Wednesday, December 24, 2014

One Night, One Star, One Child - By the Reverend Karen Siegfriedt, Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14; John 1:1-14     Christmas Eve/B    12/24/14
By the Rev. Karen Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA

One Night, One Star, One Child, and the course of human history was changed forever. We are here tonight to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light that has come into the world.  But we are also here to kindle that Light in our own hearts, so that it becomes our desire to bring about justice, dignity, and peace on earth.

About 2700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah offered his people a message of hope in a world that was very dark. We heard this message in our first reading from the Bible.  And even though Isaiah looked out at a world that was corrupt, corrosive, cruel, and confusing, he could still recognize God at work in the midst of all the darkness. He proclaimed:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them the light has shined.” {Is. 9:2}

At that time in history, the Assyrian Empire to the north had become very strong and was systematically taking over the whole region.  Think of ISIS on steroids.  Within a few years, the northern kingdom of Israel would no longer exist while the southern kingdom would become a resident captive.  Slavery, exile, destruction, and death loomed in the shadows and the people were very afraid.  And yet in spite of all the political maneuvering that was going on, Isaiah speaks of a time in the future when there would be a king who would lift the burden from the people’s shoulders.  This king would end war because his kingdom would be defined by peace “from this time forward and forever more.”  Many centuries later, Christians began to associate this passage with the birth of Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace. One Night, One Star, One Child; with God, all things become possible.  However, not all of Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled.

*In December of 1979, “the Iranian Foreign Ministry invited three American religious leaders to celebrate Christmas with the 53 hostages being held captive in the American Embassy of Tehran. The hostage crisis had begun on November 4th of that year, and no one had any idea how long it would last. For the hostages and their families, each day was an eternity, and Christmas Day was fast approaching.  The leaders were only allowed to meet with the hostages in groups of three or four. The Rev. William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church first met with the Marines who had been guarding the embassy. The men took turns picking carols to sing. Coffin opened a Bible to the Gospel of Luke and passed the book around, and each read portions of the Christmas story.” {* The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde}

Then Coffin spoke to them of the first Christmas. “It was cold,” he said, “dark, dank, and lonely.  Joseph must have been tired, Mary exhausted.”  We read, ‘There was no room for them in the inn,’ but of course, there was. There was room in the inn, but no one would move over for a poor pregnant woman….It was a terrible Christmas,” Coffin said again. “But do you see what I’m getting at?  God’s love can change no place into some place, just as the love of God changes a person who feels like a nobody into a somebody.” As he said goodbye, he said, “I know this is not a happy Christmas for you. But it might well be the most meaningful.”

The prophecy of Isaiah remains unfulfilled.  On the political front, we are still a people walking in the darkness.  ISIS, the Taliban, and Boko Haram continue to perpetrate their acts of terrorism that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  And in our own country, racism, partisanism, and violence threaten to tear apart our communities.  Darkness continues to touch our personal lives with family quarrels, hurtful comments, resentments, rebellious children, broken relationships, fear, loneliness, economic struggles, and bereavement. Where is the hope and the promise of Isaiah?

2000 years ago in an insignificant town, in an insignificant part of the world, to an insignificant couple, a baby was born during a most difficult time in history.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and darkness did not overcome it.” {John 1}  But this light was not one of those big explosions of light that would blind those who saw it.  It was a gentle light, a modest light that would not overwhelm or coerce.  The shepherds and the wise men noticed this light but there were many others who were unable to recognize the light as coming from God.

Many people have ignored the light that had come into the world while a few have tried to extinguish the light, preferring to perpetuate the darkness.  “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God.”{John 1:12}  It is upon the shoulders of these children of God, (people like you and me), that the hope and the promise of Isaiah rest.

