The Five Fools

The point of the parable of the Ten Virgins is to stay vigilant, to wait for the coming of the Bridegroom.  I wonder if the foolishness of the five foolish virgins wasn’t that they had no oil, but that the lack of oil became for them a stumbling block in their waiting.

The wise virgins had flasks of oil, the foolish virgins did not.  But when the Bridegroom comes our Lord does not put in His mouth the praise of the wise for having extra and enough oil.  The oil didn’t get them into the marriage feast; the fact that they waited for the Bridegroom gave them entrance.

The foolish virgins wouldn’t have known if they had enough oil.  The cry went out at midnight, “The Bridegroom comes!” but was it an hour, two hours, at dawn? Why go then and buy oil?  Why not stick it out in the darkness, trusting in the mercy of the One for whom they wait?  Why ask for oil from another?  Why not be content that the Lord has given what He has given, and that is enough?

The wise virgins were not Christ-like.  They did not give until it killed them.  They did not give their oil to the fools.  Why?  We say it is because we cannot believe for another, and we equate the oil with faith.  But the oil is not faith.  The oil is a stumbling block.  It caused the wise to be greedy and the fools to give up their wait. What do we care if we have oil?  Does our Lord not say to us that tomorrow is not our worry, that today has sufficient trouble?

The foolish virgins were fools because they let what they lacked keep them from greeting the Bridegroom when He came.  And so they were kept from the marriage feast.  The wise were not wise because they had extra oil, but because they waited.

If we lack faith, from whom will be buy it?  No one, it is given.  If we lack faith, we wait for the Merciful One.  If we lack integrity, we wait for the righteous One.  If we lack good works, we wait for the One who fulfills the Law for us.  If we lack peace, we wait for the Prince of Peace.  If we fall asleep, we wait for the One who shall wake us.  Our Lord is greater than us and our lack of oil.  He renews the strength of those who wait upon Him.  When He comes and finds us waiting, He will not say to us, “Yes, you wait; but you doubted now and again, you lived always with the question of whether I would return. You should’ve gotten rid of your doubt first; where is your oil?”  Neither will He say, “Here you are waiting for me, but look at your rags!  Where are your good works?  Where is your oil?  You should have had good works waiting for me.”  When our Lord returns and finds us waiting for Him He will say to us, “Come, blessed by my Father, into the joys of my banquet.”

The expectant waiting is the chief thing. The oil is good, and those who wait for the Lord have enough.  For here is the mystery of it all: The more you wait on the Lord, the more you eagerly expect Him, gathering with His Body and eating the same, drinking His Blood, and hearing and believing His promises, the more oil He gives you and the more you realize that nothing but waiting on Him really matters.  That is what faith is, to wait for the Lord who has purchased you, who has redeemed you, who gives you His mysteries as proofs and signs of His will for you, and who comes again.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

The Son of Man Cometh

In Matthew 10, the evangelist records Jesus sending out the Twelve.  With no money, no extra tunic, no extra clothing they are to go out and proclaim the kingdom of heaven is near, healing diseases, casting out demons, and even raising the dead; sure and certain signs that the Lord is with them.
As sheep in the midst of wolves are the Sent Ones, the Apostles of the Lord.  Yet there is promise. For most truly they will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
Now one can take this as a future event; that the Apostles are still going from town to town in their writings and preaching office – and so they are! fulfilling the Apostolic Commission given in Matt. 28 – that the Son of Man will come at the close of the age – and so He will!  But it may very also comfort the poor preacher as he preaches and is devoured by wolves and sees little or no fruit for all his labor.  For here he has the promise of the One who sent him that he will indeed see the Son of Man coming on clouds in great power.  The Son of Man comes when and where the Father sends Him, healing and saving those the Father draws to the Son, breathing out His Spirit through Baptism and ordination, establishing His kingdom and rule.  Of this the apostle and preacher is forerunner and herald.
So take heart, preachers, those who sit in the apostles’ seat.  You will not have preached in vain but you will see the Son of Man coming before you have been exhausted beyond yourself.  Truly, truly, the Son of Man will come before you have preached to the last soul you see.  And when He comes, He will come with great power and great might, healing every dread disease, bringing cool water to the desert’s burning sand, casting out demons, and feeding you with the very Bread of Peace.

