Son of Man

Son of Man

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 14:24-37

 

Today marks the beginning of a new church year designated as Year B by the Revised Common Lectionary. Thus, during the year, we will often focus on the Gospel of Mark. Each gospel has its own personality—something obvious in the way each one begins. Matthew gets us started with a lesson in genealogy and a picture of Joseph, Mary, an angel, and an unexpected birth. Luke starts us off with both Elizabeth and Mary with child and singing praises to God. John begins with poetic whispers that gently build into a bold declaration of “the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.” But Mark—Mark has no time for such things. Mark does not bother with angels or shepherds, wise men, or baby pictures. Instead, Mark gets right to it, startling us with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and in walks one of the wildest people in Scripture, John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, living on locusts and wild honey.[i]

 

From here, things move at a rapid pace in a race to get the whole story out. Sentence after sentence begins with words like, “And then…Immediately…As soon as” which has the effect of rushing us from place to place.  It is as if Mark is a news reporter and, sensing that we have the remote control in our hand, he wants to make sure we get all the information we need before we change the channel.  But we are not likely to get bored with this gospel account; we are not likely to touch that remote control, because Mark has something to say and Mark knows how to say it. Detail after detail draws us in and invites us to believe in Jesus Christ.

 

Our reading today comes from a section of Mark known as “the little apocalypse.” A series of warnings are offered, and Jesus advises his disciples to watch, wait, keep alert, for the end of time is drawing near. Although there is much that could be said about the cosmic signs and warnings, we will leave that for another day. What I want us to focus our attention on this morning is verse 26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Notice the title: Son of Man.

 

Throughout Mark, Jesus is referred to in several ways: Christ, son of David, Son of God. But the title that Jesus prefers for himself is Son of Man. The term is used in several places in the Old Testament. It refers to human kind in Psalms; to the prophet in Ezekiel; in Daniel the term is used in a vision Daniel has of a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven to be given dominion over all nations and all peoples for all time.[ii] Maybe Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite name for himself because it best describes who he is AND what he has come to do. It speaks of his divinity and his humanity. It describes the servant role he willingly chooses.

 

While the Gospel of Mark is known for including “the little apocalypse,” it is also known for having three passion narratives. On three different occasions Jesus warns his disciples of the pending death of the Son of Man. Jesus seems bent on making them understand that it is as a human that he has entered history. The New Adam has come to make all things right, and as a human, he will live and breathe and die just as we do.  But let us never forget, it has not always been so. This Son of Man comes from the very heart of heaven, from the side of his Abba Father, from the sounds of the heavenly choir, singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He gives it all up to enter the human story; to enter our story.

 

Yet, Jesus does not refer to himself as the Messiah, the Christ, or even the Son of God. Instead, Jesus chooses the title that describes his human status. Imagine with me for a moment, Jesus comes to the earth as a baby, grows into a man, and eagerly goes about the work of his Abba Father. He enters the story of our brokenness and shame; our hopes and dreams.  He joins in the dance of life with us. “See,” he seems to say, “Look at me…look for me…I am here with you…I am here for you…” Through this Son of Man, God works on our behalf. What wonderful love is this!

 

Because of his divine nature, God grants authority to Jesus to forgive sin. Because of his earthly purpose, he will suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus, the New Adam, uses the title, Son of Man, to claim the authority that is his and his alone, for no other earthly being is willing or able to accomplish the task set before him. Only Jesus has the power to make that which is crooked straight. Only Jesus can take on the powers of darkness to bring hope and light to us all.

 

In our reading for today, when Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of the end of time, once more he takes up the human mantle: “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and glory.” Jesus will come again and when he does, he will bring both mercy and judgment. In the meantime, we wait with eager anticipation. No one knows the day or the hour—only the Father has that information. So, we wait.

 

As one pastor puts it:

It may seem strange, at first, to begin our anticipation of the birth of Jesus by being exhorted to wait for his coming again. After all, this talk of Jesus’ return seems out of sequence because, in the context of the liturgical year, we are still awaiting his birth. In one important respect, however, it is entirely fitting, because it places us squarely with those who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Neither those who awaited the first coming of the Messiah, nor those who now await his return, know when he will appear.[iii]

 

We say, “But we know the day he arrives. We light Advent candles. We check off the weeks until we reach that big circle on the calendar marked ‘Christmas Day.’ Our traditions guide us as we put up the tree, hang the greenery, and celebrate.” We are bent on reaching the 25th of December—Christmas Day—but what about Christ? Perhaps on this first day of Advent, it behooves us to remember that there is a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.

