For October 30, 2011, Robert Wiese prepared a message on Grace. Robert is Presiding Clerk of Spokane Friends Meeting. On this web site it precedes the message shared on November 6 by Nick Block. That message focuses on Jesus’ parable of the ten bridesmaids told within what is called the little apocalypse.
Robert Wiese: A Message On Grace
Grace! It is a word we are familiar with in so many ways, such as the prayer we say before a meal, or when we refer to someone as being gracious. Among Webster’s several definitions we find this:
“The love of God toward humankind, a state of mind or spirit that is pleasing to God, a power coming from God that enables one to achieve such a state” And finally, “Divine Favor.”
In reading several passages of scripture as I was preparing this message, I found one common denominator as translated from the Hebrew and the Greek and that is the word “Favor.”
In today’s Old Testament passage, Moses finds favor in the Creators eyes by interceding for the Children of Israel when God said to Moses in the 33rd chapter of Exodus, “For I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people and I might destroy you on the way,” this, because Aaron made an idol for the Israelites to worship because Moses did not come down from the mountain as soon as they thought he should.
So Moses intercedes for his people by expressing his desire to know God’s ways more deeply and of course reminding God that the Children of Israel are Gods people. In this next passage, the heart of God is moved by Moses’ passion and desire, and says to Moses in the 17th verse “And the LORD said to Moses, I will do this of which you have spoken: for you have found grace in my sight, and I have known you by name.” And of course we know the rest of the story; of God’s deliverance of the people to the Promised Land.
Did you know that there are about 159 verses if scripture in the bible that deal with grace depending on the translation? I didn’t know that until I began to study for this message. And yes, I read almost all 159 in one form or another and came away with as many questions as answers on this topic.
We have established that there is a common translation between the Greek and Hebrew for the word grace and that being favor. Yet I wondered how I can reduce all that I read into one simple message for today. I quickly shook my head and realized this must be why we have pastors.
In my study I found two passages in the New Testament that helped me a great deal. So I chose today to forgo long theological discussions of Election, Sanctification and Justification, as important as these are, because I am no theologian. Instead I decided to proceed with a discussion among Friends on the Christian Walk and how we treat each other on our journey. In other words, how we minister Grace to one another in our daily lives and within our meeting. This of course must be based on the example of Christ and how he has dealt with us as exemplified in scripture.
How do we impart grace to others? God gave us an example in Christ! For the first example I chose 2 Corinthians 8: 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Now this is not a name it and claim it message. But I do wonder how we become poor to each other in order to enrich our Christian walk? To help answer this some Queries came to mind.
- Do we listen to each other’s burdens as they are shared among us both publically and in private and carry them with us during the week in prayer?
- When other Friends are in despair, with physical or spiritual want and need, do we listen and show Grace by our prayerful words and actions. Are we spiritually attuned to the needs of others?
- Do we see that of God in everyone, even those who in some way might be different from us and do we answer that call from within to treat them as Christ would have us to?
These are brief examples of what it may mean to become as Christ to others and shower others with Grace. For each of us must answer that call in our own individual way, but be encouraged, there is plenty of opportunity for us to practice this among Friends in and out of our church setting.
I can tell you that I have been encouraged by some of the sharing during Joys and Concerns portion of our service to see that many of us are answering the needs of others by interceding for one another in prayer. Needs have been met, people have been blessed and grace has been shared among each other as we carry each other’s burdens. This has been a blessing to our meeting.
Another portion of scripture caught my attention as I was reading through commentaries and dictionaries and that is Ephesians 4:29 where Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus about the Christian walk and again how the members of the church treat each other. As another example of Grace the Author says; “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the needs of the moment so that it will give Grace to those who hear.” This led me to thinking about our Meetings for Worship to Conduct Business. And again several queries came to mind, these, regarding our Monthly Meeting to Conduct Business.
- Are we eager to offer words of encouragement to the young members of our meeting and make them feel welcome in church affairs and spiritual matters and to acknowledge spiritual growth when we see it?
- Do we patiently listen to others as they speak during Monthly Business Meeting, listening to what is being said and not thinking of a response or reaction before they are finished?
- Do we speak only once covering a given topic during a business meeting, thus allowing others the time to speak or waiting in worshipful silence for a moment before we do speak?
I have been encouraged of late regarding our Monthly Business Meetings as the seed of Christ has been taking hold of our meeting more and more. It is hard to speak only once covering a particular topic and it is hard to wait in expectant silence at times but as we grow together I believe this will become our testimony as a body of believers.
