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“Pour Your Oil in my Lamp, My Dear Lord,” Pentecost XXV, 11/10/2002 at Bethlehem

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Pentecost XXV – November 10th 2002  (Martin Luther’s Birthday November 10th 1483)

Pastor Peter D.S. Krey

Amos 5:18-24   Psalm 70  Thessalonians 4:13-18   Matthew 25: 1-13

Bethlehem Lutheran Church West 12th St. West Oakland California

Back in Coney Island when I was a mission developer, we had a Spanish service and I worked with Maria Lopez, a Pentecostal pastor and our congregation grew from about 17 people to 173 in a short time. I had served a congregation that remained at about 55 members attending, and the Puerto Rican service just smashed through every barrier I had ever thought impossible to cross. I know it was the Spirit. But Pentecostal Christians have a future orientation, while mainline churches are often oriented to the past. Thus some Pentecostal churches are called Christo Viene which means “Christ is coming.”

I translated a Spanish corito which illustrates my point and is also relevant to the text for this morning.

“Pon Aceite en mi Lampara, Señor.”

Amado hermano, Christo ya viene,

toma tu lampara, y ponle aceite.

Amado hermano, Christo ya viene,

toma tu lampara, y ponle aceite.

Pon aceite en mi lampara, Señor

Pon aceite en mi lampara, Señor,

Que yo quiero servierte con amor

Pon aceite en mi lampara, Señor.

In my English:

“Pour Oil in my Lamp O my dear Lord”

Sisters and brothers, the Christ is coming

take out your shining lamps

And keep them 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 them 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.

(My translation, December 2nd 1984)

I believe the way that congregation grew was related to its Pentecostal future orientation: “Christ is coming.” But whether Christ is out there in the future or back there in the past, how does Christ come to us in the present?

How do we get our hearts into the moment we are sharing together and how does Christ come into that moment? And how is it that we can be out to lunch and miss Christ passing through our moment, and then find ourselves outside the door with Christ saying to us: “I do not know you.” as if Christ were saying, “What relationship do we have with each other?” or “I have nothing to do with you.”

That saying is hard. The great marriage feast here has a bad ending, just like the other banquet, where the disciples go out to the highways and byways and invite everybody in. Then in the celebration one fellow is found to be without a wedding garment and he is thrown out into the outer darkness. (Matthew 22:1-14)

How did that fellow lose out? How did the five foolish bridesmaids of our story this morning lose out? It would be good to know so that we do not lose out – much like the San Francisco Giants in the World Series this year, who were so strong out ahead but who seemed to have nothing when they were behind.

How do we receive Christ when he comes? Or will we not be ready? Will we too be out to lunch – and the great entourage, the glory train will pull in and out of the station, and we’ll come running, when our great transport of delight is already gone. With a sinking sensation we will hear our own footsteps and return having missed the purpose and destination charted for us by Christ.

To take another example that may be closer to the feeling of the ten bridesmaids waiting for the Groom, waiting with the Bride, watching at the door, trying not to go asleep:

When an important visitor is expected, coming to our house, and the day of arrival of the visitor finally comes, the whole house is still a flurry of preparations. After the house has been cleaned, the windows washed, everything made as beautiful as possible, on that day my mother sometimes still wanted to change around the furniture so that the room had a fresh look. And then we all went upstairs to get into our finest clothes. We wanted to be presentable when we met the precious person about to visit us. I would be frightened that I might not be ready and everyone would already be in the room visiting and talking, and when I would now enter so much attention would fall on me that I might become too afraid to enter the room. My wishful fantasy would be that my favorite sister like an angel would run to me and pull me into the joy of that presence.

Now the coming one does not want this outward preparation but an inward one. In Luke 12:35 it says: Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet… so you may open the door as soon as he knocks. Blessed are you who are alert, awake and ready, because this master will put on his belt and sit you down and serve you! What a surprise that he comes to us to serve us and not vice versa. But he could come in the middle of the night or at dawn.

Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14) Once on a visit to Israel I wanted to see the Shepherd Hills of Bethlehem, where they saw the Christmas angels ascending a descending from heaven. It was late and the darkness fell all around me so quickly it took me completely by surprise. I did not know how I could find my way back. Suddenly all the lights of the city came on and it was no trouble at all climbing up to it. What an exhilarating sight! Jesus probably had Bethlehem in mind when he said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.”

