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the sermon for

the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

19 November 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Grace: the beginning, the end, and everything between!

by Gretchen Shults, deaconess

11192017Another church year is about to end. And with that comes the scripture readings that include words about the end times. The Old Testament reading from Zephaniah says, "Be silent before the LORD God! For the day of the LORD is at hand... That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish... ."

Lutherans don't dwell on the end times. We are all about living in God's grace. We have a God who is "for us," who continues to act graciously in our favor. We leave the End Times to him and trust his promises. I wish our reading would have included these words from Zephaniah. "The LORD your God is in your midst. He will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing!" Exult means 'to jump up with great joy'! How wonderful is that! Recently, this scripture came to life for me. From time to time, I get to rock our Paisley Jo to sleep. She's such a happy, special child. As I rock her, I sing a hymn or two and, then, I hum. Well, lo and behold, just when I thought she was asleep, she began to hum! She hummed and hummed until, at last, she was fast asleep! I felt the LORD was in our midst! Her humming was God's song over me! I treasure that moment!

God's singing over us can come at various times and in various ways to renew and remind us he is always in our midst! His presence takes away our fears. Often, at this time of the year, we do hear some say, "Where has the time gone? It just seems to fly by!" But what is time? The Psalmist says, "For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past... ." Therefore we prayed, "So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." There is a great and deep difference between counting our days by the years of life or by the days and years of God's grace. Jesus entered into time for us.

Each day, each year, is marked, begun, and ended by his grace. God's grace fiercely pursues us. His gracious love is poured over our stumbling journey through time. The forgiving love of God watches our feet and holds our hands. Remember! God is with us always! From the manger to the cross! We are known and res cued so that we can belong to him forever! And we are the reason for his coming and for his staying! It's all about Jesus and we are the people of his grace! With confidence we prayed in the prayer of the day, "Merciful God, prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming!" Prepare us for the JOY of the day of your coming!

But then, our gospel reading for today tells us otherwise. Matthew's gospel is, certainly, influenced by the Old Testament. Today's reading speaks of being thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In the parable concerning the Second Coming, we are told God gives talents to be used! Hiding them is not an option! Talents to be used OR ELSE!

In the twenty-plus years with these women of the ELCA, this is the part of scripture that brings complete silence! And this is a rowdy group! In our studies, from time to time, we are asked to name our talents, the talents that God gives us and the response is always the same. Silence. These women have many talents! They just won't name them! They're hidden with silence! But together, we name them for each other! And together we use our talents to serve those who need help! By God's grace, our silence is changed into thanksgiving to God and ThankOfferings to care for others! Each month, we use our offerings to help others in our community! Like the Soup Kitchen! Like Family Promise! Like Safe Place and TeenChallenge! And we use our offerings for the care of this congregation! One woman, recently, suggested that we use our offerings to remove that dead tree in the entryway and all those ugly stumps! And that's just what we did! Another woman suggested we use our offerings to give an ELCA gift. Together, a micro-loan was given to a mother to start a business that would help her family escape poverty! This mother paid back the loan which was, then, used to help another woman. No one is ever beyond the reach of God's love! God's love or our compassion!

Today, we bring our special ThankOfferings, once again, to worship. These offerings will be combined with the ThankOfferings of women from thousands of other congregations which support life-changing ministries of the church! Together, we do more than we could ever do by ourselves. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. And all this giving isn't about us. It's about what Christ has given us! He brings new life to us! His life! We are forgiven and we are free to give our ThankOfferings to help others!

Our Second Reading tells us what God is doing for us. It says, "For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him!" We don't worry about the End Times! Judgment is dangerous if uprooted from the context of mercy! Jesus has saved us from all the wrath and darkness and gnashing of teeth! He's here and holds us close! His grace and mercy is on the way even before we reach for the Cheerios, first thing in the morning! It arrives before we deserve it!

In the gospel for Thanksgiving Day, we see Jesus daring to get close. He arrives just in time as he was on his way to Jerusalem – on his way to the Cross – where he would take on the world's sickness and sin and give, instead, wholeness and salvation. But as he enters a village, ten lepers stand at a distance warning Jesus to stay away. They know they cannot approach him. The lepers have more than a disease; they are outcasts. But, still, they call out to Jesus for mercy! And with those few words, Jesus can tell what is churching inside them. His boundary-crossing compassion reaches out. And he dares to come close with mercy and healing. Boundaries no longer define these ten lepers! Jesus directs them to go to the priest who would announce them cured! They take off fast – except for one, the foreigner. A Samaritan is the only one who turns around and falls down at Jesus' feet to thank hum. Jesus says, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well!" In Greek, there's a difference in the meaning of 'being cured' and 'being made well.' 'Being made well' is translated 'salvation'! 'SALVATION' came to this Samaritan! And I have often wondered could this one who returned and gave thanks have been a woman?

Today, we come before God to give thanks and praise. The Holy Spirit hovers and stirs our baptismal waters. The gospel ignites us to serve the lowest and forgotten ones. Christ's presence in Holy Communion is healing and lifesaving. His cross on our foreheads never lets us forget that by HIS offering we are loved!

"Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us, and keep us all in grace, and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all harm, in this world and the next." Amen!

 
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the sermon for

the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

12 November 2017

Matthew 25:1-13
Faith is not for some, but not for others.
Faith is for everyone, together!

11122017It was a little over thirty years ago – on October 30, 1989 – that a came on the market. Really, a collection of essays covering a wide range of topics. And it was an overnight success! Number One NY Times bestseller! Seven million copies sold worldwide! A modern classic, it's been called. A phenomenal bestseller! Has struck a deep chord in readers all over! The author is from Waco. Graduated from Baylor. Went on to receive a degree in theology from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA and ordained by the UU – Unitarian Universalist – Church. One hundred eighty-six pages. The book got its name from the first chapter. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. It made quite a splash. Still is according to Google! Especially among kindergarten teachers!

