I don’t normally preach on Homeless Awareness Weekend, but it light of what happened in Sutherland Springs, TX the week before, I really needed to respond from the pulpit. We ended up having a really nice service – following my remarks and the choir anthem, I interviewed the kids that took part in Homeless Awareness Weekend and they were able to each talk a little bit about their experiences over the weekend.
Here’s my sermon! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 12, 2017
Prepare To Change The World
(I could not help but laugh at the irony of the scripture that says, “Keep awake” being read the Sunday after Homeless Awareness Weekend, where students and chaperones traditionally yawn their way through worship.)
(Sometimes I think God has a funny sense of humor when it comes to what pops up in the lectionary.)
Last weekend, I was on a ministry high. We had an amazing bazaar on Friday and Saturday, we officially welcomed 16 new members into our church family Sunday morning, this year’s confirmation class was scheduled to meet on Sunday night and we were all looking ahead to our 11th annual Homeless Awareness Weekend. Church life was busy, but church life was also very good. There was vitality, a “sweet, sweet spirit in this place,” as we sung on Sunday morning.
But as I was preparing for confirmation, my phone started lighting up with news alerts from CNN; a gunman had opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Over 20 people had been killed.
A place that is supposed to be a safe space for people to gather, seek wisdom, worship God, find community and offer their prayers.
The question of how we, as a church, respond to gun violence has been the forefront of my mind all week.
The beginning of the week was a little surreal. I offered prayers for the victims of this shooting every time I gathered with even a small group of people. I participated in conversations that used the phrase, “active shooter protocol.” I reviewed our own policies and procedures and then discussed with my clergy group ways we could make our churches safer. My heart was heavy as, over and over again, I was reminded of our brokenness.
But since there was nothing I could do to fix what happened in Texas on Sunday, I turned my attention to Homeless Awareness Weekend preparations. Because not only did our youth and chaperones deserve my attention, I really do believe that the work we do makes a difference, not only in the lives of the people here, but also in our greater community and throughout the world. This weekend has, and will continue to, change people’s lives.
I also believe that, as Christians, when we are faced with adversity, it is our not only our privilege, but also our responsibility to respond with hope and to preach the Good News of resurrection and the unequivocal truth that God’s love always wins.
And so that is what we did this weekend.
As the forecast grew colder, we did adjust our plans accordingly, but this weekend RCC youth and advisors created an outward expression of God’s love in our midst. We took back the sacred space of our church sanctuary as we gathered for worship and communion on Friday night. We gathered around a table of extravagant welcome and remembered what it means to be nourished by simple elements of bread and juice, broken and poured out for every single one of us. We stepped boldly into the darkness, but did so carrying a light that illuminated the path in front of us.
On Saturday, we took to the streets, raising money for organizations who are working directly with people in need of assistance. We prepared food for the hungry, remembering when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We prayerfully discerned what it meant for us to have the ability to move parts of our weekend indoors and reflected humbly on what these harsh winter temperatures mean for people living in homelessness. We talk about the desperate need in our country for emergency shelters.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a parable; it is part of the last of the five major blocks of Matthew’s teaching and addresses what happens when God’s timing does not necessarily match up with our own timing. In this parable, ten bridesmaids went to meet the bridegroom. Five of the bridesmaids brought oil for their lamps; they were described as wise. The other five did not bring oil for their lamps; they were described as foolish. The bridegroom was delayed and when he arrived, the foolish bridesmaids were almost out of oil for their lamps and had to leave to buy more. By the time they returned to the wedding banquet with more oil, the door was shut and they were not allowed in.
In this parable, Jesus is the bridegroom and, presumably, we are the bridesmaids. We are called to prepare for the coming of Christ in our lives and in the world.
The fact that this parable uses lamps in the metaphor of how we can prepare ourselves for Christ is fitting for Homeless Awareness Weekend, where we traditionally use flashlights to illuminate our walk from the church to the field after worship on Friday night and keep fires lit on the field throughout the weekend to offer both light and warmth. These symbols of light boldly call us to shine our own lights into the world, reminding us that if sometimes the world seems dark that just means WE have to find, create and share a light that all can see, witness and carry in their own lives.
But even more than that, this parable calls us to be wise as we prepare to live out God’s call for us in the world. We have to be active participants in God’s work here on earth and this is something we must commit to doing every single day. As this parable calls the bridesmaids to always keep oil in our reserves, it calls us today to be ready to shine light into a world that, far too often, is plagued with darkness. We do not always know what life will bring, but we do know that, in the midst of this uncertainty, we can bear witness to God’s light, love and grace. And in doing so, we have the propensity to transform our lives and also the lives of those we meet along our journeys.
So how do we respond to gun violence, especially when it hits so close to home, here at our church? We can prepare our church by reviewing our safety policies and procedures, which we are doing and will continue to do in the days and weeks to come.
But we can also prepare our hearts to proclaim the Gospel. We can create light and let that light shine so no one has to experience darkness. We can refuse to let evil win. We can hold onto the hope of resurrection and proclaim that hope, even when it is hard to do. We can be living and constant testaments to our faith and to a love that always wins.
We can affect change in our communities. We can take part in weekends like Homeless Awareness, so that we see a world outside of our own and use our privilege to help those less fortunate. We can participate in other mission activities, both through the church and outside of it, well. We can get involved here at the church and strengthen our community. We can encourage others and build one another up, so they, too, can resist evil, shine light, spread love and uncover grace.
Friends, it is at times such as these when we are called to show the world what it means to follow Christ. And just like those wise bridesmaids, we are ready.
We are ready.
And I do believe we can and will change the world.
Thanks be to God!