 

Herein lies that great paradox of our faith, the “already and not yet” of which scholar, Oscar Cullman spoke. Already Jesus has made our salvation possible so that we are able to be in right relationship with God. But not yet do we live in complete communion with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We live in the “in between times,” but if we have eyes to see, there are glimpses of heaven all around. While we wait for Christ to return in glory and all evil to shut its mouth, we have a calling upon our lives to live justly, kindly, and with great expectation of what Jesus has done and continues to do through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts, hands and voices.

 

It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait…for the coming of the Christ-child, lowly and in a manger. It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait for the Son of Man to return in the clouds with great glory and power. Let us begin the Advent journey waiting for Christmas AND waiting for Christ.

 

[i] The Life with God Bible, Commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter

[ii] Daniel 7

[iii] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1. Martin B. Copenhaver, 23, 25.

*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Son of Man

Son of Man

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 29, 2020

1st Sunday of Advent

Mark 14:24-37

 

Today marks the beginning of a new church year designated as Year B by the Revised Common Lectionary. Thus, during the year, we will often focus on the Gospel of Mark. Each gospel has its own personality—something obvious in the way each one begins. Matthew gets us started with a lesson in genealogy and a picture of Joseph, Mary, an angel, and an unexpected birth. Luke starts us off with both Elizabeth and Mary with child and singing praises to God. John begins with poetic whispers that gently build into a bold declaration of “the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.” But Mark—Mark has no time for such things. Mark does not bother with angels or shepherds, wise men, or baby pictures. Instead, Mark gets right to it, startling us with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and in walks one of the wildest people in Scripture, John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, living on locusts and wild honey.[i]

 

From here, things move at a rapid pace in a race to get the whole story out. Sentence after sentence begins with words like, “And then…Immediately…As soon as” which has the effect of rushing us from place to place.  It is as if Mark is a news reporter and, sensing that we have the remote control in our hand, he wants to make sure we get all the information we need before we change the channel.  But we are not likely to get bored with this gospel account; we are not likely to touch that remote control, because Mark has something to say and Mark knows how to say it. Detail after detail draws us in and invites us to believe in Jesus Christ.

 

Our reading today comes from a section of Mark known as “the little apocalypse.” A series of warnings are offered, and Jesus advises his disciples to watch, wait, keep alert, for the end of time is drawing near. Although there is much that could be said about the cosmic signs and warnings, we will leave that for another day. What I want us to focus our attention on this morning is verse 26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Notice the title: Son of Man.

 

Throughout Mark, Jesus is referred to in several ways: Christ, son of David, Son of God. But the title that Jesus prefers for himself is Son of Man. The term is used in several places in the Old Testament. It refers to human kind in Psalms; to the prophet in Ezekiel; in Daniel the term is used in a vision Daniel has of a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven to be given dominion over all nations and all peoples for all time.[ii] Maybe Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite name for himself because it best describes who he is AND what he has come to do. It speaks of his divinity and his humanity. It describes the servant role he willingly chooses.

 

While the Gospel of Mark is known for including “the little apocalypse,” it is also known for having three passion narratives. On three different occasions Jesus warns his disciples of the pending death of the Son of Man. Jesus seems bent on making them understand that it is as a human that he has entered history. The New Adam has come to make all things right, and as a human, he will live and breathe and die just as we do.  But let us never forget, it has not always been so. This Son of Man comes from the very heart of heaven, from the side of his Abba Father, from the sounds of the heavenly choir, singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He gives it all up to enter the human story; to enter our story.

 

Yet, Jesus does not refer to himself as the Messiah, the Christ, or even the Son of God. Instead, Jesus chooses the title that describes his human status. Imagine with me for a moment, Jesus comes to the earth as a baby, grows into a man, and eagerly goes about the work of his Abba Father. He enters the story of our brokenness and shame; our hopes and dreams.  He joins in the dance of life with us. “See,” he seems to say, “Look at me…look for me…I am here with you…I am here for you…” Through this Son of Man, God works on our behalf. What wonderful love is this!

