Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lamp Oil and Poutine

I am continuing my series of going through the Lectionary. For those of you who are wondering about where I get my texts, you can visit this German-language site here.

Matthew 25:1-13 (CEB)

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn't bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.

When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, "Look, the groom! Come out to meet him."

Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, "Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out."

But the wise bridesmaids replied, "No, because if we share with you, there won't be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves." But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.

Later the other bridesmaids came and said, "Lord, lord, open the door for us."

But he replied, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you."

Therefore, Keep alert, because you don't know the day or the hour.

Wedding ceremonies around the world are different. At weddings in Germany, the bride and the groom sit down in front of the officiant while he/she gives a homily. Also, there is no traditional "maid of honor" and "best man." They are simply "witnesses." A friend of mine, who was a bride, had a man as her witness.

I had a friend in Albania who told me that when his parents got married, his father went to his wife's village where they celebrated there for a week. Then afterwards they went to his village, where there was also a week-long celebration.

In Kosova, while I worked with returning refugees in 1999, we lived with a newlywed couple. It seemed a bit awkward, but they were gracious hosts. After a month, the bride went to live with her parents for a week. She told us this was to show her gratitude to her family for raising her. At the end of the week she would bake them a cake and then move in with her husband forever.

So we have a different wedding ceremony here which Jesus is telling. There is a bridegroom who was "late in coming." The Greek implies that it was of his own choosing, not because he was prevented from doing so. He chose to tarry. As in last week's passage, this one divides the bridesmaids into foolish and wise people. Those who were wise had their lamps with them and extra oil for the night. The foolish ones didn't have enough. When the big moment arrived, the foolish bridesmaids had to go (at midnight, no less!) to wake up some merchants to sell them some oil for their lamps. By the time they arrived back to the festivities, they were shut out.

My first reaction to looking at this was to wonder why the wise bridesmaids couldn't have shared their oil with the foolish ones. It seems a bit heartless, but then I realized that this parable has to do with faith. Sometimes we can go through life and go through the motions of following Christ. We do all the right things. We attend Church. We go to meetings, but we have no faith. We have no oil for our lamps. When the darkness comes, we try to rely on the faith of others. This doesn't work. We need our own faith.

That's a hard thing to do. I'll be the first to admit that my faith has often been lacking. I am going through the motions. It's not that I have doubts. Doubts have not killed my faith. My sense of security killed my faith. (Sorry, Calvinist friends.)

I was secure in my identity. I was an officer. I was an upstanding member of the community. Then all of the sudden it was taken away from me. My home, my family, my officership, and my sense of identity was gone. I was not allowed to contact anyone at the corps (church). I was not allowed to wear my uniform. I was not allowed to go to the office. I was cut off from everyone.

And I had very little oil in my lamp.

Luckily, God was supplying me with some oil because I realized that I was dreadfully low. God sent me friends and family to my side to help me out when I thought I was all alone.

There was my friend, Jim, who dropped everything he was doing to drive up to visit me for 3 days. There was my friend, Jason, who listened to me cry while I told him of my broken heart. There was my sister and brother-in-law, who took me to Canada just to eat poutine and to get away from the whole situation. For my Yankee friends, this is poutine. It is fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy:

The oil in my lamp was nearly depleted, but God made certain that I would have a fresh supply. Apparently French-Canadian cuisine was very helpful in this regards. Yes, it was very good. Yes, I was very full. Yes, I would eat it again.

Others were there for me in big and small ways.

For me, then, the oil for my lamp was the relationships I had with other people.

This is probably not the most orthodox way of looking at this scripture passage. The traditional view is to always be prepared for the return of Christ.

For me, though, I realize that the oil of my lamp is the Church which came to me, surrounded me, and supported me when I felt all was lost. The Church is made up of those who love God by loving others. They have been called out. My own Church is quite unconventional. My Church is made up of conservative friends (my polar opposite), family members, and those who identify as being part of the "Nones." My Church is made up of those who question their religious upbringing, but who still love and support others. My Church is made up of my LGBT friends who took time to call me up and make certain that I wasn't hurting by myself.

I love my Church. They gave me oil for my lamp.

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