A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Don't Be A Bridesmaid

I recently gave a sermon on the parable about ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13).  I thought it would be fun to share it here (I'll let you decide if reading this counts as church :)).  So, here it is:

The parable of the ten bridesmaids is a confusing one for modern folks.  It refers to traditions quite different from our own. Bridesmaids waiting with lamps is no longer part of our custom.   Yet even if we take into account the unfamiliar traditions we are still left with many questions.  Why seemingly reward the “wise” bridesmaids for refusing to share their oil?  Why is such a harsh punishment leveled at the “foolish” bridesmaids who simply did not anticipate the bridegroom would be delayed so long?  None of them stayed awake and none of them gave up and went home.  Why such a disparity in treatment for such a small discrepancy? 

But, notice the concluding statement which Jesus makes: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour..”  Jesus’ concluding statement is not “be prepared” or “be patient” or “be wise” but rather “keep awake”  which is something NONE OF THE BRIDESMAIDS DID.  This indicates to me, despite wise vs. foolish labels, we are not being called to emulate any of the bridesmaids but rather to do differently than all of them. 

Why this call to keep awake?  Well, what might have happened if the bridesmaids had remained awake?  Would they have sat there and watched their oil running out?  Would the “wise” bridesmaids have simply gloated in their oil supply?  Would the foolish bridesmaids have done nothing more than beg?   Or might they all have noticed they were getting low on oil, taken steps to conserve oil, shared what they had while they still could, sent a few for more oil with plenty of time to return with it?  Perhaps the point of this parable is not to be like any of the bridesmaids, either being shut out or watching your friends be shut out.  Perhaps we are being called rather to work to together so all may enter the kingdom.  

It may also be helpful to remember “the kingdom” is not only about what happens someday but about what happens now.  Several times in the Gospels it is written the kingdom of God is among us or has come near.  The life and death of Jesus brought the kingdom near and following Jesus means continuing to work toward the kingdom of God.  When we refuse to share, when we leave the “foolish” to their own devices we attempt to reserve the kingdom for a few, we try to shrink the kingdom.  Jesus calls us to expand the kingdom to keep awake to the needs of others, to make preparations for ourselves without neglecting the preparations of our neighbors no matter how clever we feel or how foolish they seem. 

I have often wondered at the fact it seems acceptable in our society to view foolishness or lack of intelligence as a capital offense.  If you make unwise decisions  about finances, family planning, chemical use, or sexual partners it is sometimes seen as acceptable to then let you reap consequences even if those consequences are as lethal as hunger, malnutrition or lack of health care.  It speaks volumes about the church that we have so often interpreted this parable as calling us to be like the wise bridesmaids, and have interpreted that as meaning believe the right things, go to church, think a lot about the coming of Jesus and then you will be lucky enough not to have the door shut in your face like those other people. 

But Amos 5 tells us something about what God thinks about such attitudes saying, “… I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…  Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Let us look towards the kingdom of heaven by, keeping awake to the needs of our neighbors, making sure the door is not shut upon anyone in this world and to trust in God to be merciful and full of grace for the next. 

Following Jesus is not about being wise and too bad for the foolish.  Following Jesus is a calling to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Staying awake is not about some artificial hyper-vigilance we are somehow supposed to have sustained for thousands of years but rather simply about staying awake to God at work in the world, seeing our neighbors as children of God, reaching out to those in need, and working to keep the door open for all people.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post Election: Be Gentle With Your Neighbors' Feelings

Be especially gentle with your neighbors' feelings for the next few days.  It is always a good idea to be gentle with our neighbors' feelings but recent political events have left some of us a bit raw, worried, maybe even depressed.  Perhaps you are feeling quite the opposite.  Perhaps you are certain the USA is finally on the right track.  But many of your neighbors feel differently.  Just as some may have felt the impending doom of looming large government a few years ago, some now fear for the poor, the minorities, the immigrants, the vulnerable, the environment and what our new face of government might mean for such as these.  It is always the poor and powerless who pay the price no matter if the threat is big government or income disparity, raised taxes or cut programs, rising energy prices or environmental degradation.  They pay the price as the rest of us have enough privilege to buffer us from whatever may come.  At least our odds are better…at least for a while.

