Message for the 24th Sunday After Pentecost on Matthew 25:1-13 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson Texas
When our two sons, Daniel and Jacob were just shy of turning 3 and 1, I resigned from full-time parish ministry to stay home with them. I ran a home business, to earn some money, and have some adult conversation. Two years later, Leah was born. I had a story that I told myself which was that Dan and I serving 2 different congregations in two denominations was never going to work with three kids—and that meant that I was just never going to be a pastor again while the kids were home.
When they were small, this was fine—I really needed a break from the church after some difficult experiences anyway, and I was bawling dropping them off at day care. But things started to shift when Leah entered Kindergarten. I was getting tired of my home business, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the work to take it to the next level, and I started to help out part-time at an after-school ministry program in the city, which was really fun.
I was asking God for answer about what to do with my life, but I couldn’t hear anything because I was locked into the story that me being a pastor didn’t work for my family, so nothing was getting through. This went on for about 3 months—me asking, hearing nothing. Finally, Dan said we have to make summer plans, are you going to the business convention or not because that affects everything else we do. I needed God to give me clarity. I needed an answer and a plan.
That’s what I like about the wise bridesmaids in our parable from Matthew—they had a plan, they had clarity, and they were ready for when the bridegroom—a metaphor for Jesus—arrived. This parable’s meaning is often viewed only as being about the end times, but like it says, we do not know the day or the hour that Jesus will return and bring the kingdom into its fulfillment. So what do we do in the mean-time? I think the parable’s more compelling meaning is about right now, today.
The parable reveals that Jesus has already invited us to be an attendant in his kingdom—• to stand up for him,
• to witness to his commitment to the world,
• to honor his vows of love to us and for our salvation,
• to participate in the party of justice and joy, forgiveness and freedom, that his coming has inaugurated!
That’s a pretty awesome invitation! So his return is delayed and unpredictable, but because he has already come—how are we serving as attendants in his kingdom right now? We have pretty good idea of what kind of bridesmaid or groomsman Jesus is looking for in the realm he has already begun to usher in. The message is to keep our lamps lit and burning—which is another way of saying, let your light so shine before others—which is another way of saying fulfill the purpose to which God calls you. Don’t be foolish and squander the light that God created in you. Keep your lamp lit and burning--feed it, show it, share it, shine it. Fulfill the purpose to which God calls you and places you here, in the kingdom already begun.
So how do we figure that out? How do we know God’s purpose for us? I have a formula!
A friend in a 12-step program shared a speaker tape with me about 20 years ago, and this formula was on it. I have taught this formula to several people individually and last week when I did it, I thought, “I need to preach about this” and then this week, the Holy Spirit said, “do that this week. This formula works discerning a new job, going back to school, hobbies, service opportunities— You can even apply this to a business you own and if you want to take on a particular client. We can even apply this to the congregation as a whole. You make a DATE with God—and bring a sheet of paper and write out D-A-T-E down the side of your paper in a vertical column. Go to a quiet place for prayer, reflection, conversation—out in nature, a coffee shop –wherever you can reflect.
Right now, you can think about something you need to make a decision about, (including your Time & Talent Sheet for 2024!). We call this discernment- discerning & listening how God calls you and gives you purpose.
D – “D” is for “Desire” – God does work through our desires. Sometimes we think if we hate something, then it must be what God wants us to do. It doesn’t mean that we love every aspect, or that we all don’t have to do things we don’t like as part of our work—that’s called being an adult. But if we are drawn toward, have an interest or desire to do something—that is a big clue. Moses did not initially desire to do what God asked him to do, but he did desire to have his people freed.
The prophets did not always want to say what they were told, but they had a deep desire for their nation to be more faithful. If you have a deep desire or are drawn toward a vocation, goal, mission, opportunity, service—there is a reason behind it.
A – “A” is for “Ability” – This is in part about skills. Do you have the training to do what you desire, or do you need to go to school, get training, shadow someone?