The “Light” in these passages of course is a metaphor that suggests the presence of God, the presence of grace, mercy, and peace.   And so each year at Christmastide, during the darkest time of year, when the days are short and the nights are long, we make a special effort to re-kindle the light through our acts of generosity, goodwill, prayer, and service to others.  We decorate our homes with candles and lights, sing Christmas carols about Christ coming among us, and we share with others our love and hospitality.  This is only a glimmer of what is possible when the children of God commit to following in the footsteps of Jesus, placing compassion at the center of their lives.

The child that was born in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, grew up to be a man and gave all that he was and all that he had to show us the pathway to God, the pathway of righteousness and peace.  He asked certain things of his followers.  We, who claim allegiance to him tonight, are bound to listen and to follow in his light so that the promise of peace on earth can be realized.

And maybe during our lifetime, we will be able to make a significant change in the world and maybe we won’t.  But one thing is for sure:  If we walk in the Light, we are the ones who will be changed.  And if we are changed, so will the trajectory of human history. “God’s love can change no place into some place, just as the love of God changes a person who feels like a nobody into a somebody.” {W. S. Coffin}

One Night, one Star, one Child; and “the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.” {John 1}  Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Red Thread Circle" starts December 18 in Pioneer

An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.     
~Ancient Chinese Proverb

Announcing
a new monthly gathering at

Serenity Center 
in Pioneer

Starting in December
we are creating space to gently explore Soulful Terrain
 ~ Rio Abajo Rio ~
(river beneath the river)*
*from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Each month the Red Thread Circle will... 
  • explore a Soul-awakening theme or topic
  • reflect & record personal insights
  • create a community of like-minded women
When we cut off our
Soulful Self we lose our vitality.
Uncover buried treasures &
bring those gems into the light.
Let them Sparkle!


Our first circle offers personal space during hectic holiday schedules.
Thurs, Dec 18th
6-8pm
Serenity Center
26600 Meadow Drive, Pioneer 

209-295-2003 to register 
$10 suggested donation

facilitated by Wendy Ward
www.TheMermaidMuse.com
support for women ready to live in alignment
with who they are and deeply desire to be
Mermaid Muse
Mermaid Muse
www.TheMermaidMuse.com
www.TheMermaidMuse.com
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sermon: Rejoice Always! By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek

Reading:  Thessalonians 5:16-24       Gaudete Sunday     Advent3/B

This year, a Christmas commercial sponsored by Wal-Mart has been aired on the television.  It has a cute jingle.  The basic message is that if we have a little bit more stuff, then it we will experience more joy this Christmas.  The ad goes like this:  “A little more tree, a little more snow, a couple more bows, another dozen cookies, a little more tinsel, a few more pair of tights, another nut cracker, another circuit breaker, another set of Legos, and a few more presents to stuff the stockings”…all this supposedly leads to a little more joy for Christmas.

Perhaps you have been influenced by such advertisements in the past and have bought bigger, better, and more interesting presents to make your children happier.  And maybe for a short time, your children or family experienced a little more happiness.  But how long did it last?  Joy is different from happiness.  While happiness depends on external circumstances, joy is based on our relationship with God.  Joy is not the absence of sorrow but the presence of God.  So when times are tough, joy can still be experienced. Joy cannot be purchased at Wal-Mart (or any other place for that matter) because it is a free gift that comes to us when we are deeply connected to the Spirit of God.  What I would like to talk about today is joy.  Joy is the mark of a Christian.  Joy is the final word in Christianity.

