Monday, November 10, 2008

It's all about the lamps

I don't usually post my sermons on this blog (you can find sermons on the St. Paul's sermons page). But I had a few requests to post yesterday's on the blog, so why not? And this gives me the opportunity to mention that I am starting a lectionary Bible study on Tuesdays at 12:45 pm in the St. Paul's lounge. You are welcome to come to the noon Eucharist first, or join us after for a conversation about the upcoming Sunday's lessons. Who knows? Your ideas may end up in a sermon. You can access the lessons ahead of time by clicking Lectionary Page.

The photo on the post is of a first century Jewish oil lamp. Here's yesterday's sermon; it goes with Matthew 25: 1-13.

Sermon for Sunday Nov. 9, 2008
26th Sunday After Pentecost

It is all about the lamps.

I must begin with the momentous events of this past week. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the world will greatly note and will long remember, that a nation built on the backs of African American slaves elected a black man to be our next President of the United States. No matter who you voted for, that is a milestone of monumental proportions.

As President George W. Bush put it this week, it will be a “stirring sight” to see Barack Obama walk into the White House, and his inauguration will be an “inspiring moment that so many have awaited so long.”

The election is over, and I hope that all of us – Republicans and Democrats, Obama voters and McCain voters – can pause in the moment and reflect upon how far we have come.
It is all about the lamps.

Some of you in this church can especially stand tall in the light of this moment, not because of what button you pushed in the voting booth, but because of the role you played in the long agonizing march toward equality in this nation.

I speak specifically of the older members of this congregation who all of us should honor for their remarkable rectitude and fortitude.

It is all about the lamps.

For the benefit of those who are younger, or new, let me tell you the story: The people of this parish – St. Paul’s Memorial Church – stood up when it counted many, many years ago.
When the courts ordered the racial desegregation of the public schools in the 1950s, the churches of Charlottesville – the white churches – banded together to create whites-only schools in the churches. Shamefully, Episcopal parishes joined in that effort.

But the people and the rector of this church, St. Paul’s, the Rev. Theodore Evans, stood up and said No, that is wrong, we will not participate in whites-only schools. Not in this church, not ever.
The Rev. Evans said at the time: “The church of Christ is not a social club to encourage us in our preconceived prides and prejudices. It is the dispenser of God's truth and light to all who will receive it.”

It is all about the lamps.

And though the winds blew strong against them, this parish and its clergy did not bend. And some of you who were there are still with us, and you are the lamps in our midst. Thank you.
It was acts of courage like theirs, in many places and many churches like this, all across this land, that made it possible for a black man to be elected President this week.

Yet, let me temper this celebration by pointing out that there is much, much work for all of us to do as faithful people. We have not elected a messiah, we have elected a President, the head of state and the head of a government. This is not a time to gloat, nor is it a time to be paralyzed with fear.

This nation remains deeply divided, and there is much distrust – and not without reason – of government and politicians.

There are many tasks ahead, and not just for the new president, but for all of us.
As faithful people, our work is founded in our baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of every human being” and to “work justice and peace for all people.”

It is all about the lamps.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells this parable about ten bridesmaids, five who were wise, and five who were foolish; some have oil for their lamps, and some do not. The story is not really about a wedding or bridesmaids. The story is about the lamps.

Lamps bring light into darkness, and in the ancient world, lamps are something more: lamps are symbols of God’s good work and the Kingdom of Heaven. The lamps are about making real the words: “thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.”

So when Jesus says keep awake, keep your lamps lit, he is saying be ready for the work God has given us to do. We are the ones to bring light into the world and heaven to earth. So be ready, put oil in your lamps, we have much to do.

We are still engaged in two wars, a faltering economy and the consequences of global warming. We may differ – and differ deeply – on what approach our government should take to each of those issues.

Yet much of what ails this land will require a change in our cultural values, and that is not a new observation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, long ago in another crisis, once said, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” That is still true.
The change in cultural values can begin right here.

It’s all about the lamps.

Soon, the congregations in the Charlottesville community will tackle education issues via the organization IMPACT. The weather is turning colder, and we have a homeless population to feed and shelter. Some of them live on the lawn outside this church.

Meanwhile, our Green Team at St. Paul’s is working diligently to show us how to have less impact on the environment as a church.

We also have our lamps lit in the world beyond Charlottesville. This summer, our youth group will work on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota.

On Friday evening Lori and I attended the “Harambee” dinner at St. Paul’s and we were inspired learning about five small but incredibly significant projects to help people lift themselves out of poverty in Kenya.

I could go on with more examples, but I won’t. Let me underline one thing: None of this is about earning our way into heaven.

Lighting lamps is about bringing heaven to earth, and bringing heaven especially to those places of despair and pain, and to those people who feel forgotten and alone. It is all about the lamps.
Lighting our lamps is about putting baptism at the center of our life as a faith community, and that is why we have moved the baptismal font to the center of the church.

Each thing we do, no matter how small, is a step along the way in building God’s kingdom. You can light your lamp every day of your life: in your work or the classroom, in your home and in the streets.

Every penny you give to this church lights another lamp, so I am not shy about saying this: I hope you will give generously to St. Paul’s, especially in this time when there is so much need. Get your pledge card in. We have work to do and lamps to light.

There is much we can do together. The Kingdom of Heaven is all around us. So be awake. Be ready. It is all about the lamps. AMEN.

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