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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Keep Your Lamps - 11/12/2017

Refrain:
Em
Children, don't grow weary,
B7              Em
children, don't grow weary,

children, don't grow weary,
          C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.

Teach it
I don't have a lot of words this weekend, so I'm going to turn to song more than usual. So I'm going to sing this song that refrain I just taught you goes with and weave a sermon through it. It's a pretty simple song, as you'll see, so join in whenever you want.

Em
1 Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
B7              Em
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,

keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.

Refrain:
Em
Children, don't grow weary,
B7              Em
children, don't grow weary,

children, don't grow weary,
          C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.
I learned this song several years ago as part of a choir in Chicago. Ever since then, in pops into my head from time to time. I'm a archaeology and art kind of person, so I've found myself humming this song many times while strolling through museums and seeing unearthed examples of these lamps or artistic depictions of people using them. 
During Advent particularly, which is just around the corner, I start singing this song too. It's very appropriate for that time of year when we pay closer attention to what it feels like to keep watch and wait for the birth of the Savior of the World.
And, of course, this song sings out from my memory when we have readings like we have today, a story of these people of God readying themselves to pour out abundant hospitality when Jesus comes back again.
This is kind of a tough reading we have today. And there is a little bit to sort through as we hear it.
This parable seems to be about several things that contradict what Jesus teaches us in the big picture sense of what it means to be his followers in a world that is so often sucked into power, greed and extreme individualism.
It seems like it might be about some impossible demand that as followers of Jesus we need to keep awake and alert at all times so that we are somehow wide-eyed and responsive in that moment when Jesus comes back to the world to introduce the fully revealed Kingdom of God. But it cannot be about never sleeping or resting, because we already have heard from Jesus in Matthew's gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says. He knows we need rest. And even more so, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (11:28-30) Jesus seeks not only to bring us to rest, but to lighten the weight of our work and play and ministry too.
And remember that even in the parable itself, all the people who were waiting had fallen asleep; all of them woke when they heard Jesus was coming. So avoiding sleep and rest cannot be what Jesus is trying to teach us here.
It may also seem this parable serves as a warning to not get caught without our lamps and to be sure they are properly cared for and lit. But this is also contradictory to how the gospel writer earlier describes Jesus as the fulfillment of what had been spoken by the prophets … “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,” (4.16) we read last Advent in Matthew. Even for those in the darkest moments of the soul who cannot even bear to hold the lamp up let alone keep it trimmed and burning, even – and maybe especially – for those, Jesus brings the light. It is not, we find once again, dependent on us.
And perhaps it may seem that this parable wants us to believe that our moments of foolishness or ill-preparedness –  those times when we are battered and weakened by illness or worry or hardship, those times when we doubt our faith or even want to lash out at God with all our pain and grief; those times when we flounder and fail and sin – that those moments may lead to a reality where we are locked out of the the promise of life eternal in God's Kingdom.
But that is surely not the God we have come to know through our Savior. God sent Jesus for the sake of the whole world. “For the Son of Humanity is to come with his angels in the Glory of God then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” Jesus said this to his disciples just days before he appeared with Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop and was transfigured into the brilliant and blinding light of God.
So we know everyone and everything is brought into the arms of Jesus on the cross, not just the people who come into the night well lit and wealthy with supplies.
We know when we go into those dark and difficult times, God goes with us, is there waiting for us and is on the other side of that night preparing the way for us.

Em
2 Darker midnight lies before us,
B7              Em
darker midnight lies before us,

darker midnight lies before us,
C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.

Refrain:
Em
Children, don't grow weary,
B7              Em
children, don't grow weary,

children, don't grow weary,
          C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.
So … if this parable is not about these things, what is it about? How it is instructing us?
I personally think it's about waiting. It's something we don't always do very well – right?  Think about it – it's hard to wait for a baby to be born or to hear if we've been accepted to a school or program we want. It's hard to wait for a doctor to call with test results. It's challenging to wait and see if a cancer recurs or someone lapses in recovery from an addiction.
I remember realizing how hard it is for humans to wait when I was very little. It was Christmas time and we had gotten the house all cleaned and decorated, we had baked the fruitcakes and Christmas cookies. Presents were wrapped and under a tree. I had gotten myself ready, all cleaned up and dressed in my Christmas outfit and then I sat for what seemed like an eternity at the window waiting for my aunt and uncle to arrive. I was not sure I could bear that space of time between when everything was ready and when they arrived.
So now think of our first-century counterparts who were hearing this parable. They were a people who, like Peter and Paul, thought the second coming of Jesus was as imminent and sure as we think next Thursday is.
But they are becoming a little unsure at this point – a point in time in which anyone who was alive during the crucifixion and resurrection are probably no longer living.
And it was getting hard to wait.
It was getting hard to move forward, sure-footed, in the faith that Jesus will return. Everything they saw, felt, tasted, touched and heard in human time and human experience wants to say differently.
So the Gospel writer is using the parable to instruct his people they must stay centered in what their faith tells them and live their lives ready for that eventuality of Jesus' return to happen, despite the pulls to believe otherwise.
This was a really important thing for these people to hear as they became the first Christ followers to learn what it meant to keep the faith and live in that preparedness when it became clear that Jesus may not come back next Thursday, or the next Thursday or maybe even in a lifetime of Thursdays.

Em
3 Lo, the morning soon is breaking,
B7              Em
lo, the morning soon is breaking,

lo, the morning soon is breaking,
C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.

Refrain:
Em
Children, don't grow weary,
B7              Em
children, don't grow weary,

children, don't grow weary,
          C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.
Yes, this was a very important parable for the gospel writer's people to hear and it is also important for us to hear because we are faced with a similar dilemma, a similar struggle. We too must remind one another to keep centered in our faith, but for us, 2,000 years later, it's not because we have to learn more about how to wait – it's that we often talk and act and live life as though we've forgotten that we are indeed waiting for Jesus to return and usher this whole world into the fully revealed Kingdom of God.
That's why we come to the table and the font, after all. To physically remind ourselves that we do wait for this, we do believe that Jesus will come again.

We often say it when we come around the table together – “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
And we sing it too.
Em
5 Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
B7              Em
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,

keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.

Refrain:
Em
Children, don't grow weary,
B7              Em
children, don't grow weary,

children, don't grow weary,
          C       Em    B7     Em
for the time is drawing nigh.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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