Relating, Creating, Transforming

Archive for November, 2014

Waiting Stinks!

Matthew 25:1-13  

Question: in your experience, what is the most difficult thing to wait for?

Today’s parable story in Matthew is a story about waiting.
But admittedly, it’s a weird story, and its characters seem outdated.

We’re not really used to hearing about virgins or bridesmaids ushering a groom to his wedding. First century marriage customs suggest that the groom and his entourage would go to the home of the bride. As they were approaching, they would be met by the bride’s attendants [the bridesmaids], with lighted lamps, who would escort the male party to the home of the bride’s parents. Then, they would escort both bride and groom to the house where the marriage and banquet would take place.[1]

It’s kind of difficult for us to connect with this story, though many take the easy route and assume that the bridegroom is Jesus and so of course, Jesus is coming and we better be ready with plenty of oil.

Stay awake and don’t be foolish.
End of moral.

cool-story-bro-jesus But that’s not consistent with the context of Matthew’s Gospel. The community to which Matthew was speaking had gone through a lot of difficulty. They were sure that Christ would return very soon. When he didn’t return, they were perplexed. What now? Some followers of Jesus thought that they had somehow missed Jesus’ return because too much time had already passed. So Matthew’s Gospel was addressing a very skeptical group of people many years after the anticipated return of Jesus was nothing more than more Roman occupation.

Keep awake? For what?

And so they get this story.
And now we get it, too.

Yes, it’s about waiting, but it’s weird; and outdated; and confusing.
After all, don’t you feel bad for the so-called “foolish” bridesmaids?
I probably would have been one of them.

Also, how come the “wise” bridesmaids didn’t share their oil with the others?
And how come the bridegroom just didn’t accept everyone?

I’m not sure there are complete answers to those questions.
But we can look closer at this idea of waiting.

“Gospel” waiting is hard. It is not sitting in your most-comfortable chair or couch, favorite beverage and snack in hand.

In Matthew and the other Gospels, people were encouraged to wait and feel the pain of it. This type of waiting is sitting in that space of uncertainty and recognizing it. This kind of waiting is active and real.
In this case, waiting is more than just patience—it is waiting for something way overdue like a job, improvement in your health, or a healed relationship. It is waiting for something you’re not sure will ever happen. Waiting is hard.

Waiting stinks.

I asked you before to consider the things that in your experience are the hardest to wait for.

Why are they so difficult to wait for?

For me, my answer is anxiety. I’m afraid that what I wait for will never come. For me, I start to get impatient and try to “make” it happen out of fear that it won’t happen.

The only thing I can say is that in this we are not alone.

Everyone waits.

Everyone at some point gets anxious and impatient.

But there are ways to wait that can combat our anxiousness. What if our waiting is active? What if our waiting includes noticing the beauty of creation all around us? What if our waiting includes seeing and experiencing God’s mercy and grace in the day-to-day things and in others?

Waiting that is active can allow us to discover beauty and even joy in the meantime; in the in between times.

But this wasn’t enough for Jesus of Nazareth. For him, waiting was also working for justice.

Jesus taught and lived the idea that justice work can and should be done in spite of our own uncertainty, struggles, and fears. Yes, prejudice is real; our world pushes people down; systems are set up to favor only a few; injustice is rampant. But each time we stare at that harsh reality in the face and still decide to move forward with compassion, still decide to give time and talents to others without expecting anything in return—we are participating in active waiting.

And we just might notice something good in the middle of all this crap.

Regardless of how difficult or challenging our own personal situations may seem, we are indeed called to an active waiting that involves actively helping others and waiting with them.

Waiting with each other.

Ah, now that’s important, isn’t it?

Because waiting looks a bit different for each person. And at some point, you will identify with all three characters in the parable.
Sometimes you will feel foolish [anxious, scared, impatient, and exhausted]. You will run out of oil. You may feel left out.
Other times you will feel wise [well-equipped and prepared, calm, peaceful, rested]. You will have enough oil for the long haul.
And then some of you may feel like a bridegroom [a gatekeeper, a leader who will have the ability to welcome people or reject people; to embrace their ideas or to blow them off. You will discover people who make mistakes or who are considered foolish, and others who are considered wise and prepared. And you can choose to welcome them all or to shut them out due to fear and anxiety, that both lead to control.

We are all wise and foolish, patient and impatient, gatekeeper and host.

So friends, we must wait together and accept each other. If we honestly and humbly do this, we will share the oil we have; we will find room for everyone; we won’t shut anyone out; we will recognize the pain and impatience of waiting, but we’ll do it together.





Matthew 5:1-12   NRSV

Halloween is a time of year that brings back many memories for people.

And if you are one of those who gives out candy to kids who come to your door, then probably every year you remember when you dressed up and carried a bag that would eventually fill up with a sugar-laced mass.

candyComaCandy Coma.

Even so, for some, hearing the word Halloween makes them cringe a little. Perhaps it’s because they saw the movie by the same name and that creepy piano theme music makes them remember a scary character. Still others cringe at Halloween because they think that it might be some evil celebration that certainly Christians should not participate in. Others go to the other extreme and set up their homes like haunted houses or witch’s cauldrons, equipped with fake, impaled heads, plastic witches, mummies; scary sounds [that can also be quite annoying, I might add] playing on a continuous loop.

And yes, some fanatics even have a Spirit of Halloween charge card.

Okay, so extremism aside, let’s look at reality.

