Monday, January 14, 2019

Greater Gifts Series!

As we moved into the New Year and a new worship series, we decided it was time to resurrect the blog after a year's break.

Our Greater Gifts Series is all about the ways God has gifted you to love and to serve.  So we invite you to go to the Greater Gifts page on our website. There you will find two links. 

Sunday's Message:

This past Sunday, we talked a lot about gifts and the three-fold pattern of gift-giving: Expecting, Receiving and Sharing.  

And then we ask the critical question: What do you expect from God? 

We can expect God to be faithful to all God has promised!

And what has God promised? 

The gifts we received in our baptism - the gifts of forgiveness, grace, love, salvation and new birth in Jesus Christ.  All this is God’s gift offered to us without price. 

Baptism is a moment when we clearly see a gift held in outstretched loving arms, and we say yes. God looks upon you. God calls you by name. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are claimed. You are blessed. You are a part of God's family, the church. 

Baptism is a moment when we hear for the first time the still, small voice of God saying, “I love you. You are my son. You are my daughter. I will love you forever.”

Those are the gifts we have been promised. 

So here the second question: Have you received these gifts? 

And not just once. These gifts are given throughout out life. Baptism is not just an event, it is a way of life.  Every day we can receive these gifts from God. We can renew our commitment. We can acknowledge what God is doing for us. We can affirm our place in Christ’s community, among Christ’s friends. 

All our spiritual gifts are rooted in God's First Gift to us!

Check out the sermon video from the 11 am worship!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Sunday's Message: Love Risks Birth

Below is Pastor Rwth's sermon from this past Sunday (01-07-2018) 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:


We’re not even two week past Christmas, and the Christian calendar already has us at Jesus’ Baptism. Maybe because Christmas remained fresh in my heart, I sat with the story of Jesus’ baptism with his birth still on my mind.  Maybe I had birth on my mind because I want God’s grace to birth some new things in my life and in the life of our church in 2018.  

That said, connecting birth and baptism makes sense for us. There’s this conversation Jesus and Nicodemus were having in another scripture reading, John, chapter 3. Jesus says, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom. Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?” Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.

Baptism is itself a kind of birth – a birth into a new form of life.  Baptism is a birth into a life intentionally formed by God and lived for God’s purposes.  Baptism is a birth into a way of life as God desires it.

In our story today, Jesus is born anew as God calls him into a new life of public ministry and service to others.  Jesus’ more hidden identity as Savior is now out-in-the-open.  As his ministry begins, Jesus is born more fully into the world for all to receive or reject.

The Holy Spirit, who came over Mary at Jesus’ conception, now comes over Jesus at his baptism—empowering this new birth to happen.  God receives him afresh, with delight and great love, as Mary did when Jesus was first placed in her arms. God says, as much as Mary must have: You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness. 

Both stories—Christmas and Jesus’ baptism—are mysteries of birth.  What might that say to us in these earliest days of 2018?

An answer came when I ran across a poem by Madeleine L’Engle.  It was tucked into one of those emails that I didn’t get to read around Christmas time because I was too busy.  I almost missed it—but then thought how beautiful it is that it came to me when I was making this connection between Jesus’ two births: in Bethlehem and in the Jordan River.

The poem, The Risk of Birth, goes like this:

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Love emerging to be born: That’s what connects Jesus’ birth in the stable and his baptism in the Jordan River.  God’s love for the world is so great that God takes the risk of birth—to give love a face in Jesus and to give love a mission through his ministry

It’s not like the times were favorable for God’s love to be born in Jesus’ birth or his baptism—the world was full of discord and disorientation.  There wasn’t any indication that people would receive Jesus—at Bethlehem or at the Jordan River, but God risked birthing love through Jesus’ life anyway.  God doesn’t consider favorable times or unfavorable, failure or success. God doesn’t weigh pros and cons.  God loves the world—and so God risks birthing that love into being through Jesus and through those who follow him. 

So these stories ask us: what love must we risk giving birth to

Back in November I talked about my experience at the St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia in a sermon about service.  Days earlier, in preparation, I was watching a video from the St. Francis Inn that put me back in touch with my own call to ministry and my heart’s desire to serve people in need.  And I reflected on what a wonderful ministry we have in Tuesday Morning.  I began to wonder how we would move forward with leading the ministry because Karlie, our much-loved and gifted director, was moving. 

Then I heard the Spirit’s prompting: Rwth, you could step this ministry. 

I felt both elation and fear: could I take the risk of birthing the Love that I had carried in my heart for 25 years?  I sought the discernment and input of others and received affirmation and support.  This week, I’m jumping into leadership of Tuesday Morning Outreach. 

