Running on Empty


This is a transcript from the September 8, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.


Inside your bulletin is a passage that may seem like a harsh change of pace from what we've just heard. I think you'll see that it is connected. I think there's some profound connections to it. It is out of Matthew 25. If you read only this parable, you would get a skewed view of its message, because this parable is meant to be part of a whole. It is part of three parables, one right after another, right after another that Jesus is using, and it is put together in order to tell a larger story.


This larger story has to do with, what is the Kingdom of God going to look like? More to the point, what really matters? Jesus starts this parable. So, the Kingdom of God then it's going to be a kingdom like this and he always tells stories. Stories have lots of different meanings to it. If all we did was take this one, we'd hear a lot of judgment. I've never preached off this one parable before. I'm doing it only because I get to do the other two in the weeks to come. They work together as a whole.


Jesus is using a particular style of story that repeats itself one after the other after the other, and there are times when at some critical point, somebody steps back and they ask, "Did I do what was really important? Did I do what really mattered?"


This is a story about, in our own life, what really matters? At the end of the day, what really counts? How do they align up with what God is trying to do in our life today? Keep that in mind as we read this and listen for this if you want to read in the bulletin, it's there.


I'm going to just read from here. You may just want to close your eyes and listen for this parable. 10 bridesmaids he says, 10 bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. By the way, in those days, the bridesmaids were part of the bridegroom's party, not the bride's party like we do today. They are part of the entourage, which is to help go and celebrate and start the party and to represent and to bridge and to be integral to the celebration. It is more than just wearing dresses that nobody will ever wear again. They are there this time on behalf of the bridegroom as forerunners to a great event. They bear witness to what is about to happen.


Five of them were foolish, five of them were wise.


When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. At midnight, there was a shout, "Look, here's the bridegroom, come out to meet him." Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps, so the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil for our lamps are going out." The wise replied, "No, there will not be enough for you and for us. You better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves."


While they went to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went out with him into the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later, the other bridesmaids also came saying," Lord, Lord, open to us." He said, "Truly, I tell you, I don't know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."


What are we to do with such a strange story like that? In its day, it was put here because the expectation when this was being told in the early community of Jesus and Jesus was returning anytime soon, really soon, any moment now, I'm sure anytime soon, quickly, I'm guessing.


This was his idea, anytime soon and so, what happens when people start to lose heart? What happens when people start to wonder, "Well, how come Jesus hasn't come back yet?" This is a story about telling people to stay vigilant.


What do we do with a story that was designed for a particular audience and told to a particular audience for a particular reason 2,000 years ago? What possible relevance could it have for us? Here's the relevance I think it has for us. Ever seen one of these?


Running on Empty - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO


Do you know what that feels like? I'm thinking of a time I was in college. I had an exam. I was going and I realized that my tank looked a little south of that. This was an important one. This was one of those that was going to affect my grade. I didn't have time to get gas. I thought I would have more time. I thought I would have more and I didn't. I'm getting closer and closer to the campus, and that keeps going down. Now, before I tell you what happened, I tell you that because as I'm telling you, I bet you have an experience like that too.


It may not be the fuel gauge on your car. It might be the battery on your phone, and you've got to make a call and that little thing is flashing at you and you don't know if you have enough time. It might be some other part of who you are. It is, do you have enough in your tank? Do you have enough charge in your battery? This morning, I want to ask this question, what's in your tank this morning? How's the fuel going in your life? Because I think this is what this story is about for us. This is about, do you have enough not just in your gas tank, not just enough in your battery, do you have enough in your soul? What nurtures your soul?


What keeps it so that when you go out into the world Monday through Saturday, that there is enough in your tank, enough in your soul that you're able to respond. This is more than just about being an occasional inconvenience or an embarrassing moment. This has to do with a lifestyle that we live. Kids have a wonderful way of doing this. If you notice the smallest among us. When they get tired, when they really get tired, do you know what they do? They just stop. They just sometimes even just conk out right on the floor, one of our daughters was at the end of her tank at a very young age, she fell asleep mid cry.