The name Halloween is old English. It refers to the night before All Hallow’s Day, better known as All Saints Day, which is Nov. 1. All Saints is actually a Christian celebration of Protestants and Catholics, remembering the faithful people of all ages who have passed away, yet who lived lives of love, generosity, faith, and humility. This celebration of people’s lives and service goes back to the 8th century.[1]

Hallowe’en is more like Christmas Eve than you could ever imagine.

Hallowe’en was the preparation night for people to get ready for the feast and party on All Saint’s Day, which was called Hallowmas, just like Christmas. So on Halloween night, people lit candles and prayed; maybe sang songs; hmmm…sound familiar?

But these traditions were and are not Christian by nature or origin.

The ancient Druids, from what we know, were a priestly class of Celtic people living all over Western Europe during the Iron Age, which may have begun around 1200 BCE. Druid culture included a celebration for the beginning of the New Year on Nov. 1st. When the Romans started conquering Western Europe, the Druid Celts combined traditions with the Romans.

And they changed their name; or at least the history books did.
The “Roman Celts” as they were called, started a new tradition on the eve of Samhain [end of summer]. They believed that evil spirits were unleashed to create havoc on the earth on this particular night.

Or maybe they knew what Costco and Wegmans are like on a Sunday afternoon in the fall?

CostcoLOR wegmansSWAnyway, to keep these evil spirits from causing too much havoc, the Roman Celts had a great idea: let’s put on scary costumes made of animal skin to scare those spirits away!

And so they did.
You can connect the dots.

The religion of Roman Christianity spread throughout Europe, mixing in old traditions as it went. People lit fires on Halloween night to honor and remember the dead, all the while wearing costumes to scare evil spirits.
But the Middle Ages led to the craziness we know today—the witches, fairies, ghosts, and spirits. And then the legend of this poor guy named Jack who was kicked out of heaven for being bad and even kicked out of hell for joking around too much with the devil. Who knew that the devil didn’t have a sense of humor? In cartoons and such he always seems to be laughing with a sinister chuckle. Oh well.

Anyway, this Jack got his punishment: he had to walk the earth with a lantern until Judgment Day.
Connect the dots again: Jack O’Lantern?

And it wasn’t until the 17th century in Ireland that a certain tradition of poorer folks going from house to house asking for money began. All they wanted was to buy food for the big feast on All Saint’s Day.

Trick or treat, you’re so funny; now please give us a bit of money…

I think you get the idea—how all these traditions, legends, and stories mixed together over the years and formed new ones.
And of course, some traditions are easily marketed. Commercialism has made Halloween into another shopping season.

Meanwhile, the traditions with stronger meaning tend to be less marketable; they require more thought and even some spirituality.

And yet, all over the world, people still practice remembering traditions.

For example, in Mexico and in other parts of the Americas, people observe El Dia de Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Children, youth, and adults prepare homemade “altars” to remember their loved ones, decorating them with flowers and candles, their favorite foods, or other items to remind them of those who have gone on to the next life. Thousands of candles illuminate cemeteries and homes and huge crowds gather in large communities to sing, remember life, and celebrate.

In other cultures around the world, people remember those who have passed on and celebrate their lives.
Here are some striking photos of these remembering traditions from around the globe:

MexicoDiaDeMuertos budapestAllSaints Mexico-City-Mexico-Miniat-003 Mexico-City-MexicoA-man-d-006 Croatiacommemorate-All-012 PeruDayDead MexicoSanGregorio GuatemalaDead Perucemetary HaitiDead Spaindead An-Indian-Christian-famil-027 An-Indian-Christian-famil-028Remembering those who have gone before us, and pausing to do so—is counter-culture. Typically, holidays in the West do not include much pausing at all, but are in fact busier. Many, many people will not take even a few moments [much less two days] to reflect, pray, light candles, sing, eat with friends and family, and to remember.

Perhaps that’s why we struggle so much with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. They are not bumper sticker material or perfect for your newest t-shirt design. Jesus’ teachings, like those of any spiritual leader, require time and effort to unpack, study, and think about.

While the world keeps trying to convince us that we ought to fight with each other and compete for resources so that we will be in a certain social class, if we pause, we can hear something different.

We can hear from this Jesus of Nazareth that the path of humility is the one to walk; that our so-called important accomplishments are not so important.

That taking risks for the sake of others is important; that forgiving is far worth the time and energy; that loving people unconditionally as they are can move psychological mountains; that it’s better and more healthy to be skeptical of what the world says is normal; that it is oh so beneficial for you and for everyone if you stop judging others; and that if we do something good for a living creature [whether animal, plant, or human], without expecting anything in return—something positive spreads.

I don’t believe in saints [at least I don’t believe that there were or are certain people who are religiously more important or spiritually superior].

But I do think that we have an invitation to remember.

We’ll need to slow down our busy minds and bodies for a moment, though.
We will need to remember that where there is death, life is right next door.
And vice versa.

We’ll have to admit that the Jesus we often talk about in churches is not the Jesus of Scripture, who especially blessed the kinds of people who are typically left out of most churches.

And if we light candles, sings songs, say prayers, visit cemeteries, meditate, or think about it deeply—we’ll need to remember that blessing is not immunity from pain or loss or doubt. Remembering to be blessed is also remembering to be honest about what you feel, what you’re going through, and not ignoring it.

Such a practice will also help us to see others and their pain, suffering, and sense of loss.

And such remembering can lead us to the real blessing of wholeness [Shalom], recognizing our full humanity and that the Spirit lives and moves in us all. Such remembering can lead to contentment and an authentic joy in life that does not depend on all the external circumstances.

So friends, remember.

[1] 1. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saint’s Days: A Study in Origins and Survivals in Church Ceremonies and Secular Customs. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1974) pp.190-97.

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