I’m going to begin with a story I’ve told several times before.
I find it funny – but it doesn’t seem many other people do 😊
So I’m trying again….
In 5th grade our class got a new art teacher.
His name was Mr. Gassman. (It’s important to know his name – Mr. Gassman.)
I think it was his first art project with our class.
We were paired up in twos and my partner was Renee Matthews.
We moved our desks together
And in the space between our desks was a paper plate.
Mr. Gassman went around from desk to desk with a huge container of Elmer’s Glue,
And he poured from the container onto our plates what we would need for the project.
When Mr. Gassman reached our pair of desks,
I told him, “Fill ‘er up!”
That’s the story…
That’s it… “fill ‘er up!”
I tell the story not only to try see if I can tell it again in a way in which it’s funny…
But because the punchline is important for today:
What fills you up?
What is the oil for your lamp which keeps you burning?
What is the spiritual fuel you need?
For me, I think it’s hearing true stories about how
God surprises me – in particular, how God confronts me with my assumptions
And shows God is larger than I previously thought.
I heard one such story this week.
In April, 2015, in Lexington, KY
A pizza delivery man was robbed and killed by 3 men.
One of the men involved, Trey Relford, confessed to the crime.
He pled guilty and last month was time for his sentencing.
As often happens at the time of sentencing,
The judge allowed people who knew the victim to speak about the impact
The killing had on their lives.
The father of the pizza delivery man spoke.
And at the end, he said something amazing.
He spoke directly to Trey Relford and said, “I forgive you.”
Trey was sentenced to 31 years in prison.
After the sentencing the father of the delivery man walked up to Trey,
Put his arms around him, and said,
“I hope you find faith in prison.”
This was a remarkable story.
But there was more to the story –
The part which really challenged me…
The part which surprised me and puts oil in my lamp…
The father of the man who died is Muslim.
His name is Abdul Munim.
And when he went up to Trey he actually said,
“I hope you find Isalm in prison.”
When reporters asked him what led him to forgive his son’s killer,
He said, “The Spirit of Islam” led me to forgiveness.
When I first heard this story, I assumed it was a Christian who’d forgiven Trey Relford.
I was surprised and confronted with a God who was bigger than I could imagine.
That kind of story fills my lamp.
It keeps me burning.
The parable we heard from the gospel of Matthew
Is one of 3 stories Jesus tells in this chapter about the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like 10 young women.
5 of the women are wise;
And 5 are foolish.
The wise women go with their lamps to meet the bridegroom
And they bring along an extra flask of oil.
The foolish women go with their lamps to meet the bridegroom as well…
But they don’t bring extra oil.
As it turns out, the bridegroom is delayed,
And all ten women become drowsy and fall asleep.
At midnight, a shout goes out:
“The bridegroom is here!”
The 5 wise women with the extra oil, eagerly go to meet the bridegroom.
And here’s where I think the 5 foolish women make their mistake:
They assume that because their light is dim, the flame is going out,
They cannot meet the bridegroom…and so they leave.
They go away because they think they need enough oil,
Their flames needs to be bright,
Their candle must be fully burning in order for them to meet the bridegroom.
That’s a temptation many of us face….
We’re willing to show up,
To make ourselves be known,
When things are going well, when our candle is bright,
Our faith is strong, the flames burning…
But when the light is dim,
When we’re faced with doubts or struggles or brokenness,
We separate ourselves;
We go away – on our own;
We don’t trust that God will meet us precisely in the darkness.
Amos, the reading from the Old Testament paired with today’s gospel,
Knew that the Day of the Lord isn’t light – it’s darkness.
God shows godself most clearly in darkness – when the light is fading, when the oil has run out.
Amos wrote in the 8th century BCE.
It was a time of division – the northern and southern kingdoms were divided,
Each with their own king.
Amos was what my seminary professor called a “country boy.”
He was from the south, from Judah,
And he was a farmer – he herded sheep and took care of sycamore trees.
Amos brings a word of God to Israel – the northern kingdom.
And he says God has two problems with them:
- They are worshipping other gods;
- They are living in prosperity – and ignoring the poor.
Amos says that God does not care how they worship,
If they neglect the poor around them;
If they use their wealth more for their own comforts than to take care of the needs of the poor.
There is no reason for some to go without, Amos says.
God has provided.
The day of the Lord will come, Amos says.
And it will come in the darkness – after the lamp has gone out.
It will be a day of justice for all people.
And Amos uses a phrase that Martin Luther King quoted often…
On that day, Amos says to a people who live in the Isaraeli desert – a dry, arid land….
On that day,
“Justice will roll down like waters;
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
When your oil has run out….
When it seems like justice is far away…
When the bridegroom is delayed…
Don’t give up….
The bridegroom will come even in the deepest darkness.
Don’t miss it!