Sunday, November 12, 2017

We Need a Big Story

Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church
Joshua 24.1-13; Matthew 25.1-13

We need a big story.

Something to capture our imagination … something bigger than usual … something so good, so powerful, beautiful, in a strange sort of way, to knock us off our feet … give us pause … start us thinking all over again … 

Thinking about big things:
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Where am I going?
What’s it all about?

What does it mean to live?
What does it mean to die?

What are the values I cherish?
What kind of a human being am I?
When children look at me, what do they see?
When I’m gone, what will people remember of me?

We need a big story!
Ever wonder why “Star Wars” is so popular?

It’s a big story … big questions … big characters, big ideas … love and hate, good and evil, fear and courage, loyalty and betrayal, hope and despair … and maybe, just maybe, the good will win … if we’re willing to pay the price.

“Star Wars” is a big story.

Same can be said about the Harry Potter books … and the movies that followed … millions of children read these books … dark though they are, because they’re honest stories … big stories, with death close at hand, sadness stalking the night, bad people, really bad people; and faithfulness, too … loyalty, sacrifice, friends and family … some things are worth dying for.

One of the biggest stories of the mid-20th Century, “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” … I’ve seen all the movies, I’ve read all the books … stories that never grow old, stories that dance with light and hope … stories that illumine the darkness that threatens all of us all of the time.

Big stories invite us into their world …
Big stories help us get a little bigger ourselves … 

We wonder:
Could I be so brave?
Would I love with this kind of love?
Would I be a friend, no matter what?
How much would I give of myself in the final test of life?

Big stories:
Talk to us.
Questions us.,
Inspire us.

The power of a big story … even for our children … they love to hear a story … again and again and again … as their little minds develop and turn into big minds … minds big enough to handle the stuff of life.

We all need big stories … books, movies, poetry and art … science, philosophy, history and faith … 

Faith is a big story: I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son our LORD.

That’s a big story … a story bigger than our biggest thoughts … bigger than our hearts and minds, bigger than all of our hopes and dreams … bigger than life and bigger than death.

And within the big story, smaller stories … little chapters … haunting moments … bursts of light … a moment to think …

Jesus tells a story … about the Kingdom of Heaven … 

Like a wedding banquet, says Jesus … a celebration, a party … we’re all invited … put on your best, fire up your lamps, and take along some extra oil.

Ten bridesmaids … 

And then the story turns dark:

The groom is delayed … finally shows up at midnight … a great shout, the bridesmaids trim their lamps to light the way … 

Oh oh … oil is running low … five bridesmaids didn’t plan ahead … and when their lamps began to flicker and go out, they ask the others to share some oil …

With a surprising answer: No! … not now … if we share, there won’t be enough for any of us … you’ll have to go and buy some when you can.

Is this harsh? Aren’t we supposed to share with one another … or is this justification for some hard-nosed economics?

Let’s be careful … some would take this story and turn it into something really mean, something to hurt poor people … to hurt children without lunch money … to hurt widows and orphans, to hurt the immigrant … to hurt people who don’t have enough … and heaven knows this world is full of people who don’t have enough, because some people have too much.

What Jesus tells is crisis-story …

It’s like getting a call to go to Houston or to the Florida Keys with the hurricanes … you’re ready to go, you’ve had your training … your equipment is up-to-date, in working order … everything ready to go … and, then, a friend of yours says, “Hey, I’d like to help, too.” … but your friend isn’t ready … you’re friend has missed the latest training workshops, your friend’s equipment is a little dusty and out-of-date … your friend isn’t ready for the crisis, but wants to come along anyway and use some of your equipment … so you tell your friend, “I need all of this equipment for the crisis; lots of people need my help. Sorry about that. The next time there’s a training workshop, go to it. Get your equipment in shape. There’ll be other times when you can go. But right now, I have to go, and I’m ready. I’ll see ya’ when I come back.”

Thank God there are people ready to go when the call comes … Christians who rise to the occasion with a good word, and deeds of justice and peace.

Missionaries and ministers, elders and deacons … ready to go when the call comes … when the storms hit … when the crisis is at hand.

Reminds me of one of my favorite hymns: “Once to Every Man and Nation” …

It goes like this (some of you know it, I’m sure) …

Once to ev'ry man and nation 
Comes the moment to decide, 
In the strife of truth and falsehood, 
For the good or evil side; 
Some great cause, some great decision, 
Off'ring each the bloom or blight, 
And the choice goes by forever 
'Twixt that darkness and that light. 

Jesus tells a crisis-story … times in life when things go south, hardship comes, all hell breaks loose … the world is turned upside down … 

Jesus reminds the disciples that life isn’t easy … that all of us need to give serious thought for the days ahead … to have extra oil on hand for the day of need.

In the early days of ministry, calling on folks in nursing homes, I was always touched by the hymns they could sing, the poetry they knew … the Bible verses they quoted … 

Over the years, they had stocked up on oil for their lamp … when the night was dark, their lamp burned bright.

The heroes of history … women and men who had oil for their lamps:

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there were many who said to him: “You’re wrong, Mr. President. You’re dead wrong.” But Abraham Lincoln had oil for his lamp.

When Florence Nightingale went to the Crimea to care for the wounded, she challenged traditional methods of nursing and hygiene, and many said to her, “You’re wrong, young lady. We don’t do things that way.” But Nurse Nightingale had oil for her lamp.

When Susan B. Anthony recognized that women needed the right to vote if America were ever to realize the fullness of democracy, many said to her, “You’re wrong, Ms. Anthony; women are not smart enough to vote.” But Susan Anthony had oil for her lamp.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on Pettus Bridge to challenge America to be better than it’s every been, there were many who said to him: “You’re wrong, Rev. King, you’re dead wrong.” But Rev. King had oil for his lamp.

But it’s more than the heroes … it’s you and me … ministers and missionaries, elders and deacons … musicians and singers … Sunday School teachers and the people sitting here today, who lift up their voices to God in praise, who prepare some food for our gathering … who show up, and share … who rise to the occasion and keep things going … every-day people who aren’t afraid, who dare to think about their world, who pray, and offer kindly advice … everyday folks who follow Christ to the best of their ability … oil for the lamp … to keep it burning.

Dear friends in Christ.
Dear Palms Westminster.
This is our song for life:

Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Keep me burning till the break of day

Amen and Amen!