Tending God’s LightPosted: November 9, 2014
Tending God’s Light
SLIDE 3: JESUS WOULD RETURN IN GLORY
Most members of the early church believed that Jesus was going to return in glory any day to create a new order, a heavenly Kingdom on earth. When Jesus came back, he would right all wrongs, the hungry would be fed, the poor and downtrodden would be lifted up, the sick would be healed, and all the nations of the earth would come to Jerusalem, where they would be taught the Way of Jesus. Swords would be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Nations would no longer make war on other nations and the whole earth would be at peace – the great Shalom of God.
SLIDE 4: THE BRIDEGROOM WAS DELAYED
But as the parable this morning says, “The Bridegroom was delayed.” And the delay in the return of Jesus was a devastating disappointment when he failed to show up to relieve the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Romans brutally crushed the City crucifying thousands of its residents outside the walls and slaughtering men, women and children, after they broke into the City. If there was ever a time, when Jesus should have showed up with an army of angels, coming to relieve the siege of Jerusalem would have been the time. But he didn’t, and many Jewish Christians began to lose faith.
The followers of Rabbinical Judaism taunted their Jewish Christian cousins, “If this Jesus was really the Messiah like you say, where is he now, when we really need him?” And indeed, that is still one of the principle arguments Judaism offers for dismissing messianic claims for Jesus.
SLIDE 5: THE WISE AND FOOLISH MAIDENS
In response to the disappointment of Jewish Christians, remember the gospel of Matthew was primarily written in a Jewish Christian context, Matthew developed the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens. The Bride Groom has been delayed so we need extra oil for our lamps, so our faith will not fail. Now it is very possible the story of the maidens was original with Jesus. Apocalyptic thinking was very prevalent in the century before Jesus’ birth and the century after his death. Jesus may have been responding to the question why does God delay bringing justice and mercy to the Jews? If John wasn’t the Messiah, when will the messiah come? We don’t know whether or not the Wise and Foolish Maidens was original with Jesus, but Matthew certainly gave the story his own unique twist in response to the destruction of Jerusalem.
SLIDE 6: GIVING UP FEAR BASED MYTHOLOGY
Just as Matthew struggled with the failure of Jesus to return, so modern Christians must also wrestle with the failure of Jesus to show up. Two-thousand years have come and gone, and a return of the Messiah, where God intervenes in history from the outside to set everything right just isn’t going to happen. Those people who continue to look for the rapture, are going to be disappointed. Oh there are still religious groups who preach an apocalyptic end of history, where Jesus will appear to save all those who believe in their predictions based upon the Book of Revelation, and then leaves everyone else behind in a cataclysmic destruction of the earth. But I think it is time for mature followers of Jesus to grow up and reject that kind of fear based mythology.
SLIDE 7: FEAR SELLS
A member of the Monday Bible Study pointed out that any group that uses fear as their primary motivator is a cult. Fear sells. Just look at the news: Isis, Ebola, War in Syria, drought, flood, earth quake is all fear used to sell news. Churches that prey upon people’s fear of dying offer salvation as the way to get out of death free. Yes I believe that God is always with us, but in the end each one of us will have to offer up our lives to God. No one gets out of this life alive. What lies beyond that we must trust God, and God assures us we do not need to be afraid. So, let’s put away our fears and instead focus on how to live. For indeed, life is a wonderful gift, and we are intended to enjoy it in gratitude with all of our might. Let us live so that we only die at the end of our lives. So how do we answer the question of when will the Messiah return?
SLIDE 8: HENRI NOWEN
I like a story, a piece of Midrash, I first heard from Henri Nowen, the great pastoral theologian who taught at Yale and Harvard. But first allow me to tell two stories about Henri that will give some perspective on this bit of Midrash.