During the 13th century, Francis of Assisi broke with family tradition and set out on a new course to deepen his relationship with Christ by serving the poor.  On Christmas Eve, in a cave outside the town of Creccio Italy, Francis set up a live nativity scene. There in a manger on a pile of hay, he wrapped a tiny baby, with strips of cloth, warmed by the hot, steamy breath of a half dozen cows and sheep. Word went out to the people of the town and they arrived carrying torches and candles. One of the friars began celebrating Mass while Francis himself gave the sermon. What people noticed the most however, was Francis, filled with innocent delight and joy, experiencing the scene with all of his senses.  It wasn’t enough for him to simply remember a few biblical passages that acknowledged the birth of Jesus or sing a few carols.  He wanted to enter into the full experience of Christmas, becoming one with Christ as symbolized in a manger, and celebrating the good news that had come into the world.  I can imagine Francis kissing the baby, embracing the cows, rubbing his face in the fleece of the sheep, while singing praises to God for the Light that had come into the world.  Perhaps this is the way to celebrate Christmas, with joy, uniting our hearts to the heart that beats at the center of the universe.  Think about experiencing this kind of joy the next time you set up your own crèche scene.

Francis made it perfectly clear that one of the main reasons he experienced deep joy (in spite of giving up all his worldly goods) was because he walked away from the things in life that could have stolen his joy.  He could have inherited his father’s successful cloth business, living comfortably, making lots of money at the expense of others and their well-being.  But Francis wasn’t a businessman and he cared more about people than money. Unlike his father who travelled, accumulated wealth, and who searched for happiness outside himself, Francis knew at a deep level that that kind of happiness was only temporary.  And what Francis wanted was something permanent that could only come from an abiding relationship with God.  It makes us think about our own search for happiness and what is really important.  So what do you need to walk away from that is sapping your joy?  Maybe on this Gaudete Sunday it is time to take another look at our unexamined expectations, life-style habits, or ways of walking in this world that are sapping our joy.  Once we are clear about what those obstacles are, we need to walk away from them into the arms of Christ.

One of the chief barriers to joy is that we keep trying to control our lives and our destinies with little acknowledgment or embrace of a Power greater than ourselves.  Trying to over-control our lives and manufacture happiness only leads to frustration, sadness, and anger.  Francis taught that joy comes from abandoning ourselves in the hands of God.  This kind of submission to God ultimately connects us to a life that is deep and passionate.  Joy cannot be sustained by the pleasures of the world, because those pleasures are not sustainable.  They are only temporary.  Joy is sustained by seeking the abundant life that Christ offers us.  Without joy, our lives are diminished.

So where can we begin establishing a life of joy?  I think today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica can offer us some insights.  Thessalonica was a successful harbor town during the 1st century, just north of Greece.  It was the capital of the Roman Provence of Macedonia. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest writing in the New Testament.  Its underlying theme addresses how Christians are to live in expectation of Christ’s return.   It is a good question and remains relevant even today.  How should we live?  How do we remain faithful?  Are there ways to increase our joy?  Paul’s prescription is simple and direct:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Thess.5)

This letter was written to a group of newly baptized Christians, living in a society that was hostile to their faith, often suffering persecution and hardship.  And yet Paul tells them to rejoice always.  What a challenge and yet what possibilities! I think rejoicing is a habit that we can learn even when times are tough.  Rejoicing begins with noticing our blessings or other people’s blessings and then giving thanks.  I have been following a friend on face book who has made it her Advent discipline to take a photo each day of God’s in-breaking into our world like a rainbow, a sunrise, a group of teenagers having a good time.  Rejoicing is easier if we remain in the present moment, savoring that moment with gratitude.  After my devotions on Saturday morning, I prepared our living room for Gaudete Sunday, strategically placing pink candles around the room.  While doing so, I noticed a rose that I had plucked before the rainstorm on Thursday.  It is a beautiful dark pink rose, opening its center to reveal what seems like hundreds of petals.  I stopped to smell the rose.  Its fragrance delighted my senses.  When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses and rejoice in what God has given you?

“Rejoice and give thanks in all circumstance” says Paul.  Gratitude is like a flashlight.  It lights up what is already there.  You don’t necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you can actually see what is.  And because your eyes are open to what is, you no longer take it for granted.  “If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.”  (Meister Eckhart) Gratitude helps us shift the focus from ½ empty to ½ full.  Giving thanks squelches that tendency to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have.  When we feel grateful, our receptors are wide open to receive the abundance that is available to us.  As we learn to give thanks in all circumstances, overtime it will gradually become the natural rhythm of our heart, a rhythm strong enough to hold the suffering that afflicts us.

