Sermon delivered January 19, 2002 by Pastor Steve Haley

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Burning the Midnight Oil

Good morning. Happy Sabbath to you. It is very good to be with you. I've looked forward to this occasion for some weeks and Pastor Don invited me to be with you and I do share the greetings of the Conference Administration, including President Larry Evans, who I know, would like to send his greetings on his behalf and our other administrative officers. I want to thank you, not only for the invitation but for this church's reputation, well deserved, of being a church that for many years has been a citadel in our churches of support and progress and much ministry under the leadership of Pastor Don and Pastor Kent. We want to say Thank You for all that you do in the community of the McDonald and the greater Collegedale area.

Right at the turn of the last century, Ellen White wrote of momentous events just before us that will cause the hearts of men to tremble with fear. September 11, 2001 seems like a very long time, doesn't it. But for hundreds of thousands of people who were affected personally a hundred and thirty days of past time is not enough. Years, them selves, will not be sufficient. A century of time will be powerless to cause those who were affected personally by it to forget.

I was at the computer that morning and spending some time on the telephone, two things I do a lot in my roll as associate ministerial director. And I happened to be in a conversation with my office secretary in Calhoun and she asked if I had heard. "Heard what?" I thought it was a rumor. You know, it sounded like that day something that was invented around an office water cooler by some bored workers who wanted to breathe some life into an otherwise dull day. Call in some sensationalized fantastic story of seven forty sevens dive-bombing into skyscrapers to put a buzz in the workday. So I turned on the television. And a hundred thirty days later, it still doesn't seem real that nearly tree thousand people were incinerated and entombed within a hundred and twenty stories of compressed collapsed concrete and steel, that forty eight were cremated by fiery blasts in that Pennsylvania field, that a hundred and eighty were obliterated, some while sitting at their desks and other standing in the hallway, some in the midst of mid-laugh, mid-smile, mid conversation, mid-yawn in the office of the Pentagon.

There are hundreds of stories that have been told since these hundred thirty days have taken place. Stories of heroism, cowardice. There are stories that have been told of incredible fear and terror and courage that I think before September 11 we would not have guessed existed in large measure in the hearts and souls of the average American. But you see, the nation has been tested since September 11, and I'm here to tell you that Seventh- day Adventist Christians have been tested, too. I think that we're going to be tempted, Don, we preachers, political pundits and arm-chair analysts, we who like to look at things and analyze them and we're going to scratch our heads and be tempted to draw some easy conclusions about September 11. We're going to rattle the sabres of war and we've already sent our men and women overseas to fight our battles. But I wonder what we're going to be doing six months from now this time next year. When the memories of September 11 fade even more into the subconscious.

On that day I picked my kids up from school and I asked them, "Did you hear?" Oh yes, they heard. And we drove along in silence, I was taking them home, and after a pause of some minutes I said, "You know, kids I don't know how exactly, but today in some way the world in a span of a few hours has changed. And it has. But I wonder still if in a few more months we're going to find ourselves simply settling back into the routine of work and school and paying bills and planning vacations. And I wonder if this time next year we're going to still see the same number of American flags flapping from the front porches of our neighbors, hanging from the antennas of Fords and Chevies. I wonder instead if we're going to be thinking more of weekends in the Smokies and vacations in Florida, if we're going to be talking more whether the Braves are going to be in the World Series and whether Tennessee can beat Florida again in football. Holidays rather than war.

We'll find ourselves strolling the sale aisles of Profitt's and Penny's and looking down at those polished floors and subconsciously realizing that maybe in some way those floors don't look a bit like a winding dusty trail to the Afghan mountains. I wonder if in a year from now we're going to join the health club rather than sign up for the draft and forget all about Osama bin Laden, instead, think of final exams and Fourth of July and watermelon feeds and backyard Fry-chick barbecue. Its kind of a scary thought isn't it.

