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“Remember the Oil for your Lamp!” Sermon for Bethlehem Lutheran Church 11/9/08

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The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost November 9th 2008

Amos 5: 18-24 Psalm 70 1 Thess 4:13-18 Matt 25:1-13

Remember the Oil for Your Lamp!

First of all, I would like to thank you all in Bethlehem for asking Pastor Bowley and myself to serve you again with the Word of Heaven. I see preaching and ministering here as a privilege and I do not take your acceptance for granted. I very much appreciate your love and acceptance for both of us and I pray that God once again provide us with abundant grace together as we wait for the one who is to come in the name of the Lord. Now don’t only think of the one coming in terms of a new pastor, but think about yourselves coming to this church in the name of the Lord under the promise of God’s blessings. “Blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord.” Also think of others, who will make us grow in number, because they too will be blessed as they come in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, into this congregation here in West Oakland. Think of the children who will come to Sunday School in the name of the Lord and all the blessings that will shower upon them and us. Blessed are those who come in the name of the Lord – those who have come in the generations before us and those who will come when we are long gone.

Our lesson for today deals with the ten virgins, five of whom were foolish and five of whom were wise. It is all about those who come in the name of the Lord, not only individually, but as churches as well. A church can be foolish and a church can be wise. A church can be worth its salt and a church can have lost its savor, that is, you can no longer taste and see the friendship of God there. The word “savor’ also sounds like ‘savior.’ Such a church has lost its savior and comes running to the Lord after it has missed its time and has to hear from behind its closed doors, “Sorry, I do not know you!”

Now to understand this parable you have to know the wedding customs of that day. A bridegroom would receive his bride in her home and then lead her in a wedding procession to his father’s house to celebrate the marriage feast. The virgins who were waiting were like bridesmaids, who held their lamps to light the procession through the night until they entered the Father’s House with the bridegroom, that is, with Jesus, to celebrate there with him the marriage feast which has no end.

Now the wise virgins took oil with their lamps and the foolish ones took their lamps but forgot about the oil they needed to keep them burning. So when they were awakened in the middle of the night by the shout of acclamation: ‘The bridegroom is coming!” They rubbed their sleepy eyes and said, “Oh, we need oil!” They ask the wise virgins for some of theirs, but they say, “No. go to the store and buy your own or our lamps will go out too.” Thus in the last minute they have to run to the store right when the procession is taking place and they arrive at the Father’s House when the doors are already shut.

What is it that they forgot? Some say that for Matthew the oil stands for faith, some say, for good works or the Holy Spirit or the Word. Luther said they forgot about faith. But Luther has a special definition of faith. “It’s a gift of God’s grace,” [for him] “that Christ achieved for us. Thus [faith] is a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which renews a person at once… making it impossible for such a person to stop doing good.” Faith is thus having Christ within you and working through you. The foolish virgins were like empty shells, burnt out lights, without Christ in them. Faith is Christ himself in our hearts doing the work of the Father through us. Faith is God’s Word, the Word of Heaven in our hearts, so that the Word of God is fulfilled here on earth as it is in heaven. And God’s Word does not return empty.

We can say that they were not prepared to trim their lamps, but that looks only at the work of their hands. We have to go deeper, to Christ at work in our hearts and souls. We have to go to our relationship with God and whether or not the light of the world, Jesus Christ, is shining through us – making us glow, making us shine, “this little light of mine,” Christ will continue to make it shine. We can allow our relationships to run out: no quality time together, never calling on someone, never writing, never picking up the telephone, never having a heart to heart talk with someone, and the relationship ends up running out.

In much the same way as for our friends, we can allow our relationship with Christ to run out by not going to church, not receiving the body of Christ in the sacrament, not reading the Bible, not praying, and making sure we frequent the Father’s House, so that Christ really gets to know us. We need to let Christ get to know us so well that he knows each and every one of our faults to be able to forgive them. God loves us sinners, by grace our mutual relationship grows ever more dear and precious. It’s like our cat Figaro. I just turn in to bed, I hear him go onto the counter, where he is not supposed to be. I come home late and he is sleeping on my open laptop computer! We were going to the East Coast for my important lecture, and I forgot to bring in the litter box and he peed in our open suit case! Luckily I had a shirt from the cleaners still in plastic and the puddle stayed mostly in it! But we still took him to the Vet and paid $598 for an operation yesterday! If I should want to reject him, even though I sometimes want to ring his neck, I just remember that God must feel the same way about us and still loves and accepts us, even though our sins are so very much worse than those of little Figaro. We live out of God’s forgiveness.

