Waiting in the Dark
First United Presbyterian Church
“Waiting in the Dark”
Rev. Amy Morgan
November 12, 2017
18 Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;
4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.
6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'
7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'
9 But 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.'
10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.
11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'
12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'
13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
We listened to each other’s breathing. There were whispers. Giggles. “Shhhhh! They’re coming!” We quieted. Listened. We waited. In the dark.
At our middle school lock-in at the church a few weeks ago, a few of us hid back there in Angela’s office, while the rest of the group wandered the church in the dark, looking for us. It was a game. A fun one. And while we waited to be found, we heard the others, bumping into pews, voices quavering as they asked, “Where are they?” We almost lost it when one kid said, “this is the part in the movie where the monster jumps out at you.” When they finally found us, that’s exactly what we did: jumped out and chased them, trying to tag as many as we could.
This is one of my favorite youth group games. Some call it “Look out for the bear.” We called it “Werewolf,” in keeping with our Halloween theme. Whatever you call it, the point is that you wait in the dark, or wander in the dark. You wait to pounce, or you wait for the jump scare. The game embodies every stereotype about darkness. It is scary. Something is in it, waiting to get us. It hides something dangerous.
In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, she defines darkness as “anything that scares me – that I want no part of – either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.” The church, she asserts, has typically eschewed darkness, drawing on those biblical images of Jesus as the Light of the world and the “outer darkness” as the place reserved for those who displease God. She criticizes churches that stereotype the darkness this way, calling it “‘full solar spirituality,’ since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church,” Taylor says, “by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer.”
As ten bridesmaids headed out in the darkness to wait for the return of the bridegroom, 5 of them had full solar spirituality. They were sure the bridegroom would arrive on time, would be there when they expected him. They were following accepted practice. As the bridesmaids kept watch, they knew with full confidence they’d be partying with the newlyweds later that night. They could not imagine that they might have to wait in the darkness for so long that the oil in their lamps would run out.
But 5 of the bridesmaids came prepared to wait in the dark. They knew that life is defined by uncertainty. They brought reserve oil for their lamps because they had what Barbara Brown Taylor calls “lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to [us] waxes and wanes with the season.” This is the kind of spirituality that enables them to wait in the dark. It expects the light to take its time in coming. It prepares for seasons of darkness. But it waits with hope for the waxing of the moon, the coming of the bridegroom, the return of joy and fullness.
We’d be foolish today to not feel the darkness pressing close around us. After last Sunday’s tragedy in Texas, we all feel like we’re stumbling around, unable to find our way, waiting for terrible things to jump out at us. This is the part in the movie when it happens. Our hearts beat faster. Our palms sweat. Our imagination magnifies our fears. The darkness is terrifying. And dangerous. And we want no part of it.
We’d like to flip on the lights. Find an easy, quick solution to banish the darkness. We want to assure ourselves that Jesus is coming, that God’s got this all in hand. Or that somebody has the power to change this, fix this, protect us.
As your pastor, today I’m supposed to point out where God’s light is shining; give you certainty that all will be well; direct you to where God is leading us; convince you that God hears our prayers. I’m supposed to shine a spiritual spotlight in all this darkness and send our fears scampering for cover.
But I can’t offer you that today. This is not a time for full solar spirituality. It would be foolish to assume that Jesus will come quickly, that the deus ex machina will arrive to sweep us up out of the darkness and into the bright banquet hall anytime soon.
We are waiting. In the dark. Our lamps went out long ago. We’ve grown drowsy, and would love to simply sleep through the living nightmare that is sometimes our life. Whether the darkness we face is the specter of a mass shooting or the shadow of illness, or any one of the phantoms and devils that haunt our sleepless night, all I can offer you the wisdom of lunar spirituality. The wisdom of being prepared to wait in the dark. The wisdom of bridesmaids with reserve oil.
