16 November 2011

SERMON TEXT: Sign the Card for the Spiritual Survivalist Society

Sermon Text: Matthew 25:1-13
25"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

People react in different ways to today's tough economy. Some people take action by protests and political involvement such as joining the Tea Party movement or the Occupy Wallstreet movement. Others become proactive about learning to survive off less money and less things. They are called survivalists or preppers. They stock up on food, gold and guns in anticipation of the breakdown of society. I don't think it's going to happen as they envision it but you have to respect the way they act on their beliefs and try to be self reliant and prepared. If they wrong, so what? What have they lost? If they are right, well, they have saved their lives and the lives of their families. . It is a sign of the times that such people may be considered radical by some. How radical an idea is it to follow the Boy Scouts motto and "Always be prepared?" This is also the main point of Jesus parable of the ten bridesmaids.

The survivalist movement is concerned about the risk of a coming societal meltdown. They prepare for the consequences. The true message of survivalism is to prepare oneself and one's family for dire possibilities. The typcial survivalist lives in the city but seeks a rural retreat for safety and freedom from the coming storm. Rural self-sufficiency requires a lot of hard work and specialized knowledge. Thus, survivalist tend to be seekers of knowledge as well as supplies. James Wesley Rawles is a survivalist from the United States who prefers to live in a rural retreat. Rawles is an outspoken proponent of family preparedness, especially regarding food storage and advocates relocating to lightly populated rural "retreat" areas. His preparedness philosophy emphasizes the fragility of modern society, the value of silver and other tangibles for barter, recognition of moral absolutes, being well armed, maintaining a "deep larder," relocation to rural retreats, and Christian charity. In an interview in The New York Times, Rawles referred to himself as a "guns and groceries" survivalist.
Another branch of survivalist thinks the city is the safest place to be in during a societal breakdown. The reason is that governments in such a case would likely concentrate what resources and security they can muster on the inner core of urban areas in their attempt to maintain power and control.
James Wesley Rawles and Fernando Ferfal Aguirre are recent manifestions of an old idea: Always be prepared. The Mormon Church teaches its members to be prepared spiritually, physically, financially, and mentally for any unforeseen disaster. They are strongly encouraged to live within our means, get as much education as is possible, and prepare for a rainy day. Historically, there have been different levels of preparedness. Each family should have a "72-hour kit" which includes food, water, clothing, medications, etc, which will last the family 3 days. Usually outside help takes 2 or 3 days to arrive in the case of an emergency. Consider when helpers started arriving after Katrina. This kit should be in a place where you can grab it and run. Each family is asked to have food, water, and cash reserves for one year. (Online: http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2320063#ixzz1cYsOW5rl)