 

Because of his divine nature, God grants authority to Jesus to forgive sin. Because of his earthly purpose, he will suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus, the New Adam, uses the title, Son of Man, to claim the authority that is his and his alone, for no other earthly being is willing or able to accomplish the task set before him. Only Jesus has the power to make that which is crooked straight. Only Jesus can take on the powers of darkness to bring hope and light to us all.

 

In our reading for today, when Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of the end of time, once more he takes up the human mantle: “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and glory.” Jesus will come again and when he does, he will bring both mercy and judgment. In the meantime, we wait with eager anticipation. No one knows the day or the hour—only the Father has that information. So, we wait.

 

As one pastor puts it:

It may seem strange, at first, to begin our anticipation of the birth of Jesus by being exhorted to wait for his coming again. After all, this talk of Jesus’ return seems out of sequence because, in the context of the liturgical year, we are still awaiting his birth. In one important respect, however, it is entirely fitting, because it places us squarely with those who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Neither those who awaited the first coming of the Messiah, nor those who now await his return, know when he will appear.[iii]

 

We say, “But we know the day he arrives. We light Advent candles. We check off the weeks until we reach that big circle on the calendar marked ‘Christmas Day.’ Our traditions guide us as we put up the tree, hang the greenery, and celebrate.” We are bent on reaching the 25th of December—Christmas Day—but what about Christ? Perhaps on this first day of Advent, it behooves us to remember that there is a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.

 

Herein lies that great paradox of our faith, the “already and not yet” of which scholar, Oscar Cullman spoke. Already Jesus has made our salvation possible so that we are able to be in right relationship with God. But not yet do we live in complete communion with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We live in the “in between times,” but if we have eyes to see, there are glimpses of heaven all around. While we wait for Christ to return in glory and all evil to shut its mouth, we have a calling upon our lives to live justly, kindly, and with great expectation of what Jesus has done and continues to do through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts, hands and voices.

 

It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait…for the coming of the Christ-child, lowly and in a manger. It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait for the Son of Man to return in the clouds with great glory and power. Let us begin the Advent journey waiting for Christmas AND waiting for Christ.

 

[i] The Life with God Bible, Commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter

[ii] Daniel 7

[iii] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1. Martin B. Copenhaver, 23, 25.

*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Christ our Compassionate King

Christ our Compassionate King

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 22. 2020

Christ the King Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46

 

Today marks the end of the church year—a year in which we have explored Matthew’s interpretation of Christ and Matthew’s theology. For Matthew, it is through Jesus Christ that God has come to dwell with his people. For Matthew, Jesus, the Messiah, is a kingly figure, who suffers for his people and brings either salvation or judgment. For Matthew, the kingdom of God is a present and a future reality made up of those who do the will of God.

 

In our gospel reading, Christ is introduced as the King. How appropriate that the ending of the church year should climax with Jesus crowned Lord of All!  Of course, kings have played an important role in Israel’s history. You remember the story told in I Samuel.  All the elders of Israel come to Samuel saying, “You’re old and your sons are not following in your footsteps—appoint for us a king to govern us –like all the other nations.” Samuel is upset so he prays to God and God answers, “Listen to the people. They aren’t rejecting you; they’re rejecting me from being their king. Just as they have rejected me again and again since the time I brought them out of Egypt. So listen to them –but warn them what the king who will reign over them will do.”

 

Samuel tells the people of Israel, “This is what your king will do:  draft your young men to the king’s army to make him implements of war and to fight, make you slaves to plow the fields and reap his harvest, your daughters will be forced to serve the king as perfumers, cooks and bakers, and he will take the best of your fields, vineyards and livestock for himself.”  Then Samuel says, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”

 

Samuel warns—but the people refuse to listen, so God gives them a king. Eventually, all the “warnings” come to pass.  The Israelites want laws, an army, a human monarch in the place of God.  This chosen people who once had the choice of having God as their king, choose an earthly ruler instead.  And oh, the price they pay!  Sure, there are some kings who find favor in God’s sight—King David comes to mind.  But as the years pass, evil kings outnumber the good ones and God’s people drift further away from the will of God.

 

God puts up with the earthly kings of the Davidic throne until finally, in the fullness of time, God brings forth a King who will perfectly keep his covenant and his word even to death on a cross. Elizabeth Achtemeier writes, “Jesus Christ becomes, in his person, all that Israel was meant to be—the obedient and faithful Son of God, called out of Egypt; the obedient cornerstone of a new community of righteousness and peace for all peoples, the Davidic ruler who knows how to protect the poor and to establish justice in society.”

