Worship for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Hello everyone!

Here is our worship service for November 8th, 2020, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost! The worship bulletin can be found here. You can find the full sermon in the bulletin or below the video.

If you want the fullest possible at-home worship experience, please have a bowl of water, something small to eat and drink, and a lit candle ready and nearby. We will use those elements at different parts of the service. But as always, this is completely optional.

May God be with you this day and always!

If the video doesn’t work, please click here.

O Lord, send your Spirit to move in our world and stir the water of our souls that we might be open to accepting your love and grace in and around us always, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

One of the joys of moving these services to live again instead of recording, editing, and posting, is that my sermons can be more current.  Before, because my sermon would be written and recorded mid-week, there was always a possibility that something would happen between then and Sunday that would make the sermon already obsolete.  And that would have been totally clear this week.  This week, if I had to write early, we wouldn’t have had the results of the US election yet, and the way world politics have been going, those results really should be talked about in this sermon.  But, as it were, because I still write my sermon a little early for the sake of those who get paper copies and to post on our website by Friday night, and because of how the election is working this year, by the time I started writing this sermon we still didn’t know who is elected, and I wasn’t ready to pull another Saturday night special.  But, now that we found out the results Saturday morning, I still had a bit of time to at least include this part of the sermon.  But as it were, who won no longer matters for the purposes of this sermon.  It matters to the world, of course, but just not for what I want to talk about today.

What I am going to talk about today, is how disappointed I was with how the people were reacting leading up to the pronouncement.  I know, this was a big one for many people for many reasons, but the tension, the taunting, the threat of violence seemed a lot more prevalent this time around than ever before to my recollection.  The divide between the right and left, the blue and red, the them and the us has been stronger in my non-American eyes than I have ever known it to be.  The finger-pointing, the ridiculing, and the wild accusations of this and that were almost embarrassing.  Actually, it was embarrassing.  And… it was coming from both sides.

See, no matter what side of that colour divide you sit on, you probably already know that the other side was acting uncouth.  But if you stepped back and looked at your own side, I mean really looked at your side, you’d see how you… we were acting just the same way.  Perhaps not in literal action and words, but in the gas lighting, the attitudes, and the dehumanizing of the other, both sides were acting unbecoming of a so-called “civilized” nation and democracy, as neighbours to each other in their country, or even, dare I say it, as human beings.

I know this might sound offensive, but frankly I’m tired of the denial that both sides carry about who is more correct or incorrect, I’m tired of the judgement on each other on who deserves what, I’m just tired of the bickering over this and that and how everyone thinks they are 100% right and the others are 100% wrong.

Maybe you’re tired of it too.  But I wonder if we can ever be free from it.  Because we’ve never been up to this point, so what’s going to change now?  I mean generation after generation we see that there was that finger pointing and gas lighting, we see people not owning up to their faults and follies, we see history books literally changed in order to change the narrative that we will always be portrayed as on the side of what is good, right, and true… even when we totally are not.

And that brings us to today’s readings.  If you’re like me at all, you can’t stand these kinds of parables because not only are they hard to understand, but what seems to be the obvious interpretation doesn’t always sit well with us because they seem a bit too harsh and law-orientated for our grace-centric Lutheran theology is comfortable with.  I mean, just look at this story.  We have these 10 bridesmaids that we aren’t really all that sure what their role is.  They have these candles that we don’t really know what they’re for.  And the bridegroom that they’re waiting for is late for reasons undisclosed.  What makes it worse is that upon some inspection and digging around, it seems like no one knows the answers to these questions.  They are traditions and customs that aren’t really written about anywhere. 

But they seem important, because when the ladies wake up from waiting for this guy for, like, ever, half of the group realise that their oil has run out, while the other half brought enough in anticipation of the tardiness.  When those without ask for help, those with flatly refuse.  So the 5 without go off to buy more oil and completely miss the bridegroom when he finally gets his sorry self there.  But when they return all ready with their oil, they are too late and not admitted into the party that frankly they were on time for and it was the bridegroom’s fault that they ran out of oil.

See what I mean?  We don’t like it.  Because off the bat we think it’s a warning that we need to be ready for God or else we aren’t welcome to the party.  So we frantically go around and do this and do that just to make sure that we’re ready and we even sometimes get annoyed with those around us who aren’t getting ready as frantically as we are.  We just don’t want to be like those bridesmaids who were no longer welcome because of a little oversight.  Instead we want to be those bridesmaids who were ready and so they were welcomed.  We want to be prepared and have enough oil like those ladies.  We want to be just like those unhelpful, selfish, and maybe a little vindictive bridesmaids who wouldn’t help their counterparts with sparing just a bit of oil.  Those were the ones welcomed into the party?  So much about this story doesn’t add up. 

But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t supposed to.

Maybe that is why there are no customs found around these bridesmaids and lamps.  Maybe that is why there is no definitive parallel we can draw from this story.  Maybe that is why we don’t like the results of us trying to make sense of it, because that isn’t what this parable is about at all.

I wonder if Jesus made up this unknown custom of the lamps to display the ridiculousness of some of our traditions.  I wonder if Jesus told this story to bring to light how tightly we hold to our side and our interpretations that we might even leave the party to hold them up.  I wonder if Jesus was saying that we needn’t care about what others are doing, we needn’t be so worried about what little things we are doing correctly or incorrectly, we needn’t concern ourselves whether or not we are ready enough, because we’d be welcome regardless, with or without oil in our lamps.

See the 5 bridesmaids without oil weren’t unwelcome because they didn’t have oil, because they eventually got that oil.  Rather they were unwelcome because they just weren’t there.  They missed the celebration.  They were so worried about how they look, how they’re perceived, how they must follow these customs and traditions that they completely forgot that they were invited to a party.  So they left to deal with their shortcomings and missed it.  Those who were welcomed weren’t welcomed because they were exemplary human beings, they were just mean and selfish.  But they were there.  They were present.  They were able to be welcomed not because they earned it or deserved it more, but because the bridegroom is gracious.

What does this have to do with the election?  I think we are too ready to draw the line between the bridesmaids.  We are too eager to list out in our heads who is in and who is out.  We are too divided to be able to accept the other side… who, if you really think about it, is just as unworthy, undeserving, and uncouth as we are.

And if we understand that… if we understand how we are all just as finger pointing and judgemental as others, then maybe we can ease up on the condemnation, maybe we can relax with the walls we put up in keeping others out, maybe we can just learn to accept that God’s welcome toward us extends also to all people, regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation.

Because God welcomes us, yes, but God also welcomes those who aren’t us.  God welcomes us in spite of our sin and shortcomings, just as God welcomes all others who have sins and shortcomings that we might be all too ready to point out.  God loves us and declares us as God’s children, just as God loves those that we don’t or can’t, and joins us together as the one, albeit diverse, multicultural, multi-faceted, multi-denominational, and non-partisan body of Christ.  Hopefully we can learn to work with each other in spite of difference, hopefully we can put aside the “us versus them” mentality, hopefully we can see and feel our welcome as well as the welcome for all people into God’s eternal, merciful, and inclusive kingdom.

Above all, whatever might happen in the coming days and months, may we always remember God’s love for us, in us, through us, and all around us, also for all people.  So we can relax our supposed ways of doing things, we can relax our thinking of how things should be or ought, we can relax about how the other isn’t like us and doesn’t even seem to try, and let’s just show up in God’s grace and mercy, and be ready for God’s celebration of hope and joy.

As we move ahead together in this brave new world, may we accept, forgive, and even love each other, just as we are accepted, forgiven, and loved by a gracious God. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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