This new ministry role is one way I’m taking the risk of birth in my life this year.  God desires you to take the risk of birth in your life, too.  What deep dreams, seeds of possibility, or leadings of the Spirit do you want to bring forth?  What’s on your bucket list that you want to fulfill, so that you might be more of the unique person God calls you to be? What do you long to create? 

What love would you bring forth if you ceased judging yourselves and your dreams so harshly, if you stopped comparing yourselves to others, if you weren’t afraid?  What makes you hesitate or resist taking risks of birth in your life? 

One of the reasons why we find love so scary is the risk it necessarily involves.  To love is to risk. When we love, we experience the impulse to take the risk of birthing it into the world—making our love visible and real, giving our love a life of its own. 

We love another person—a friend, a spouse, a child—and we risk commitment and countless actions on their behalf.  We love our career, we love our calling—and we risk giving it our energies and other precious resources.  We love a particular craft or art or service—and we risk putting our creativity and heart out into the world. 

Jesus himself took the risk of birth when he stepped both into and out of the baptismal waters. After hidden years in Nazareth, it was time to bring forth saving love for humanity and all creation.

When is the time for love to be born?  The time is now.  Love still takes the risks of birth.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Thank you, Karlie Harper!

For the past 18 months, Karlie Harper has been the Director of our Tuesday Morning Outreach Ministries.  And her family has been an active and vital part of Ocala First United Methodist Church for several years. This week Karlie, her husband, Jon, and their children are moving to Oklahoma.  

Below is Karlie's last devotional message from Tuesday Morning Outreach. As always, her words are challenging and uplifting, convicting and hopeful.  May you be blessed by her words!  And join us in prayer for traveling mercies and blessings for Karlie and her family as they start life anew in Oklahoma! 

We love you, Karlie!


Today is my last day as the outreach coordinator. I have loved serving with you and for you all. I want to thank you for walking along with me while I lived in Ocala and served this ministry. It has been easily one of the best experiences in my life. Please know that as I go to my next place, I will hold all of my special moments with you in my heart. That I will continue to use my voice to speak up and advocate for the marginalized in our societies. That I will continue to call out faith leaders, community leaders, and those in positions of power to work towards positive change for all in our society and not just the ones with money and power. I will take what I have learned here and use i t to work against racism, injustice, harmful church practices, and everyday biases. I will take what you have taught me to my new place, and I will do my very best to honor the gift you have given me in that place.

I feel as though I have usually stayed pretty close to two topics in all of my messages: the fact that God loves his people no matter what society says about them; and that we are all called to live a life that shows we are followers of Christ no matter what our situation. And if I am being honest, these are my messages because these are truths that I have to cling to. In our lives, we all face different circumstances and hardships. No one is exempt from struggle. And In the midst of these struggles, it is comforting to know that God loves me no matter my mistakes and failures, and that even in the midst of these mistakes and struggles I am called to live a life that shows I love Jesus. Every day gets to be new. Because he makes all things new. Every day we get to wake up and rejoice that we have another chance to do the next right thing, or ruthlessly love our neighbor, or take up our cross and follow Him. Be the church we as supposed to be in a hurting world.

In Ocala, this church and the folks in this ministry show us every Tuesday what it actually means to be the church. When I say "church," I don't mean one specific church or one specific denomination. I mean the actual bride of Christ, the arms and feet of Christ. Meant to show his love and teach his message. From here on when I refer to "The Church," I mean the church as a whole – not just this church.

I would hope that anyone here would feel comfortable going to any church on a Sunday morning. Because "the church" is as much for the unhoused, the unchurched, the outcasts, the down and out, or the wonderer as it is for the housed, the cradle Christian, and the stable. We are all meant to come together, no matter our differences in the worship of our Heavenly Father.

Because you are just as needed in the "Church" as anyone else. You have a gift that we need, something to offer the rest of us that we are lacking. We need your humor, or your experiences. We need your spirit, we need your opinions, and your insights, and even your anger. Sometimes the “church” needs to know that it's not all unicorns and rainbows and there are real people with real problems living right here in our communities. And if ever you find a church that doesn't welcome you with open arms then you shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them and move on to find one that does.

"The church" has this problem thinking that being a Christian is easy. That we just go to church on Sunday, maybe throw some money at it and then think we got it down. But, and this goes for everyone – distressed folks, stable folks, cradle Christian, and new Christian – being a Christian is not always comfortable. If you have never gotten uncomfortable for Jesus, done something you really did not want to do- give up something you did not want to give It - then in my humble opinion, you're probably doing it wrong.

