful opportunity for your congregationt to experience. Or at least I hope many of them were able to share a bit with their neighbors. At least, maybe it will simmer with them during the days.

What keeps my light lit: reading and wrestling with new scholarship which continually asks me to look at God in many different way and in many different ways of being, spiritual direction, creating worship, and music.

What causes my light to flicker: when I do not get enough silent time and the slow rate of change in the church.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i like the interactive component there diane!

i preached on hope as the oil for our lamps. for me that is true. what causes it to flicker is most definitely fear... augh fear!

but hey i got my new boots today... what's to fear when a gal wears those??