You see, I think if only for a few months if nothing else, no matter how quickly we drift back to the shores of normalcy, something has changed. We've changed. And if it's only been for a matter of a few weeks, I think we have reminded ourselves that we can be very quickly sobered and humbled and realize that we are very mortal and are very vulnerable. And for a few months, if only a few months, we've hugged our loved ones a little closer.

If only for a few week's time we've been reminded of how precious life is and how high the cost of freedom can be. Ad how high the price can be to preserve thing that we call our 'freedom.' We were changed, and we're different.

And I think from the ashes of this the most awful loss of American human life, this civilian life on these shores we will, perhaps have been drawn closer by the unseen hand of God, closer in thought and life to an eternal day soon to come. I want to dedicate these thoughts in the minute I have left, not to September 11, but to that already chosen final day soon to come. And I don't want to share even another minute without having a prayer with you a moment.

Lord, we live in momentous times these days. I pray that You would grace these thoughts, not only with our obligation to others, that I pray will touch our lives and be an invitation today, but our obligation to ourselves and our families to live righteously for You. In Your Name, Amen

At a crowded airport terminal a man was running to catch a flight and he was very worried about missing that flight. Having no wristwatch he stopped a total stranger, and nearly breathless he said, "Excuse me. Would you please give me the time." The man was, of course, wearing a watch and he said, "Certainly." He looked down at his wrist and with that, of course, he had to drop the big two bulging suitcases he was carrying. He pulled his sleeve back a bit and looked at his watch.

He said, "Yes, it's five oh nine p. m., temperature outside is seventy two degrees, there's a ninety percent chance of rain tonight. In London the sky is clear, the temperature is 38 degrees Celsius, the barometer reading in Tokyo is twenty nine point fourteen and falling." He kept looking at his watch. "In Singapore the sun is shining brightly. Oh by the way, the moon should be full tonight in Los Angeles, the Dow Jones average is up ten points and if you want a great deal, there's a grilled cheese sandwich a dill pickle side order of french fries for $2.99 at the airport diner."

Now, the man asking for the time was shocked and he said, "Your watch tells you all that?"

"Why, yes. It's a very special watch that tells me a lot more. You see, I invented this watch. There's not another watch like this in the world."

Well, this excited stranger who simply wanted the time realized that now he wanted the watch. He said, I will buy that watch from you. Right now I'll give you two thousand dollars cash."

He opened his wallet and began to fish through the bills and fumbling with his credit cards. Anything that he could get this watch with.

The man replied, "Oh no. You see, it's a very special watch. I made it for my son and I really couldn't part with it for any sum of money."

Now this man was going to be persistent, though. He realized the value of this watch and he said, "Well, you know, I will give you four thousand dollars in cash."

"No, not enough," the man said. "I fact, I need to be going." and he reached out for his two enormous suitcases.

The man, desperate for this valuable watch said, "I will give you ten thousand dollars." And he reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his checkbook and began writing.

The man with the watch put his suitcases down. "That is a lot of money. In fact, it's a deal."

Eagerly, he wrote the check and handed it to him. The man took the watch off his wrist, handed it too him. So excited and feeling a little bit smug that he had gotten such an incredible watch for such a low price of ten thousand dollars, he started to walk away and the stranger that had just sold him the watch said, "Wait a minute. He smiled from ear to ear. And he took those two enormous suitcases and he shoved them a few inches toward him and said, "You know, without the batteries that thing is worthless."

Ten thousand dollars suddenly seemed like ten thousand dollars too much for that watch.

