November 12, 2023 “There Is Enough”
Lisa Wiens Heinsohn
Homily for St. John’s Episcopal Church by Lisa Wiens Heinsohn given November 12, 2023
Matthew 25:1-13; Amos 5:13-18
This past weekend your St. John’s clergy and lay delegates went to our annual Episcopal Church in Minnesota Convention. I usually enjoy convention anyway, because you get to hear great preaching and see people you haven’t seen in a long time. But this particular Convention was probably the most inspiring one I’ve ever been to. There was incredible jazz music I could have listened to all day. There were truly meaningful personal stories told by a wide range of people trying to live faith out in real, hard, but incredibly inspiring ways. We heard such good preaching from our Bishop Craig Loya and from the main speaker who was the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, such a gift. The whole gathering truly felt like the Beloved Community, the kin-dom of God in which we heard the liturgy in English and Spanish, the gospel was chanted in Hmong and KaRen. But most of all it was inspiring because somehow it seemed we all felt with our hearts, not just understood intellectually, that we are really only here to do two things: to love God, neighbor, and ourselves; and to join God’s mission to heal the world through love in every moment of every day. The theme of the convention was Revive and Restore: Love is Repairing the Breach. And our Presiding Bishop said that even in the midst of our incredibly complex and challenging world, the way through complexity is through profound simplicity. It’s through love. That is the gospel, that is what our faith is about. In fact, he reminded us that if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.
And so that brings us here, to today. Today we get to celebrate two things. We are going to baptize beautiful Lewis and Francine Budde Grantier. We are going to celebrate Gratitude Sunday by offering our pledges and having a big feast after the service, in gratitude for each other and for God. It’s a fantastic weekend.
When I was in training to become a spiritual director, before I became a priest, we read a book by Matt Linn called Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. In the middle of this incredibly beautiful weekend comes these two frankly weird and jarring passages from scripture. From the cranky prophet Amos comes the “I hate, I despise your offerings and your festivals,” says God. Ouch. From Jesus’ parable we have a story about ten bridesmaids that sounds like the single most important way to enter the kingdom of heaven is to be organized and well prepared for everything all the time. If that’s the case I have no chance. Also that seems to contradict everything else Jesus has ever said about love, compassion, generosity, etc. So what do we do with that? How do we understand these perhaps difficult scriptures in a healing way?
As our Presiding Bishop said, the way through complexity is profound simplicity. Our yardstick, the gospel, is that if it’s not about love, it’s not about God. This is our single lens. That’s what the book Understanding Difficult Scriptures in a Healing Way was all about: about interpreting things through the lens of the love of Christ. So rather than throw these scriptures out because they don’t at first blush seem to talk about love, I want to invite you to do what Jesus did and what the Apostle Paul did and what Moses and Martin Luther King Jr. and all the great prophets did: to creatively play with these stories in your mind until they come out as love. I remember when Mother Kerri Meyer from Good Courage Farm came and preached to us last Earth Day and said she had come to understand Jesus’ parable about fertilizing the fig tree as that God was not the gardener, but God was the tree—and this transformed completely how she saw the parable. In the baptismal liturgy we are about to do with Lewis and Franky, it asks God to give them “inquiring and discerning hearts.” St. Ignatius of Loyola encouraged us to pray and read scripture with our imaginations at least as much as our intellect. One of St. John’s values is creativity. So let’s do this. Let’s approach these scriptures creatively, imaginatively, knowing that God is good, that the only reason we exist is to love, and find a way to read these that feels like good news to us.
Sometimes when I’m driving and another driver does something that seems dangerous or rude, I imagine reasons they are doing this that change the way I feel about them. Maybe they are driving so fast because their kid is allergic to bees and has just been stung and they have only minutes to get to the hospital. Maybe they are weaving because they are working two jobs and only get 4 hours of sleep every day. Maybe they are driving slowly because they are a student driver who really wants to learn to drive safely and is worried of making a mistake. I don’t know if any of that is true, but I do know that people have reasons to act the way they do within their world, even if they are making mistakes. And this practice changes me and allows me to move through the world with my serenity intact, and with curiosity instead of judgment.
