Pastor Cynthia Krommes
(Senior Pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Phoenixville, PA)
Pentecost 23 A, 2017 (Matthew 25: 1-13)
November 12, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran, Manhattan
It is a joy to be here and especially, to serve as your Consecration Sunday preacher. I’m not the first pastor from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania to preach in this pulpit. The Rev. Dr. Robert Hershey who served here for 21 years, began his ordained ministry at Central Lutheran Church in Phoenixville, a congregation which later merged with St. John’s. A while ago, a man stopped by my office and gave me a book of Pastor Hershey’s sermons entitled Think About These Things. I read the beautifully crafted sermons and they did make me think. Then last week, my husband John and I attended Bach Vespers, a ministry Holy Trinity began during Pastor Hershey’s tenure, now 50 years ago. Your faithful stewardship of the Gospel proclaimed through word, sacrament, music and deeds, has kept the lights on at Holy Trinity for 150 years.
“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25: 12
Wednesday is Bible study day at St. John’s where the focus is the Gospel for the coming Sunday. There are two studies, one in the morning at the Episcopal House, a low-income housing community for the elderly and the other in the evening in the Fireside Room at St. John’s. The morning one is made up of mostly older women in their 70’s and 80’s, some of whom have “lost their filters” if you know what I mean. If they think it, they say it. After the text is read, the question is asked, “So what caught your attention?” This week Sissy immediately responded, “This whole thing is just wrong.” She went on, “Didn’t Jesus tell us to share. They weren’t wise bridesmaids, they were stingy ones. Then the bridegroom locks the door and doesn’t let the foolish ones in even though they ran all over town to get more oil when he was the one who was late. It’s just not right!” Almost everyone around the table nodded in agreement. I suspect that when some of you heard the passage read this morning that ended with the proclamation, “The Gospel of the Lord,” while your mouth responded, “Praise to you, O Christ,” your mind was thinking, “What?!”
Putting this text in context helps. It’s Holy Week. Jesus has left the temple precincts where there’d been significant conflict with the religious authorities. In his parting shot he calls them hypocrites and a brood of vipers. Now he’s preparing his followers for what is to come and not just his crucifixion, but what will follow his death and resurrection. A second context for the text comes when Matthew’s writing his Gospel, 50 years later. The church has been waiting and waiting and waiting for Jesus to return and is losing hope. So, Matthew includes four of Jesus’ parables which are known as the Advent parables because they anticipate the coming reign of God. They are stories about faithfulness, perseverance, readiness, obedience, compassion and specifically with the ten bridesmaids, stewardship.
Stewardship is everything we do after we say, “We believe.” I like how Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist puts it, he writes, “In our baptism we give up both the delusion and the burden of possessing life. We acknowledge that we are neither the author nor finisher of life. We’re a steward of life, an ambassador on a short-term, mortal assignment by Christ. Who knows for how long?” Then he concludes, “Give it your all; you will be given all you need.” (http://www.tens.org/resources/blog/stewardship) To be bluntly honest, five of the bridesmaids gave it their all and five did not. I suspect on any given day we might be one of the wise or one of the foolish, or perhaps both.
So how do we keep oil in our lamps? How do we show forth the light of Christ in our lives? How do we live as baptized, as consecrated ones? How are we stewards of life?
First, worship weekly. I heard Church historian and Reformation scholar, Timothy Wengert, preach a sermon in chapel at the Philadelphia seminary in which he said that on Sunday after worship he feels confident and full of faith, but by Friday it’s all but gone, so he runs back the bath, word and meal, hungry for grace. That’s true for me. For you, too? All I have to do is read the front page of the New York Times. I’ve spent most of the past year feeling numb and then last week our national addiction to guns and violence violated the holy, sacred space of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Spring, and Jesus was crucified once again. Numbness turned to tears. Oh, how we need to be here, living under the sign of the cross, in a community of faith that dares to call evil, evil and good, good, that dares to tell the truth.
You, the people of Holy Trinity dare to not only to tell, but to sing the truth. Last Sunday, my husband John and I heard the truth sung in Bruhns’ Cantata at Bach Vespers that “even though we are much too weak to wield the sword of the spirit, there stands by us, a mighty hero who has overcome Death, Sin, Hell and world…the foe conquered, the race is run, for all has ended to our delight. Triumph!” Worship weekly.
Pray daily. At the Wednesday Evening Bible Study, the question was asked, “How do you keep oil in your lamp?” Around the circle, we went and just about everyone said, “I pray.” One woman shared her nightly prayer and it was beautiful. Another, a recent widower who is deeply grieving the death of his beloved wife, teared up and said, “All I have to say is Dear God, and I know that I am not alone.” Now there might be some here who do not know how to pray. In fact, when we do newcomers’ class at St. John’s often a brave soul confesses he’s clueless when it comes to prayer. That’s when our Lord’s prayer can be very helpful. Pause after each phrase and ponder what that means for you. “Our Father….I am not alone…..give us our daily bread….bread for me and the beggar in the park…forgive my trespasses….my envy and lust, my greed and self-centeredness….for thine is the kingdom, which means it belongs to you God, not to the elite and their politicians or even me. Amen. Oil for your lamp, pray daily.
Serve joyously, or as Brother Curtis said, “Give it your all.” You are an ambassador on a short term, mortal assignment by Christ. Elsie had given it her all, but now her husband was dead and she was living at Parkhouse, the county home, stuck in a wheel-chair, missing him, her friends, her house, her everything. I was there with communion not knowing what to say so I prayed “God, help me help her.” Then, by grace, God did. That day Elsie was commissioned to be the St. John’s Missionary at Parkhouse. She said, “What do I do?” I replied, “You are going to have to figure that out, but I think it is mostly loving other residents and the staff.” She figured it out and the next time I visited was full of stories about the people on her floor and how wonderful they were. She said the residents started taking turns praying before meals. She told me about a man named David who refused to leave his room. Elsie said, “I just wheeled myself to his room and told him, there is a place for you at the table and when you aren’t there we miss you. Besides we can’t pray until everyone’s present. And you know what? He wheeled himself to the table.”
You are God’s missionary. It might be as a member of a board who dares to ask the difficult questions that go beyond what’s legal to what’s ethical. There’s a difference. Or taking supper to a sick neighbor or you’ll figure it out. But know, mostly it has to do with love. Serve joyously.
Give generously. It’s important to have discipline when it comes to giving because every time we turn around someone is trying to sell us something that promises to make our lives better, easier, more satisfying. If we buy it, there’s a short-term high and we do feel better, but it’s temporary and before long we need another fix. Just look in your closets and you know this is true. In Phoenixville people rent storage units, bigger than many Manhattan apartments, crammed with stuff they bought to make their lives better, easier and more satisfying. No wonder there are so many foolish bridesmaids, out of oil with bad credit ratings.
This is where proportional giving – giving a percentage of our income towards or beyond a tithe which is ten percent – is a blessing. It makes us think about our money and what we do with it. It instills discipline and helps us to use our resources on what really matters. To give is to make a difference beyond ourselves, it makes life worth living. Give generously!
Giving keeps the lights on, literally and figuratively. And they were on here last Sunday evening when the dark came early as the marathon was ending. All day long thousands ran and ran and ran. Just as we do every day, sometimes making progress, sometimes not. At Holy Trinity the lights were on and a young man and his mother saw that and came into this holy, sacred space and through music and words heard the truth. He had run the race and proudly wore the light blue poncho to prove it. It was a moment of personal victory, but he, they, needed more than that and knew it. After Vespers he shook your pastor’s hand and thanked him, for the light. The race is run and all ends to our delight. Triumph. Amen.