So as I close out today, I just want to say thank you, and I love you. And let's remember together that we are loved so completely by our good Father and there is nothing that will ever change that. And also that we need to live lives that show who we are: followers, believers of the Gospel, and radical lovers of our neighbor whoever they may be and that we are the church.

Closing Prayer:

Gracious God: Thank you. Thank you that every day we get to be new – new choices, new  ways to love each other, new ways to serve you. Help us because we need your help. We need to hear you, feel you, and see you. Help us to be open and listen for your voice. Lord let us be the church we are supposed to be. A church full of people loving with abandon and grace as we are loved by you with abandon and grace. God, I thank you for these people, our visitors, the volunteers, our pastors, and our friends. Lord, as we leave here today, and I leave here for my new place let our lives blossom with your goodness and evidence of your spirit be shown in all that we do. Help us to remember that no matter what you love us, and you call us into right living with you. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sunday's Message: Comfort and Joy

Below is Pastor David's sermon from this past Sunday (12-17-2017) including the slides he used during the 9:00 am Contemporary Service.

You can view the video from the 11:00 am service on our website:


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

We are down to the last week.  Christmas is just around the corner.  We have our trees up, our house decorated, our presents purchased online and out for delivery, our cookies baked, our parties attended, our Christmas parade watched, our travel plans made, and our annual reminder that we think eggnog is really just okay as long as we don’t have to drink too much of it.

So here is my question: Are you happy?  

 We are in the season where the greatest virtues of the Christian life are celebrated: faith, hope, love, joy, and peace. But this is also a time of the year that is not quite so jolly for many people.  December with its short days, long nights, colder weather, busy-ness, festivity, and family time leads many to loneliness, depression, and despair.

The passages we have read from Isaiah the last three weeks are traditional readings during Advent. Have you noticed that they are all about both hope and despair? All of the readings are set in the middle of the Exile in Babylon. The Hebrew people’s despair was very real.  You can imagine how they must have felt. With their temple and capital city in ruins, they had been rounded up like cattle and led on a forced march into the heart of their enemy’s country where they were resettled. 

Strangers in a strange land they had the feelings of devastation, loss, and hopelessness. From the prayers and Psalms written during that time you hear a resignation: the way things are is the way they will always be. There is no hope - no expectations that the situation will ever change.

Have you ever felt that kind of resignation?  Whether it is your personal situation at home or at work, or it is the circumstances in the world, or whatever - you have the sense that things will never change.

If you have felt that kind of despair, then you know it can be tough this time of year. When everything is jolly and bright but you are just not feeling it.  It feels like you’re standing still while the world is buzzing around you. And the fact that you just can’t get into the spirit makes you feel even worse. 

I’ve seen it in the caretakers who cannot leave their responsibility. It is common among those quietly grieving – especially those spending the first holidays without a spouse or children (through death, divorce, or estrangement). This time of year can be particularly difficult for those who are in extended stays in hospitals, or are homebound, or who live alone and feel isolated. Even the sentimentality of family time is muted with so many families negotiating previous marriages with shared custody or when extended families are strung across the country adding to the stress and expense of the season.

For the past decade or so, churches has offered a special time or worship – usually on a Sunday night – called “Blue Christmas.” 

No not that kind of Blue Christmas. 

That’s better.  It is a time of worship that seeks to address the very real sadness people feel; especially when they think they should be happy. 

What are the words of comfort used there?  The very passages from Isaiah we have shared these last few weeks – words of hope and promise to a people with struggles of their own.

We should not pretend that this season is somehow spared sadness and grief, even if most of our experiences are warm and happy. We are reminded of the Israelites in exile because we also need hear the hope and promises of God too.  We need to hear
that good news comes to those who are poor,
that healing comes to those who are brokenhearted,
that freedom comes to those who are captive and prisoners to grief,
that comfort comes to those who mourn, and
that reassurance comes to those who are discouraged.

We need to come to the place where we are no longer resigned to our circumstances. The most insightful message I have ever heard from a Blue Christmas service is that we should let go of trying to find happiness and instead seek joy.  You see the real question is not, “Are you happy?” The real question is, “Have you found joy?” Because there is a big difference between happiness and joy. 

Fredrick Buechner writes, “Happiness turns up more or less where you’d expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it . . . (Buechner Slide) Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes....”

