The Oil of Responding: this preacher’s response to the Texas Church Massacre
For about 11 years I was the Lee-Davis Band Uniform Mom. That means I made sure every member had a well-fitted, clean uniform to wear during both marching and concert seasons. During marching band season, the students had to come with their band t-shirt, white shorts/long johns/under armor (whitey/tighties), white tall socks and white marching shoes. We kept the band hats, plumes, coats and pants all ready for them, but they had to have the proper items to wear under their uniforms.
At the beginning of the season I’d show them how to pack a bag and keep up with their stuff. But the reality of having the bag all ready for 2 to 3 performances per weekend would undoubtedly be too much for some of them. They’d show up with dirty clothes or missing some items. One week a young man came without his t-shirt. The director was planning an inspection and if he got caught he wouldn’t be allowed to march and it would be terribly embarrassing. So this enterprising young man reacted…he got a white t-shirt and a couple of magic markers and he drew the marching season graphic on the white t-shirt! He got by!! His reaction in a crisis was swift and effective. However, he wouldn’t have had to scrape through if he had been prepared and had made a solid response to the directive and threat of being caught.
Being ready as a Christian is two-fold. We make our selves ready for the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into our world this very day. And we ready ourselves for the coming judgement and Kingdom of God in eternity. Jesus speaks about this “Being ready” in Matthew 25.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids[a] took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.[b] 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[c] 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[d] 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.[e]
It’s important that when we read this passage that we notice Jesus isn’t talking about falling asleep. In fact, all ten bridesmaids went to sleep. Jesus isn’t talking about what happened and their reaction in the crisis of the “Bridegroom” coming. Jesus is talking about their preparations, the work they did as a response, a well thought out action planned to avoid a crisis and the needed reaction. Jesus is very much talking about whether the bag was packed the night before.
In this parable the “Bridegroom” or husband is Jesus. The Bridesmaids are us, the church. The oil that was needed to fill the lamps was the good deeds of the lives lived focused on the coming of the Bridegroom. The wedding feast is heaven, the Kingdom to come in eternity. There are many places where Christ speaks also of the Kingdom of God being here, now, among us. So we can think of this parable in that way as well.
On November 5, while we worshiped and prayed, shared communion, remembered the saints, while we snacked and hugged and laughed and sang…in another small country church evil lived and horror took the morning. We gathered and went home only to learn that our brothers and sisters in Southerland Springs, Texas had been attacked by an individual intending catastrophic harm. At the end of the rampage 26 people, family, friends, little children, lay dead in the sanctuary.
I’ve spent much of the week considering what that reality would be like, as a pastor, in this little church that I love. These people. God’s people. Good people. These little ones…
So we want to be prepared. Do what it takes to protect ourselves and the people we love. What can we do to protect ourselves from this horror?
How does what this bible passage, any church teaching, what difference does it make? We just read this passage about the oil in the lamp being good deeds and righteousness that prepare for the coming. But how can that responding, how can that preparation be enough. How can that action prepare for this kind of world?
My question is really about the oil of righteousness in those lamps and the necessary good deeds and how that prepares us? How does it change anything?
There are two lines of preparation…even for those band uniforms…respond and react. Getting your stuff washed and in the bag the night before, having it all together is responding. When you show up without a t-shirt and you get one…that is a reaction. “Respond” avoids the crisis. “React” deals with the crisis after it occurs.
A reaction still leaves all of us with harm and damage and lets evil have a day. Responding prevents the moment. I recognize this sounds silly and impossible. But in the last 3 months Enon UMC and Studley, VA have raised well over $90,000 to build a new home for Junior and Melray, that was impossible too. So God does impossible things with our best efforts and faith. When we step up and out, doing what God has asked, the world is changed in ways so beyond what we find possible. We can’t, but God can and God does. So God can work in our deeds and faith and change the world to prevent massacres and suicides.
The oil of righteousness, the way we live daily, can be a response of love that changes the world. Prevents the crisis. We see it in hurricane preparation, wildfire prevention, even in crime prevention. The people of Texas crafted an excellent response to hurricanes and when Harvey rolled ashore the loss of life was minuscule compared to what it should have been. Good plans and preparations, early actions, responding eliminated much crisis reaction and harm.
The Hanover Sheriff has a program for community safety, “See something, say something.” They are on to something. As Christians commanded to love our neighbors, seeing something and saying something is ideal. We are commanded by Christ to know people, to care, to invest, to see them. And then when we see them in trouble, struggling, hurting, we are to say something. Talk to them. Reach out to get appropriate help.
If you know someone who is threatening and becoming dangerous…say something. Accept the reality then call. Call me. Call 911. Call the sheriff’s office. Call the Community Service Board. Call. Say something.
Our suicide rate is growing rapidly, say something. When you hear words of despair and isolation, speak to the truth of what you hear. “I hear your pain, are you thinking of killing yourself? Please don’t, I love you.” Then call and get some help!
Keep your eyes open. When your gut says be concerned, then say something. Walk around looking and noticing and listening and caring. Trust your instincts.
Watch out for children and teens that are getting shoved to the sidelines. The most common feature of all of the people committing suicide and those committing homicides is a sense of isolation and desperation. That person that is sitting alone, the one that doesn’t fit in, the one no one wants to be around…that’s the person that needs the light of Christ and the love of a church family. That person is ours to love.
If there is physical abuse or threatening in your home…say something. When we let major problems develop in our homes and keep those secrets, we set up the world for harm. Come and talk. Together we can figure a path that brings hope and light back into your home and family. Fear of what might be, paralyzes us and then we are left with no plan, no response, just a reaction in a crisis.
Love your neighbors…all of them. Love the neighbors you like and the ones you don’t. That relationship that is severed, the one that is shattered, that is the place God’s loving balm is needed. Take the love of Christ and share it. Seek the needed help. Respond in the day so your lamp will be filled with the oil of righteousness and the Light of Christ will shine brightly in your life and can transform the world.
That’s part of the message of the scripture…don’t just act like you are tending your lamp, your life, your reality…really tend it. Really do the work of righteousness, compassion, kindness and love.
And if we tend our lamps, really care for our neighbors, do the good deeds that will fill our lamps with oil, our world is a better place and those who are on the edges, feeling excluded, those in great need, those needs for love and community will be met.
Part of this parable is the reality that if your lamp is full and you have extra oil, you can respond, you can make decisions, you can answer God’s call. If you are ill-prepared, unaware, not thinking, you end up doing all of the wrong things.
Let’s prepare our world to answer the call of God, the coming of the Kingdom. See something, say something. Offer Christ’s love, support, presence, inclusion and help to one another.
Loved, included, supported people offer their gifts to the world and the world is a better place.
Now let’s sing, as a deep, abiding prayer…
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.