November 8, 2020
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
I don’t think the five wise bride’s maids got ready all on their own. I doubt that they independently have the same thought of bringing extra oil to keep their lamps trimmed and burning. Reading this text this week, I wondered if, In Jesus’ parable, there was only one or two who realized it was a good idea to bring a top off. It seems to me there was probably just one of them, who, when she gathered with her friends to finish getting dressed, their hair all ready, said, “Hey, let’s bring some flasks of oil. You know how these wedding parties can go. The ceremony goes long, there’s some kind of drama down at the temple, and then we’re out of oil. Let’s bring some extra so we’re ready to light up the party.”
White American culture often assumes, and valorizes the idea that people are independent, solitary. The dominant culture might read a parable like this and assume that these five wise women all individually planned ahead. But in Jesus’ time, and in large parts of our society today, the assumption is that we live connected, as part of groups, families, social circles. No one is in this alone. When we approach scripture, and our lives, from a collectivist worldview, life becomes less scary, less lonely, not so much something to win or lose, but to be faced together. There’s wisdom in the group, beyond the sum of its parts, and we don’t have to have it all figured out on our own.
Some of you may have vast amounts of wisdom from our individual life experiences. But I’ve met very few people who I would consider wise, who go it alone. Much more often, the people who inspire me, that I glean wisdom from, don’t feel that they are exceptionally wise or insightful. Instead, the wise people I’ve encountered choose to be in relationship with a varied community of folks who share the bits of wisdom they have, and are enriched by the diversity of experiences of those in their lives. Instead of being part of groups that look and think and live exactly like us, we can choose to be in relationship with people with different amounts of privilege, and power, and share wisdom, love, and, and mutual aid, for the benefit of one another. Instead of being enculturated with one way of thinking, only having one way of operating in the world, instead of seeking to make everyone the same, the wise folks I know curate a life full of a variety of cultural experiences and spiritual practices, political and communal engagement, so that together, they can be ready to stand up for God’s call for justice in the world when the time comes.
This has been a week full of deep emotions around the Presidential and Congressional elections. Yesterday there were a lot of tears of joy, of hope. My news feed has been overflowing with videos of folks banging pots and pans from their windows in New York, with shouts of joy, church bells ringing, and people dancing in the streets. People were ready for the surprise that came yesterday morning, even if they didn’t know when it was going to happen. But Some folks were caught off guard by the celebrations that broke out when the race was called for President-Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Harris. When joy broke out in Philadelphia and Atlanta, New York and Virginia as people celebrated the invitation to liberation from the demeaning rule of the past four years, some people were surprised. Why was this such a big deal? There have been others, those who many of us wish were a little more wise, elected officials who have supported the President in the past, who realized that it would be in their own self-interest now to distance themselves from the President. Caught in the dark with no oil for their lamps, they’re rushing to get some oil, only to find the doors shut to the celebrations, the people inside saying “we don’t know you, and you certainly don’t know, or care about us.”
They’re late to the party. Instead of getting ready when the President incited white supremacist violence, instead of joining groups of wisdom when he was tear gassing protestors for a blasphemous photo op in front of a church, instead of expressing outrage and moral courage when this faithless man separated families and put children in cages, that didn’t. They didn’t listen to the wisdom of those different from themselves and stayed in their curated halls of power. It would be easy, in this season of victory, to be smug. But if I’m honest with myself, and you, this week I’ve also become aware, dwelling in this text, that I’ve got my own foolishness to contend with. I can look back at my life and see that I have had my own instances of ignoring the wisdom in our midst. There was my own slowness to realize white supremacy’s impact on my life and the lives of those around me. I needn’t look too far to see my own discomfort at the protests of the past that I thought were too angry, tone policing those calling out for justice. We come from contexts, and we are shaped by those around us, and instead of relying on the hard earned wisdom and deep truths of those who have faced oppression, I have to be honest that I’ve had my fair share of thinking I had the world all figured out on my own, and everyone should live in the world like I do. Our religious tradition though tries to shake us from placidness, and prepare us, for the moments when we can join in justice breaking into our world and flowing like an ever-flowing stream. Jesus invites us to not put ourselves as individuals in the story of God, but instead to live in communities, trying to faithfully follow the Holy One whose wisdom springs up in community.
For each of us, and for our faith community, this week is an invitation, as we celebrate the dawning of a new era of national leadership, to listen for the wisdom of those long silenced, who have brought us to this day. We have a plethora of wisdom in this little church, but we have a chance to grow. In our world, our nation, our neighborhoods, there are voices that can help us to be prepared to join the dance of lights, leading the way into joy. Black, Latina, and indigenous women, Queer and trans people, Differently abled folks, our friends from non-Christian religious traditions. Jesus teaches us to be ready to encounter wisdom from people the dominant culture has taught to overlook. If Jesus’ call to encounter God’s wisdom in people the world overlooks and tries to marginalize isn’t enough to move us, then at least may we understand the value in seeking wisdom outside of ourselves as a survival strategy. The hard earned wisdom of Resilience teaches so many around us to be prepared for the long-haul, and this week we’ve seen the bride-groom of justice show up in the power of women like Stacy Abrams, indigenous organizers, young climate activists, Black Lives Matter protestors and suburban moms who gathered folks together around coffee tables, in horror at the last four years, and organized, to be ready for this moment. They didn’t do this work to help white men, to save democracy, or to be the moral voice for this nation; they did the work for their own survival, to care for themselves and the people they love, the communities, the children they know and live in. But when we are in relationship, we can see more clearly God’s call to Justice and love and mutual aid, and our part in it. Not because we have all the answers, or because we want to co-opt others power, but because we really need one another for the challenges that lie ahead.
May we be a family of faith that continues to build relationships with our younger folks, and our families with children; their world is so much different than how so many of us raised children or lived our working lives. Or for those of us who are young, and for those of us with children, may we get to know these bad-ass grandmas and wise folks who surround us with love. So many of us have lived through some stuff, so many of you are still hard at God’s work in the world. Leigh has so many opportunities for us to get to know those experiencing poverty, and would love to include you on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s on North Ave, where anyone of any age can come, and experience God’s wisdom coursing through us all.
These are ways of filling up our oil jugs, the oil that keeps the lamps burning. May we continue to experience and learn how to be wise as we await Jesus coming back, knowing he shows up at the most surprising times. When we are in this together, we get used to seeing the reign of God’s love breaking in, and even when the Holy One surprises us, we can be ready, with a family of faith as wide as God’s love for us all.