Friday, November 4, 2011

Here Comes The Groom

…contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real.
Thomas Merton

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the groom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the groom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13

Immediately after Jesus subversively sermonized on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), he cast a warning to all those who assumed they are citizens of God's Dream for the World: just because one consistently and loudly calls out the name of the Lord doesn't mean that they "are in." "Kyrie, Kyrie," (Mt 7:21) Jesus has so-called disciples pleading, but they are not recognized by the Master: "I never knew you!" (Kyrie is Greek for "lord" or "master" and would have been used by Roman citizens in reference to Caesar and by Jews in reference to their god Yahweh). This "Kyrie, Kyrie" deepens the meaning of radical discipleship as it enters the echo chamber of Jesus' story-telling later in Matthew's 25th chapter. As it turns out, we followers of Jesus are defined by both our mentality ("Keep awake!"--25:13) and our active participation in the Movement ("only one who does the will of my Father in heaven"--7:21).

Keeping awake to Jesus' Dream for the world requires much focused attention in a culture that lulls us to sleep with a script dedicated to consumer products, militaristic national security, addictive copings and trivial entertainment. While we daydream about how we might bind our fear and anxiety with food, drink, sex and cheap consumer goods produced in Chinese sweatshops, we miss the Groom who is "with us" (Matthew 1:23) when we least expect it: when we reconcile with our brothers and sisters (Matthew 18:15-20) instead of resorting to gossip, revenge or just getting "over it;" when we generously share our resources with the most vulnerable of humanity (Matthew 25:31-45) instead of hoarding or investing for the greatest return; and when we inclusively invite others to join Jesus' Dream for the World (Matthew 28:18-20) instead of rejecting those with social baggage or who fail the "really bad sins" test.

A big part of our spiritual narcolepsy has to do with the counterfeit assumptions ingrained in us that have siphoned off "religion" from "everything else there is," a seed planted within the Tradition way back in the days of Constantine in the 4th century (and intensified in the Enlightenment framing of the world from 1650 until yesterday). Many of us wrongfully expect to only find God in a church building or when reading the Scriptures or during set-aside prayer times. And many of us wrongfully expect that our primary vocation on earth is to "get people saved" before the Groom in Heaven comes back and raptures us to the skies. The Gospels, in fact, declare that Jesus was (and is) revealing himself outside of the normal channels of organized religion. No wonder all those (scribes, Herodians, chief priests, pharisees, etc) with religious and political power wanted him dead.

Matthew's story consistently communicates this different message about out-of-the-box spirituality. It is about a God Who Is With Us (Mt 1:23) in the nitty-gritty and mundane moments of our lives. Our lives, like the bridesmaids in the Matthean episode, ought to be marked by a constant sense of anticipation and preparation for the Groom to re-appear and transform our moment. We are invited to make the Dream a reality, but we're going to need to focus on the fuel to keep our lights burning long into every dark corner. The spiritual substance that has historically caffeinated the saints comes in many forms: intercessory prayer, mindfulness meditation, intentional solitude, music/liturgy, Scripture fermentation, fasting, confession (what we call "taking personal inventory") and listening/responding to sermons. These "practices" exist so that disciples can be prepared to effectively seek and find the Groom at work during the game: the rest of life.

Perhaps what we call Christianity really just boils down to a lifestyle of actively seeking and finding the Groom's Kingdom-of-Heaven celebrations. The Groom's wedding parties celebrate God's Dream becoming a reality "on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10) for the outcasts, marginalized, oppressed and passed-over: socially, politically and economically. Perhaps we often miss the party because we are obsessing over the wrong invite list. Our culture trains us to magnetically seek learn the winning formulas from the financially successful, the muscular, the charismatic and religiously respectable. The Groom's wedding banquet celebrates a commitment to transcending wealth, wisdom and power with tender mercy (hesed in Hebrew), social justice (tsedeqah in Hebrew) and enacting his subversive teachings (mishpat in Hebrew).

Today, we commit ourselves to keeping ourselves awake to God's celebratory Dream for the world. The Groom is alive and coming...everyday.

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