Wednesday, November 15, 2023

HOMILY: "Our Lamps Lit"

A Meditation on Matthew 25:1-13
November 12, 2023


This is a parable about keeping the lights on, about keeping our lamps lit through a dark night, through an extended season of darkness and unknowing.

The first time through, a lot of us read this parable and we wonder: Why would the five with the oil not share with the five without the oil? What about compassion? What about generosity? Isn’t that the whole point of Jesus’ story, of his ministry? And of course it is.

But I would suggest to you, my friends, that there are lots of stories about compassion in the Gospel. There are lots of teachings about generosity in the Gospel. But this one’s about keeping our lamps lit, this one’s about keeping the lights on. This one’s just a little different.

You see, if those five bridesmaids with the oil, those five bridesmaids who’d done the planning and invested their energy and purpose in keeping some oil around for the dark night, if they’d given it away, then no one would have had light, illumination for the dark night. The entire community would have run out of oil, would have lost its capacity for shining in the midst of uncertainty and longing.

So this is a parable about that. This is a parable about keeping the lights on, about keeping our lamps lit through the dark night, as we await the arrival of the bridegroom, or the inbreaking of wholeness and justice and peace in God’s world. It’s about a beloved community keeping its lamps lit. It’s about the urgency of practicing what we preach. It’s about gospel courage even in a season of profound unknowing. It’s about staying awake.


So let me tell you what all that looks like, just today, a single Sunday in the late fall. In this beloved community.

Right here at 10 o’clock, we’re celebrating the divine vision of a world at peace with Randy Armstrong, Dave Ervin and our choir; we’re remembering an old friend—a dear, beloved old friend—with more music, and Joyce Andersen and Catherine York leading us in song; we’re celebrating community together, a people of all ages, a people of many different backgrounds sharing in the bounty of God’s feast—even in the midst of an uncertain time. That’s just 10 o’clock.

At 12 o’clock, we’re welcoming a transgender theologian to talk with us about the kind of community he needs, the kind of community our queer friends are asking for in the midst of the strange and sometimes threatening world they live in. That’s 12 o’clock.

At 3 o’clock, our friends Elena and Xianlang continue their stunning four-week class on nonviolence: what it means to live nonviolently, as people of peace, as disciples of peace in the midst so much war and violence. That’s at 3 o’clock.

And then at 6 o’clock, we’ve got 14 seekers, 14 friends exploring membership, covenant membership in this dynamic faith community. Fourteen of them, sharing a meal with others in the Fellowship Hall, exploring the richness of our life together, and what it means to be a community of faith and conscience here and now. These are friends who have found their way here on all manner of spiritual paths, through curiosity and passion and hopefulness. And tonight, at 6 o’clock, we’re all breaking bread as one. Sisters, brothers, siblings in community. And that’s what light looks like. That’s what keeping our lamps lit looks like today.


In a lot of ways, then, the parable today is the perfect Stewardship text, the most relevant text for a community imagining its future and pledging resources, tithing toward ministry and witness in the year to come.

Wisdom means planning for witness in the strangely unpredictable, oddly dark seasons of our lives. Wisdom means investing our resources in the kind of oil that lights lamps, investing our resources in gospel hope and joyful praise and (yes) compassionate service—when so many around us are tempted to give in to despair and fear. Wisdom means singing songs for Maggie, and chanting ‘Peace’ in 39 languages, and classes in nonviolence, and conversations with queer theologians, and keeping the lights on for fourteen (FOURTEEN!) new members who are telling us they need us, who are telling us this circle makes a difference in their lives.

So, as you think about making your pledge for 2024, and as you pray on the commitment you’ll make in the next week, I want you to take the parable to heart. And I want you to accept the challenge Jesus offers as an opportunity, as a calling, even as a gift.


When Kate and I sat down to make our pledge a couple weeks ago, we prayed on it, and we decided that this year we could commit to a tithe. And that’s 10% of our income. There were many, many years, when that tithe was out of reach for us, as I know it is for many of you. We couldn’t even imagine doing anything like it.

But about six years ago, we committed to starting at 4% and doing what we could to increase our church pledge 1% a year. We’d heard about a preacher friend who done something similar. And by golly, this year, we found our way to that 10%, tithing level.

And, it’s just a number—a wonderfully traditional, biblical number—but it’s just a number. Though, I have to say, connecting with all our ancestors and their commitments, it feels kind of good. So I’d recommend this practice to all of you. Start with something. Start with 3%, 4%, 5%, see how that goes for you, and then work your way up, 1% up each year, and see if you too can reach the tithing 10%.

Here's my promise. If we all go about it that way—bravely, hopefully, intentionally—giving to keep our lamps lit; giving to support all the music, all the worship, all the programs for teens and children; giving to fund all the immigration advocacy, all the connections with outreach on the Seacoast; giving to create safe space for LGBT kids and parents; giving to a circle of loving support that shows up for Nat and Emily and Eliza, over and over again…giving to KEEP OUR LAMPS LIT…

if we go about our giving and pledging with discipline and creativity and (yes) sacrificial generosity—we will meet God’s vision with budgets that match. And we will keep our lamps lit with joy and courage. And we will sense in our hearts and in our prayers, that the Christ is nearer than we’d imagined, that the Divine is preparing a wedding feast for all creation, that God’s Love is enough to meet us even in this strange and crazy moment.

We’re half-way to our goal for 2024, my friends. And there’s a mountain to climb this week. So don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to do some numbers at home this week. Don’t be afraid to start somewhere, 3%, 4%, 5% maybe, and see where that takes you. And know—please know—that our sharing of resources here, our sharing of dreams here, our sharing of ministry here, is God’s light shining in the dim and sometimes unsettling dark. That dark we know will not last forever. That’s the heart and substance of our faith.

For God’s vision is shalom…and God’s vision is salaam…and God’s vision is a world of communion and celebration. Where every neighborhood is a place of nurturing love. Where every life is protected and honored. Where every child lives in joyful anticipation of wonder and discovery and music and dancing. And peace.

Amen and Ashe.