If we are talking about the Time and Talent sheet—there’s training for every ministry on here. Just check what you’re interested in and put “need training.” Assisting Min, visiting homebound, ushering, streaming, audio technology, etc--all of it can be easily learned. There is another aspect to ability and that is if it works in your whole life with other duties and obligations. Being a parent, a caregiver of sick spouse—some responsibilities put constraints on our abilities. We may have the skills, but our life situation does not enable us to make a commitment to follow our desires at this time. Or maybe through prayer, God can find support to free up a few hours a week so as a care-giver, you can maintain your obligation AND do something you Desire. (This is why we call this discernment --this process needs prayer and sometimes conversation …). God does not desire you to be a miserable victim of circumstance. God gives you abilities and wants you to use them for good, so discernment and conversation with your Pastor or good friend can help you reflect on God calls you to use your abilities.
T--“T” is for Time—do I have the time available for this new job, way of serving, opportunity, client, friendship? And if it is something that through prayer becomes more of priority, what is that I am doing that I need to let go of, to create the time? You have all the time there is, the question is, am I spending it how God wants me to?
E – “Energy” is for Energy which sounds a lot like Desire, but it’s different. It’s about passion. When you close your eyes and imagine yourself in the future doing this activity, job, service opportunity, or whatever--what does your body tell you? Do you experience that picture as life-giving or life-draining? Energy is about doing activities that are life-giving and energizing—it’s partly why our motto at St. Luke’s is “where spirits come alive!” Because when we’re serving in line with our purpose and our gifts—that is where God’ calls us—we are energized and passionate. But if we feel like we are a warm body in an empty slot—that is life-draining—because that has nothing to do our God-given purpose and gifts.
So we need all 4--Desire Ability Timeand Energy for it to be God’s calling and purpose for us right now. And this changes over time and chapters of life, so I have used this formula many times over.
When Dan asked me, "are you going to your business convention this summer or not, we need an answer to make plans"—I remembered this formula. The kids were off to school, Dan went to go to take a shower, and I sat in my prayer chair. I told God I had been waiting patiently and now I needed an answer and I need it right now.
I thought about my home business and I finally admitted I no longer had the Desire or Energy to do it, even though I had the Ability and the Time. And then I thought about becoming a pastor again. I realized I had all 4. Desire, Ability, Timeand Energy.A big light bulb went off in my head!
Dan got out of the shower 10 minutes later and I said, “I have an answer! I am going to do my business as a hobby and go back to being a Pastor full -time, so no, I’m not going to the convention this summer, let’s figure out our plans from there. And we’re just going to have to figure out the 2-church thing.”
Using this formula unlocked me, and got me out of the story I was telling myself that we couldn’t do 2 churches in 2 denominations with 3 kids. I could not hear God calling me to this because of the story in my head. But this formula got me out of my belief system. When I felt in my gut-- Desire Ability Time Energy—I realized that if God called me to this, he would work out the details. And God did. I was called to a church 3 miles from where Dan was serving, and we could have lunch together, stay connected and keep our life in balance. He had meetings on Mon & Wed, I had meetings on Tue & Thurs so one of us was home every night with the kids.
Jesus' parable calls us to "Keep your lamps lit and burning." Desire-Ability-Time= that’s the Lamp, your container of your gifts and skills. The Energy = that’s the Holy Spirit—that’s what enables us to let our light shine, no matter what we are doing—because we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us.
I invite you to use the formula for discerning activities that God calls you to in 2024, and maybe re-evaluating commitments that may no longer fit if God invites you into something new.
We do not know when Jesus is going to return, but because he has already come, he is showing up in us, and also in everyone we meet.
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up at our free breakfast and the Dover Mobile food pantry-- in our servers and in our guests
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up in our Preschool staff and the children and their families
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning, Jesus shows up in our inclusive welcome, in delicious food and fellowship, in our outdoor food pantry and Hunger Helper lunches.
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up hundreds of health and school kits and over 50 quilts being sent to Lutheran World Relief
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up beautiful music and worship—and technology with those joining us from home, and in the service of our Veterans
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up in your daily life and work, at your job, at your dinner table, in your service, in the love you share and the light you shine.
The bridegroom has already invited us to be an attendant in his kingdom—
• We get to stand up for him,
• to witness to his commitment to all of humanity,
• to tell others of his love and salvation for the whole world
• and to participate in the party of justice and joy, forgiveness, and freedom.
Let’s continue to this with purpose—with Desire Ability Time and Energy as we keep our lamps lit and burning.