Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a group of bridesmaids getting ready to meet the bridegroom to enjoy a grand wedding reception. Half the women are very wise and fill their lamps with oil. The other half are foolish and forget to fill their lamps. Then, when the groom, “Love himself,” shows up to take them to the party, the ones who ran out of oil are left in the dark, while the ones with oil in their lamps go to the wedding banquet and have the time of their lives.[i] Later, when the women who forgot to check their oil somehow find their way in the dark to the dance, they find the door to the banquet hall has been shut, and no one any longer knows who they are.
How many times have you heard “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? You don’t know what you’ve got until a relationship ends, a moment is lost, a freedom is taken away, a window is closed, a door is shut.
I visited a man in the hospital recently who one day found himself completely paralyzed from the waist down. After he had a successful surgery to remove two cysts on his spine and regained the use of his body, he said, “One day, you are going about your business taking everything in life for granted; then the next day, everything is gone.” Then he said, “You better believe, I will never take anything for granted anymore!”
A woman who was suffering with cancer and lost her the ability to perform even the most mundane tasks to take care of herself once told me: “It is amazing how much we take for granted every day. Oh, how I would give anything in the world to be able to get up out of this bed, walk into my kitchen and just pour me a bowl of Froot Loops.” She went on, “When I was healthy, when I could get out of bed and walk to the kitchen, when I could feed myself, when I could chew and swallow my food, I don’t believe I ever thanked God for a bowl of Froot Loops.”
Who in the world even thinks about the awesome gift of being able to do something as mundane and as boring as pouring a bowl of Froot Loops? Someone who can longer pour a bowl of Froot Loops.
Who in the world thinks about the miraculous gift of being able to walk? Someone who has lost the ability to walk.
Who in the world thinks about the gift of healthy lungs? Someone living with COPD.
Who in the world thinks about their kidneys or their liver? Someone on the way to a dialysis thinks about their kidneys. Someone living or dying with cirrhosis thinks about their liver.
And who in the world the world truly thinks about the miracle that is their life, the miracle that is this creation? People diagnosed with a terminal illness do. Those who have had a close encounter with death do or those who have a loved one on the verge of death or those who lost a close friend or family member to death.
In the epistle of James we read: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14, ESV). In other words, life, creation, appears for a little time, then the window closes, the door is shut.
Frederick Buechner has said: “Intellectually we all know that we will die, but we do not really know in the sense that the knowledge becomes a part of us. We do not really know it in the sense of living as though it were true. On the contrary, we tend to live as though our lives would go on forever.” In other words: “We know we are going to die but we don’t live as though we believe it is true. We live as though we are going to live forever.[ii]
In other words, we take life for granted. Most of assume that we will be here tomorrow, at Thanksgiving and Christmas, even next year. We live as if we assume that nothing truly ever ends.
A few years ago, I walked into an AT&T store to return a cell phone that had stopped working. As I was waiting in line, I could not help but to hear the conversation that was taking place between the sales clerk and another customer. It went something like this:
A man who seemed to be a professional business man in this mid to late forties said: “Here is my phone that no longer works. Am I going to be able to get my contacts off of the phone and put them on a new phone?”
The sales clerk, who appeared to be a college student, responded: “Sir, that depends. Did you back up your contacts on the computer with the USB cord that came with your phone?”
“No, I didn’t back them up,” the man answered with a very frustrated tone, “I had no idea that my phone would just die on me.”
The clerk said: “Well I am sorry there’s really nothing we are going to be able to do to retrieve your contacts.”
The man was flabbergasted. “What do you mean you can retrieve my contacts? This was an expensive phone. It was the best and latest version on the market when I got it. This phone was not supposed to just one day die!”
It was then I noticed the clerk getting a little exasperated when she said: “Everything dies, sir. People die!”
There’s nothing like being reminded of your mortality by a college student selling cell phones.
It was about this time of the year in 1997 when the doctors told my grandfather he would likely not be here for Christmas. He had been suffering with lung cancer for over a year. I believe he lived more during those last few weeks than he did his entire 74 years on this earth. He no longer worried about the insignificant things that occupy the majority of our time. He took nothing and no one for granted. He traveled to Florida to visit his brother whom he had not seen in a decade. He made it a point to spend precious time his family and his friends. He gave more of his money to the church.
Granddaddy had always been man’s man. And what I mean by that is that I never remembered him holding or playing with my little sister. In fact never remember him ever hold playing with any of his grandchildren. He never took us to the movies or to a playground. He took us fishing. I never remember getting a toy from him; but I do remember getting a pocket knife or two.
It is remarkable then when I think about the picture I have of him that was taken right before his last Thanksgiving. He is holding my daughter Sara, who was six months old, in his arms and looking at her as if she was his very own. I will never forget taking that picture and watching him adjusting her tiny dress, touch the ruffles on it with his tough, weathered hands as he held her and smiled.
Granddaddy appreciated each new day as he never had before. He cherished each breath. He was grateful for every bite of food and he relished every sip of drink. He treasured watching sunsets, cherished the frost on cold autumn mornings, and revered his friendships. He took absolutely nothing for granted. He didn’t miss anything.
Jesus said that the foolish bridesmaids forgot to check their oil and missed the whole dance. They never believed that the door to the banquet was one day going to be shut. And he ends the parable with these words: “Keep awake.”
Keep awake. Check your oil. Keep your lamps burning. Keep watching and keep looking, recognizing that we are never promised tomorrow. Check your oil. Take nothing for granted. Treasure your lungs, your kidneys, your liver. Cherish the ability to walk into the kitchen and pour something as mundane and boring as a bowl of Froot Loops. Relish every taste. Revere every sight and every touch. For in life, nothing is ever mundane. It is never boring. It is all miracle. It is all gift. It is all grace. And it all will certainly one day come to an end.
I met a man at the yard sale yesterday who told me that he attended the very last worship service of the Hassell Christian Church which was held last Sunday. After 100 years of ministry to the day, the church had only four active members and had to close their doors. He said, “You just don’t ever think that a church will close, that its ministry will come to an end, that the doors would be shut, and shut for good.”
Keep awake. Check your oil. Keep your lamps burning. Keep worshiping God. Keep following the Christ. Be grateful for every opportunity he gives you to serve others. Treasure every Fall Festival. Cherish every chance to love the poor. Relish every ministry team meeting. And revere every board meeting. Be grateful for even what appears to be the mundane or the boring parts of church, because the truth is, nothing is mundane. Nothing is boring. It is all miracle. It is all grace. And one day, the doors will be shut.
Check your oil. Keep your lamps burning and dare not miss the bridegroom, Love himself. Dare not miss the dance!
Commissioning and Benediction
Go now into a tiresome world and keep awake. Keep checking your oil. Keep your lamps burning. Keep watching and keep looking, recognizing that we are never promised tomorrow. Take nothing for granted. Treasure your lungs, your kidneys, your liver. Cherish the ability to walk into the kitchen and pour something as mundane and boring as a bowl of Froot Loops. Relish every taste. Revere every sight and every touch. For in life, nothing is ever mundane. It is never boring. It is all miracle. It is all gift. It is all grace. And it until the door is shut, may you dance on this earth with the love of God, the grace of Christ our Lord and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
[i] Paraphrased from Frederick Buechner: http://frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-once-upon-time-our-time
[ii] This quote and the remarks in the paragraphs above came from and were inspired by: http://jbailey8849.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/taking-life-for-granted/