She was crying and crying and she was asleep. Adults, we don't do that. Maybe that's to our own peril. We keep going outwardly even though there's nothing on the inside. We go through motions. So, it's a little harder to tell perhaps when our tank is empty, but you can tell. Now just for the sake of this, let me just explain what's going on here. The lamps and Matthew particularly likes to use Jesus's example of a lamp. The lamp is how we live our life. It is the witness of who we are. Jesus says, "You're the light of the world." Later, he says, "Make sure you don't put your lamp under a bushel."


The lamp is our life. It's our witness. The lights are the works that we do. It is the way that we show up in the world. What happens when we go to show up and there's nothing there? What happens when we go and there is not enough there? Most of the time we fake it. We're pretty good at faking it. People in church are particularly good at faking it. We still know how to put on our Sunday smiles and say, "Hey, everything's going great, doing well."


We know how to talk the talk, we know how to walk, and so nobody would really notice. On the inside, there are signs that our tank is empty. Here are some of the signs that you can tell if your tank is empty. This is how you know if you're running on fumes, if you were to step back and watch yourself or maybe someone who knows you can tell you about yourself that there is this constant low-grade sense of resentment, frustration, irritation, you're distracted all the time, you're running on fumes.


When you answer the question and you really believe it, "How are you doing," and "I'm busy," and busy becomes a badge of honor. Busy becomes the monitor of your life and somehow that validates who you are and why you're running on fumes all the time. Be careful, be careful. We have taken that saying that cleanliness is next to godliness. We've changed it, busyness is next to godliness and at our own peril. It was Martin Luther 500 years ago practically now when he said this, he says,


"Busy isn't of the devil. It is the devil."


This is not a new problem. We busy and distract ourselves, so we miss what's important. We have replaced depth and we have replaced fuel, we have replaced the punishment of our soul with just merely being busy. Remember the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date." That begins to describe our life. We are always late for somewhere. What's important is never here, it's always somewhere else. Where it's always, "I got to get there because that must be something important. I can't be here right now." When we can't be here and what's important is never here and it's always there and we're always on the run, be careful. That's one of the gauges I have found in the dashboard of my own soul.


By the way, when people said, "I need to hear that sermon," I always appreciate that. I could just tell you I need to preach this sermon because I need to hear this sermon. This is stuff out of my own life. I recognize all of these symptoms within myself. When our spiritual life is disconnected from the rest of our life, be careful. This morning alone, I walked in and I was talking to people and I heard three or four different situations, heard somebody is sick, someone is in transition, there is stress, there is uncertainty.


If you find your faith is for Sunday morning and then you're just having to put it together Monday through Saturday, when the sacred and the holiness is for people who are spiritual and then the real people over here have to deal with this. When you find yourself that separated from your soul, be careful. Be careful. You're running on empty. You're running on empty, or just to use the humorous story that I heard one dear friend say one time. He said he was reading a story out loud to his wife. He says, "It says here anyone who is over 55 is either burned out, burned up or boring." He says to his wife, "I could be wrong, but I'm not burned out and I'm not burned up." His wife chose that moment to say, "Howard, you're boring."


I resemble that remark. I have been all three. Those are signs that my tank is running on fumes, that was my tank where I am just faking it. The result is are these things, I am distracted, I am discouraged, I don't have enough, I am not present with people. Now, the Bible has a phrase for that and it's not what you and I would think. You and I would think, "Oh, that person is bad or they don't believe." Jesus has a word for it and it is this. "You're foolish."


In the Bible being a fool is a big deal. It means your life is out of sync with God. It means your life is out of sync with the way the universe is designed. When you are wise, it is because you have lined up your life and you are in alignment with the way God created this world. When you are a fool, you have gone against it and now it is just waiting for something disastrous to happen. It is what happens when your lamp is not able to shine when it needs to. It is when you go to show up in this world and nothing is there. It is when you miss the appointment of your life. You're doing it too often.


