Monday, November 20, 2017

Sunday Sermon: Devotion

Below is Pastor Rwth's sermon from this past Sunday (11-19-2017) including the slides she used during the 9:00 am Contemporary Service. You can view the video from the 11:00 am service on our website:


After surgery and a couple of days in the hospital, my Mom went home and I helped care for her there.  In the mornings, I drank my coffee and read the local newspaper.

I was struck by the obituaries.  Many of them were beautiful, moving tributes, often several paragraphs long and full of details that really expressed who the person was in life. 

There was one detail that always stood out: what the person was devoted to.  For each person, their noted devotion was different.  But in every case, what they were devoted to made them real and gave them life—even in death.  Reading about their devotion to one thing or another made me feel like I knew them.  

Devotion is a rather old-fashioned word. But it gets at something really basic about our humanity though.  Devotion is all about our passion in life—what fires us up and keeps us going, day after day.  It’s what makes our existence meaningful.  It’s what we’re known for as we live our lives and it’s what others will remember us for after we’re dead.  

Devotion is all about the giving of our love, loyalty, and enthusiasm.  We pour out our resources—our time, energy, money, and skills—into our devotion.  When we’re devoted to someone or something, our devotion becomes our center—and other dimensions of our lives order themselves around this center. For the sake of our devotion, we willingly make sacrifices and we steadfastly endure nearly anything and everything.

Think about what you’re devoted to.  What’s your life about?

There are many possibilities.  We can be devoted to our families, to our work.  We can be devoted to a craft, an art.  We can be devoted to a sports team, a civic organization.  We can be devoted to a cause, a recreation.  We can be devoted to our neighborhood, our nation.  We can be devoted to our church, to a particular area of ministry.  And we can be devoted to God.  

While many things are worthy of our devotion, we can’t be devoted to everything equally.  Devotion wins over our hearts—what we’re passionate about demands our focus and takes what it can of our necessarily limited resources.  Devotion demands that we make choices in its favor.  When we’re faithful to our devotion, we give it our yes again and again in little choices and in big ones.  

Today’s scripture passage is a devotion check-in for us.  By way of a story about ten bridesmaids, we face a question: are we devoted to Jesus?

The story of the ten bridesmaids is part of a larger conversation Jesus is having privately with his disciples on the Mount of Olives—after he wept over Jerusalem and foretold the Temple’s destruction.  Understandably, the disciples are anxious and afraid.  They want to know when the end is coming.

Through a series of stories, Jesus redirects the disciples’ attention away from when the end is coming and toward how to live every day in anticipation of the end. 

We don’t know when the last days will be.  And we don’t know when our own last day of mortal life will be.  In the midst of both uncertainties, we wait for Jesus.  Today Jesus tells us we’re like the bridesmaids in the story.  We’re to wait for him and the coming kingdom of heaven.  We’re to wait with devotion.  Devotion is the oil brought by the 5 wise bridesmaids.

Before we get into what this means for us, I want to point out a few things.  First, note that all 10 bridesmaids are invited to the wedding—which is a symbol of God’s coming kingdom, when God and his people are joined together forever in a bond of eternal love through the groom, Jesus Christ.  

Second, all 10 bridesmaids have lamps.  Each one has what it takes to welcome Jesus when he comes and the wedding begins.

Third, all 10 bridesmaids fall asleep when Jesus is late.  There’s no issue with their nodding off.

In every respect, the 10 bridesmaids are in the same situation—except in one respect: 
those containers of oil.  

The 5 bridesmaids that bring oil for their lamps are wise.  The 5 that don’t bring oil are foolish.

In Jesus’ day, for lamps to shine, there had to be oil.  The lamp wasn’t going to do you any good if you didn’t have it.  As we would expect, when the groom suddenly arrives at midnight, the wise bridesmaids who brought containers of oil are able to light up their lamps and meet the groom.  The foolish ones without oil realize they’re lacking something essential.  The oil that makes all the difference is devotion.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming—he comes to us in hidden ways every day, he will come to us at the end of our days, and he will come in the last days—all so that we may be forever united with God who loves us.  

The matter at hand is whether we have the oil of devotion in the lamp of our lives, so that we are ready to meet him, to shine for him, and to follow him into a shared life with God—here and now and in the hereafter.

Unquestionably, Jesus is devoted to us.  Are we devoted to him? 

Our devotion to him is our love for him—a passionate, loyal, and intimate love. Our devotion is our active, enthusiastic faithfulness to him and his words.  Our devotion holds Jesus and his gospel at the very center of our lives, around which everything else revolves.  Our devotion to Jesus means our Christian life is about him and the coming kingdom of heaven, and not primarily about us.  It means giving eagerly of our resources in ministry, making sacrifices as needed, and joyfully enduring the hard for the sake of the good.  

Our devotion to Jesus will be our visible witness to his love for all.  Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said that those who live rightly in anticipation of God’s kingdom are like lamps shining brightly on a lampstand.  Devotion is what will make our lives radiant and rewarding.  It’s what we’ll be known for—now and eternally.  In today’s story, notice the groom doesn’t know the 5 foolish bridesmaids—it’s precisely because they lacked devotion.  Devotion is what makes us real and lasting.

When the 5 foolish bridesmaids realize they don’t have oil for their lamps, they ask the 5 wise ones if they can borrow some oil.  They wise ones say no—not because they are selfish, but because devotion can’t be borrowed. You and I can’t borrow the devotion of others in order to meet Jesus—not the devotion of our parents, spouses, children, mentors, or friends.  

The wise bridesmaids then suggest the foolish ones go and buy oil.  But devotion can’t be bought either—a hard truth for our consumerist culture.  We can spend a lot of our precious resources trying to consume experiences that make us think we’re devoted to Jesus—and still come out empty.

Our devotion—or our lack of it—is a matter of what we give our all to.  The fine print on the invitation to the kingdom of heaven is this: bring your own oil.  When Jesus comes, will we be among the foolish or the wise?