Preaching on Credit

I am no different than most pastors.  I want to be a good preacher.  Now certainly we (myself and other pastors) differ on what that means, to be a good preacher, but I think it nigh impossible to find a preacher who would say that he wishes to be a worse preacher than he already is, though many a preachers’ habits and ways might suggests such to the casual observer.  Be that as it may, certainly the vast majority of all preachers would quickly and quite truthfully say that they want to become better preachers.  But after some soul searching (yes, soul searching; perhaps with even the theme music from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie) I have found that I don’t really want to become a better preacher.  If I did I would do the work.  I’d read books on preaching. I’d listen to good sermons (whatever “good” might be to me); not to copy them – though that’s a start – but to be inspired by them, to mimic them in their goodness.  If I really wanted to be a better preacher I’d spend a great time on, well, preaching!  But I don’t.  And I’d wager most others don’t either.

No, what I really want is to not have to work at being a good or even decent preacher.  What I want is to stand up in the pulpit tomorrow and with little or no effort deliver the most powerful, awe-inspiring, soul-changing, life-altering homily that the ears of men have ever been blessed to hear.  What I want is to be so endowed with the ability to inspire and impress the audience (those who hear) that I cannot help but be the most marvelous orator since the Greek orators of ancient renown.

In essence: I want to win the lottery of good preaching.

We have succumb to the society around us, we want our best … NOW!  Joel Olsteen is such a success – as we all know – because he preaches to itching ears.  And we’ve been listening.  You don’t have to work at good preaching, just meditate a bit, really want to do it, and be earnest, truly believe you can achieve it and *PRESTO* you’ll have it!  Every week we play the lottery.  (1) We drive to the local gas station/read the texts; (2) Pick our numbers/do a little exegetical, mostly isogogical work; (3) Pay the $1/write a few ideas down; (4) go home hoping and praying that our number is the winner/wait until Saturday night or Sunday morning to frantically make some sense of nothing.  Sometimes we get $10 or $15 dollars, but mostly we will just have wasted our time and our hearers’ time.

Now don’t get me wrong. We all know the joke that since God once spoke out of the mouth of an ass, he can speak out of my mouth.  That’s true.  But that doesn’t free us from doing the work of an evangelist and so fulfilling our ministry. It simply means that God will have His way with or without us.  But we are still accountable.

Usually we buy the lie.  We act like we’re rich when we’re not.  We preach on credit.  That is, we depend on past study, past inspiration, past victories to settle accounts on Sunday morning.  We have our favorite catch phrases and prose, so we bank on those.  But it’s like paying the $100 minimum payment on your $4,000 maxed out card so you can use it a little each month. You don’t really have the money, but nobody but you knows it.  Of course, the only reason you got the card in the first place is because you didn’t have any money, so you borrowed.  Eventually, though, you don’t have the $100 to pay the minimum payment and the creditor calls and you loose your TV and everybody knows it: you’re poor and in massive debt!

So it goes with preaching.  We don’t have the money to begin with so we borrow from our past or from other pulpits, not doing the work ourselves because it’s too hard or we’re afraid of failure.  We’re afraid of not being as good as or with keeping up with the Jones’.  Eventually, though, our past becomes too far past and our “creditors” become too foreign to our place in life, and we are faced with the reality that we are poor preachers.

And as there is only one way out of debt, so there is only one way out of being a poor preacher: work.  What does that work look like?  It looks like prayer, not “lottery-like” prayer, but meditative prayer in the psalms and the breviaries of the Church catholic.  It looks like studying the Greek and Hebrew, not only with Bible Works or Libronics (as good as a tool as they are), but struggling to internalize the meanings and endings and all that good stuff.  It looks like not using filler in our sermons.  Get to the point.  If that means you begin to preach 10 minute sermons, then preach them!  If the point needs building up to, then build up to it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t.  But even here we are tempted to play the Preaching Lottery. We want the work to come naturally, without great effort.  We need to repent and do the work of an evangelist.

Mostly we need to pay attention to the Scriptures and to what we preach.  Pay attention to your sermons, your words. For by them you will save both yourself and your hearers.  The actually delivery of the homily may be easy – maybe not – but the process is work, hard work.  It is our work. Let us do it with fervor and spirit, not neglecting to pay careful attention to ourselves and the flock of God over which the Spirit has made us bishops.

Peach the Word.

“Science Satire” (like “Lutheran Satire”)

Okay, not exactly like “Lutheran Satire”. Still, funny.