23rd Sunday After Pentecost
My father was a bit of a jokester. In fact, there is a great deal in Howie that reminds me of my dad… But he would keep things light in meetings and choir practice—anywhere tensions might develop, he found ways to cut them by half… or more! One of those ways was in response to the choir director’s demand they be alert. And my dad would say, what is that? What is a lert? I’m not sure how to be one.
And so, as these things often go, it became a theme among the choir members, that whenever the director commanded them to be alert, someone would ask for clarification. And what about a-ware, or a-stute, etc… Until, one day, someone skilled in craft making, imagined what a lert might look like and created a little figure out of a rock and google eyes and sundries with a little sign that read, “I am A Lert.”
Anyway, I always think about that when I hear – or direct others to be – alert.
Joshua told the people to choose who they will serve. And then said, As for us, my family and I—we’re serving God.
And they all said, Yes, of course, we’ll serve God too.
But Joshua knew that it is easy to say you’ll do a thing, or declare your belief in something, but live another reality. So, he tried to make it abundantly clear: this God is supremely holy, and is a jealous God. If you do end up serving other gods, it will not go well with you.
And they said, Yes, we will serve and obey this God. Now, as we discussed the last couple of weeks, there is no verb in the Hebrew Bible for ‘obey.’ Because this is not about a blind allegiance to the life-instructions of this God. The word used here, in Joshua 24:24, is, shema – hear. It’s translated as ‘obey,’ but means, listen up!, soak it in, pay attention; not just blindly following a rigid set of rules. We must be present, alert to God’s movement in this kin-dom of God.
Now, in Matthew, Jesus talks a lot about the kin-dom. The kin-dom is like… a mustard seed, a widow with two coins, a merchant with a costly pearl, etc. The kin-dom IS, even now, this is the kin-dom, on earth as it is in Heaven. In today’s reading, however, Jesus is recorded as saying, The kin-dom of God will be like… ten bridesmaids who took their lamps, five foolish and five wise.
And this is what I think that means:
“The Reverend Wes Granberg-Michaelson, former head of the Reformed Church in America, reminds us that Jesus is the model of public virtue for all Christians. When deciding how we want to act in the public sphere, we are first called to begin with our personal experience of God’s overflowing love for all the world.
‘Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.’ So wrote Charles Péguy (1873–1914), a French poet and writer who lived in solidarity with workers and peasants and became deeply influenced by Catholic faith in the last years of his life. This provocative quote identifies the foundational starting point for how faith and politics should relate.
Usually, however, we get it backward. Our temptation is to begin with politics and then try to figure out how religion can fit in. We start with the accepted parameters of political debate and, whether we find ourselves on the left or the right, we use religion to justify and bolster our existing commitments. . . .
But what if we make the inward journey our starting point? What if we recognize that our engagement in politics should be rooted in our participation in the Trinitarian flow of God’s love? Then everything changes. We are no longer guided or constrained by what we think is politically possible, but are compelled by what we know is most real.
At the heart of all creation, the mutual love within the Trinity overflows to embrace all of life. We are invited to participate in the transforming power of this love. There we discover the ground of our being, centering all our life and action.
This was revealed most fully in Jesus, as God’s Son. His love for enemies, … his embrace of the marginalized, his condemnation of self-serving religious hypocrites, his compassion for the poor, …his advocacy for the economically oppressed… Jesus didn’t merely show the way; he lived completely in the presence and power of God’s redeeming, transforming life.
This didn’t fit any conventional political alternative in Palestine at the time… Yet, the “politics of Jesus” presented a clear agenda for radical social and economic transformation in his time, as in ours.
All of this was rooted, however, in the incarnate participation of Jesus in the love of the Trinity. His life embodied what God’s love intends for the world and demonstrated the Spirit’s power to transform, heal, and make whole what is broken. . . . His mysticism preceded and then accompanied his politics.”Richard Rohr, CAC, Daily Meditations, 11/05/20.
All the way back in Matthew 5, Jesus tells the crowd, You are the light of the world—let your light shine. To keep the light shining, you need to refuel. If you don’t have enough oil to keep it going, well, you won’t keep shining.
Shema! Listen up! Be alert! Let this seep into your very bones: our God is one.
The kin-dom of God – a city on a hill, a beacon, a place of hope. When I am not centered on the reality of who I am, When I am not trimming my lamp, replenishing the oil for the light that lives within me—the way I interact in this world, with the people in my life, is reactionary. It is thoughtless, irritated, or worse.
I react to my world first, and then try to fit my religion in with it, to paste on my piety, macrame a face that appears to be in the right, following the right rules – and unrecognizable as distinctly me, as the me who bears the image of God in a way that no one else quite does.
And I miss what Jesus is doing before my very eyes. I miss the spark of the divine in you, and the opportunity to be a part of kin-dom work, building, making things right.
And, remember from last week, we will become like God because we will see God as God is—face-to-face. But if I don’t recognize God, I can’t be like God—and how will God recognize me if I’m not living into the truth of who I am?
One of the ways we can do the inner work, communing with this Trinity-God, is by Cultivating a disposition of gratitude. By keeping awake. Being alert to God-with-us, following where Jesus leads, not where facebook posts tell us we should pay attention to. Not first, anyway—some are encouraging and lovely. But first, trim your lamp. Refuel and Keep awake. Be alert.
And let us look for things that make us grateful, thankful. Here’s a beautiful blessing/prayer that might help us all be alert to this—shema, listen into gratitude:
May I live this day
compassionate of heart,
clear in word,
gracious in awareness,
courageous in thought,
generous in love.–John O’Donohue
And as you find things that make you grateful, thankful, share them:
Email, call, text, send a smoke signal to let us know—and we will feature yours on the sign in front of the church. Imagine what that might do for those who drive by, walk by our building. Share your favorite Thanksgiving tradition and/or recipe so we can, as a community, share in the love that supports those traditions and yummy food!
Be alert! And I’ll tell you what a Lert looks like: a Lert looks like you, and you, and you… and it is beautiful!