Sermon – November 9, 2014

“How Are You Doing?”

Phone rings.

“What? This is embarrassing. hmmmm.  I really have to take this will just be a second.” “Really, can’t this wait? I know I picked up. I thought it might be important. I’m in the pulpit. listen, I have to go.”

(Text sound) “now what?” “It’s my daughter!”  (texting out loud)  “Sophie, you know I can see you from here? No, you may not get an iPhone this afternoon.”

“Sorry about that.”

Okay, where were we? Some maidens and lamps and whatever. Jesus loves you. Take it to the bank. Okay.  So busy.  Done.   . . . . .
. . . . . . .I’m not really done. I was going to put out on the sign this week, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!” That’s what it sounds like the messages in this passage about the waiting maidens today. Get busy waiting. No lalagaging.    Man, we’ve swalled that hook, line and sinker.

We have come to redefine busyness. Rather than something to be managed or even avoided, we have turned it into a virtue. So, when someone inquires of us, “how are you doing?”, Aren’t we quick to say with our furrowed brows, “oh I’m so busy. I’m just busy as I can be”. As though that is a desired outcome of our day-to-day.

We have elevated busyness to a virtue, and, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but most of the time it’s not even true. Somehow we’ve gotten it into our heads that if we’re not frantically busy all the time then somehow we are not pulling our weight or living properly. Like someone’s watching and keeping score.  And so we make stuff up to kill our time, and then we say were busy. Actually, most of our day is spent making choices. If there’s something that we don’t want to do, but must, we will find all sorts of reasons not to do it. When I was in college I called this creative procrastination. If I had a paper to do I would roam the stacks in the library and find other books to read. I was still reading, but it wasn’t getting my work done but doggone it I was busy.

We have adopted this as a preferred lifestyle, and express the message by our own behavior that it is okay to live like this.

It is not. This sort of frantic living, this contrived busyness and its attending anxiety blocks for us those things which are most important and most real. Busyness interrupts our relationships with one another quality of our work, the restiveness and peace of mind that all of us long for.

Having said that, I don’t want the biblical texts to be misconstrued as permission or encouragement for living like this. It is true that in this story there is an urgency. The bridegroom is coming. Be ready. Practice quality waiting that leaves you equipped for your part. Keep some oil in your lamp. The urgency however is connected to a joyful event. Now, we have to admit that obscure first century marriage and betrothal practices might be a bit beyond our experience, but the point is that a good thing is happening, the maidens are a part of it, and here is how you get the most of it.

Of course, Jesus is talking about waiting for the manifestation of God’s full intentions and the fulfillment of all things. This is a joyful thing, and not unlike first century marriage and betrothal practices we might not fully understand all the implications, but Christ says be ready to encounter me in the midst of your every day.  Be ready to encounter God in person, you lucky duck.

Now, there is something worth waiting for. I am pretty sure that Jesus doesn’t want us sitting around wringing our hands or busying ourselves with meaningless tasks so that he will be impressed when he checks our resume. Jesus, in the Gospels, goes to great lengths to describe for us what it means to live in a watchful and waiting manner for God’s purposes to unfold. It is in finding ways to care for and love our neighbors. It is in following practices that draw us near to one another and to God. It is living lives of compassion and generosity. It is learning to love and to be loved. It is developing a bold faith that expects God to keep God’s promises, and it is developing a humble faith able to receive God’s mercy, forgiveness and bounty with joy.

What are you waiting for? For God to reward your busyness? For God to affirm your frantic choices? Ain’t gonna happen because that is no way to live, and those who tell us it is are lying.

So, we need to reclaim healthy waiting.  What we put on the sign this week said “patience requires a lot of wait.  We need to see waiting as a spiritual discipline. It requires specific practices so that the oil in our lamps is sufficient. Those practices include, for example, regular visitation to worship so that we may reinforce our relationship with the God who bears into our lives these gifts of hope and forgiveness and mercy, and so that we may respond with Thanksgiving and praise.

Worship is a vital way in which we wait.

It requires of us practice of prayer, where we may seek patience, clarity, and accompaniment in our waiting. To receive the assurance that we are heard and that God is present with us.

It requires of us the discipline of generosity. Isolating ourselves with our stuff and then exhausting ourselves to get some more stuff demonstrates a lack of faith toward the sufficiency of that which God provides. Generosity is liberating both to us because such practice frees us from the restraints of stuff, and it benefits our neighbors in need.

Waiting as a spiritual discipline causes us to adjust our expectations, to tune them. Too often, our expectations for the outcome of each day depend solely upon our own cleverness, resources, skill, and maybe a little luck. Disciplined waiting keeps foremost before us the joyful promise of God’s grace. These are the oil in our lamps. And through them our lights will shine, and the purposes and promises of God will be made even more apparent and accessible. For, waiting as a spiritual discipline is a way to further the kingdom of God, and not just an individual piety. This kind of waiting is how we in the circles and communities we move are formed.

These practices, this oil, are sustained in our daily living. Ask yourself the question and be prepared to answer how is Christ manifest in your life today? What gifts of grace and mercy are you experiencing? Who do you see who hurts, or fears? In what places have darkness and shadow obscured hope and promise, and how can the light from your lamp bring hope? What are you expecting today from God? What do you fear, and how can you give that fear over to Christ? How are you being formed? How is your heart today?

I read a lovely article the other day by Duke University professor Omed Sophi. He said that in Arabic when someone asks how you are they are asking what is your haal? Meaning how is your heart today, at this moment? Are you at peace? He writes, “that is what I really want to know when I asked how are you. I’m not asking how many items are on your to do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing at this very moment.”
Of course the answer to that question is not I’m so busy. The practice of spiritual waiting, and expectancy in each day that God is good, that Christ is present and that each of us matter will allow us to answer such a question with exuberance and integrity. Of course not each moment is golden, but each moment is God’s and to come to understand that will bring us peace and purpose and give each moment meaning.

It is difficult to work and raise children, to be faithful in the midst of a culture of acquisition, competition and the glorification of more. Everybody knows that. There are bosses to please and mortgages to pay. Your car is beginning to show a little rust while your neighbors are out polishing their new ride. We are all aware that each day brings a challenge, tests our convictions and brings its own surprises.   Christ, not the least, is aware.  His invitation for us today is, nevertheless, be alert, expect to experience his grace,  to see it afoot in the world and to be molded by it.

Practice that waiting. Live in those expectations. Keep the oil in your lamp brimming. And the next time someone asks, “so, how are you?” Think about how you might answer that question differently than you have.

Thanks be to God. Amen