The Twenty Third Sunday After Pentecost
Sermon starts at 15:00 in the recording
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
1‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But 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.” 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
So much of the national conversation has been about the elections and its implications for us as a country. You all have been patient as I have addressed some things that, while they are not purely political, they address the impact of politics on the lives of those around us.
Last Sunday was very much like that.
Just like you, I am done with focusing on the political environment. That’s why my focus this past Sunday was on the Election of the Heart(which is always more important than any civic election….and I would argue the MOST important thing).
As I have gotten some distance from Sunday, my mind keeps coming back to the parable that Jesus told about the ten bridesmaids.
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five 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. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’
In this parable, there are a few things that are brought to our attention.
· There is a purpose for us as we await the return of Jesus
· There is a wise and unwise way to wait.
· Complacency is not recommended.
Let’s take a look at these three things.
Jesus has not left us without a purpose. Much can be said about the wedding language of the Gospels; it is an illustration that Jesus (and others) use often.
John refers to himself as the “best man” to describe his role in announcing the coming of Messiah and his (John’s) need to take a back seat after Jesus’ arrival.
Jesus talks about a Great Banquet and the need to be dressed appropriately. Jesus is referred to as the Bridegroom and the Church referred to as His bride.
So, this parable does not come out of nowhere with its use of wedding imagery.
A wedding requires preparation.
As one who will celebrate a one-year wedding anniversary this coming week, I can tell you that when I think back on the preparation for the wedding, celebrations, and important details, it was work. All of it WELL worth it, but work nonetheless.
The wise bridesmaids understood being prepared and took steps in this direction while the bridegroom was delayed.
We, as the Bride of Christ, are called to prepare for Jesus’ return.
There is a wise and unwise way to wait. In the parable, there were ten who had the intention of meeting the bridegroom. All ten had the same intention. This is important to see. What set the wise apart from the unwise? The wise were engaged in activities appropriate for that which they claimed for themselves. For us, it means this: you cannot claim allegiance to a life of faith without those things which represent the core of that faith. For the Christian, it means, in the simplest terms, that we are to “Love God” and love our neighbor as ourselves.”
· Loving God. Our affections and devotions are given only to the God of the universe, and all other affections are measured against this. Remember Jesus words that we cannot be His disciples unless we hate mother, father, brother, sister, etc. Our devotion to God above all else is a mark of discipleship (and as I have said before, this does not mean that we don’t love mother, father, sister, brother. It simply means that they are a second to our First Love).
· Loving Neighbor. As illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan, a neighbor is anyone with a need that we have the ability to meet; whether we know them or not, whether we like them or not, and whether we understand them or not. So much of what has disappointed me lately about the Church is the attitude that says a group of people are not deserving of either the love, grace and mercy of God, or our love shown through our actions towards them. This simply cannot be. To note, in my life, the neighbor that God most often calls me to care for is someone that I have issues with.
· Loving Self. It is important to take care of ourselves, and I can’t emphasis this enough. It is difficult to care for others when we fail to care for ourselves. This is something that I must remind myself of often. Prayer, meditation, rest, nourishment and fellowship are essential to my well-being and my ability to care for others.
These three things from the Greatest Commandment are, for us, the activities appropriate for our confession of faith. They are what one would expect of a Christian. And, these activities are made possible by the work of God’s Holy Spirit. In the parable, the difference between the wise and unwise is oil. Oil in the Old Testament always signified God’s blessing of His Spirit. So, for the wise in the parable, their waiting for the return of the bridegroom was marked by a Spirit-filled life. It is the mark of the Spirit that distinguishes the redeemed from the unredeemed; those who have chosen to love God and accept His grace and mercy and those who have forsaken it for something else. Remember, it’s not as if those who forsake God’s love lack the ability to love, it is that their affections and devotion are simply placed elsewhere (e.g., work, money, prestige, wealth, addictions).
Complacency is not recommended. Loving God is hard.
Faith is a marathon and not a sprint.
And if you have ever ran a long distance, you know how difficult things are mid-race. Beginning a race is easy. Your adrenaline is pumping and you are anxious to get moving. Once all that wears off, it comes down to being disciplined to the goal; finish the race. Runners must work through mental and physical fatigue, muscle cramps and motivational issues. The same can be said about discipleship, or what Eugene Peterson calls, “A long obedience in the same direction.” This is a common theme in the Gospels. An active faith requires work to keep it active. Many things compete for our time and attention and it is easy to become complacent about our faith, that is, when confronted with the “tyranny of the urgent,” our faith very readily can take a back seat to other issues of life.
Five of the bridesmaids had intended to meet the bridegroom but they were not prepared.
They asked the wise to borrow some oil, but the oil referred to cannot be borrowed.
The life of faith is not something that is borrowed, it is something that is owned.
I am reminded of this in Paul’s words in the Book of Hebrews,
Whenever we feel complacent, we should look to Jesus and be reminded of His example to us.
Now, to some, this seems too difficult to pursue or achieve.
It is not. We are given the opportunity to be helped along in this journey of faith.
We have the Father’s love for us, Jesus’ work for us, the Spirit’s presence within us and the Church’s willingness to come along side and walk with us in fellowship.
Discipleship is not about going at it alone.
It is our faith journey lived in community with others going through their faith journey.
Even though it is a long journey.
Even though the road can, at times, be difficult.
It is the one journey that will satisfy those things for which your heart yearns.
Let us go together on this journey friends.