Those appointments that have your name on it on any given day. There isn't enough to be mindful of it, to be present to it and you find yourself reacting rather than responding. When you major in the minor things, when as the saying goes, "We mix things around and we use people and we love things," when our hearts are disordered, pay attention to the dashboard of your own soul.


Here's the question. How is your tank this morning? If you were to ask the person who knows you best, perhaps sitting next to you, what would they tell you? If the fool is the one who does all those things, the wise, on the other hand, is this great invitation. They respond rather than react. They love people. They use things in the right way. They are present here and they're able to be present here wherever they are. They are able to tend to their own soul. When the question of God sightings comes up, they can see and they can reflect on God because that's not a distant memory. It becomes more and more of a present reality.


When gratitude begins to be the undercurrent and the foundation of what you do, when you are giving yourself and it doesn't feel like an obligation and just a duty, but something as a way of extending and manifesting the very presence of God in your life, that's the wise person. Here's the foolish person. How do you find yourself this morning? How do you find yourself most days? Worship is that time where we are coming to refuel our tank. How do we create this everyday spirituality, how do we tend to our souls this morning?


I asked this question and hopefully, it got your attention as this parable was meant to do for people, was to get their attention, to say, "Hey, this is serious. Pay attention." If you find yourself in this situation a lot, then what? By the way, I didn't make my class. I ran out of gas and I had no fuel. I had no gas tank, of course. That would be too easy. So, I had to push my Volkswagen about a quarter of a mile to the next gas station and get there. By the time I was done, I missed my class and there were consequences. Was I bad? No, I was a fool.


I'd like to tell you that since then, it's taught me that never run on that close to empty. I'd like to tell you that I have always been wise about keeping my own personal gas tank going too, but I haven't. I haven't. Did I tell you I need to hear this sermon? I need to hear this sermon constantly, because this is where I live as well. I can tell you this, that when I am wise, when I feel like that I am running and the tank is full, there are some things that are going on that I have found that are helpful. It basically starts with this, "Take seriously the care of your own soul."


If there is no other thing that you write down, no other thing you remember going out this week, take seriously the care of your own soul. It has implications. It has consequences. There is this false choice that goes on in people's minds. It is this false choice in church that I'm either an inward person or an outward person, that I have to choose between having a deep spiritual life and being involved in service, that I'm either going to change the world or I'm going to tend to my soul, that I'm either going to be one of those people who love solitude or I love service.


It is a false choice when we think we have to choose one over the other. It's a little bit like approaching this passage and saying you have to either be a person who has a lamp or you have to be a person who has oil. They only work when they go together. When it says, "Tend to your own soul," classic spirituality has always done this, in most places throughout the centuries. There are basically four activities, service, worship, study, prayer. They're all variations that go round there, that people have said, "If you do these things--" These are the classic practices that people have. What I have known, that people who live well, they have a practice or a series of things that they do to tend to their own soul.


Oftentimes, they fall into those four categories. We see them with Jesus. Jesus led a life of service. It is the outward and he said, "I didn't come to be served. I came to serve." He was telling his disciples, "Go and serve. Wash each other's feet. Go and serve. Go on behalf of God." Jesus is also the one you find in worship at the beginning of his ministry. There is this phrase where he says, he went to the synagogue, he went to the service that day as was his custom. It was part of his practice to sit with the people of God and wrestle with the word of God in community. He studied.


Obviously, when you listen to Jesus, he knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, but he knew them deeply. It wasn't just that surface meanings. He understood the great streams of God underneath the Scriptures and was able to get to those. That's why he spoke with such authority. Then there was prayer. He was always going off by himself. Before the dawn it said, he would go off in solitude to be in prayer. Then not only that, he would call his disciples to do the same. He would say, "Come. You've been doing a lot. Come, let's go to the other side of the lake. Let's go someplace out into the wilderness. Let's go someplace and just be quiet." It became their practice too.


