SERMON from 9-30-12: ‘Jesus is Coming–Look Busy’ (from series ‘Bumper Sticker Theology)

 

Matthew 25.1-13

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. ’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. ’ 9 But 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. ’ 10 And 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. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us. ’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you. ’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Bumper Sticker Theology: Jesus is Coming–Look Busy

It might be a generational thing, so this could be a situation where you all look at me like you would a child or grandchild–and not so much like a pastor.

The Oakwood Inn and Conference Center is located in Syracuse, IN.  It was an old, dilapidated United Methodist camp ground.  However, a large donation from someone–who happened to have met his wife at the camp–allowed the UMC in the old North Conference to rebuild it into a beautiful hotel and conference center on one of the most popular lakes on Lake Wawasee.  I started work there in August of 2000.

Let me take you into this place.  You start by turning off of Harkless avenue and you are immediately confronted with the lush greenery within which Oakwood is situated.  The forest green of the signage lets you know that you are headed for a rich buffet of the senses.  Another right turn begins your 3/4 mile journey through quaint lake homes and beautiful, old trees.  Once you complete your journey through the last couple of yaws in the road, you see the bright, white of the building’s exterior.  Emblazoned on the side of this quietly elegant facade is a forest green sign–and in gold leaf lettering it says, “The Oakwood Inn.”

A large oak tree sits in the center of the circular drive, finished in gorgeous brickwork–this is where you pull your car up to the resplendent, green awning.  The beautiful glass doors invite you to come through and enter the richly adorned lobby.  To your right, you will find the luggage carts with green carpet on the platform and brass bars creating the frames.  As you look back ahead of you, you see the lobby seating–which is the kind of furniture you hope no one spills anything on.  Surrounding that are tables made of a deep colored mahogany.  Continuing to your left, you will see a counter made of beautiful green marble, sitting atop a handsomely woodworked frame.  Rising from behind that counter, you would most likely find me.

Yes, all of that was to let you know that I once worked in an absolutely beautiful and elegant hotel–with a four-star restaurant overlooking the water.

A place like that doesn’t stay beautiful on it’s own.  There was a  wonderful staff of maintenance workers and housekeepers.  The restaurant staff did their best to create an inviting atmosphere in which to dine on their four-star food, and the front desk staff was there to ensure that the guest entered a wonderfully inviting lobby.

The problem comes in when there isn’t anybody for which to do anything.  The summer’s were busy enough, but the winters were especially slow.  The most action you would have on any give day would be to check in local business people, and they would typically do their best to stay out of your hair–and expected likewise.  So, my job was to make sure that phones were answered and the place was as shiny as it was new–a job at which I did very well.

Our front desk manager, however, wasn’t satisfied with that.  Let me explain.  Todd was born to be in the hospitality industry.  He always had a smile on his face, he could get you into any hotel from here to Hawaii, and he had a certain way he liked all of those things done.  He was a fan of the phrase “if there’s time to lean, , time to clean.”  This had the side effect of creating an instinct in myself and my coworkers.  If we were slow, and our work was done, we would “lean.”   Then, when we saw Todd was coming, we would do our best to look busy.

We wouldn’t really be doing anything–and there wasn’t really anything for us to do–but we knew we had to look busy.

So, with that ham-handed attempt at making the move to what this has to do with the gospel, we turn to our bumper sticker for today.  “Jesus is coming–look busy!”

This bumper sticker is meant as a jab towards the Rapture.  I wish to apologize to those of you who looked at the scripture and thought I might talk about the Rapture.  This scripture is actually about the Second Coming–which is supported by scripture–the Rapture is something around which there is still room to argue.  This sermon, instead, is about how we choose to “look busy.”  The implication being that if we don’t at least look like we are doing anything when he comes, Jesus isn’t going to be too pleased.

For instance, the reconstruction of the Oakwood Inn and Conference Center began as an attempt to do a new and exciting type of ministry.  The old building was falling apart–and certainly didn’t have beautifully appointed, multi-room suites.  There were Christian education events held there all the time.  Dinner theatre events with overtly Christian messages were attended by several hundred local people each year.  Joni Erickson Tada–a quadriplegic Christian woman who ministers to those with disabilities–would hold a summer camp for disabled children on the grounds of Oakwood.

However, Oakwood never gained autonomy from the generous benefactor.  He attempted to wield control over the property from day one.  He even had his own suite built and maintained beyond the control of anyone in the hotel.  He would also try to hold power over who the church hired to run the place.  Additionally, the church was so excited about having a beautiful property that they lost sight of what it was supposed to be there for.  After a legal battle lasted much longer than it should have, the hotel now sits empty.

The building is now being overrun with its once beautiful foliage–and falling into disrepair.  So much for “looking busy.”

That’s an example that’s easy for us to see, right?  We can see that just because you say you are doing things for the kingdom doesn’t mean you actually are.  That’s easy.  Maybe. Sort of.

We can see it in a bloated bureaucracy like the UMC, but could we spot it in ourselves?  Are there ever any times in our lives that were doing things just to “look busy?”

I spent the last week in Dayton, Ohio for some class time for seminary.  I heard a great story from one of my classmates.  He was serving as the music minister of a church in Pittsburgh, and the youth choir needed to raise some money for some uniforms.  They decided to have a fried chicken dinner to raise the money.  Across the street from the church was a large set of apartments that were occupied by many minority residents–this is also called the “projects.”

As the church was serving the meal out on the street, a woman came up to the line and began to talk to this young music minister.  She told him she didn’t have any money, and proceeded to ask if she could just have some food.  He obliged–even though she appeared to be suffering from a drug addiction–and then asked if she had ever been to the church.

She said, “No.”  Apparently, the church’s pastor had been there for a long time–20 years.  He always pulled up to the church on Sunday mornings in his Cadillac Escalade or Chrysler 300 M.  When he got out, he would straighten his finely tailored suits and adjust his jackets.  As he brought his hands to the lapels, the light would shimmer off his hands that were full fine jewelry.  He would walk in, and the door would unceremoniously shut behind him.  In that entire 20 years, he had never once been to see anyone in that housing project–not once.  So, no, she had not been to the church.

There are no projects in Forest, Indiana.  I’m not even sure where the nearest projects are.  I do know that there are plenty of uncomfortable places for us Christians to go–and many of us aren’t going there.  Christians are to comfort the afflicted, and I hope that I am afflicting a few of you who are feeling a bit too comfortable.

Comfortable, to me, is safe.  Safe, to me, is luke-warm.  Need I remind you what God does with the “luke-warm.”  Just in case I need to, he spits it out!

Luke-warm looks for ways to look busy.

Jesus doesn’t want us to look busy, he wants us to act out of our love for God.  Jesus wants the understanding of grace that we get with our mind to activate the muscles that get us off our butts to really do the things to which we are called.  When was the last time you served a meal to someone who hadn’t paid for it?  When was the last time you took time to visit or take care of the sick?  When was the last time you wandered into a place that made you uncomfortable, because there was someone there who needed to feel the love of God?

The bridesmaids from Jesus parable were not ready because they were busy with something that didn’t have anything to do with the wedding banquet.  They got busy to avoid looking like they weren’t doing anything, and they missed their chance in the meantime.  Maybe they can go to another reception.  Oakwood used to host wedding receptions, maybe they could do it there.  Oh, wait.

Don’t just “look busy.”

AMEN.

 

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