You know, it God were to wear a wristwatch, I wonder what time it would say. January nineteen, two thousand and two. What time is it on His watch? Now, I have something with me that I bought a few years ago. It's dated to the first century. No, it's not an ancient wristwatch. But it looks something like this. [A small gravy boat?] If I can prove my point, it really does in one sense tells the time. Now what is it. It is an ancient clay lamp. In the Middle East, this doesn't look like much, it doesn't use any batteries, but in its day and time it was very important. In fact even today something like this is important in that land where they don't have the luxury of electricity and filaments and light bulbs and throwing a switch and being instantly bathed in tree hundred watts. This was light, and in the time of Jesus in those modest mud-brick homes where only a couple of small rectangular windows would be cut to give some ventilation, even in the daytime a number of these lit inside the house would chase away the shadows from the corners at night when the sun set and the darkness fell, this was more than just a means to light your pathway. It even chased away your fears. Isaiah wrote that a >>>>>> people that sat in darkness ave seen a great light it was a meaning and a message that was largely lost on us who pay a bill each month to Chattanooga Gas and Light. But you see, the lamp to them was not only light, it was, in a real sense represented life to them. These little clay vessels that fit in the palm of the hand of most of you. Middle Eastern myth believed that spirits dwelt inside the lamp. And so you have that old idea of a genie in a bottle. Even ancient Hebrew theology attached this instrument of significance of the working of the divine within the lamp of the light of the lamp. In Desire of Ages it says, "A creation light shone in darkness, light enshrouded the pillar of cloud by day, light was in the pillar by day and by night, light blazed with the grandeur about the Lord at Mount Sinai, light rested on the mercy seat in the tabernacle, light fills the temple of Solomon, light shone on the hills of Bethlehem, there was light that broke the darkness of the tomb."

Now this lamp is around two thousand years old. Now, I bought it out of New York City, so I'm a little skeptical. I am that by nature. Maybe it was baked in a kiln in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. But I'm told that it is authentically from the Middle East and is about two thousand years old. Believe it or not, I could actually light this lamp right here today in your presence except that it missing a couple of things. It is lacking a wick. But w wick alone won't do it, will it. I can put it up here. I can put it in my pocket. I can use it for a paper weight. I can do a lot of things with it, but I can't light it because it doesn't have any oil.

I want you to turn with me to Matthew 25:1. "And at that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom." Now, I'm going to do my own little paraphrase for a moment. I want you to, in your mind and in your heart, think of these as ten Adventists. "Ten Adventists are waiting in the night as the sun sets and the evening shadows lengthen, waiting as the night begins to encroach and swallow them alive." Ten Adventists, who are singing hymns and worshipping and staying by for prayer meeting, handing out tracts, sharing a Bible with a friend, making sure that their diet is okay, that their healthy, that they're keeping the Sabbath holy, but let me ask you a question. In the final day, in the last day, are all those things going to be enough?

A few verses before Matthew 25, is Matthew 24. Probably the most widely read chapter for Seventh-day Adventists in the Bible. And that chapter, you read verses like this: Verse 32,33 "Now learn the lesson from the fig tree. As soon as the twigs get tender and the leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things you know that it is near, right at the door." Verse 36. "No one know about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Verse 42. "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know what day your Lord may come."

These are introductory verses to Matthew 25, the story of the foolish and the wise, which we call, a parable. Matthew 25, the story of the ten virgins is a parable of the church. And if you read it you will understand that it is a parable that is still being written. At the end of that parable is still uncertain in your life and in my life.

Matthew 25 is a story whose final lines are being written, but two thousand years ago, prophetically the final verses already understood and already unfolding before the mind of Jesus. It's a story of all of us who can remember. Maybe the first day that you joined this faith, or you were baptized, and it was like a warm summer's day that feeling and that glow. You couldn't do enough, you couldn't give enough, you couldn't be enough for the Lord Jesus Christ.

But you see, somewhere in the journey that we thought was going to end a long time ago, it now seems to be winding on and on and on. Somewhere along the way, in Matthew 25, ten Adventists become five.

Now, how does that happen? I don't always know, myself. Sometimes I think it is the child of our own failures. I spent one of my most challenging few hours in my roll as ministerial director in a meeting with a pastor and a head elder and a church member. The church member had a problem with this pastor and so the head elder was there to listen. I was there to listen. Perhaps to offer some unbiased perspective. Before the first hour was over, despite every encouragement from the three to keep it kind of civil and communicate politely with each other, it got hot and fast and furious, and before the hour was over, not only was the impasse deeper than before it began, but the poor head elder, who was not even part of the problem, he got insulted and stood up and said, "You know, I've heard enough, I resign as heard elder." And he walked out of the room.