Grace is a gift From God through the son, Jesus Christ. As I read scripture for this message it seemed to me that the gift of grace is based on faith as is the peace we have with God. In Romans 5: 1-2, we find this; “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
This is a powerful message, where we obtain our introduction by faith and we exult in the hope of the Glory of God. What beautiful words. What a powerful promise. Grace is not based on anything that we can do, it is, as has been established, a gift. And through this marvelous gift we can extend God’s grace to others both in the meeting house and outside the meeting house. We can make grace a daily exercise through forgiveness of others just as God, through Christ and His grace, forgave us, thus living in the Light of Christ. Here I am only echoing what was written in Ephesians 2: 8 where the author reminds us; “For by grace you have been saved though faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the Gift of God.”
So what do we do with these gifts, the gifts of faith, hope, salvation and grace? What is our responsibility to others concerning these gifts? How do we continue? Those are questions each of us must wrestle with in one way or another. Where do I fit in, in this life of grace?
We can only answer these questions through the moving and workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we struggle though the scriptures and as we struggle through our daily lives as centered on God. But opportunities will come, openings will appear and those answers will be there, I have faith in that.
I realize I am only scratching the surface of such a broad topic today in this short message. And as we move into our Open Worship I trust each of us will struggle with me regarding the Queries that have been set forth this morning. I trust that the Grace and Peace of God will settle down on each of us today and Grace will be known by everyone.
This is the portion of our worship where we do settle down to quietly examine our hearts and seek God. And it is the portion of our worship where we minister to one another as the Spirit Leads. If God is nudging you with words of Grace today I encourage you to be obedient to the Holy Spirit and share what God has laid on your heart during this quiet time.
Philippians 4:8, 9b “Finally Brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever it right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever if of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The grace and peace of God be with you.”
Oil Depletion Allowance
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But 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.’ 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
In his 25th chapter, Matthew tells the interesting and even confusing story of the ten bridesmaids. Leading up to that story the previous chapter is a litany of stories of dire predictions. The story picks up as Jesus is leaving the temple, most likely for the last time. His disciples were admiring this beautiful, immense and complex structure. What Jesus tells them seems unthinkable. He tells them that these structures will soon be destroyed. “Not one stone” he tells them “will be left upon another.
Later, at the Mount of Olives, what he had said sparked a private conversation. When, they wanted to know, would this destruction occur? Were there signals for which they should look, signs of Jesus’ return and the coming of the end of the age? So he warns them to not be taken in by false signs. Stories of wars, near by and far away will be told, famines and earthquakes will occur. These, he said were like labor pains for the birth of the new age. Expect to be punished, even executed, expect to be hated for allegiance to Jesus. Some followers will fall away, some will betray and hate others. False prophets will mislead and people’s love for one another will grow cold. This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed to all nations – and then the end will come.
When they see the abomination of desolation spoken about by Daniel then, he tells them, they should run for the hills, get out of Judea – run, don’t even stop to get your possessions or your coat. It will be a time of great distress. For nursing women and those with child all he can say is “Alas”. And he adds, pray that it doesn’t come in winter. He warns of imposters claiming to be messiahs or prophets and tells them to not be distracted by the great wonders and signs they fabricate. The true Messiah will be found in neither the wilderness nor the inner room. After those horrible days the celestial powers will be shaken – the sun will withhold its heat and the moon its light and the stars will fall from the skies. Then a sign heralding the coming of the Son of Man will appear. All the world’s people will lament, all will see the Son of Man coming on clouds of heaven. He will send out angels with a blast of a trumpet and all his chosen will be gathered.
The most common interpretations of these apocalyptic statements range from utterly bogus rapture theology to more benign, but also wrong-headed, speculations about Jesus’ second coming. For some reason, in total disregard to repeated scriptural injunctions to the contrary, we can’t stop fussing about “when will this be, and what will be the sign of (his) coming.” There is no such thing as the rapture and popular “second coming theology” isn’t much better. It says: Jesus wasn’t here, then he was, then he left, but he’s coming back. That makes Jesus an outsider to his own world who only drops in from time to time to straighten things out–basically, a gnostic view. In Matthew’s day there were those who claimed to be able predict the future. In verse 36 Jesus undermines all prophetic speculation with a three-fold negative–no one, not angels, not the son. “Only the Father” knows.
