Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
12 C Pentecost 7 Aug 2016 Proper 14
Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit. I still have a lamp: an Aladdin kerosene lamp given to me by my parents so I would be prepared in case the electricity went out. The problem is that keeping it lit all of the time would be a fire hazard and a waste of fuel, plus kerosene smells awful. I would likely forget why I had it lit. So this lamp sits where I can see it, close to a lighter in case I really do need it some dark and stormy night. I do not, however, view that Aladdin lamp as my ticket to heaven. No, I think my life, day in and day out, is my preparation and my lamp. I recently read an abbreviated biography of someone I had almost for-gotten. Let me tell the story and see if you know who this person was. He said, “I am feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the destitute, regardless of their sex, age, creed, color, race or place of residence. If that be politics, I plead guilty, but…hunger is not debatable.” This man, a native son of Iowa by the way, graduated from Grinnell College and was one of the pioneers in the field of social work. He went to work in the state of New York and became a Red Cross disaster administrator and head of the Tuberculosis Health Association. He started looking seriously at the root causes of joblessness and started a work relief program and championed unemployment insurance, aid for widowed mothers, and restrictions on plant closings. In the early stages of the Great Depression he was able to find work for over 3 million peo-ple. He was tapped by FDR to head the New Deal and started spending money from day one. When criticized for his haste he said, “People don’t eat in the long run. They eat every day.” His goal was to create jobs and not dole out money, believing that work also gave dignity and skills. My own father was a beneficiary of that be-lief when he worked in the CCC and helped build structures that still stand at Lake McBride. He was frugal with the money used for administration of the WPA, if he could not find an office space he simply worked in the hallway. He did not take care of his own health and he certainly had a personal life that fueled the tabloids and he liked “high class living”. His name? Harry Hopkins. John Steinbeck wrote of him: “There are many physical monuments to Harry Hopkins: the dams, the electric power, the new forest, the high-ways, the airports, schools, public buildings, but sill treater monuments are the saved lives and purposed of the people who built them.” Hopkins was always dressed for action. He, unlike me, was not afraid to keep the Aladdin lit, and he was using the light all the time.
I don’t know if Hopkins was worried about going to heaven or not. I do know he managed to walk the walk better than many people and yet was very, very human with his share of faults.
Jesus says at the very beginning of the reading, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He immediately says, “sell you possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven.” Be ready!! I love those words. Add to that: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Do you have a favorite cause to which you donate? If so I suspect, you feel a strong stake in that cause. Do you have a hobby? As you spend money on that hobby you will pay more attention to it; your heart will be in in. Do you invest? I strongly suspect you want to know how well your investments are doing. It does not matter whether it is a charity, a hobby, or a financial investment; your heart will be where your money is. God cares where we put any and all of our resources. The big ques-tion of the day for Jesus is: what matters to you? Where do you want to put your heart? You know that all things earthly pass away, why do you want to accumulate things, things that you cannot keep and things that can destroy you as a child of God. Go for the purse and the treas-ure that lasts forever. In an essay in Working Preacher, Karoline Lewis says: This week Jesus is asking us, what is it that encapsulates the Kingdom of God for you? What is the one thing that if some-one asked you about it, you would be able to give witness to your faith in God, your belief in the work of Jesus, your confi-dence in the presence of the Spirit? Is it a bible gifted to you? A confirmation keepsake? A baptism remembrance? A picture that hung on the wall in your grandmother’s living room? An icon? A doo-dad? I have several objects: one is a small plaster wall hanging that says,” Now I lay me down to sleep”. It was in my room when I was a child, put there by my parents, and I think it was their way of telling me I had a guardian angel. There are the ceramic praying hands my aunt made and gave to me. As an adult, I find icons speak to me, particularly Ru-blev’s “the Trinity” According to Jesus, the possession that reminds you of the meaning of the Kingdom of God is your personal faith vocabu-lary. For you it may not be a thing at all; it may be how you see God and how you are able to tell others about God. I cannot describe a trans-cendent god and the god I worship is not just a transcendent god. God is with us; God is love and it is by living that love towards one another and towards God that we are keeping our lamps trimmed and burning and that is how we know where our treasure is. For the next few months we will hear over and over the rhetoric of hate as we come closer and closer to our presidential election. I daresay we will not hear a politician talk about loving our neighbor, helping the poor, feeding, the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoners. It will be election politics as usual. I pray that all of us take pause and think that there can be a better way, a different way. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning!!