In other words, happiness is logical. We can link our happiness directly to our circumstances. Money, property, and good investments can provide security and comfort for a time. But even if the material comforts do not fade, the happiness inevitably will. That kind of happiness is skin deep, it is surface, a fa├žade – it has shallow roots, it has no substance. It leads to despair because an emptiness remains and we end up in a cycle of ceaseless striving for more, bigger, and better.

We fall into the “if-only” trap. If we only had this “thing,” or more success or more recognition, then we could be happy. “If-only” thinking means we are never really be happy for long. Happiness becomes a moving target. Just when we think we have arrived we find the goal is still just beyond our reach.  

We will not always be a happy but we can be deeply joyful.
Joy is the grace and freedom God wants for each person.
Joy is a gift we receive.
Joy is not fragile.
Joy has far deeper roots than happiness. 

Hard times can make us bitter if our goal is happiness.
But joy is unquenchable even in the most dire situations.

Psalm 16:11 says very plainly, “In your presence there is fullness of joy.”  

Joy is the most unfailing sign of the presence of God.  We celebrate joy in this season because God’s presence with us becomes most fully known in the birth of his Jesus. We find joy when we celebrate Jesus as Emmanuel, as God-With-Us. Life need not be easy to be joyful. Joy is not the absence of trouble but the presence of Christ. 

The real question is not even, “Have you found joy?”  The real question is, “Has joy found you?”

We want things on our terms – our families, our church, our community, our country. And we fight and struggle to hold on and try to will it to be the way we want it.  Christmas teaches us that God has come to us on God’s terms - in a child in a manger in Bethlehem. If we want it any other way – we will not find joy and we will not be at peace. We learn to accept the graces God gives to us, pick up the mission God calls us into, and trust that our lives will find joy in committing ourselves easily and simply to God’s way. 

Evelyn Underhill writes, “This is the secret of joy. We shall no longer strive for our own way; but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to God’s way, acquiesce in his will and in so doing find our peace.”  

 Isaiah looks squarely into the face of the misery of the people and boldly proclaims a new day is coming. The way things are is not the way things will always be. There is hope. There is joy. There is comfort. There is salvation.

Is it any wonder that when Jesus preached his first sermon in his hometown synagogue, he unrolled the scroll and read these very words? After reading, he rolled up the scroll, sat down, and said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

We have a savior who bring good news to the poor, who binds up the brokenhearted, who proclaims release and liberation to those in bondage, who comforts those who mourn, giving a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. Thanks be to God!

Advent is not a season for nostalgia. It is not a time for sentimental recollection. It is a season for remembering all that God has done to save us . . .  and looking with joyful expectations for all the ways God will continue that work now – in your life and in the world.

For God comes in person and comes to any open heart yearning for God’s presence.  May joy find you today, and every day. As in the words from O Little Town of Bethlehem:

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sunday's Message: Comfort For God's People

Below is Pastor Rwth's sermon from this past Sunday (12-10-2017) 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:


There’s a story that my Mom tells a lot.  She and my Dad had brought me home from the hospital after my birth.  That first night, I cried and cried and cried—unable to be comforted—despite their around the clock efforts to soothe me.

Finally, as morning arrived, I fell peacefully asleep.  My parents were bleary-eyed and hunched over cups of coffee.  My Mom looked at my Dad and said, “Bob, we’ve been had.”

The next night, I cried and cried and cried.  And Mom and Dad didn’t stay up with me during the night.  Though we would likely disagree with that parenting approach today, apparently I slept more and more on my own during the night, until a night would pass without my crying at all.

I confess that while my Mom thinks it’s a charming story, it makes me a little uneasy. I think the image of a helpless infant crying all alone in the dark without parental comfort is a good description of all of us at various times in our lives.

It certainly describes the Israelites of Isaiah’s time.

It’s around 540 B.C.E.  God’s people, Israel, have been in exile for a long time when this passage from Isaiah comes about.  The Babylonians had destroyed much of Jerusalem, deported many Israelites, and had provoked an economic, cultural, and spiritual collapse.  God’s people were caught in a catastrophe that didn’t seem to have any end.

After 50 years or so of refugee life, the Israelites’ hurt is so bad, they’ve stopped crying in the dark for God to appear and help them. They’ve given up hope and have gone quiet.  God isn’t present to them.  There’s no sense that anything is going to change for the better.  They’re heavy with resignation.

So you can imagine their skepticism when suddenly God breaks in with a promise. Suddenly God is present and speaking compassionately about comfort and renewal!

This good news erupts in the midst of the heavenly council, the angelic host surrounding God.  The angels—being messengers—are jazzed up about spreading the word about God’s comfort.  In the darkness of aloneness, alienation, and exile, God promises peace and restoration!