 

Yes, Israel has quite a history with kings. In Matthew, we find them waiting for yet another; they await a warrior king—someone who will save them from Roman rule—but Jesus will not rule through intimidation, oppression, and war. Jesus is a King of Compassion who calls his people to be people of compassion. In verse 32, we see all the nations gathered before him, as Jesus, like a Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And what is his criteria? Who has shown compassion for the members of his family? Who has cared for the poor, the distressed, and the needy? And whom does Jesus identify with in this story? Jesus identifies with the sheep—I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was naked—Jesus makes the reference some 14 times. It is in the very nature of Jesus to identify with the afflicted, and in today’s reading, those who are blessed by Christ also identify with the afflicted—and they do so without even knowing it. They help the needy because they have the mind and heart of Christ. It is a natural, spontaneous expression of love and compassion.

 

Of course, we know that Jesus is rejected and crucified, but, ultimately, he is victorious over death. He rises once and for all in the power of the Sovereign King, who is determined to forgive us, that we may have life and have it in abundance. In short, Christ begins the final rule of the kingdom of God on earth. This is the king spoken of in today’s passage: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”  For now, Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, on his heavenly throne, restraining his enemies and protecting the church, but there will come a time when he will appear openly, to establish perfect order in heaven and earth, to crush his enemies under his feet, and to assemble the faithful to share an everlasting and blessed life.[i]

 

Certainly, Christ’s way is not the usual ways of sovereigns.  He is more powerful!  His riches are endless! His kingship lasts for all eternity. Nevertheless, he does not use his power and glory to lord it over his subjects. Instead, he becomes the servant. Christ our Compassionate King rules with love and compassion. He identifies with this family of his who lives on earth. As followers of Jesus, we too often hunger or thirst, become sick, feel lonely. What a comfort to know that Christ shares the experience with us. And as Christ participates in the story of our lives, he calls us to be participants in his work of love and compassion for the world.

 

Dear church family, when I think of all you, during this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to be surrounded by a host of compassionate souls. You are a people of fervent prayer. You identify with the afflicted. You help those in need. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, you continue to find creative ways to be the light of Christ for the world. Indeed, you act as if you know the Arabic proverb, “The one who has bread is debtor to the one who has none.”  You act as if you know that each earthly kindness draws us closer to that Great Feast we will share together with our LORD. Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you act as if you have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and you have responded, “Yes, my Shepherd! Yes, my Lord! Yes, my King!”

 

Amen.

[i] John Calvin

*Cover Art “Christ the King” by Ira Thomas @ https://www.catholicworldart.com/1p-king.html. Used with permission

Risky Business

Risky Business

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 15, 2020

24th Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 25:14-30

When we gather next week for Stewardship Dedication, we will offer prayers and blessings for our Prayer & Pledge Commitments for 2021. With this in mind, the reading from the Gospel of Matthew could not be more appropriate since it is frequently used to teach the value of making the best of our God-given gifts—be they time, talents, or treasures. On this text, I am sure you have heard numerous sermons preached along these lines. I have preached a few myself. But as I pondered the parable this week, I was compelled to meander down a different path—one that invited me to consider other gifts the story has to offer. Let us take a closer look.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus warns those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven to keep their lamps trimmed and burning. Then, he tells a parable about a wealthy man who departs on a long journey. Before he leaves, he distributes his property to three slaves—each according to his ability. After a long time, the master returns to settle accounts. He is pleased to find that, in his absence, the first two slaves make wise investments to double their money. The third slave, however, takes a different approach. He buries his treasure because he is afraid to take a risk. More than that, he is afraid of his master. In response, the master chastises him and sends him to outer darkness.

At first glance, the master may appear heartless and concerned only about money, but the story is not really about amassing wealth. The story is more about a master, a slave, and their relationship. So, what do we know about the master? We know that he has abundant resources with which he is generous. We know this because he is able to entrust to one slave 5 talents (the equivalent of 75 years of wages); to another, 2 talents (the equivalent of 30 years of wages); and to the last, 1 talent (the equivalent of 15 years of wages).  In other words, all 3 men are given a lot of money. We also realize that the master knows his slaves. How do we know that? Because he gives each one according to his ability. Thus, before the master ever departs, he anticipates what he will find upon his return.

