Oil is the love of God we allow to pour through our actions
Last week John Kane invited us to a Rotary Club presentation at the North York senior’s Centre to which Earle and I went. The presentation was profound and struck a real chord for me given our readings from today. A Rotary Club member was giving a presentation on the role of Canada's and Norway's merchant navy people in WWII. I learned that these folks - thousands of them - were responsible for running all sorts of goods from fuels and food and natural resource materials to weapons needed to stop the Nazi advance on countries around the world. The men sent across the seas in these boats initially had virtually no protection from Nazi u-boats and so were targeted to prevent supplies from reaching England and mainland Europe. Many died. Many suffered serious injury. The one thing they shared in common was that at the end of the war, not one of them was offered commendation, salary, work, land, pension, education, or medical benefits. The Canadian government did not recognize them as having served in the war at all until 1992, and no compensation was offered for their years of service until the year 2000. And yet without these individuals, there would be no country saved from Nazi domination.
This story stands in such stark contrast from our reading from Thessalonians today, and indeed, from Jesus’s commandment to love one another as I have loved you. You see the members in Thessalonian Church were preparing for Jesus’s return which they believed was imminent. Unlike the bridesmaids in our Gospel reading who had no oil for their lamps - i.e. who weren’t prepared for Jesus’s return - the Thessalonians concerned that those who had died would not encounter God for they had died before his final return. So Paul writes to them to say, “don’t lose hope. Those who have died will be met first by Jesus and only then, will we who remain behind follow. And Jesus will gather us together to bring us to God our Father.”
What strikes me about this passage is that in facing the prospect of Jesus’s immediate return, the first thing the Thessalonians thought about wasn’t actually themselves. It was, “what will happen to those whom I love, those who are not here to encounter Jesus face to face.” The reason this strikes me so profoundly, is because it gets to the heart of what Jesus was trying to get people to see: no one is more or less deserving of God’s grace. None of you deserve it, no not one. You have all sinned and fallen short of the grace of God. And yet, and yet, and yet. God so loved every single person he made that he refuses to let any of them go - not those who have died, not those who are alive, not those who are addicted to drugs, or alcohol, not those who hurt others, or who don’t or can’t work, who live on the streets, who love someone of the same sex as themselves - no one is outside the mercy and grace of God. For God so loved the world that for every single human being, he came into the world and took our weakness on himself so that in him, joined to him by his act of sacrificial love, everyone is made equal.
The consequence of that reality is profound. You can look at the navy person or the merchant navy person, you can look at those in finance with giant houses or those on the street wrapped in a dirty sleeping bag, you can look at the woman who is powerful and wealthy or who has borne many children or who is single or who lives in a shelter. All are loved profoundly, but do not return God’s love. All are made equal not by the world’s standards, but by God’s standard. And therefore all of these people deserve to be treated in this world, as we would treat Jesus Christ if he were to come right into the middle of this church right now.
To have our lamps lit is to recognize this for ourselves - that we are those who are deeply desired by God, that whatever our circumstances, God has not forsaken and does not despise us and has not left us to the judgement of a world that is so often indifferent as it has been to so many, the merchant navy people, the Indigenous people who served in WWI and II, the minorities and the women who served at home and in war in so many essential capacities, never seen or recognized or valued in this world. God sees you. God sees everything you ever have been, are now, or will become. And he has not forsaken or forgotten and does not discard you. For in making you, you are loved by him, and in being loved by him, you and all those you love who have died before you, will be united to him in Christ. This goes for everyone though, not just you.
If this is the case, as Paul writes to the Thessalonians, then to be prepared for Jesus’s return - to have your lamps lit, as we hear Jesus warn about in our Gospel - is to learn to treat other people as God’s people. Those who fail to have oil for their lamps are those who become so distracted by their own lives, their own desires and wants and narrow ways of thinking and relating to other people - none of which will take them to God the Father when they die - that they become blind to God’s grace, Jesus’s presence in the lives of others, and in their own struggles, their own complexities and even in their own sufferings. They begin to see the church as their own personal club or refuge or place to exhibit power and control, rather than as a tool that prepares them to get out into the world and share God’s love with other people who don’t yet know it. They see their own suffering as a reason to lash out at others or to collapse into defeat. To have oil for our lamps is not so that we can see our way to him; but so that we might see his love for us and then shed our own defences, our anger, our envy, our frustration, our fear, our shame, our pain, our disgust, our bigotry, our sense of entitlement, so that others might see Christ in us. AMEN