“If it bleeds, it leads.” Have you heard that before? “If it bleeds, it leads” has long been the mantra determining the biggest news stories on any given day. The more gory, gruesome, or grizzly a tale to tell, the better chance of it grabbing our attention and keeping us tuned in. Bad news, dour predictions, impending disaster, keep us riveted.
So it is little wonder that “risk management” has given us all sorts of “disaster preparedness” plans—-personal, community, state, and national.
We get flu shots. We get pneumonia shots. We make a family “escape plan” for getting out of the house if it catches fire. We keep an emergency roadside kit in the trunk of our car. We participate in “fire drills” and “emergency evacuations.”
Some of us are “prepared” enough to stockpile bottled water, canned foods, prescriptions medications, batteries and blankets. We lay in another cord of wood. We semi-seriously consider that this year we will get that generator.
During the height of the Cold War, the most prepared-for-the-worst built bunkers, underground nuclear bomb shelters, and stocked them for a decade of undercover existence.
Preparing for disaster is something . . . we are prepared for.
What about being prepared for . . . . joy?
What about being prepared for . . . . pleasure?
What about being prepared for . . . . blessings?
The traditional Boy Scout motto of “Be prepared” taught generations of kids lots of useful skills. But those “skills” were put into practice by going fishing, rock climbing, toasting marshmallows over a campfire . . .fun stuff! They were preparing for good times, not just bad.
As Christians we are called to “be prepared”—-but not just for all those “trials and tribulations” that grab the headlines.
Today’s gospel text tells us in parable form how Jesus wants us to be “prepared,” so that we can . . . what? So that we can party . . . with Jesus!
Are you prepared to party?
Are you planning for gloomy-doomy scenarios? Or are you full of great expectations?
Prepared to party is not the usual version or vision painted by the church across the centuries. In every generation of the faithful, it seems, there have been those whose mission has been to spread the message of fast approaching doom and gloom. The end of the world. The final judgment. The apocalypse. Armageddon.
Today’s gospel text is not about judgment based upon personal failures, infidelities, or faithlessness. The five “foolish” bridesmaids are “foolish” only because they don’t think forward enough. They are not wicked, or self-absorbed, or mean-spirited. But their eyes were not fully focused on the “prize”-—the wedding celebration. The whole reason they had been “called” as bridesmaids in the first place was to help usher the bridegroom into his new space and place. It’s the bridegroom’s party. It’s not their party. It’s not “my party.” It’s His party. Their mission was to be looking forward to a new and wonderful time of joy. They had accepted an invitation to party. It’s his party. Their mission was to join His party.
Throughout church history there have been bands of “bridesmaids,” self-appointed lamp-lighters, who proudly predict the impending arrival of, not joy, but judgment. To escape being identified with the “foolish,” these “faithful” got busy. They sold all they owned and waited. Or they moved into communal societies (the utopian communities of the Amana, Oneida, Shakers). Some even donned white robes and perched in tree tops waiting for “the end” (Millerites). They were all breathlessly anticipating the momentary appearance of Christ. They were all scrupulously separating themselves from the rest of the world. And yet, we are here and the end is not yet. There will be more predictions of the disasters that will be coming.
So much of our faith’s focus has been planning for the end. What happened to celebrating the beginning?
All those “end-time” eagle eyes zero in on everything that is happening in our world that smacks of error and evil, disaster and despair. Yet the five “wise bridesmaids” in today’s text were “wise” because they were looking ahead for a party, a party they did not want to miss out on. They were looking forward to being the lamps that lit the way to a joyous banquet, an outpouring of blessings, a fulfillment of hopes and dreams. They were not looking to spotlight some deep, dark black hole of despair. They wisely stockpiled some extra fuel so that they could be energized to be on the lookout for something wonderful, something good, something longed for and anxiously anticipated.
We need to stop being on the “look out” for bad news. The world does that expertly without our help. Christians are not called to be on the “look out” for disasters and destruction, doom and gloom. We are called to be on the “look out” for God’s unexpected, unpredictable appearance in our midst. We are called to be on the lookout for good news, for all those unexpected gifts from God that explode like popcorn kernels in our lives. We are called to be on the lookout for “Party Time.”
What if instead of “disaster preparedness,” followers of Jesus, those anxiously anticipating Christ’s rule and reign, would practice pre-party planning? We can call this
“blessing preparedness.” Our pre-party behavior should demonstrate that we are anticipating with joy and hope the continued, and ever stronger presence of Christ in our lives and in our faith communities.
How is that faithful reality not something worth advocating and celebrating?
Instead of stoically stockpiling cans of food and bottles of water, what if Christians were known for planting gardens, new seeds for the new future?
Instead of storing blankets and juicing up generators, what if Christians were known for bringing blankets to those who are shivering and planting trees to shelter the next generation of children to help them breathe?
Instead of hunkering in a bunker fearing the onslaught of evil, what if Christians were known for taking whatever light you have and go looking for something good? What if we took seriously our mission to bear the light, and left it to Jesus to be the light?
–-Instead of always looking to make sure we “get what we paid for,” and get what we deserve, what if Christians were known for lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap)? Lagniappe (lan-yap) is a Creole word that means extra benefit or unexpected gift “a little unexpected addition”. When you get a 13th donut thrown in, that’s a lagniappe. When you get some peaches thrown in when you buy a bushel basket of apples, or you get some little surprise gift when you purchase an item. What if Christians were known for lagniappe (lan-yap), for always adding something unexpected, something extra?
God’s first command in the Bible is “Eat Freely” (Gen. 2:16). God’s last command in the Bible is “Drink Freely” (Revelation 22:17). Everything in between Genesis and the genuine leather is a table on which is spread out a banquet. Not a snack. Not a smorgasbord where you can take what you like and leave what you don’t like. No, it’s a messianic banquet. On the table is spread a life-course meal, where we feast on Him the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation in our hearts with thanksgiving.
It’s His party.
Come and party. Enjoy the feast.
This message from Leonard Sweet is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected] A Pass it On Project