What to Do While Waiting

23 Pentecost A       November 12, 2017

Amos 5:18-24          Matthew 25:1-13

Paul D. Opsahl


Facebook brought me a sobering reminder this past week in these lines forwarded by a friend:  “Four things you can’t recover:  The Stone. . .after it’s thrown; the Word. . .after it’s said;  The Occasion. . .after it’s passed; The Time. . .after it’s gone.”

But some things in life can be recalled, and that’s part of what made last Sunday such a meaningful day for us here.  On All Saints’ Sunday, candles were lit and burned brightly up here in the front of the church during the service, and memories of the saints in our lives came alive again.  The luncheon which followed the service reminded us that God’s grace has gone before and followed after this congregation for every one of its 45 years.  Special thanks to you, Pastor Joe, for some incredibly kind words, and to Betty O’Lear and those who worked with her to recall some fascinating moments in Community’s history.  Seeing where we’ve been is so essential in figuring out where we should be going.

Some time ago, one of our Bishops related how an African pastor kept these words on his desk to help him stay centered on what ministry was all about.  It was titled:

“My Commitment as a Christian”

I’m part of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

I have Holy Spirit Power.

The die is cast.

I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made.

I’m a disciple of His.

I won’t let up, look back, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed.

My present makes sense.

My future is secure.

My face is set, my mission is clear,

my road is narrow,

my way is rough, my companions are few,

my Guide is reliable, my Goal is Heaven.

I cannot be bought, compromised, delayed,

            deluded, detoured, lured away, or turned back.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up

            until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up,

paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus.

I must go till He comes,

give till I drop,

preach till all know,

and work till He stops me.

John Wesley was asked what he would do if he knew his Lord would return at that time the next day.  Wesley said, “I would go to bed and go to sleep, wake up in the morning, and go on with my work, for I would want God to find me doing what he had appointed.”  And Martin Luther was asked the same question – what he would do if he knew that he would die the next day.  He replied, “I would plant an apple tree.”  He would continue to live life as fully as he could, with hope, and with the certainty that all will be well.

I like the story about the homecoming parade in a university town in central North Carolina.  Many elaborate floats passed along the parade route when suddenly an unadorned, rustic hay wagon came by, pulled by an old tractor.  On the wagon were several students from one of the fraternities.  They were madly sawing boards and nailing things together helter-skelter.  The spectators were puzzled, but that changed to laughter when the wagon passed and they could read the sign on the back.  Which read: “We thought the parade was next week!”

Our Scripture lesson from Matthew is about getting ready.  Anticipating.  Waiting.  It’s about ten young women who went to the home of the bride to wait for the coming of the bridegroom, so the marriage festivities could get underway.  How times have changed!  Now, at the service, the bride is the center of attention, and it’s when she enters that the people stand!  I kind of like the thought of everyone raising burning lamps and cheering when the groom enters the picture!  (I’m in for trouble for that thought when I get home today!)

But here we have these ten young ladies.  The foolish five had taken along their lamps with only the amount of oil that each lamp could contain.  The other five, the wise ones, had taken an extra supply of oil along with their lamps. . . .just in case.  Just in case the wait turned out to be longer than they thought.  As the story goes along, we find the bridegroom is detained so they fall asleep.  No problem yet.  The wise five got some Z’zzzzz, too.  Suddenly someone shouts:  “He’s here!”  All ten jump to attention.  Each will hold up their lighted lamp, the darkness will be pierced, the bridegroom will receive his enthusiastic welcome.  But now, the five who didn’t bring any extra oil find their lamps sputtering big time.  The other five have that extra oil, so they trim up their wicks, pour in the oil – and voila!  Let’s party!  In what seems like a very unkind, ungenerous act, the wise maidens refuse to share.  They’re not about to jeopardize their readiness.  So off to the nearest 7-11 go the un-prepared, for that extra oil they should have brought in the first place.  It’s then, when they’re gone, that enters the banquet hall, and the door slams shut.  When the foolish five return, their lamps are burning brightly with all that new oil.  But they find that the door, now closed, is not going to open for them.  Remember the Carol King song:  “It’s too late, baby now, it’s too late. . . . .Somethin’ inside has died, and I can’t hide. . . . It’s too late, baby now, it’s too late.”

Much of our problem in life is that we don’t know how to wait.  I recall two weddings I had in one family – two daughters with marriages about two years apart.  Between those two big events, however, the mother of these brides came down with cancer.  As the months moved along, it appeared increasingly unlikely that she would still be alive for the second wedding.  But all of us underestimated the strength of her wish – her will – to live for the big day.  And live she did for that second wedding. We were waiting for her to die – she was waiting to live – though two weeks later, we held her funeral.

So our parable has to do with waiting to live.  How we conduct our lives while we’re waiting to celebrate.  Last Sunday, Pastor Joe referred to a favorite movie of his, Forrest Gump, also one of my all-time favorites.  There’s another one from about that same time that also had lasting impact on me – “Dead Poet’s Society,” with Robin Williams.  Do you remember the first day of class, where the young English professor in this boys’ school takes his students out into the hall.  He has them stare at the pictures of the alumni on the wall.  And then he asks them to lean in and listen to the message these men of the past have for them today.  Remember the skeptical glances the students were giving their teacher for these “far out” ideas of his.  Their glances said, “He’s really crazy!  He has us listening to pictures.”  But that didn’t deter the young professor, who understood exactly what he was doing.  And as they lean in and listen, he weaves in among them and whispers the message from the alumni very quietly, “Carpe Diem,” “Seize the day!”  Grab on to the moment.  Don’t let it pass.  It’s your time.  Now.  Then he dismisses the class.  He had captured their imaginations.  They had begun to realize what it meant to seize opportunities to make a difference.

Do we know who we are?  And why we’re here?  I like the story that was floating around about the first President Bush.  He was visiting a nursing home, where he took the hand of an elderly man walking the halls and asked kindly, “Sir, do you know who I am?”  The man replied, “No, but if you ask one of the nurses, they’ll be able to tell you!”

So, what to do while we’re waiting for today to be over, for tomorrow to come, yes, even for Christ to come again like we confess in our creed.  In Montgomery, Alabama, there’s a striking civil rights memorial fountain.  It was designed by the same person who conceived the Vietnam Memorial here in Washington, DC.  Under waters that flow down continuously over the sides of this large fountain are words carved into the granite, words from our First Lesson today, from the prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters.”  Let justice roll down to the fringes of society, and over the edges to the lonely outcasts, to those no one accepts, those about whom no one cares.  Justice is not an optional activity for the church. We are the church when we practice justice, when we offer the cup of cold water, especially when mercy and kindness find their way to the least of those among us. When we help provide a home for the homeless.  When we see to it that hungry children and grownups are fed, and the opportunities for education are there for all.  When we make sure that from the poorest to the richest, all have equal access to adequate health care.  When we make sure that immigrants continue to find a welcome in this immigrant nation.  When we bind up the wounds of those whose lives have been shattered through gun violence.  Justice is a long way off for some, but the call to each of us is to bring even a little piece of love and hope to plant in our world while we are waiting for all our tomorrows.

What were those words that helped that African Pastor remember his commitment?  Maybe they can help us, too, help us remember what it is to be Christian in a hostile world:

The die is cast.  The decision has been made.

I am a disciple of His.

I won’t let up, look back, slow down,

back away, or be still.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up

until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.

I must go till He comes,

give till I drop,

            preach till all know,

            and work till He stops me.

And the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, to life everlasting.  Amen.

2017-11-13T13:51:49-04:00November 13th, 2017|Sermons|0 Comments

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