The preparation we do with our hands is secondary to the relationship we have in our hearts. When Christ is in our hearts we can’t help being faithful and obedient disciples. Christ is the Word of God, the Word of Heaven, and with that word in our hearts, we become bright and shining lamps, who won’t hide under any bushel, but we’ll be on a lamp-stand and be providing light for all who are in the House. Thy word, O Lord is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).

Among our ELCA churches we have a book of the month club. In September, it was Genesis, in October, it was Exodus, and in November it is Leviticus. You get the idea. We are reading one book of the Bible a month. That nourishes the light, gives fuel for the light so that it burns more brightly within us.

Remember how our President Bobby McClain had us do a twenty-four hour prayer chain at this altar? God in his heavenly house with its many mansions must have said, “Look at those people at Bethlehem! Can you beat that? They are down on their knees before my altar 24 hours a day, just like I have to be to keep this whole world from falling apart because of human sin, and on top of that I have to keep the sun shining and all the stars twinkling above them, even when they do not deserve it. Ah, but Bethlehem! I think I’ll make Bethlehem my home. I’ll make it my house, a house of prayer for all nations.”

The point is that we have to get so close to God that God knows us and gets to know us well, and that will make our churches as well as all the blessed ones who come to them, have ample oil to keep our lamps burning. Oh, yes, “Pour your oil in our lamps, my dear Lord!” (Song)

Now in the Bible a “house” can stand for an individual soul, it can stand for a church, and for a country or a dominion as well. We refer to our church as the “House of the Lord.” Thus we began this service by singing, “We have come into this house and gathered in his name to worship him.” The Father’s House stands for the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus promised to bring down to earth. The White House stands for the democracy of the United States of America.

Many of us cried, like Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, you could see the tears rolling down Oprah’s face, when MSNBC announced and it became clear that Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of these United States. How apt that his name, “Barack” means “blessing.” In Hebrew it is “Baruch.” And it is only right that we became emotional, felt elated and celebrated. (In our neighborhood, a makeshift parade went by our house, beating drums and pots and pans, shouting for Obama!) It is a marvelous breakthrough, because our sorry society has finally been able to see past our shells and our skin color to the content of a person’s character.

The solemn, sober, and somber acceptance speech of President Elect Barack and his humility is commendable, because the White House is not the House of the Father. Justice has not been known to run down from it like rolling waters and sometimes righteousness has hardly been a trickle, let alone a mighty flowing stream. Our country is “America, the Beautiful” but it has also had a wicked side that we need to face, confront, and take responsibility for. America is a bright and shiny city on a hill, but also has its dark shadow side, its negative legacy. Just like each and everyone of us, we are sinners and saints at one and the same time, and like our country, we live out of God’s forgiveness.

America let our democracy light up the world once again on Tuesday night, and we too can keep our lamps burning and light up the world with our Christian lives. We are not dependent for that on foreign oil. God pours faith into our hearts and we get dressed in Christ our Lord, who is our gorgeous wedding garment. The Word of the Lord in our hearts is a shining lamp that will light up the darkest places of the earth and President Elect Barack, if he trims his lamp, remaining really close to Christ, can put the White House, into a special place in God’s heart. And if we too trim our lamps and follow Jesus Christ, our Bridegroom and his lovely bride, the church, into the Father’s House, we too will celebrate the great marriage feast which has no

end. Amen.

Pastor Peter Krey, First Sermon preached back in Bethlehem Lutheran Church on West 12th Street in Oakland, California

For the Children’s Sermon I played my trumpet and we sang the little corito:

Translating a Corito:

Pour Your Oil in our Hearts

Sisters and brothers, the Christ is coming,

take out your shining lamps

and keep the burning. (repeat)

Pour your oil in my lamp O my dear Lord

Pour your oil in my lamp O my dear Lord

like the heavenly angels above

fill our hearts with your

faith, hope, and love.

Sisters and brothers, the Christ is coming,

take out your shining lamps

and keep the burning. (repeat)

We want to serve you O Lord with all our love

We want to serve you O Lord with all our love

like the heavenly angels above

fill our hearts with your

faith, hope, and love.

The Corito

Pon Aciete in mi Lampara, Señor

Amado hermano, Christo ya viene,

Toma tu lampara y ponle aciete. (repeat)

Pon aciete in mi lampara, Señor

Pon aciete in mi lampara, Señor

Que yo quiero servirte con amor.

Pon aciete in mi lampara, Señor

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Written by peterkrey

November 10, 2008 at 1:50 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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