A Tenacious Faith
I know this will really surprise you but there are times in our marriage my dear wife has suggested that I might be just a tad… what’s the word… stubborn? To which my mature and intellectual response is usually “Takes one to know one.” In safer moments when I am not protecting my Achilles’ heal, I can concede that I might just be, from time to time, a tiny bit tenacious, a far more sensitive term.
The question is, is this nature or nurture? Was my tenaciousness coded in my DNA from my birth? I mean, after all, the motto of our Scottish McIntyre clan is “through difficulties.” Kind of says something right there, doesn’t it?
As most you know by now, my father David, owned and operated what was locally known as the ‘brick plant in Port Robinson.” We produced refractories, specifically fire brick for blast furnaces and kilns. Now, before you go all “Spoiled rich kid. His daddy owned a factory,” on me, just know that this was nothing but blood and guts work. And you can imagine that, as coordinated as most of you know me to be, there was more of my blood left at that place than my guts.
In refractory manufacturing terms, our plant was quite small so we focused on specialty work. If an order was less than 1,000 pieces, my Dad would hand it to me so I could hand mold these pieces. The process included smashing clay into a wood mold, cutting off the excess clay, polishing the back and laying it out to dry on the floor. Take a look at the screen if you will. This is an actual picture of our drying floor. There’s a whole lot of brick there, and some of them a fair size, which is why all the Wright boys have what is called brick layer’s backs.
Now, imagine that this floor is empty. To start an order you go way to the back corner over there, and start laying your first brick. When you know the order is going to be 900 bricks and that it will take
you three days to make them all, that little corner can get to be, well, just a little over-whelming and I would sigh. But my Dad taught me a valuable lesson at a very early age. Disregard the empty space behind you. Just focus on the first row, and when that is done focus on the next row. Don’t try and take on the whole thing at once. Work away at little pieces at a time.
So why am I boring you with all this? Because, there is such a thing as spiritual discipline, and I believe this is what Jesus is talking about with his parable of the ten virgins.
* the wedding feasts in Jesus’ time tended to last for 7 days.
* when the groom was ready he would come out of his parents’ house and who would be waiting for him but the bridesmaids.
* they would escort him to the bride’s parents’ home and then together they would create a joyous parade to the town square where the festivities would begin.
In this parable, the groom was delayed. We are not told why. Maybe his mama was crying and didn’t want to lose her baby, to THAT WOMAN! Who knows. The point is, the ten bridesmaids find themselves sitting outside his house. It’s getting dark. They trim their lamps. They grow weary. They fall asleep. Sometime in the night the groom appears and the procession begins.
Except, five of maids had not prepared themselves well enough and ran out of oil. They try to borrow some but the other say if they do, they won’t have enough themselves to see the groom to his bride’s house and into town. This would be a great social shame. So they leave them behind.
It’s a story about vigilance and patience, something there is a great lack of today. We want, and get, everything, almost instantaneously. Want to talk to someone? Gone are the days that one sat down with pen in hand and articulated thoughts and feelings in a letter. Sent the letter off and waited days, weeks, months for a reply. Now we just pick up the phone. Whip off a text. Send an email. Skype. Need an answer for something, push google search. Need something you’ve convinced yourself you can not live without, shop on-line and within 24 hours it will be at your house.
Young people own in the thirties what it took our parents a life-time to earn. So, is it any wonder that people also get impatient with God. “Look at the mess the world is in God. Why are you taking so long to fix things? Don’t you care or are you even there?”
We, who are devoted to Christ’s church, we understand that feeling. We work to raise money for Mission and Service each year. We collect for the food bank. We put warm food in our hungry brothers’ and sisters’ cold stomachs on a winter night. We help build habitats for humanity, knit endless dolls for refugee children, caps for cancer, prayer shawls for the sick and lonely, raise money to maintain a budget so we can support this sacred space so that all of God’s children might experi-
ence a safe space, and experience the grace and love of God in real time and in real terms. But every now and again, while we are busy working on all these things, we take a look behind us, and see all the empty space and we sigh. The need is so great, and has been going on for so long. When’s the groom coming so we can go celebrate!
I can say this to you, the kingdom is coming, because in the beginning was only God and in the end of all things there will be only God with all of God’s children God has gathered under her wing. It is not ours to discern the time and place of this. This God of yours is not just the God of this age but the God of all ages and is not defined by our expectations of instantaneous gratification. God is patient. God is vigilant.
So, in the meantime, we need to keep our eyes focused on the row in front of us. We must keep taking that good clay of our spirits and allow God to work it into the mold God has set for our lives. Not hard clay. That only makes hard hearts. We need to be pliable in God’s hands through daily devotion, prayer, the wisdom of scripture, and moistened with the water that brings new life. We need to trim off the excess of our lives by discerning between need and want, what of our privileges we keep and what we give to those less fortunate, to discern between self-promotion and service, and decide if some of the things we treasure in our lives are indeed golden calves.
If I dare, we all need a faithfulness that comes from surrender and patience, that teaches us to be tenacious, tenacious in our faith. To be vigilant of the amount of oil in our lamps and having enough clay so we can just keep laying out those bricks for the kingdom, one at a time, one row at a time.
There will eventually come a time when our shift will be over on this earth and we can look back over that floor now filled with the foundational bricks of the kingdom and give thanks for work well done, lives lived with good work and purposeful living, knowing the world is just a little better place for us having tried.