Lunar spirituality begins with the ability to sit in darkness. We are a culture that flips on the light switch at every turn. We do this literally, of course, but in every figurative way as well. We avoid pain and suffering at all costs. We jump to fix whatever is broken and rush to break through every blockade to our sunshiny happiness. If there’s a pill for it, we take it. If there’s a 4-step process for it, we follow it. If there’s a product for it, we buy it.
Faith communities especially struggle to let the darkness be. Taylor again observes that “Many churches are so concerned with how they’re going to keep the lights on that the last thing they want to do is learn how to befriend the dark.” Full solar spirituality is attractive, pleasant, comfortable. Lunar spirituality has no church growth model to support it.
However, lunar spirituality opens us up to compassion, as it is defined by American Buddhist Pema Chodron. She says that compassion is “knowing our darkness well enough that we can sit in the dark with others.” But according to University of Houston research professor Brene Brown, “faith communities don’t know how to hold space for pain and discomfort.” We don’t know how to sit in the darkness – our own darkness, and the darkness of the world around us.
We may not be full solar Christians, but in the face of suffering, we’d rather do something than just sit there. We strike a match or go searching for a flashlight. Depression is neatly handed off to professional counselors while we ignore its presence in our midst. The dark room of grief is punctured with light streaming in from the next room where everyone else has moved on with their lives.
Now, I’m not disparaging the acts of love and generosity that flow out of this congregation or any of its members. But not all darkness can be escaped by the flick of a switch. If we are to cultivate compassion, we must know our own darkness. And if we are to enact compassion, we must sit in the dark with others. We must wait with them through the long night.
But we do not wait in vain. The bridegroom may be delayed, but he is coming. Days of joy and celebration, feasting and dancing, are coming. The dark night does not get the final word.
And so we keep our flasks of oil at our sides. We let the darkness be so that someday we will be ready to trim and fill our lamps and join the party. Rather than burning through everything we’ve got to keep the darkness at bay, we hold on to those reserves as a testimony to our trust that the bridegroom is coming, even though we have no idea when. Those reserves pass on our hope from generation to generation.
Those reserves will allow us to see the bridegroom through the darkness when he does come and to participate in the kingdom of heaven when it arrives. Not just in some final sense of Jesus returning to make all things new. But when the kingdom of heaven arrives in our lives and the lives of those waiting in the dark with us, we will be prepared to join the celebration.
When the kingdom of heaven shows up in the comforting of those who mourn, in justice for the oppressed, in the embrace of the despised, and in every sword beaten into a plowshare, we will be there, lamps blazing, dancing and singing. Instead of having to scoot off in search of something to help us see God in our midst, we’ll be able to trim our lamps, fill them up, and party on.
It seems awfully harsh that the poor, foolish bridesmaids are shut out of the party completely. We can’t imagine Jesus slamming the door on anyone’s face, saying “I don’t know you. Get out of here.” That doesn’t quite square with the loving, compassionate, forgiving Jesus was like to talk about in church.
But the truth is, this is not Jesus’ harsh judgement of the foolish bridesmaids. This is the reality of how we miss out on seeing and participating in the kingdom of God. If we expect that following Jesus will be easy, a short-term commitment, all light and party, then we will miss it. We will be falling behind and playing catch-up and missing out when the heavenly realm shows up. And we will be unrecognizable as followers of Jesus.
“The day of the Lord is darkness,” says the prophet Amos. It is darkness and not light. It is lunar spirituality. It is compassion, sitting in the dark with others. It is waiting for the jump scare from a lion, and then a bear. We wait, listening to each other’s breathing. We stumble, and search. We giggle and cry out. And we quiet. “Shhhhhh.” And listen.
And late in the night, we will hear the hoofbeat of justice, see the silhouette of righteousness. Peace and joy will round the corner as the cry goes up, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”
And by the light of the moon, we will rouse from our slumber, trim our lamps, and fill them with oil to light the way to the realm where justice, righteousness, peace and joy reign supreme.
But for now, we wait in the dark, flasks of oil at our sides. Amen.