And what do we know about the slave who digs a hole to hide his talent in the ground? We know what he thinks of his master. He thinks his master is harsh, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering what is not his to gather. More importantly, we recognize that he acts out of fear. He expects his master to be harsh. Ironically, because of his lack of trust, he gets exactly what he expects. And isn’t that the way of life? Don’t we often get exactly what we expect?

Imagine with me for a moment, a friend who is in the habit of starting every conversation with what is WRONG with his life, or with any given situation. How often does such an attitude become a self-fulfilling prophecy? On the other hand, bring to mind a friend who looks for the good in people. She even has the audacity to look for new possibilities in stressful situations, hopeful that a better day is just around the corner. Isn’t it true that she, too, often gets exactly what she is looking for—better outcomes, better opportunities?

Scholar David Lose has this to say on the matter:

What we expect is most often what we see. Do we see conflict as something awful and to avoid at all costs? Then it probably will be. Do we instead imagine conflict as a chance to grow and stretch? If so, then we will probably experience it as just that. Is a crisis a threat or an opportunity? Is a challenge a problem to overcome or a mystery to be embraced? Is someone who disagrees with us an opponent or colleague? Again and again, our experience of life is so very deeply shaped by our expectations.[i]

Attitudes and expectations fuel the poem penned by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi:

Once a believer asked the angel of the Gate,

“Is it true that hell is the road through which both believers and unbelievers pass?

For on my way here, I saw neither smoke, nor fire.”

“The road you passed was hell indeed,” the angel smiled,

“but since you have overcome your lower nature, to you it appears as a garden.

Having planted the seeds of devotion, you transformed the fire of anger into compassion

and ignorance into wisdom. The thorns of envy have turned into roses

so now your fiery soul has become a rose garden where nightingales sing praises.”

Truly, dear Christian, attitudes matter. Expectations matter. And God wants us to expect great things because God cannot wait to fulfill our hopes and dreams. In fact, many of our deepest desires have been planted in our hearts by none other than God’s own Spirit. So yes, God wants us to dream and dream big. But first, we must believe that God wants good for us and not evil. We must believe that God is in the wonder-working business.

God is in another business, too. God is in a risky business. Think about it. God creates all that lives and moves and breathes. God forms man and woman in God’s image. Then, God turns over the keys of the kingdom to humanity. How reckless! How risky! And if that is not enough, God looks down upon us all and sees we need a hand. So, what does God do? God takes on skin and comes among us as a helpless baby—for love’s sake.

When you imagine God, do you imagine God with a clenched fist or an open hand? The Message translation of Psalm 145:16 has this to say about God: “Generous to a fault, you lavish your favor on all creatures.” So, you see, not only humans—but all living things—are blessed by God’s open-handed nature. God is the greatest risk-taker of all. And we, formed in God’s image, are created to follow suit. We are created to be open handed and open hearted—generous and kind, compassionate and loving. We are not created to think small—of ourselves, of our neighbor, or of God. Our God is in a risky business and we are invited to join the family enterprise. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[i] David Lose @workingpreacher.com

*Cover Art “He Hid His Lord’s Money” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Waiting for God

Waiting for God

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 8, 2020

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 25:1-13

 

Weddings in 1st Century Palestine followed a certain protocol. It was customary for the guests to gather at the home of the bride where entertainment was likely provided by her parents. Eventually the announcement would come that the bridegroom was approaching. The bridesmaids and the guests would go out to meet him with torches blazing. In the “festive procession, the entire party walked to the groom’s home where his parents were waiting for the ceremony and the extended banquet that would follow and continue for several days.”[i]

 

But in our parable from the Gospel of Matthew, for whatever reason the groom does not show up on time. Hours pass and after a while, some of the wedding party fall asleep. Finally, at midnight a shout is heard, “Here is the bridegroom. Come out to meet him.” The bridesmaids leap to their feet, trim their lamps, and head out to meet him. But 5 of the bridesmaids foolishly failed to bring extra oil for their lamps. They ask the others to share but there is not enough to share. Frantically the foolish bridesmaids set out in search of oil—not an easy task in the middle of the night. By the time they go to Target to buy oil and make it back to the party, it is too late. They bang on the door, shouting, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But instead of a warm welcome they hear from the other side, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”

 

Jesus begins the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids with these words: “The kingdom of heaven will be like this…” and then he proceeds to tell this unusual story. Over the years, when Christians have read this disturbing parable, they have often focused on what happens on either side of the locked door—some gain entry—some do not.  And to not gain entry because of poor planning? That seems a little harsh. While this line of thought might be interesting, I want us to turn out hearts and minds to another aspect of the story. Since most of the action happens on this side of the door, let us consider the picture Jesus paints of a world that is waiting.