Rejoice always…give thanks in all circumstances…pray without ceasing.  This is the three-legged stool that Paul offers the congregation in Thessalonica as a pathway to joy.  “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” (BCP 856)  Imagine if we could develop a reputation as a praying congregation, known for its commitment to pray without ceasing?

How might this transform us as well as have a significant impact on the soul of Amador County?  There are so many ways to pray throughout the day.  Sometimes we incline our mind towards joy through adoration and praise.  Sometimes our prayers reach out to loving others through the prayer of petition.  During this year’s Advent Program as well as at the vestry retreat, some of us paired up with a prayer partner, making a commitment to pray for them and their concerns over a period of time.  Many of you are devoted people of prayer who pray for those in our parish facing an illness or a loss.

Oblation is another kind of prayer that has to do with giving.  Our recent pledge drive was an opportunity for you to experience the prayer of Oblation-giving generously for the needs of the church and the world.  Some of you embrace the prayer of penitence, letting go of past hurts, forgiving others, and being contrite for things done or left undone.  And finally, for all of you who are here today, you are engaged in corporate prayer, joining together as a community of faith in Holy Communion, singing praises to God, and participating in the prayers of the people.  Any time we love others and love ourselves, we are actually praying, uniting our hearts to God who is at the center of our being.

Today is truly a time to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks for the great gift of God’s Word made flesh who came to dwell among us and who will surely come again. This is what it means to prepare our hearts for Christmas.  This is the path to a life of joy and meaning.  So rejoice and be glad in it for the Light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One Night, One Star, One Child: Advent Program at Trinity - Sat Dec 6

Festival of Carols Benefit Concerts Welcomes the Fall Season in Song - Nov 22 & 23


The Interfaith Community Choir and Orchestra invites everyone to the 15th Annual Festival of Carols, a choral and symphonic concert benefiting the Interfaith Food Bank of Amador County.  Please note: because of the popularity of these concerts, the location and days have been changed to accommodate the community.  This year's concerts are scheduled the weekend before Thanksgiving, Saturday, Nov. 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 23rd at 3:00 p.m., at Grace Fellowship Church, 8040 S Hwy 49, Jackson.
The generous support of local business owners and community members continue to make this annual event free and open for all.  A light refreshment will be served after Saturday night’s concert, followed by a meal after the second concert on Sunday afternoon. Childcare will be provided and a goodwill offering will be accepted at both programs. All proceeds from the concerts go directly to the Interfaith Food Bank of Amador County.

This year’s concerts include a rarely heard piece by G.F. Handel for voice and trumpet accompanied by strings and continuo entitled, “Eternal Source of Light Divine”- a precious piece showing Handel’s lyrical mastery, sung by local soprano, Marie Bedard.  Two musical gems will be presented, the first, by Gusalv Holst, entitled “Christmas Day” for chorus and orchestra, and the second, “The Dargason,” which includes the familiar carol, “What Child is This” also known as “Greensleeves”, for string orchestra and oboe.  Both the Interfaith Chorus and Orchestra is made up of highly skilled youth musicians and amateur and professional adult musicians from Amador County and surrounding areas.   Local dramatic tenor, Bill McKenna will be featured in the movement “Every Valley”, from Handle’s Messiah.  Also on the program are a variety of early American hymns and spiritual songs, African style chorus, congregational singing and much more.


All are encouraged to join with the Interfaith Community Choir and Orchestra this year to offer support for the Food Bank and to usher in the Thanksgiving and Christmas season with quality choral music, sing-a-longs, great food and the special testimony of those who have been in need and have found aid, both physically and spiritually.