As Presbyterians we do not emphasize such intentional prepareations but perhaps we should. We struggle with this question in the stewardship of our resources. For example, if our budget was based only on the pledges of our members we would have to cut everything by ten percent. In reality, we receive gifts other than what is pledged. In the past few years we have been blessed by significant additional gifts from the estates of a few families. Some people include the church in their wills and that makes a huge difference in how we are able to fulfill our misison of making disciples and meeting human needs. We wonder how much money we should hold in reserve for unexpected expenses such as when the air conditioning system dies. These are the kinds of questions the elders wrestle with each year. And these are the kinds of questions addressed in our text this morning.
Our Christian hope is that one day God will make everything right. God to tie up all the loose ends. Yet, in the parable of the ten bridesmaids demonstrates, Jesus challenges us to tie up the loose ends in our own lives. God calls upon us to take responsibility for our own success. The bridegroom, who represents God, appreciates the self reliance of the five wise bridesmaids. God shuts the five unprepared bridesmaids out of the kingdom. If we think of the kingdom of God as being located within us, the message of the parable is clear. When we neglect to keep our inner lamp burning we shut ourselves out of the kingdom of God. When we block the flow of the oil of Holy Spirit within in, our inner lives run dry. We express that inner lack with a lackadaisical attitude toward life. The purpose of this story is not to scare us about the possibility of being locked out of heaven after we die. The purpose of the story is to wake us up so we live each moment fully awake and in anticipation of the coming of Christ within us.
Even the Old Testament has its spiritual prepper stories. Moses had followed God's call to become the leader of the Israeli Revolution in Egypt. Like the Occupy Egypt group last Spring that ousted Mubarak, the Israelites under Moses wanted to oust the Pharaoh of Egypt. Either the Pharaoh had to go or the people had to go. Pharaoh finally let the people go. But he only did that after a series of ten terrible plagues. The last plague was the death of the firstborn of each Egyptian household. Actually, this plague was to apply to every family living in Egypt. The only way to escape this plague was to paint your doorframe with the blood a lamb so the angel of death would pass by your house. Those who knew about this secret sign and followed it were spared. The other families were not spared. Painting your doorpost with the blood of a lamb is another sign of the concept of being spiritually alert and prepared.
After the people of Israel made it out of Egypt they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. Then they set about conquering the land. This is symbolic of the inner landscape we must conquer in our spiritual journey. When the Israelites wanted to take the fortified city of Jericho they came up with a plan. They sent Joshua to scout out the promised land and in particular the city of Jericho before the Israelite army attacked it. Joshua recruited a harlot named Rachel who helped the Israelite spies. She opened the gate to the city so they could take the city. Joshua the scout would later follow Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Advance preparation is key to spiritual victory. We see this concept over and over in the Bible in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
From the New Testament comes a Reformed belief called "The Priesthood of Believers." This belief was revolutionary when it was established. It came about in a day and time when the church served as the middle man between God and the people. No one could get to God except through the church. The church and church tradition was more important than the Bible. The church was more important than the state or nation. The church held the keys to eternal bliss or eternal torture because the church could determine whether you would spend eternity in heaven or hell. The local church representative, your local priest, served therefore as a kind of mafia don. Whatever he said went. He (it was never a she) called the shots about who could marry whom for instance.
The Protestant Reformation took the radical step of removing the priest from the equation. The church was no longer the middle man. There was nothing allowed between the believer and God. This concept is called "the priesthood of believers." It meant each believer, each Christian, was his or her own priest. Each Christian was responsible for doing what the Apostle Paul called "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Each Christian was their own priest. So it was that the church was to be run not by a hierarchy of religious mafia dons called the priesthood but by consensus of individual believers that formed a local governing body called a "Session" in a local church. Each church would be connected to other churches in the body of Christ by higher ordering of assemblies of believers called a presbytery and then a general assembly. But the real work, the heavy lifting in the spiritual life, was up to each individual believer. This greatly reduced the importance of the local priest and greatly increased the responsibility of the individual believer. Jesus points to this concept in our parable today as he says each bridesmaid is responsible for her own oil which represents the Holy Spirit. Remember when David was anointed as king of Israel the oil was poured over his head as a symbol of God claiming and sustaining him for this important role. So with the oil in the bridesmaids lamp, it represents God claiming and sustaining each person to be a missionary, a missional person, a blessing to the world. The bridesmaids who do not put oil in their flasks are like Christians who do not fill their lives with the Holy Spirit. Once again we are back to the basics here. We cannot stress enough the importance of the personal daily devotional in the life of the believer. Allow God's Spirit to fill your flask, your body, on a daily basis. Keep your flask, your body, filled with God's oil, God's spirit. Then you will be ready to welcome Jesus when he appears in an unexpected way in your daily life.

It feels good to know that God cares enough about us to give this wake up call. If God didn't care about us, God wouldn't say anything. If God were a trickster, God wouldn't reveal the secret of how to be a spiritual prepper. Yet you must take action today. You need to put more emphasis on developing their spiritual lives. You are responsible for your own spiritual growth. You cannot rely on a priest, preacher, or guru to grant you access to God. You are responsible for your own spiritual life and if you do not give it time and nourishment you will wither away and die like the five bridesmaids who are trapped outside the presence of God and not allowed to enter the kingdom.

Here's my lesson. Here's my story. A lesson from a spiritual survialist. I remember walking my dog around the back yard where we lived way out in the countryside. Walking my dog in the heat of the summer. Walking and praying. Desperate praying. "Here I am, Lord, do you want me?" There was no response. There was just the sound of one dog walking and the heat. It was so hot you could practically hear the heat. I kept walking that dog. I kept praying that prayer. Just like Israel in Egypt. Let my people go! That was my prayer in a nutshell. God's only response was silence. In time, after many walks, after many prayers, after many miles, I learned to enjoy God's silence. Let it cover me. That's all I need now. God is always there for me in the silence. That is how I became a spiritual survivalist.

You have an opportunity this week to make a spiritual commitment with your money. This week you will receive a pledge card in the mail. Take it as a sign of your spiritual commitment to Christ's church, which is the body of Christ on earth. This is a great opportunity for you take a step toward spiritual growth. Some churches require a pledge of ten percent. Our standards are more open. We ask you to give whatever you feel good about giving. Use the question of your pledge as an opportunity to do a spiritual evaluation of where you are and where you plan to go in your relationship with Christ. Use the money you plan to give to the church as a way to plan your family budget. Use this physical method of giving money to serve as a signpost of your spiritual intentions. Are you really committed to God? Are you really committed to Christ? How much? The figure you submit on your pledge will help you to know where you stand. Don't be like the five foolish bridemaids who did not bother to purchase oil for their lamps. Don't depend on other people to provide the oil you need for your own spiritual life. This purchase is between you and God. I don't know how much you give. God does. And so do you. That tells you where you are in your spiritual journey right now and where you want to be in 2012. Seize the opportunity before you to become a spiritual prepper. Your pledge card will help you to do that.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon on November 6, 2011 at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035 | Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com