Matthew recalls the image of Daniel 7:13 when Daniel saw: one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. For Matthew, the “coming of the son of man” will be sudden, immediate, personal, total, and universal. It will be like a flood, like sudden death, like a thief in the night. Jesus speaks of how the flood which swept humanity away in Noah’s day came without warning. He spoke of two men working in the field and two women grinding a the mill and how for one the Day of the Lord came and not for the other. It’s important for us to see that this coming is good news, not bad. The Greek word Parousia for ‘coming’ is formed from para and ousia. Literally, the word means “being alongside.” The verb translated as “coming” (erxetai) is in the present tense, not future. Then he says something that is truly mind boggling. “I tell you this: the present generation will live to see it all”. The “second coming” of Christ is any time Christ is present in the midst of our life.
Rather he tells his disciples to pay attention to changes around them, like noticing the leafing out of a fig tree. In verse 42 for the first time Matthew has Jesus saying: ‘Keep awake…for you do not know on what day your Lord is to come. The householder is to keep awake to avoid a burglar. “Hold yourself ready, therefore, because the Son of Man will come at the time you least expect him.” Then he tells the story of the happy servant who is found at his task when his master returned.
The beginning of Matthew 25 continues the private conversation Jesus was having with his disciples. The kingdom of God, he tells them is like this. There were ten girls who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish in that they carried no extra oil. Five were prudent- they took flasks of oil with them. The bridegroom was delayed in returning with his bride and only the five who were prepared for their lamps having to burn longer than expected were admitted to the wedding. The ending line isn’t the advice to buy extra virgin olive oil in larger containers it is to keep awake, for you never know the day or hour. This isn’t the last of the parables of warning in this part of Matthew’s gospel. We still have the parable of the talents and of the sheep and the goats.
But what about the ten bridesmaids? Some think that those who had extra oil should have shared it with their sisters, the title of one such message was “The Five Catty and Hard Hearted Virgins” – and if the bridegroom tarried longer so they were all out they should have, in solidarity, refused to enter the wedding. Another pointed out that the parable fits well with the earlier warnings and prophecies suggesting that it reflects that olive oil was in short supply most likely caused by a disruption in the harvest.
John Wesley, in one of his sermons suggested that what is at work here is that it isn’t enough that we tend a flame but that we also keep alert to our supply of oil. John Calvin remarked on this passage that if we become slothful and negligent because we are weary of our pains and travail, we shall be kept from entering the doors. John Chryostom in about the year 380 suggests that the reason the five whose lamps had run dry were punished was because they had oil but not in abundance.
For the earliest of Quakers the Day of the Lord’s coming was a most potent piece of their message. Edward Burrough wrote: And we believe that unto all people upon the face of the whole earth, is a time and day of visitation given, that they may return and be saved by Christ Jesus, who is given of the Father to call the worst of men to repentance; and the most ungodly sinners are convinced by him of their ungodly deeds, that they might believe, and be converted and saved. And we believe herein is the love of god manifested to all mankind…” William Dewsbury in one of his sermons said: “Repent, repent, not while you have time, put away the evil of your doings, turn to the Lord, and hearken diligently unto his counsel, the light in your consciences, which lets you see the evil of your doings. Loving the light and giving yourself up to e guided by it, it will lead you to life: hating it, and disobeying it, it is your condemnation. This is the Day of your Visitation; prize it, lest you perish in the mighty day of the Lord’s anger…” For these early Friends the ‘Day of Visitation’ was for the individual hearer today. Rudolf Bultmann, in Jesus and the Word, took this intense, immediate “nowness” of each moment of decision as the essence of Jesus’ ethic.
Fox wrote in his Epistles (1680) “…let all your lamps be trimmed and candles lighted, that all of you may see your work and service for God and Christ, in this his Day. So that you may have the blessings a from above from him, as the holy men and women of God had in the days of old; so that there may be nothing lacking, neither spiritual nor temporal.”
Do we live today without a sense of the Day of the Lord? That the bridegroom keeps his own schedule – that is certain but just as certain is the coming for which we are to stay prepared. As one bright voice said: “speculation is futile – preparation is crucial”. That preparation is our need to live in expectancy to welcome the bridegroom. Peter Woods wrote that “the worst mistake I could possibly make is to forget that the Kingdom of the Heavens, the Divine Domain, is right here right now. It is an immanent reality as much as a transcendent one.”