For more information, call 223-2834 or visit www.icchoirs.org or www.feedamador.org.  Those unable to attend either of these two concerts may send a tax-deductible holiday donation directly to the Interfaith Food Bank, 12181 Airport Road, Jackson 95642.  Donate online or send in a check payable to the Interfaith Food Bank.







Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sermon: Living Six Feet Under, or Living Abundantly - by the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt, Trinity Episcopal Church

Living Six Feet Under, or Living Abundantly Reading: Mt. 25:14-30 Proper28/A
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA 11/16/14

There is a euphemism that is often used back east to describe someone who is dead and buried: “Six Feet Under.” This expression comes from that fact that in most graveyards (at least those on the east coast), holes are dug six feet under the ground as a resting place for the deceased. This is to protect the body from being dug up by animals or malcontents, which makes a lot of sense. What does not make sense however, is that some people, while they are still alive, bury their passions, their talents, and opportunities in life because they are afraid to truly live. As a result, they simply exist, giving up an abundant life for a diminished one. My hunch is, that when the final role call is issued, they will struggle on their deathbed, having many regrets for having not having lived fully. Today I would like to talk about living “six feet under” and will use the gospel story as my text.

Each year, the story of the talents is told around stewardship time. To be honest with you, I dread it. After all, I have been preaching for over 22 years, and what new things can I possibly tell you about this parable that irritates me, especially the quote: “For to all those who have, more will be given...but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Maybe what irritates me most is that it reminds me of our capitalist system where the rich grow richer, and the poor grow poorer. Even the middle class in the United States is slowly disappearing into a thing of the past.

A traditional understanding of today’s parable is one of stewardship: God has given all of us gifts, talents, and resources to share with the world. Those who hoard these gifts for themselves are not being faithful disciples. God has given each one of us at least one gift for the building up of the kingdom, and we are to be generous with those gifts and not bury them in the ground. We will be asked to give an accounting of how we spent our lives in the end. Such an understanding of this parable meshes nicely with our ideas about free-market capitalism, get-what-you-deserve-justice, disciplined self-improvement, and the luck of the draw. However, such an interpretation does not fully jive with the rest of the gospel that portrays Jesus as having abundant compassion for the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the lost, the loser, the lame, and the left-behind. So what could Jesus mean by this parable (this teaching story) and where is the good news in it?

At this point in Matthew’s gospel, there is a collection of parables that speak to the end of times. At different periods in history, people were expecting the world to end and a new world to arise. Christians sometimes refer to this time of transition as the second coming of Christ, or the apocalypse, or the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven in all its fullness. In general, Episcopalians tend not to focus on the end of times although I have a hunch that during World War II or the Cuban Missile Crisis, many have spent a few sleepless nights worrying about the end of the world and what it all means. Some of us are old enough or sick enough to reflect on the end of our physical lives. We wonder how much longer we have to live and how we will finish out our last chapter. Whether you think about the end of the world or the end of your life, today’s parable hints at how we should live our life between now and at the end of our time. It makes clear that we shouldn’t waste any time, no matter what condition we find ourselves in, but that we should live and prosper and share and take those risks that can make all the difference in the world.

In today’s parable, a wealthy businessman goes away on some enterprise. Before going on his way, he summons his three slaves and entrusts his property to them, each according to his ability. To the one who is the sharpest of the bunch, he gives him 5 talents of gold. This is a huge amount of money to invest. It equals about 75 years of salary which if we take today’s average salary of $60,000, then it would be equal to somewhere around 4.5 million dollars. Imagine being given a lifetime’s worth of money to invest. What a gift. What an opportunity. What a responsibility.