So, Pastor Don, if there's a problem here, don't invite me. I'll make it worse, I think. The meeting ended right there. For sixty minutes, all you heard was finger-pointing and accusation and hostility. "If you had only done what I told you to do." "If you would apologize and admit that you are wrong." "If you had any shame." "Well, if you had an ounce of humility." "If you were even a Christian." "They are to blame," we say. Sometimes it's the system: ten become five. "Nobody can make a good grade in this school." "If I only had an equal shot at it, it would have been me selected for the promotion. Not her." The whole thing is rigged. The deck is always stacked. You never get a break." Ten become five.

Sometimes it's the church. "I will never forget 1982. I was standing in the lobby of the church and he said to me what he did and I've never gone back. I guess I showed them!" The ten become five.

Sometimes I think it is when they read a different Bible than I do. I spent about four meetings with several different churches a little distant from here who have had to prayerfully strategize and talk about how they are going to relate to a group of Shepherd's Rod folks who are there to somehow convince them that by their perfection alone is really the way they're going to inherit the kingdom of God. Ten become five.

But sometimes my friend, it's not by choice, it is an ocean of grief that envelops us and the wives and the husbands, the children and the parents, who the night of September 12 would not greet a mother at the dinner table. That night the children were not tucked in by their father, who would not this Christmas unwrap a gift from their brother or a husband, who never had the joy of a hug or smile, and the couples that will never celebrate their golden wedding anniversary because at least one of them is gone. Sorrow that turns to disappointment and then the hate that turns to indifference and ten become five.

Back in Matthew 25 there are ten who are sleeping. More literally in this day, in which the story applies, the years begin to roll by and the going-home-party is late, and all ten are growing tired and with little choice, but pressed by the weakness of flesh, the eyelids begin to droop and the head begin to nod and the clock says it's midnight. And what Jesus is saying in the parable is that the spiritual life goes to sleep. Now how does that happen?

How does that happen? Matthew 25:5. "The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep." All ten fell asleep. And when they least expect it, the cry splits the night. Well, I usually go to bed at ten or eleven o'clock. I'll never expect to wake up at midnight, do you? I like to sleep ate least to six or seven if I can. But unexpectedly the shout splits the night, "The bridegroom is here! The bridegroom is here!" And all ten rise and there are five that immediately strike a match, and it breaks the darkness of the night and their lamps spring to life. But there are five others, the Bible tells us, who sat huddling and with a great deal of fear realize that hadn't stored up the oil, and that there's not enough, and the opportunity is gone, and the day's arrived and they're not ready, they are not prepared.

How could they be prepared? Look quickly down through the parable and as simple the thought and idea is startling to me to read that it is a simple thing that could have been done but wasn't done. And critically as the five unwise come back to get into the bridegroom's party they are met at the door. Verse 11. "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'"

Verse 12. "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'" "I don't know you." Could it be that as important as our preparation for the end-time, and as significant as the ministry of this church is, to reach out and touch the lives of others, and as significant as the ministry of this church is to reach out and touch the lives of others, important as it is to grasp the opportunity to spread the message, that freedom does come at a price, and that freedom can never cost us our conscience or our loyalty to God's commandments, could it be that as important as all of that is, that the most important preparation you can do, that I know Pastor Don has preached from this pulpit over and over is that you would know the One who when you come to the doors, says, "I know you. Welcome and come in to the party. The celebration has begun."

McDonald Road church, there's nothing more important that you can do in preparing for the loud midnight cry that announces His arrival than having your lamp filled with the presence of the One who will say, "I know you. You're a son or a daughter. Come on in. I've been waiting for you."

We don't know the times or seasons, and we don't know the hour. But the one thing we can know is Him. Bulletin

Hymn of Praise: #6, O Worship the Lord
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13
Hymn of Response: #598, Watch, Ye Saints

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