Sermon: Keep Your Lamps Lit

Luke 12:32-40

So, here we are — in the dog days of summer.  We are in the hot, sultry days that (according to Wikipedia) happen during the rising of the star system, Sirius, also know as the “Dog Star.” Greek astrology connected this time of year with heat, drought, thunderstorms, mad dogs and lethargy. 

We’re lucky here in the Bay Area. While most of the rest of the country has been suffering from true dog day weather, we generally don’t have such uncomfortable weather here. We definitely have drought, but at least it’s not the 90-degree, 90% humidity weather that I remember growing up in in Ohio. Since many of you have lived elsewhere, I bet you know what I’m talking about. During the dog days, I would feel a little drugged, like I had taken a mild sedative. My brain felt like I was aways just waking from or about to fall asleep. 

Even though we’re not getting that kind of weather, I can still feel that sluggishness in me this time of year. So, it’s especially strange, and kind of irritating, to read this passage for today, which always shows up in our lectionary Scripture cycle in the dog days of summer. It’s all about being alert and ready and expectant. And I thought, when I read this, “Oh, come on. Do we really have to do this now?”

But here we are. Luke is not going to let us sleep:  “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit!” he says.  It sounds like shouting to me. One commentator said that the proper translation of that first line should be “See that your loins have been girded!” “Gird your loins” does not refer to putting on a loincloth, which I always thought it meant. Girding your loins in Biblical times referred to tucking your long robe into a girdle, or belt, so that your robe wouldn’t get in the way of physical activity — be that physical labor or running a race or getting ready to fight.  Girding your loins means to be ready for action, ready to go. Again: alert, awake.

After shouting us awake, Luke then goes into an extended metaphor about readiness. We should be like servants who are waiting for their master to get home from a wedding. This might very possibly refer to a master who is getting married himself and is bringing home his bride. Now, I bristle at this metaphor with its hierarchy and heteronormativity, but, there’s also interesting stuff going on here. The wedding image, according to scholar Bill Loader, is commonly used in Scripture to refer to the coming of the realm of God. So Luke is saying that the coming of the realm of God is going to be like a big celebration. People are going to be feasting and happy. Like at Shannon and Shana’s wedding, which I officiated recently, where guests jumped into the swimming pool in Shana’s family’s backyard, fully clothed. When God’s realm comes, when God’s justice  and healing and peace is triumphant, when we are in the world as God wishes it to be, God will be serving us up heaping helpings of joy.

And so, Luke is saying: Be like the ones who are expectantly waiting for this kindom of justice and joy. When the knock on the door comes, and it could very well come in the middle of the night, don’t be asleep and miss it. Keep your lamps lit. Stay awake.   

This idea of being awake and aware and not sleepwalking through our lives — this is Spiritual Truth 101. Not that it’s easy to do, but this is a truth present in many other traditions. In my own experience, I’ve especially encountered it in Buddhism with its emphasis on being mindful, being present to our lives — all of it — the painful and the joyful and all that’s in between. But many traditions, including our own, talk about bringing the light of awareness to your life— keep your lamps lit!  The spiritual journey is about bringing more and more of what is not conscious into the light of our consciousness. 

This can include things like becoming aware of how our upbringing has formed us and bringing to consciousness the ways that messages we received — especially in our youth — have malformed us, have contributed to unhealthy patterns that keep us from abundant life.  Joanna did a wonderful job in her last sermon of talking about how she has been coming into awareness of how her missionary upbringing and the messages she received during it have not always been healthy for her — like that idea that God demanded sacrifice and perfection.

I spent my 30s bringing into awareness the ways that the religious fundamentalism in which I grew up had messed me up. It took me years to shift my God image from the judgmental, punishing guy God up there, who didn’t much like me or anyone in our natural state, to seeing God as the pulsing, throbbing, Spirit of life that is present in all creation, including in wonderfully made us, and that longs to bring all to wholeness and abundant life.  Just the other day, I realized that I still have “nice girl” messages going through my brain. I’m 60 years old, and I’m still bringing those messages that keep me from abundant life into the light of my awareness. The journey of becoming more awake never ends. 

That spiritual journey is also about bringing into more and more awareness the malformations of our world — the patterns of injustice and inequality that are baked into our systems. All the “isms” that hold such power over our lives but that, without awareness, just seem as natural and normal as the air we breathe: colonialism, racism, imperialism, sexism, heterosexism, consumerism, individualism, etc. Through climate change and the ecological devastation we are experiencing, I think many of us are also coming awake to our malformed relationship with nature. 

It’s often painful to wake up. Becoming aware and awake to patterns that have not served us well, that have not brought forth abundant life for us and others and creation, is hard. It is not easy to do this work, and there is a lot of resistance to it, and I’m talking on both the individual and societal levels. It’s especially had to be awake and alert to what’s going on in our world when it comes to climate change and just how precarious the situation is that we are in and how much destruction there’s already been. But, waking up leads to more abundant life. On the other side of grief and despair is joy and aliveness. I’ve seen it time and time again.

Luke ends this call to wakefulness by switching to another metaphor. Instead of the newly wedded master coming home in the middle of the night and celebrating with the household members who are awake, Luke now refers to the threat of a thief breaking into a house. He says: “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” Of course, since the owner doesn’t know when the thief might break in, then the owner needs to be awake, aware. Her lamp need to stay lit.

And so we need to be aware and awake to the break-in of those values, of those messages, of those habits, which are counter to abundant life and which will sneak back in and steal it from us if we are not careful. There’s a certain vigilance you have to maintain.  I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about what keeps me from abundant life, what steals it from me. I turned 60 and, you know, that’s a big number. I realize I may only have — if I’m lucky — 20 or so years of robust health, cognitively and physically. That Mary Oliver saying, “What do you want to do with your own wild and precious life” has become “What do you want to do with your wild and precious two decades?”  I don’t want to sleepwalk through any of the time I have left.

Here’s one big thief for me, I’ve realized. (Holds up phone.) When I go on my occasional retreat to the monastery in Big Sur that has no internet or cell coverage, I can’t believe how much more awake and alive I feel. I’m more in my body. I can feel that throbbing, pulsing Spirit of Life in me, around me. I’m more capable of being in alignment with my deepest values. What’s truly important become more clear.  I’m often incredibly creative there.  And no wonder, because my my attention is not being pulled in five or fifty different directions by my phone or my connectivity to the world of webs. I feel the same way when I go on our church’s silent retreat, in which we have Internet and cell but I’m just not on it. I’m awake. Like I said, it’s not always fun to wake up. Sometimes, grief I didn’t know was there flows through me during these retreats. But, by God, I feel alive. Awake. Like my lamps are lit. I want more of that in my life, and I bet you do too. 


What needs to brought more fully into the light of your consciousness so that you can experience God’s abundant life? 

And what thieves try to steal that abundant life from you?