The angels call upon the prophet to join them in crying out the good news.  But the prophet, stunned by the turn of events, asks: What should I cry out? 

After all, the prophet has found out the hard way that nothing under the sun amounts to anything of lasting value.  Everything in this fragile life can be swept away. 

What can the prophet say to the people who’ve experienced firsthand that everything withers and fades away to nothingness.  All flesh is grass; all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field. . . .Surely the people are grass. There’s nothing anyone can ultimately do to make this bad situation better.

A member of God’s heavenly council agrees.  Yes, the grass dries up; the flower withers. . . . BUT there is someone who does endure, who comes through in the end. . . .our God’s word will exist forever.  God will always claim us as his people.  He will not leave us comfortless. Weeping may spend the night, says the writer of Psalm 30, but joy comes in the morning.

The joy that comes in the morning is that God is here!  God comes into the comfortless darkness with gentle strength and fierce tender care to be with us. 

 The angel tells God’s people to join the prophets in proclaiming this promise: Here is your God, coming with strength. . . .like a shepherd, God will tend the flock; he will gather the lambs in his arms and lift them onto his lap.  He will gently guide the mother sheep. 

God will bring all humanity home together and will live with them forever.  God promises deep, ultimate comfort to all who will hear this good news.  God’s presence will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.

As Christians we recognize God’s promise of comfort being fulfilled in Jesus.  He’s the good shepherd who gathers all of us into the peace of God’s eternal belonging.  He’s Emmanuel, God-With-Us—our God is here with us, always.  He’s God’s eternal, always enduring Word, the beginning and the end.

The question is: do we in fact experience God’s promise of comfort in Jesus?

Maybe we haven’t given enough room for God’s promise of comfort in our lives.

In last week’s sermon we explored why we need Christmas.  The hard truth is that we are a people in discomfort.  We’re uncomfortable because God creates us to love him and others with our whole selves, yet we turn away from this divine calling. We love so many other things as substitutes for being in right relationship with God and our neighbor.  

Our souls are not at ease.  We have a God-shaped emptiness at our very heart.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, our souls are like infants crying alone in the dark for our divine Father, our heavenly Mother.  We need to feel that emptiness in the season of Advent, so we can fully embrace Jesus at Christmas.

The problem is that we have so many other ways of temporarily comforting ourselves.  We make ourselves comfortable by an endless array of distractions, by consuming things, experiences, and other people, by avoiding challenging questions about the meaning of our lives, by addictions of every kind, and by the strange comfort we receive from judging others as more of a mess than we are. 

But all of that is grass: it’s initially beautiful and lush—it comforts us temporarily—but it all withers away. And we’re still left comfortless.

On this second week of Advent we’re inviting you to get comfortable—not by the usual means—but by seeking God’s promise of comfort in Jesus. 

Get in touch with the comfort that God is actually here—with you—in Jesus.  He’s the comfort in the darkness of our worst moments and our everyday miseries.

When God is with us, who or what can really be against us?  With God in Jesus Christ, we have every strength we need, every comfort we need, and every guidance we need.  And God’s comfort in Jesus is one that doesn’t wither away: it lasts forever.

What opens you to God’s comfort in Jesus?

At the end of the day, God’s comfort is a surprise to us, as it was for the Israelites.  It’s something that comes upon us when we least expect it, when we’re at the end of our rope, when we’ve pretty much given up hope, when we conclude that peace is beyond us.

One evening, when I was a seminary student, I got off the commuter train and set out to walk the relatively short distance to my home.  It had been a really long, busy day.  I had a bad cold.  And freezing rain was falling.  I had dinner to prepare and assignments still to do.  Underneath all of this discomfort were deeper discomforts about my marriage and my call to ministry. 

As I walked, I felt like each step would be my last.  I wanted to give up then and there.  Suddenly, I felt as if there were strong arms about me and supporting me, helping to take one more step—and then another.  I hadn’t prayed for help, but I knew in the moment that Jesus was there, gathering me to himself and guiding me—comforting me.  I made it home.  I made it through another night.  I made it to the next day. . .and the next. . .and the next. 

Later I came across a verse in a song that perfectly expressed God’s comfort in Jesus:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
lay down, oh weary one, lay down
your head upon My breast!”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in Him my resting-place,
and He has made me glad.

As we approach Christmas, we pray to receive the truest and greatest gift of the season: an awareness of God’s deeper comfort in Jesus Christ, God’s promise of comfort and joy.

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?