Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine….let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” You may remember these traditional lyrics from a children’s Sunday school song. Perhaps, like me, you even have memories of waving your extended index finger in the air like some grubby taper candle and singing at the top of your lungs. Metaphorical candles and dueling bridesmaids aside, our gospel text and the Old Testament reading from Amos remind us of the importance of being ready for action, of being prepared to live a life of careful stewardship and discipleship.
These are two tough texts with which to grapple because both contain calls to action and both are ripe with the potential for interpretive abuse. I can remember as a teen hearing the parable of the ten bridesmaids preached and being terrified of falling into the foolish category and being denied eternity. My friends and I all wanted to be good little bridesmaids who brought plenty of oil and could feel pretty smug when the groom came to start the party. Our focus was all about us–about us getting in to the exclusion of others. After all, if you invest heavily in end-time prognostications and “Left Behind” scenarios, somebody has to go to hell, or at least be left out in the cold, dark night.
So absent hail and brimstone, what are we then to make of this week’s texts? How are we to be prepared for the advent of Christ in this world? What does it mean to have oil for our lamps?
We live in uncertain times fueled by economic disaster, war, poverty, and contentious politics. The easiest thing to do would be to circle the proverbial wagons and hunker down with passing thanks that we at least have roofs over our heads, food for our bellies, and a mighty fine standard of living compared with the majority of the world’s population.
Sure, our retirement funds may have shrunk like a cheap shirt, and yes, as a nation we will have to cut back on our gratuitous spending and wasteful consumption, but for most of us imminent starvation and even mild persecution are far removed from our daily reality. Maybe we should just have a festive hymn sing for Thanksgiving and fill the food baskets and offering plates to assuage whatever minor guilt we might feel. But then there’s Amos…
Forget the praise music and the choir anthem and the secure circling of the wagons; God wants to see justice rolling in like a flash flood on a dry mountain creek bed. God desires right living to roll like a crisp, clean trout stream. So instead of focusing on and fretting about how we’re going to keep the doors to our aging congregations open until we’ve all had our funerals, perhaps we should see what we can do about the Millennium Development Goals, about our campus ministries, synod mission support, and vital ministries.
What can we do to contribute to a torrential rain of justice for a parched and hurting world? How can we use the oil of faith, as Luther noted about this parable, to start a holy conflagration of light and hope? What might happen if we all trimmed our lamps, brought along oil and some to share, and really got ready for a kingdom celebration?
Here’s a thought. Let’s get ready, gather our friends and everybody we can find, and share the good news. Jesus has already promised to meet us wherever and whenever we gather in his name, break bread at his table, and meet him in prayer. He’s given us the tools for the journey and taught us the way to go. So come on and let your light shine; this is one party nobody need miss!
Copyright (c) 2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.