So, be gentle with your neighbors and keep a sharp eye out for effects on neighbors whose privilege is low.  Whatever your politics, it is unacceptable for these to pay the price while the rest of us bicker. 

Be gentle with your neighbors and remember this was not a sporting event.  Those who are upset are not sad because their team lost.  They are worried about the future.  Reassure us all there are basics on which we all can agree such as the importance of education.  (see more thoughts on this here: Our Children's Future Should Not Be Up For Auction.)  It is in everyone’s best interest for all people to receive education.  There are soooo many benefits from lower crime rates to improved economy.  We all agree about that, right?  Please reassure everyone this is true and that we will join together against any policies which undermine quality education for all, no matter which party sponsors them. 

Remember, many margins of victory in this recent election were very small.  Wherever you are there are likely at least a few nearby who hold opinions different from your own.  Please, be gentle with your neighbors' feelings. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Our Children's Future Should Not Be Up For Auction

Sometimes articles written by others express such a helpful idea I am tempted to post a link and just say, "read this."  Education Funding: Where Two Fundamental American Ideals Completely Conflict by Daniel Fincke is one such article.   Fincke writes about the ideal of social mobility and the ideal of giving our children a better life and the conflict which arises between these two ideals.  I suggest reading the entire article but here is a sample:

When it comes to education funding when you say, “I work hard, I should be able to pass on advantages to my kids that other kids don’t have” you’re basically saying “my kids are entitled to advantages that they did not earn themselves and other kids are entitled to disadvantages that they did not earn themselves”. You’re saying that your kids deserve more fundamental economic opportunity because of what you do rather than what they do and other kids deserve less because of what their parents do rather than what they do. You are arguing for a de facto system of inherited wealth and advantage that undermine the meritocratic principles that this is supposed to be a country where talent and hard work are determinative of outcomes ....

We want to keep our children safe.  We want to ensure a good life for them.  It is good and right to want good for our children.  But when we give advantages to our children at the expense of others we only give them a better life at a surface level.  On a deeper level, the only way our children will be safe is if all children are safe.  The only way to maximize the odds of a good life for our children is if we move as close as possible toward all children having opportunity at a good life.  This means upholding human rights, such as education, for all people.

I am fortunate to live in a rural area where there is only one choice for elementary and secondary education.  Having such limited options may not sound like an advantage but this guarantees community resources are dedicated to educating all of the community's children.  I am doubly fortunate this one option is a pretty great option with caring, hardworking, wonderful teachers.  Yet even for children in our school district the equality of opportunity runs out when it comes to college.  Have you seen college tuition lately?  Such high tuition ensures unequal access to advanced education.

During the Occupy WallStreet movement I remember some scoffing at complaints about college tuition.  The implication being these were a bunch of spoiled college students whining about student loans when there are much larger economic and social issues about which to be concerned.  But the right to equal educational opportunity is fundamental to social and economic justice.  Education allows for broader occupational opportunities which determine income.  Education influences so many aspects of life for the individual and for the individual's contributions to society as a whole.   Education is crucial on so many levels .

It is understandable to want great opportunities for our children.  However, when purchasing those opportunities reinforces a status quo which turns human rights into privileges then we place our children on rocky ground.  When rights become privileges, the wealthy and powerful will continue to raise the cost until no amount of working or planning will enable the rest of us to purchase them for our children.  All children need access to quality education.  Otherwise our children's future is up for auction to the highest bidder and we will eventually find ourselves unable to pay.

This is the case with education as well as other human rights.  We need to broaden our vision so we can realize the only way to ensure a positive future for our children is to ensure a positive future for all children.