When I think about this parable, it reminds me that most of us are given at least 75 years of life to live. This, too, is a gift, an opportunity, a responsibility. How will you account for your life at the end of your 75 years or more? The first slave who is given the five talents of gold, invests it wisely and doubles the money. And so, too does the second slave who is given two talents (which in today’s terms is about 1.8 million dollars). These two are commended by the master on his return, who now trusts them even more. There is an old saying in Christian circles: To those who are given much, much is expected.” This means, the more talented and gifted a person is, the more responsibility she has for sharing those gifts to lift up others. When our bishop came in June, he reminded one of confirmands who has been blessed by God with many gifts of this saying. To bury our God-given gifts by hoarding them or by being lazy or by ignoring them would be a waste of a life. And so it was with the third slave. He was given $900,000 to invest, a smaller sum than the others but significant never the less. And instead of investing it, or even putting it in the bank to gain interest, he buried it in the ground, thus wasting an opportunity to grow in size and stature.

Now if you are anything like me, you might have sympathy for this third slave. Maybe you too are a prudent, careful, and cautious investor who doesn’t want to take any chances, and so you tip toe around, avoiding risks at every turn. But this parable is not about investing in the stock market or doubling our savings. It is about living. It is about investing in life. It is about taking risks. Living a life of faith is not about being static or comfortable, or hiding out under the radar. The third slave took 15 years of bounty, and because of his fear, buried it six feet under. Fear of course was his downfall, not his lack of financial acuity. Fear is the one emotion that can keep us small and diminish our lives.

This past week, Steph and I went to a family reunion where we celebrated her cousin’s 80th birthday. While we were there, I had an opportunity to visit with one of the relatives who has only a few months left to live. He is 72 years old, having been diagnosed with a non-smoker’s lung cancer that is not treatable. All they can do at this point is to make him more comfortable. I asked him if he was afraid to die. He said that he was not afraid and was spending his final days preparing his household and finances so that his wife would be in good stead. He then gave me an accounting of his life. Although he would do a few things differently, he was satisfied with how he spent his 72 years on earth. He had used his skills as an engineer to build up a tool manufacturing business. It was a successful business and he loved his work. He kept his body in great shape, riding his bicycle 15 miles per day. He loved his wife dearly and they had spent many happy times together. He wanted to live each day to the fullest and so he gave it his best shot. I think the master in today’s parable would say to him: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant...enter into the joy of your God.”

Richard has chosen to live his remaining days without treatment. He believes in quality, not quantity and has come to accept that his days are drawing near. Instead of burying his emotions six feet under, he is embracing life to its fullest until the final role call is sounded. It was a privilege for me to hear his witness. It was an opportunity for me to reflect on my own life and to take an inventory on how I am doing. So here are some of the questions I am asking myself as I take my own inventory:

1. What are the gifts God has given me and am I sharing these gifts freely to make a difference in the world?
2. What emotions do I have that keep me from experiencing abundant life? What am I afraid of and what kind of healing do I need to move from this place of fear to a place of love?
3. How does my disappointment of expectations rob me of joy and how can I change that?
4. What do I need to do to strengthen my own faith and fully trust in God to provide for my needs and the needs of the Trinity Community?
5. Finally, knowing that God has already given me 60 years of life, a precious gift of blessings, how will I live out the remaining 20 or so years that I might have left? Do I need to make a shift or am I called to continue to bloom where I am planted?

How about you? What does your inventory look like? Do you find yourself sitting back, letting your remaining days slip by, or checking out of life because you have become old, or too tired, or disappointed in life? Or are you still committed to investing in life, sharing your gifts, and making a difference in the world? The good news is that God has given us yet another day to live and to bless one another. We can either choose to live the rest of our lives 6 feet under or to live abundantly. Today’s parable encourages us to choose life so that we too can enter into the joy of our God.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sermon: Be Prepared. Keep your lamps filled! by Pastor Karen Siegfriedt

Be Prepared:  Keep your lamps filled!        Reading: Mt. 25:1-13       Proper 27/A
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA    11/09/14

