Proper 27 A 2014
It’s great to be with you on your Celebration Sunday.
Thank you for the invitation!
One of the fun things about being a stewardship preacher
is the challenge connecting any bible passage to faith and money.
One time the lectionary text was the binding of Isaac-
where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah.
I was stumped at the stewardship connection at first
but then I realized that in ancient times, children were considered a form of wealth--
they worked your land and took care of you in old age.
And so Abraham’s leap of faith to let go of his own son, which he valued more than anything,
made a provocative connection the leap of faith we take every time we let go of money, which we value.
Lay it on the altar with Abraham! I said.
So I came to the text assigned for today with a certain anticipation… what would I get?
Reading this passage in Matthew about the bridesmaids and their oil,
I have to say this is more challenging than Abraham.
In fact, this seems to be the anti stewardship text!
Jesus tells a parable comparing the kingdom of heaven to 10 bridesmaids awaiting the start of the wedding feast.
Five are wise; five are foolish. The wise ones take extra oil with them, just in case.
Turns out that the groom is really late-- probably stuck taking pictures—and all the bridesmaids fall asleep.
But at midnight the cry goes out—the groom is coming!
The bridesmaids all wake up, trimmed their lamps—
except that the ones who had no extra oil realize that they won’t have enough for the night.
Give us some of your oil, they say—but the wise ones refuse, saying they won’t have enough for themselves.
The foolish bridesmaids are forced go to town to buy oil.
I don’t know about you, but this parable seems a bit off.
Aren’t we supposed to share?
Yet not only are the bridesmaids who don’t share their oil welcomed into the banquet,
they are also commended for being wise.
While the others are left out in the cold, we get the message—it’s ok NOT to share.
In fact in some situations, you shouldn’t share, lest you lose out.
I have always been taught that Christian stewardship is based on abundance:
that God is the giver, and there is more than enough for everyone’s need.
But this parable seems to put forth scarcity thinking—
the belief that there isn’t enough, and that you have to hold onto to what you have to get ahead.
Where is the stewardship message in that?
Often times when I preach on faith and money, I use real life examples.
One of my favorites is Millard and Linda Fuller, the founders of Habitat for Humanity.
Do you know the story?
Fuller was a country boy from humble beginnings in rural Alabama.
He started raising pigs at age 6, launched a marketing business while still in grad school.
He became a lawyer and was a millionaire by the time he turned 29.
He began having health problems, however, and his marriage was breaking up,
so Fuller did some soul searching.
He said, "After spending most of my adult life in the pursuit of success in law and business,
I wanted to make my life count for something of more lasting value.
So I made a radical change.
Linda and I divested ourselves of our wealth and sought a very different kind of life —
a life of Christian service."
Linda and Millard did the unthinkable for most of us: they sold all their possessions,
and set up a farm where they began to test out their Christian ideals of community and servanthood.
They piloted their now famous idea of building simple, decent houses with no interest loans
The families contributed with 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’ to build the house.
Since then the organization has built over 300,000 homes for 1.5 million people.
So I am thinking back to our parable.
What if Linda and Millard had followed the bridesmaids’ example?
They would have built vacation homes for themselves, took up expensive hobbies--
Perhaps they would have given some away through a charitable foundation
But they would not have what mattered most to them—a life that counted.
A life of Christian service.
What could Jesus have meant by this parable?
Did he really mean for us not to share?
Perhaps the answer is that it’s not a stewardship parable.
Parables are like metaphors—the comparison cannot be pushed too far.
If I describe the moon as a wafer pasted in the sky, you don’t expect me to reach up and eat it.
In this case, a comparison is being made between the kingdom of heaven
and the bridesmaids who await the start of the wedding feast.
The focus here is not on the merits of sharing, but on one’s readiness for the kingdom.
The bridesmaids who have come prepared enter the wedding feast.
Likewise, Jesus’ followers who are spiritually prepared for his coming enter into the joys of his kingdom.
But what does it mean to be ready for the kingdom?
Jesus goes on to tell another parable later in this chapter-- a parable about judgment day.
“When the son of man comes in his glory, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
The king separates the people into camps-
those who inherit the kingdom and those who go into punishment.
The difference between the two groups is how they lived their lives—
whether they visited the imprisoned, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked—or whether they did not.
Read in this light, the parable of the bridesmaids becomes clear.
The oil in their lamps is a symbol of being ready for the bridegroom, Jesus—
and being ready for Jesus’ kingdom means not holding onto what you have
but rather pouring yourself out for others. A stewardship parable after all.
Which brings me back to Linda and Millard Fuller.
They discovered something important for all of us—their spiritual need to give.
They reoriented their whole life toward service to others, and it made them rich on the inside.
It made their life count.
Each of us has a spiritual need to give.
You all know this a Christ The King—
being a small band doesn’t stop you from doing a lot of serving!
From backpacks and Christmas gifts for teens at JFK middle school
to ELCA disaster relief,
to hosting the Martin Luther King community service
to gathering food for the food bank and setting up a blood drive.
You know from experience you have a place in your heart that is only filled when you are pouring out.
The amazing thing is that when you pour yourself out, abundance is created.
You don’t end up with less, you end up with more!
If you have experienced this with your time and talent,
then you can step out in faith and do it with your treasure too.
Money is like water in a river—it’s meant to flow.
It moves stuff around and makes life possible.
let’s not dam it up, let it get stagnant.
but rather let our resources of money and talent and passion and commitment
whatever measure we have
be poured out in service, in a life that matters.
Let us enter the abundance and joy of Jesus’ feast.