Like that city, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel or a cover – St. Luke says, in the cellar,[1] when light is needed up in the house. A light is put on a lampstand so that it gives light to all who are in the house. So let your light shine – [in the darkest hour, even just before dawn – because the darker it is the clearer and brighter the light] – so people see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Our faith in Christ is what makes the flame in our heart start on fire and lo and behold, we become like shining lamps of the Lord. And when our hearts start burning with this holy fire, then everyone in the house can walk in the light, can see what is going on. And what is going on? They can see that God is pouring a new strength of love, faith, forgiveness, and hope down into our midst – and like walking on wedding day clouds, Christ comes into our midst, making our lamps burst into burning brightly – so brightly that people notice that mere daylight is darker than the midnight hour, and a lamp burning with the light of God, is ready to escort the Bride to the knock on the door and start the procession to the marvelous wedding banquet, where, to speak like Martin Luther of old, who took light to a whole new level, Christ exchanges his righteousness for our sin, his eternity for our time, his light for our darkness; his love, tenderness and compassion for our hard-heartedness, his glory for our down-troddenness and sadly wanting existence.

Trim your lamp! That means that your whole person needs to light up in the joy, faith, hope and love of the Light of the World coming to be with us. What is it if we are a depressed lot? If our soul is weighed down with hopeless despair? If we keep up a front on the outside, but our insides snuff out any flame, put out any light that comes near us? If our heart is a sink-hole of nothingness and despair, which we try to hide?

I take that expression “a sink-hole of nothingness” from a philosophy book I use in my college class. It is filled with cartoons to make the “unbearable heaviness of philosophy lighter.”[2] Palmer notes that St. Augustine said that evil was the absence of being, the privation of being, explaining the absence of good. Next to this paragraph he draws the picture of a burglar with a mask and revolver and sweeping his arm before his eyes, the thief says, “Woe is me, I’m a sink-hole of nothingness!”

How do we get our lamps burning so that when the Bridegroom knocks, we can open the door? And our hearts will not be a swamp of depression but a glowing fire and we will be lamps full of fuel and full of light that really shines?

You and I have to clothe ourselves in trust, in trusting God’s Word, because, indeed, “God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.”[3] That Word of God in our hearts, that Word, indeed, will get the oil burning. All the depression, despair and dungeon-darkness of even death, is vanquished by the Word of God – when we let it into our hearts. Because Christ is the Light of the World and Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome: not even the darkness of death, not even the darkness of losing our minds, not even the darkness of cancer, not even the darkness of war and violence. Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome. With the Word of God in your heart, you will change into a marvelous lamp and you will throw the rich wonderful colors of God’s light over this whole world and the fresh new existence of life coming to be in it.

Streaming though you will be a rainbow of feelings in the stirring of the Holy Spirit, who puts a wedding celebration over our whole lives and changes our days into marriage days, with all the promises of heaven, the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Delights![4] “What delights?” you may ask. Delight in the Word of God and the shining light come into our hearts that gives us the Day of the Lord to walk in, the Day of the Lord to see in, the Day of the Lord to witness in, the Day of the Lord to love God’s people in, the Day of the Lord to change our hearts in, the Day of the Lord to raise us up in, the Day of the Lord to awaken in.

You Bethlehem saints, do you hear me?

The Day of the Lord to speak of the love of God in, the Day of the Lord so happy to repent in, the Day of the Lord to be filled with grace in, the Day of the Lord we need no sun to shine in, the Thessalonian Day of the Lord to be enraptured in. The day of the Lord no curse can stand in. The lamb is our lamp whose rays raise up the saints to shine on a whole new level with an end-of-the-world intensity for the gracious purposes of God.

Our son Joshua has to go across town every afternoon to walk his Iaido[5] Sensei‘s dogs, Frido and Pixel. Sometimes it gets quite late and I have often gone with him for the beautiful and invigorating walk though the hills above El Cerrito and Richmond. Suddenly coming to the crest of a hill you can see all the lights of the city below. It is such a beautiful sight to see. All those lights shining where the people live. But as beautiful as they are, they are only electric lights. What about the people living under them? Are they filled with the light of Christ or only living in electric light? Are they fighting with each other under them, betraying each other, manipulating each other, hurting each other, lying to each other, abusing each other, killing each other?

We have to trim our lamps and keep them burning. We have to receive Christ, the Bridegroom, the Word of God, and receive God’s light. No longer will our churches and we ourselves dwindle and dwindle, twinkle, twinkle and go out! The light of Christ will light our lamps again and take our holy fire to a brand new level. Bethlehem Lutheran Church has to become filled with light like a city on a hill. So lifting our lamps, we will all be ready when the Bridegroom knocks and we open the door and see the glorious train, and enter the excitement of the marriage procession, following the Bridegroom, the Light of the World, into the House of the Lord, to celebrate the marriage feast that has no end – in the Day of the Lord to be glad and rejoice in, the day of the Lord to be enraptured in, O Bethlehem, City of Light, high on a hill. Amen.

[1]Luke 11:33.

[2]Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, 3rd Edition, (New York: McGraw Hill Publishers, 2001) p. 105.

[3]Psalm 119:105.

[4]In Hebrew “Eden” means “delights.”

[5]The Japanese martial art of drawing the sword for the sake of ennobling the spirit.


Written by peterkrey

December 20, 2009 at 7:43 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

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