There are many ways to understand life and our place in it.  On one end of the spectrum are those who understand life as being chaotic, unpredictable, and without any overarching goal. These are the folks who live day to day without hope, choosing to eat, drink, and be merry (whenever possible) until they die.  After all, why not?  Their attitude is:  “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”  Today’s gospel would probably have no impact on this group of people.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who view life as having a specific overarching goal, which is:  ‘One day, all of creation will live in harmony with God and each other.’  This will be a time when nations no longer lift up swords against other nations, when the oldest of enemies become the best of friends; when the wolf shall live with the lamb, and compassion and generosity become the operating principles.  Christians who embrace and work toward this vision tend to be more conscious, more loving, and better prepared for the long haul.  They are not naïve, but faithful.  They are not discouraged, but vigilant.  They are not impatient, but anticipating.  They tend to be more awake, always looking for the in-breaking of God, anticipating the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven.  These are the folks who live the gospel each day and thus end up feasting at the table and experiencing the bridegroom first hand.  

Most of us, however, are not as vigilant and fall somewhere in between these two polar opposites.  Having experienced suffering over time, along with the challenges and changes of life, many of us have become a little tired and maybe a bit cynical.  We get discouraged with all the violence in the world, the breakdown of society, our failing health and broken relationships. Some of us take the time to vote, while others simply don’t believe their vote will make a difference. It’s not that we don’t care, we do.  But we’ve become so distracted or overwhelmed with all of the demands of life that we have become lukewarm in our faith journey.  Instead of being a bright light in the world anticipating new possibilities, filled with joy and good news, our wicks are barely flickering.  It is to us, that today’s parable is addressed.  We are the ones whose lamps need to be refilled with oil. Maybe today’s gospel will inspire us.

The parable opens with a familiar phrase: “The kingdom of heaven will be like this...”  This parable (like the one we read a few weeks ago) uses the context of a wedding to make its point. Ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to arrive.  The bridegroom is delayed.  The text does not explain the reason for the delay but in reality, a groom’s delay was not altogether uncommon in 1st century Palestine. For instance, there were often last minute negotiations between the groom and the bride’s relatives over the gifts exchanged.  Even though the bridegroom is late, 5 of the women have enough oil on hand to keep their lamps burning and five do not.  The five who lack oil miss the procession into the wedding banquet and lose out in the end.  In this parable, the bridegroom represents Christ, the bridesmaids represent his disciples, and the wedding feast represents the second coming of Christ (AKA- the kingdom of heaven).  

I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like the tone of this parable. It seems so unforgiving. After all, we can’t always think of everything ahead of time and we do make mistakes. But then I remember that a parable is a teaching story whose purpose is to make one or two points. It is not a systematic theological teaching. And the point of today’s parable illustrates the need to stay awake, to be prepared, and to live in a manner that expects the second coming of Christ.  

Originally, this parable was told by Jesus to his disciples in private on the Mount of Olives.  Later, Matthew wrote it down to teach the newly formed Christian community about patience and being prepared for the long haul.  You see, after Jesus’ life on earth had ended, the early Christians were anticipating the second coming of Christ, that new age where all things would be made new.  How they longed for this new age. However, that time had not yet come and those early Christian communities were becoming anxious and lukewarm in their faith.  They were being persecuted by the Romans and thrown out of the Jewish synagogues for claiming that Jesus was the messiah.  They felt deserted and discouraged.  Where they once were filled with the spirit of Christ and love for one another, they were now becoming fearful and inwardly focused.  Where they once had been brimming with joy, devoting their lives to serving others, their faith was beginning to waver.  It sure would be a lot easier for them to throw in the towel and enjoy the pagan way of life by eating, and drinking, and being merry.  It was into this context of diminishing faith, loss of hope, and impatience with waiting, that this parable was told to them.

