Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning!

Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Sunday, November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

In the gospel you have your ten usual maidens- with their usual ten lamps, and they are waiting for a very special guest. They are waiting for the Bridegroom. You know how it goes—five are wise and make sure their lamps have enough oil to last until the bridegroom comes—five are foolish. They don’t have enough oil to last, and their lamps are going out.

When I first read this story many years ago, I heard the word lamp and pictured something like a Coleman lantern. Call it too many camping trips—but that’s what I thought. I really couldn’t imagine why those five foolish maidens didn’t have enough fuel for a lamp that size. Couldn’t they see their oil was getting low?

The lamps they actually carried, I discovered, were tiny. People would carry a flask of oil with them to refurbish their lamps. Both the lamps and the casks were earthen ware. They were heavy- -and they were opaque—you wouldn’t have been able to see when the oil was low.

It became routine to fill ones’ flask with oil on a regular basis, so it would always be full. A person needed to be aware of how much oil they had in reserve, just in case.

But what does this talk of lamps and oil have to do with us? We don’t even use oil maps anymore—except when it’s storming and our electricity goes out. Why should we even care about keeping lamps lit?

Why? Because Christ tells us that we are the light of the world. WE are his lamps. The flame of God lives in all of us. And it is our responsibility to keep that flame going until he comes again. WE are responsible for keeping ourselves filled so our flame doesn’t die from lack of fuel.

We are the ones who must be prepared enough to see when we need to replenish our stock of oil. We are the only ones responsible for ourselves,

I have discovered that there are two basic types of people in the world:

There are some people, who for the most part, never let their car’s gas gauge go below half full. They’re not comfortable unless there is a half a tank of gas in the car. After all—one could get stuck in traffic or a bridge could go up and they’d have to wait—a person could get lost—or any one of a number of things could happen.

I see some of you nodding. Bless you. You are the boy and girl scouts of the congregation. You have been blessed with the wisdom gene.

Then there are others—I won’t mention any names—who seem lackadaisical about filling up the car. Some people will drive their cars until the gauge is at the bottom of the red “danger” zone—claiming they know exactly how much gas they have left, and how far they can push it. And so far, I’ve —I mean “they”— haven’t been wrong. Yet.

Many call this foolish. And though I might be tempted to snap back that it’s not foolishness, it’s “faith”—in my heart of hearts I realize that– so far—I’ve been lucky.

We are all responsible for filling our tanks—both in our cars—and in our souls. Like our cars—we can push the lights within us to the empty stage if we don’t take care to fill up regularly. Our soul is not something we fill up once and forget about—we need to go back to get refilled regularly.

There are even those of us who think it’s necessary to always give their light away to others, because it’s the Christian thing to do. These people give and give and give– and don’t take care of the fuel for their own light—until they are completely dry.

It’s like the announcement we hear whenever we fly— “Please put your own oxygen mask on before you assist your child or someone else.” The airlines realize that there is sometimes very little time between lack of oxygen and unconsciousness, so it is wiser to make sure you have enough oxygen before we help others—otherwise both you and the people you are trying to help could be rendered unconscious.

So–what fills your spiritual tank? What is it that keeps you full so that you can love your neighbor as yourself? What is it that kindles your heart so that you can shine brightly with the light of Christ?

Only you can answer that.

For some it’s walking on the beach in winter, gaining perspective and listening for God. For some it’s building houses with Habitat or giving food to those who don’t have enough. For some, it’s making something with their hands to give away. For some it’s painting, for some it’s writing, for some it’s visiting someone who is alone. For some it’s music, for some it’s meditating or centering prayer. For some it’s teaching, or healing.

For some it’s church—I’m hoping that for a lot of people it’s church –worshiping God in beauty, song and silence.

It doesn’t matter what it is, but it is our job to find whatever it is, and use it refill our flask regularly, not just when our lights start to flicker. And we can’t ask someone else to do the work for us—to keep us filled, at their own expense.

We are all different, and the lights within us are different. We need to replenish our oil because we are Christ’s lamps. We are the light of the world. The flame of God lives in all of us, and we need to feed the fire, so we are ready when God calls us.