So how can we creatively, imaginatively play with the story of ten bridesmaids and find good news in it?
Here’s what we know about Jesus and his upside down values. God loves the foolish, and the weak, and the poor. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God meets us where we are the most impoverished and hopeless and grants life and healing and connection. God creates the world out of nothing and grants children to barren women and delivers slaves from oppression through plagues and prophets and parting the sea. There is this soldier-mouthed, tattooed preacher named Nadia Bolz Weber whom I adore who says that God’s favorite raw material to work with is nothing. The five foolish bridesmaids have nothing. They are in the dark and their light has gone out. There are times in my life that I feel like that. I am looking for joy but frankly I’ve just got nothing. I am out of inspiration or afraid or heartbroken and I can’t see reason to hope. My best efforts have failed. When have you felt that way?
What if we don’t need to go buy more oil? What if we don’t need to be judged for having nothing? What if I just need to take a risk and share my hopelessness with a neighbor, with a friend, and receive hope and companionship and support? What if two bridesmaids shared a lamp and walked together? One lamp sheds more than enough light for two people to walk in safety. What if we don’t need more oil, we just need to share the lamps we do have, our light and our hope with one another? In every community, at any given time, more than likely half of us will be in a good place and half of us will be struggling. Our job is always to just walk closely together, so that one person’s light illuminates the path your feet walk together. In this way we can always be watching for God, watching for Jesus, for the kin-dom of God to come to us, knowing that God always does come just like joy comes in the morning, the dawn always comes even after the darkest of nights. When we are in Beloved Community with one another you are going to be the one with oil and the one without oil many times. During the day, when the whole community is thriving, we don’t need oil at all. We just live and love and work and rest and play. But when night comes to us, when things seem hopeless to the whole community, when George Floyd is killed three miles from our door or when we face financial decline or when there are fewer people in the pews than used to be, when we are scared about global warming and decreasing biodiversity, when we fear the rise of hate and Christian nationalism and war, then how do we be Beloved Community together?
To hold on to hope, to know for certain that God is good and that love and life come again, we need to be vulnerable and share with one another. We don’t need an infrastructure where everyone always has a complete set of lamps and oil all the time, where everyone has got it together at all times. That just isn’t life at all. We do need to walk closely with each other, to share our light, our vision, with one another. This is good news. It is good news to know when you are the one in the dark that your neighbor has got a lamp, you can walk together. To make use of someone else’s lamp in the dark you might need to walk so close that you are arm in arm. This takes vulnerability. It takes admitting it when we have run out of our own resources. But my friends that is exactly what God wants us to do. Because in the kin-dom of God there is enough.
And isn’t that what the prophet Amos is saying? Amos hears so clearly that God cares less about whether we use purple or blue for advent, or even whether we use Rite I or II or III in our liturgy, but God does care whether we share food with the hungry, whether we care for this earth in a way that satisfies the hunger of every living thing, whether we strive for justice and peace like an ever flowing spring that will never run dry. There is enough to feed everyone, there is enough that no child need to go bed hungry ever again, there is enough, there is enough and some to share!
You see we really only need to do two things. To love God, our neighbors, and ourselves. And to join God’s mission to heal the world through love every minute of every day. When Jesus says to be ready, he doesn’t mean to be organized. He means we should live each moment as if it could be our last, prioritizing love. The resource we always have enough of is the love of God which exists within and outside us. It is a well that can never run dry. Love is one of the few things that grows when you share it.
So I’d like to invite you to imagine the love of God as beautiful warm light that fills and surrounds you always. Honestly speaking, where are you right now? If you’ve got plenty of oil, who could you share it with, without judgment? If you’ve totally run out, if you are hopeless or struggling, who could you be vulnerable enough to tell, and to ask for help? Who could you walk closely with, with compassion, knowing that pretty soon it will be your turn to share your lamp with someone else?
There is enough, there is enough, there is enough and some to share.