Like I said, the book's named for that first essay which lays out twenty-or-so lessons we all learn, that first year of school! Play fair! Don't hit people! Clean up your own mess! Don't take things that aren't yours! Say you're sorry when you hurt people! And of course, my own personal favorite, take a nap every afternoon! But the lesson that immediately came to mind as I was reading through the parable of the ten bridesmaids was the very first! Lesson number one! Share everything! First and foremost... Above everything else... Share everything!

And with just a handful of verses... with a mouthful of words... Matthew rips that lesson right out of the book! And in the name of Jesus, selfishness becomes a virtue! And while it happens, it sounds so gosh darn holy! So gosh darn righteous! Chapter and verse! Red letters! Ten bridesmaids – five wise and five foolish – take their lamps and go to meet the bridegroom. The wise take extra oil, just in case. The foolish don't. Surprise, surprise, the bridegroom is delayed and the lamps keep burning. So when the bridegroom, finally, comes, the lamps are almost out of oil. When the foolish ask for some oil, the wise say, "No. There is not enough for us all." So, the foolish bridesmaids go to Walmart to buy some more. But when they arrive back at the banquet, they are too late. The door is closed. And locked. And they remain on the outside looking in... forever!

Share everything! That's the primary lesson! Share everything, that is, unless and until it really, truly matters! Then you're on your own! All bets are off! Watch out for number one! And we americans say, "Amen! This is most certainly true!" Practical! Realistic! Down-to-earth! It's something we can understand and take to heart! Personal responsibility! Consequences for our actions! Tough love, as we like to call it! Bottom line, people have to take care of themselves! At least, that's how it's supposed to be! But, from the perspective of love... Especially from god's vantage point... It's so wrong on so many levels...

Matthew tells us that there wasn't enough oil for everyone. Oil was scarce, limited! At least, among the bridesmaids. And if it was shared, there wasn't enough for all ten lamps to keep burning! So it was better for five to remain outside than all ten! Some made it, others didn't! The gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ! And for the longest time, I accepted it. After all, this is only of those Matthew and Matthew only passages. We'd only have to read it ever three years. Preach on it every six. I didn't, exactly, agree with that reason. I'm not sure I, even, understood it completely. But it was an answer... of sorts.

But this time through, I realized it wasn't an answer, at all! Just an excuse, a justification. A way of baptizing what we already believe! Not the gospel of the Lord, at all. But merely the status quo, popular opinion! You see, when you turn the other... and go the extra... and do unto others... When you deny yourself and pick up your cross and follow after... well, this ending of the parable, this moral to the story, just isn't acceptable! Gospel wouldn't be five bridesmaids keeping their oil and committing the others to the darkness. Gospel would be five bridesmaids sacrificing their oil, sacrificing their place, so that the five others could enter the banquet instead of them!

That's one solution. One remedy. Sacrificing your place in line for the sake of another. If... when... there's only enough oil left for five lamps, not all ten! But another option would be, simply, to share the light! To share the light! IF there's only so much oil to go around, you share the light that oil provides with someone else! You invite the other bridesmaids to walk beside you! To walk with you! It's not an either/or! It's a both/and! Imagine if the parable ended that way! The bridegroom is delayed, is late! The lamps of five of the bridesmaid are burn out. But they end up accompanying the other five whose lamps still burn! And together, they all meet the bridegroom and enter the banquet hall! No locked door! No outer darkness! No tears! No teeth gnashing! No punishment or reward! Just generosity! Just gift! That kind of parable would contradict, would go against, everything we read, this morning! It would be simple enough to say, "The gospel of the Lord!" and mean it! "Praise to you, O Christ!"

But, of course, we should know by now that Matthew doesn't see things that way. For him, the world is divided! Divided between good and evil! Divided between righteous and unrighteous, between wheat and weeds, between wise and foolish! And instead of ending with a promise, his parables always end with a warning. "Keep awake, therefore... Be ready... Or else!" The problem wasn't the oil. It wasn't that some were prepared while others weren't. The problem was that they didn't share! They simply didn't share everything! Like the light! Like the light! If there wasn't enough oil for all ten lamps, then you use five lamps! And you share the light! You don't eliminate people! You don't leave some out! You don't push some away! You just share the light! After all, that's what Jesus would have done! That's what Jesus did! And that's what the church continues to do! In spite of what Matthew tells us! We're not here to hoard our oil! We're here to share our light! Just as we share everything! Like we learned in kindergarten! Like we learned in Sunday School!

We share everything! Just like Luther wrote... "From Christ, the good things have flowed and are flowing into us! From us, they flow on to those who have need of them! (The Freedom of a Christian)" We share all we have! Just like Jesus! Just like Jesus!

Just like Jesus did that day in the wilderness when he shared the five loaves and two fish... Just like Jesus shared that night, when he took the bread and cup and said, "Eat and drink..." Jut like he did the very next afternoon when he shared his last breath, when he shared his final heartbeat... Just like Sunday morning when he shared the first light of a brand new day... What would Jesus do? What did Jesus do? What does Jesus still do? He shares everything! He shares everything! And no one – not the wise... not the foolish... No one is left out!

The foolish said to the wise, "Five us some of you oil! Please! For our lamps are going out!" But the wise said, "No. There isn't enough for us all." It would have been so easy, so simply, if they had said, "But you are welcome to share the light! You are welcome to share the light! And, We – all of us – can still meet the bridegroom! Together! So, my friends, the lesson still stands. Share everything! Share everything, just like Jesus!

 
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