 

As God’s people, it is part of our very identity to be a waiting people. We wait with hope. We wait in anticipation. Despite the fact that Jesus is no longer with us in body, despite the fact that sometimes we get tired and nod off to sleep, still we wait. But what do we do while we wait? How do we wait? Not very well. Waiting is not now, nor has it ever been, one of our strong suits. I mean, really, who has enjoyed waiting for this global pandemic to end? Waiting to resume some semblance of normalcy? Waiting to learn the results of our presidential election?

 

Waiting is hard! Truth be told—we are annoyed by such things as a slow internet connection. We are upset when a 10- minute appointment with our physician is preceded by 30 minutes in the waiting room. As a society, we have grown to expect fast internet, fast service, fast travel, fast food, fast weight loss, and a fast track to the job of our dreams. It is as if the childhood travel expression, “Are we there yet?” has become our ever-present mantra. Sadly, too often, we apply the same expectations to our spiritual life. We approach God seeking quick answers to quick prayers. We want God to jump through out holy hoops. But, perhaps, we of all people need to learn how to wait on God, how to wait on the holy, and what to do to keep our lamps burning.

 

Our story today comes as an apt reminder that God will be God and with God it is best to be prepared for the wait. Being prepared for the wait is the one thing that separates the wise bridesmaids and the foolish bridesmaids. All of them dress for the wedding. All of them arrive in a timely fashion. All of them carry lamps that have oil in them. All of them fall asleep. But the wise bridesmaids have prepared for a possible delay. Somehow, they knew what to do “just in case.”  So, when the bridegroom arrives later than expected, they have the resources they need. They have oil aplenty.

 

And what might the oil represent?  Commentators suggest that the oil may be understood as “faith, good works, practices, or spiritual reserves that remain constant and shine during good times as well as times of waiting on God. That explains why the bridesmaids cannot share their oil. Just as we cannot share spiritual reserves…the bridesmaids cannot borrow the resources needed. Being prepared to welcome Christ is an individual matter…”[ii] We can be encouraged by others, of course. We may be inspired by another’s example, but we cannot borrow faith. We must seek for ourselves ways to keep our faith alert and growing. Spiritually speaking, the wise bridesmaids keep their lamps burning by doing deeds of mercy and kindness, spreading peace and love, with a faith that is steadfast and true. They have learned how to wait on God.

 

No, waiting is not easy—waiting for something that is long overdue—waiting that involves being prepared regardless—waiting that may begin to feel pointless. “How long do we have to wait, Jesus? How long before you return? How long before our prayers are answered? How long before you make a way where there seems to be no way? How long?”

 

During the waiting we may experience a mixed bag of emotions: anticipation, eagerness, dread, fear, longing, loss… We cannot help but want the waiting to be over. But, at the same time, as believers we trust that God will show up in our lives—on this side of the doorway into eternity—as well as on the other side. In the midst of our waiting, we anticipate the return of Jesus and that day when all things will be made right and good and holy—a new heaven and a new earth. In the meantime, we wait. But it is not a lazy waiting. It is waiting with purpose.

 

Matthew’s gospel, in its entirety, teaches of the need for readiness. Eager expectation and diligent preparation are needed because things are not as they seem. God is still at work in the world. God is still at work here in our midst even when “here” is a virtual worship space. As those whose identity is claimed in the waters of baptism, we journey with each other. We are nourished at the Table of our Lord. With each passing day we learn to forgive and love as Jesus forgave and loved. We seek avenues of peace and justice. We are replenished by a private devotional life of prayer, study, and meditation. We teach our faith to our children in hopes that they, too, might catch the flame. These things are not mere rituals or time-fillers. They sustain us in Jesus’ absence, when the hazards of life confront us.[iii]

 

Christianity is a “waiting” religion—but we wait with confidence—we wait in readiness. We keep our lamps trimmed and burning. Thus, we obey the instructions Jesus provides elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” That is what it is all about. Not our glory—God’s glory. Not our time—God’s time. That is what the kingdom of heaven is like!

