August 5, 2013

Keeping Lamps Lit and Burning

            Over the weekend our government put US embassies in the Middle East and the northern part of Africa on high alert.  Fearing a threat from Al Qaeda, military personnel are ready to scramble into action to protect the diplomatic corps and other civilians. 
My recent time in Israel, where military is always at the ready, reminds me how essential preparation is.  Even entering Israel’s airspace in a commercial plane requires certain protocols, and one dare not fail to comply.
How does an individual or community sustain a sense of urgency about life?  Vigilance is easier when there is a known threat—a family illness, a financial catastrophe, a racial incident.  I worry, however, that unless the challenge is pretty personal, many of us are content to simply be grateful for our comfort, our protection.
            Scripture beckons the people of God to be pilgrims, traveling lightly as in the Exodus.  Jesus’ instruction to his disciples likewise urged them to take little with them on their apostolic mission so that they might be receptive to the hospitality offered.  Self-sufficiency was not to be their demeanor among potential believers, yet they were to be prepared.
            A sense of urgency pervades the Gospels, a note we tend to muffle in our preaching.  The reign of God is near, and persons must repent and join the new movement inaugurated by Jesus. He is recruiting followers whom he expects to be ready for the unexpected, the crucial opportunity to serve.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes . . . (Luke 12:35-37a)

            Two actions demonstrate readiness: lighting one’s lamp and listening.  Truly “off the grid,” persons in the first century were responsible to make sure a light source was available (remember the “wise virgins.”)  Running out of oil or misplacing one’s lamp sidelined its owner from active participation in urgent tasks.  Perhaps a contemporary analogy would be an individual or church that has forgotten Jesus’ call to incarnational discipleship and lives in self-protective ways, extinguishing the light of the gospel.
            This text also summons the practice of listening.  Can we discern when God is addressing us, beckoning us to urgent tasks?  Faithfulness requires such attentive discernment.

            Molly T. Marshall

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