Friday, November 14, 2008

Vespers

Otter Creek's Wednesday night service is called Vespers. It is a contemplative service. The sanctuary is darkened, mainly lit by candles. Scripture is read, there is silence, a Psalm is chanted, there are different stations for prayer to guide our thoughts, and a message is given. This Wednesday, I spoke from Amos 5:18-24 and Matthew 25.

The Gospel passage tonight is the story of the Ten Virgins and its theme is preparedness. Contextually, the subject is the return of the Lord as discussed in Matthew 24. It’s very curious to imagine what Jesus was thinking as he thought about preparedness.

We have a tendency in our contemporary setting to spiritualize teachings like this, to expect that Jesus is talking about our spiritual state of preparedness, making sure our hearts are right with God, but what’s interesting is that the parables that follow this one don’t tend to bear that out.

The next parable after the virgins is the parable of the talents, where servants of a master are given talents/money and those that produce are rewarded and the one that doesn’t is punished. Again, this parable could be spiritualized. Our talent is the Gospel that has been given to us and we are to take it out and have it bear fruit for the Kingdom of God, converting others to Christ. And I think that can be one application of it.

But then look at the parable that follows, one of Jesus’ clearest statements on judgment, the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this one, the Son of Man comes in his glory and he separates all the nations, the sheep on one side, the goats on the other. And what is the basis of this separation? Is it belief? Is it having your heart right with God? Is it the fruit that our Gospel has borne? No, it’s action. It’s caring for the poor, the sick, visiting those in prison, and clothing those that need clothes. It is action that comes from faith.

And here’s the thing that should scare us. And by us, I mean those of us who have grown so comfortable in our Christianity that we think showing up on Sunday’s and eating a little bread and drinking a little grape juice and putting some money in a plate makes us a Christian. Or those of us that think that sitting in liturgical, candle-lit dark makes us more spiritual. From this last parable, if what we do in here isn’t backed up by actions for these least of these in society, we’re the goats. If we don’t follow what we say we believe by actually doing something, we’re the ones on the outside.

You see, because if you look at these parables, all of the people who end up on the outside are those “in the know.” The virgins left out in the cold know the bridegroom is coming. The servant with the talent knows what he’s supposed to do with it. The goats to the left call the Son of Man “Lord.” These people know who Jesus is, they know, and yet on the basis of that knowledge, they do nothing.

And this is what makes the Amos passage so fascinating. In the NIV it’s labeled as the Day of the Lord, which for some people, might bring up images of Revelation: new heavens, new earth, the new Jerusalem coming down, God dwelling with His people. But the Amos passage makes it clear that the Day of the Lord isn’t necessarily something to be anticipated as much as it is to be feared.

All of the services and rituals and rites that the people of Israel were performing were worthless in God’s eyes, because His people didn’t pursue justice and righteousness. He says that He hates their feast, despises their assemblies. Away with the noise of songs! Why? Is there something inherently wrong with the songs or the assemblies? No, but it’s the fact that those assemblies and feasts are not backed up by action motivated pursue justice and righteousness. That's what angers God.

It seems sometimes that the church can become a collection of admirers of Jesus. We like the idea of Jesus. We like the fact the he came as a cute baby (no golden fleece diapers, though), that he died on a cross, and rose from the dead. And that somehow as a result of all of that, we get to go to heaven too. We’re not sure how all that works, there’s blood somewhere and we get washed clean by that, but we’re basically just glad that it happened and we get to benefit from it.

And honestly, it's easier to be an admirer, because it makes little call on our own lives. It becomes much easier to point our fingers at others' "moral" failings and call people out for them, while ignoring the sin that eats at our own souls: the greed and the lust and the selfishness that don't show as easily as the moral failings we can like to pick on.

However, Jesus does not call us to be his admirers. He calls us to be his followers. To walk as he would walk in our places. How would Jesus walk as a teacher, or a student, or a web designer, or a minister, or stay at home parent? If we claim the name of Christian, which is Greek for little Christs, we have to commit to walking as his followers. We have to look the opportunities around us for pursuing justice and righteousness. It’s good to do that in places like Guatemala and Kenya, foreign ministries that Otter Creek supports, but we also need to look around our own homes, in our own city. Find out what needs to be done at the Wayne Reed Center, at Youth Encouragement Services, at the Kirkpatrick School. Take communion to prisoners on Sunday mornings, come with us to the Turney Center on 4th Sundays. Participate in Room in the Inn, Thrift Smart, Mending Hearts.

Being a follower is hard. It's messy. It gets us around people we might not be around a lot. It takes a change of mindset and it's not overnight. You take the baby steps that you can. Maybe give away one thing that you don't need. Maybe do something that Jesus would do that makes you uncomfortable.

God has given us opportunities to pursue justice and righteousness all around us. All we have to do is open our eyes and see them. He’s invited us to partner with him in changing this world, something that no matter how lofty their speeches, no politician can do, no government can accomplish. Jesus didn’t save us for us to sit on our hands and pray that we don’t sin so badly that we don’t make it into heaven. He called us to go out of here and make disciples, call people to the Kingdom and then send them out as well. And I pray that we will have the boldness to stop admiring Jesus and start following him.

4 comments:

Suzie said...

Great message, Phil.

Brian said...

Always good to be challenged like this. It's so easy to slip into 'admiring mode'

believingthomas said...

totally off the subject but Bond's dead girlfriend in the new movie is named Vesper.

Becca said...

Beautifully written and so true. I wish more "Christians" would get up off their comfortable tushes and do something.

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