 

[i] John M. Buchanan, Feasting on the Word, 286.

[ii] Lindsay P. Armstrong, Feasting on the Word, 287.

[iii] Matthew Skinner @http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/since-wait-wed-better-get-work-matthew-251-13/

 

*Cover art “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” Freidrich Wilhelm Schadow, 1838-42, Frankfurt, Germany. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition

Saints in the Making

Saints in the Making

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 1, 2020

All Saints’ Day

1 John 3:1-3

 

Whenever we recite the Apostles Creed, we acknowledge our belief in “the communion of saints.” And during an All Saints’ worship service like this, we sings songs of the saints of God—“who are patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.” In doing so, we express our belief in the communion of saints, and we express our hope in being part of that communion someday—along with the Apostles, Augustine, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, and a host of others.

 

As I ponder the saints who have left their earthly dwelling, I cannot help but think of my Aunt Doris who died just a few weeks ago. She was like a mother to me—a woman of God, who loved the Lord, her family and friends, and her church. For me she embodied an authentic child of God—a saint in the making. No doubt, you have similar stories of loved ones who have shown you the way.

 

Thanks be to God—we are all part of God’s salvation story. Today’s Scripture reading reminds us that we are loved because we are nothing less than children of God. We are saints in the making. But some days we do not feel much like saints, do we? We fall down and we get up. We fall down and we get up. If that is how we it seems, though, we can take comfort in Robert Louis Stevenson’s definition of saints: The saints are the sinners who keep on going.

 

I love that! The saints are the sinners who keep on going. Saints are just ordinary people—like you and me. We are not saints because we are good. We are all sinners. Yet, because we are children of God, God fashions us into what we could never be on our own. In gratitude for God’s mercy, we keep on going. We keep on seeking the face of God. And fueled by God’s grace, we yearn to make a difference in this world that Jesus came to save.

 

Kathleen Norris is a Presbyterian author and spiritual leader. She enjoys going into schools where students have little access to the Arts. She encourages them to see writing as an important way to express themselves. One day, Norris asked a 5th grade class to write a poem using similes. To Norris’ surprise, one little boy wrote a strikingly good poem entitled, “My Very First Dad.”

 

I remember him/like God in my heart, I remember him in my heart

like the clouds overhead,

and strawberry ice cream and bananas

when I was a little kid. But the most I remember

is his love

as big as Texas

when I was born.

 

While Norris was impressed with the poem, the little boy’s teacher was stunned. You see, the boy was not a good student. But it was more than that. In talking to the teacher, Norris learned that while the boy was born in Texas, he never even knew his father. The man had skipped town the day he was born. Yet, “I remember him like God in my heart,” the little boy wrote. It makes me wonder—with no real father to remember—was it God’s love that he felt—as big as Texas?

 

See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Because some have departed from the community of faith, spreading a distorted message, the author of 1st John writes a letter, a homily of sorts. In it, he clarifies the gospel message that a believer’s life must be marked by love and he encourages them to stay the course and keep believing in the Son of God and in the saving value of his death.

 

The world (those who live apart from God) does not know what we know! And what is it that we know? We know God’s steadfast love. We know we are children of God even NOW.  We may live in a particular culture, nation, or family—but our true identity is in none of those places—our true identity is as children of God and holiness is our goal.

 

Which leads us to something else we know: We know someday we will be like him. We have not arrived yet! We are not finished. To grow in our faith, like a runner practicing for a race, we make certain habits or practices a part of our disciplined life. We make worshiping God a priority. We spend time meditating on God’s Holy Word—not just on Sunday—but throughout the week. We help people in need, and we pray. Oh, how we pray!

 

Later in his letter, John reveals his reason for writing, “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have the promise of being called children of God now, and the promise of an eternal future in his presence. All Saint’s Day is a joyous occasion to remember the saintly ones who have entered their eternal resting place. It is also an invitation to renew our commitment to holy living. Those who have crossed from this world into the next have left us with a wonderful inheritance. And, as one writer puts it, “through their love and compassion, their instruction and correction, their laughter and tears, their honesty and humility, their sacrifice and dedication, and most of all, their faith, they are still speaking. What a great legacy to claim for ourselves and to share with the world!”

 

We are children of God, now. We are saints in the making! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

*Cover Art by Ira Thomas; used by permission