These are some of the great practices, but I have learned over the years there is more. It's no less than these. You would do well, we would all do well by incorporating these into our life. There are others I have learned people have. When I ask, "What's your practice?" Or I listen for their lives. It's everything from running to music, to yoga, to gardening, to meditation, to art, to walking, to cooking and you name it. People have different ways of just finding that place that feeds your own soul. What feeds your soul? Do you know what it is? When was the last time you attended to it? Because it matters. It matters how you are going to show up this week. It matters whether you are just faking it this week or whether you are coming from a place of great strength and abundance, whether you are stretched thin or whether there is a source of peace and wholeness from which you draw.


What's your practice? You're going to hear me talk a little bit about this in the weeks to come. It's called Five by Five, and it is a way of taking what are our best hopes for ourselves, our aspirations and our practices, and how do we bring those together, so they develop a wholehearted kind of life? What I want to say for at least this morning is, what are the things that feed and connect you to the God, to the divine? Here's your assignment. If you're finding that you are running on empty too often if it's more than just the occasional and it's a lifestyle thing, here's what I want you to do five times this week. Nurture your soul. Do something that feeds your soul. Five times.


Now I know as soon as I say that people are going, "Five times. More roles. Can you believe what he just said? He is saying I have to do something that feeds my soul. Oh my gosh, how oppressive?" If you find yourself saying, "I'm too busy," pay attention. Now, what does that mean? It can mean you come to worship. This may feed your soul. Check, you got one down.


You may be part of a life group or a group of people who meets in that conversation, there's soulful conversation, and you walk away feeling more filled. You may do a devotional time in the morning and the evening check, check. These are just ways of paying attention to. There are things that you do. I go to Oasis every other Sunday night, not because I need one more thing to do, because it's one of those things that feeds my soul. If you're looking for something like that, we meet every other Sunday evening. You may need to take a walk this week if that helps you. You may need to do some art, listen to music.


You may need to do some meditation. You may need to do something. Whatever it is. Would you take five times this week to do the kinds of things that tend to fill your soul? Now here's the bad news. Next week, do it again and again and again, because this is how we feed our soul. This is how the tank fills up. We don't just wait for these moments of inspiration and go, "Okay, now I'm all filled up."


The one who takes and tends to their soul, they tend to the things that make their life rich, that connect them with God. This is not about rules. This is not about just being into all those religious activities. I think it was when Jesus himself said, "Listen, don't be a slave to this stuff. Obviously, if it's a Sabbath and your ox falls in the ditch, you're going to go take care of the ox." I love Billy Graham's observation about that. He says, "Yes, but if every week your ox falls in the ditch, either fill up the ditch or get a new ox."


If every day you're not able to do something because your ox keeps falling in the ditch, pay attention. If every day, there isn't time to fill up your soul, pay attention, pay attention. This is not about being good or bad. This is not about being acceptable or unacceptable. This is about being wise or foolish because here's the truth. This is an invitation to participate in what God is doing in our world. This parable is an invitation to be- not only to bear witness, to be part of the great celebration of where Christ is when Christ comes, and Christ comes. It is not just a one thing that we wait for someday out in the future. It happens every day. It happens throughout every day.


I would wager that before you go to bed tonight, there is a time when Christ is showing up and inviting you to be a part of it, to give yourself, to give your attention, to give your love, to give your patience, to give your ears, to give your hands, to give something of yourself, to be present in. What a foolish thing is if we go and we don't have enough, and we miss the appointment of that day. What a tragic thing if we do the same thing tomorrow and the next day, and the next day, because that's not what we were designed for.


You and I are invited to participate with what God is doing in this world today and tomorrow and every day. Will we be ready? Will I be ready? Will you? What's in your tank? How's the level? How will we respond to Christ?