SLIDE 9: DAY BREAK
The first story is about Henri’s decision to leave Harvard at the peak of his career and take up residence at a community for severely developmentally disabled people, Day Break in Toronto, Canada. Later Henri explained his decision this way. After writing over 40 books and lecturing at Harvard, Yale, the Vatican and all over the world he was famous. Everywhere he went people fond over him. “Oh so you’re Henri Nowen! Will you sign my book!” “Oh, Professor Nowen I love you are so profound!” Stuff like that.
“My name is Joe. What’s your name?”
“My name is Henri.”
That’s when Henri knew he had found his home. He was in the right place, a place he needed both for his humility and his spirit. He was at peace with himself and with God.
SLIDE 10: THE WORLD STILL PURSUED HIM
Even though Henri had left the world to live and work at Day Break, the world still pursued him. People would come from all over the world to visit him at Day Break to ask him to speak to them. This next story is an Institute for Clergy Excellence story shared by the Executive Director Larry Dill.
SLIDE 11: HIGH STEEPLE CLERGY
A group of what Larry describes as clergy from “high steeple churches,” journeyed to Toronto to visit with Henri Nowen. They were a rather self-important group who were hard driving pastors, whose schedules were very important.
On the day they were supposed to meet with Henri Nowen they arrived at Day Break, and they were told that Henri could not meet with them that afternoon. He was caring for one of the residents. They were encouraged to take a look around and meet some of the residents and come back the next morning.
The group of pastors was somewhat taken aback. They had traveled a long way to meet with Henri Nowen and they were being asked to wait. Well they had traveled all that way, they agreed to come back the next morning.
The next morning they came back to Day Break, and they were told that Henri was busy, he apologized, but he would be unable to meet with them that day, and would they please come back the following morning. Well now the pastors really were angry. Who did he think he was keeping them waiting? But finally after much discussion they agreed with each other to remain one more day and come back the following morning.
SLIDE 12: SERVING THE LEAST
The following morning Henri did show up to meet with the pastors, and several of them really lit into him for keeping them waiting. Henri listened and then asked them, who did they think they were that he was supposed to put their wishes before the needs of the least of God’s children. As Christian pastors, weren’t they called to serve the least and the lost, and aren’t the greatest among you to be the servants of all? How could they follow in the way of Jesus, if they were too busy and self-important to make time for the developmentally disabled people of Day Break?
They talked for a long time, and several of those pastors said that encounter with Henri Nowen changed their lives. Now as one of the pastors confessed later on, they suspected Henri had kept them waiting on purpose. They needed an experiential parable to see themselves in a new light.
SLIDE 13: THE MESSIAH IS DELAYED
Just as Henri was delayed in his meeting with the pastors, so too the messiah, the bridegroom in our parable of the maidens has been delayed. And that brings me to one last piece of Midrash, and story I first heard from Henri Nowen.
A young person went out into the wilderness to visit the cave of the Great Rabbi Akiba, and he asked the Rabbi, when will the messiah come?
And Rabbi Akiba answered him, “The messiah is already here.”
The messiah is here? The young man asked. Well then where is he?
“You will find him at the City Gate,” replied the Rabbi.
SLIDE 14: THE SUFFERING AT THE CITY GATE
So the young man journeyed back to the City, and when he arrived at the gate, there were all manner of beggars, poor, blind, lame in ill health but no messiah. Finally, the young man noticed one individual among the mass of suffering, who would stop and offer comfort and help to others. So the young man went up to this person who seemed more able than the others, and he asked, “Excuse me, Rabbi Akida told me the messiah was here at the City gate. Have you seen him?”
The man straightened up and responded, “I am the messiah.”
Incredulous the young man started in, “Well if you are the messiah, why aren’t you feeding the hungry and healing the lame and the blind, and establishing justice in the land. If you are the messiah, what are you waiting for?”
SLIDE 15: I WAIT FOR YOU
“I wait for you,” is the answer to the wise and foolish maidens. The bridegroom is delayed, because God is not going to do it for us. The world will be transformed, when we are transformed. The world will change, when we change. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The world waits for us. Let us embrace the Way of Jesus. Walk the Way of Jesus. Serve the least and the lost, and the world will be transformed.