I can understand how things like this happen. Back in 1989, a significant earthquake hit the Bay Area.  I was at the seminary in Berkeley wondering how my condo in San Francisco was holding up.  As I watched the news that night, I saw that the Bay Bridge had collapsed, houses were burning, and aftershocks were happening.  To say the earthquake had an impact on my life is an understatement.  In the aftermath, great efforts were made to teach us about disaster preparedness.  We were instructed to keep some cash on hand, always to have a ½ tank of gas in the car, to store several gallons of water and cans of food, to have a flashlight, batteries, and first-aid kits ready, and to write out a personal disaster plan for the family. I followed this advice diligently, and for about 10 years was prepared for the next earthquake.  But as time went on and the earthquake didn’t come, the batteries and cans of food expired, the water needed to be changed, and my gas tank often fell below the 50% mark.  Maybe I was lazy, or maybe I was tired of being vigilant, or maybe I was beginning to forget.  The passion I once had in being prepared for a disaster slowly dissipated, and the oil in my lamp was almost empty.  

Today’s parable is reminder to keep our passion for God alive and to work towards the kingdom.  It is an encouragement to keep our lamps burning and to lighten the path for others.  Time is of essence.  However, it is not always easy to be vigilant especially when we hit some rough terrain in our own spiritual journey.  Sometimes we are at a stage in our faith that is very satisfying and exciting while others times we feel stranded in the desert where God seems silent and our hearts are empty.  This sometimes happens when we become depressed or filled with anger or experience a great loss.  At times like these, we need to be patient, pray for healing and grace, and rely on the faith of others until our own faith is restored.

On the other hand, when make promises in baptism or confirmation or when we first join a church community, we often feel renewed, anointed with the Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Our prayer life is powerful and we have a desire to reach out and serve others.  This is an empowering time in our spiritual life that keeps us motivated.  But then eventually, we come off the mountain top or hit a plateau or become disappointed with others in our faith community or our prayer life becomes stagnant.  The joy we once had begins to diminish.  We are unable to forgive a hurt.  The music has changed, or the preaching is not what it once was, or our friends have moved away.  At times like these, it is tempting to step back, to become lukewarm in our faith, to disengage from worship or study, thereby missing out on the bridegroom. Maybe this is what the early Christians in Matthew’s community were experiencing.  Maybe all they needed was a reminder to fill their lamps with oil so that they could be a blessing to God and to others.

Like any relationship of value, we need to pay attention for it to remain alive.  The joy of a newly-wed couple can easily diminish if energy is not put into the relationship. And so it is with our relationship with God.  We need to fill our lamps from time to time. Some of us fill our lamps with oil by going on a retreat or attending a Cursillo or participating in a year-long study like EFM or the Bible Challenge. Some of us fill our lamps with oil by offering our time to a feeding program or visiting the sick. Many of us fill our lamps with oil through daily prayer and study. Whether you sense it or not, the bridegroom is alive and well, waiting to feast with us at the wedding banquet.  So let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works  and give glory to your Father in heaven. {Mt. 5:6}  After all, who wants to live in the darkness?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sophia's Well of Wisdom - Nov 2014

Sunday Meditation meets at 10am or 5pm with Wisdom Circle at 11am. In November the Wisdom Circle explores the” Dark Side of Oneness”:  11/2 Death and Oneness with Rev. Tracy Johnson, 11/9 Dark Matter with Rev. Patsy, 11/16 Dark Night of the Soul with Lynnea Honn, 11/23 Dark Places with Rev. Patsy, and 11/30 Dark Mother with Marilyn Nutter. Transformation Meditation classes are offered on Wednesdays at 10am or 6pm; call 209-304-6174 to register for next 5-week class.
The spiritual wellness center is located at 270A Hanford Street, Sutter Creek. Visit www.sophiaswell.org or contact Rev. Patsy Walker Fine at 209-418-9003.  

SOPHIA'S
Well of Wisdom

Rev. Patsy Walker Fine, D.Min.
270 Hanford Street, Suite A
Sutter Creek, CA 95685
RMT/CMT CAMTC #26450