Help, Hope and Stay Woke

November 12, 2017 (23rd Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 27/Ordinary 32)
Service for the Lord’s Day (Kirkin O Tartan)
Indian Hill Church
Cincinnati, OH
Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25
Matthew 25:1-13
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

25“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. (Matthew 25:1-13, NRSV)

Let us pray: You let us choose, O God, between you and the false gods of this world. In the midst of the night of sin and death, wake us from our slumber and call us forth to greet Christ, so that with eyes and hearts fixed on him, we may follow to eternal light. Amen.

Last Wednesday evening, in confirmation class we studied the question of who wrote the bible? Is it God or humans? The confirmands agreed that it was humans inspired by God who wrote the bible. Which lead us to define the word inspired. In-spired. It means to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. A second meaning is to inhale, to breath in. In ancient Greek it means God-breathed, inspired by God, due to the inspiration of God. So, in-spired means the Holy Spirit breathed, air, life, the word into the writers of the Bible and over the centuries humans have debated, edited and changed the books of the bible to what we consider today to be the Bible, the inspired word of God.
Which leads me to ask, what breath was Matthew breathing when he wrote this parable? At first glance seems to be saying make sure you have enough oil and don’t share with others. For starters it is a hard and harsh parable. Even more troubling is it challenges what I preach and teach and believe about faith, about God.

So, as you can tell I have been struggling with this parable, struggling with what Jesus was really saying. Part of me hears this parable telling us to be prepared and organized. Prepare yourself for the unexpected. Get your life insurance, your savings account, your financial plans in order because you just never know. You better be saving for that rainy day. Honestly, I agree with this interpretation because I like organization and preparation. I like to be organized and prepared. I like people who are on time, who do what they say they are going to do, who plan and organize and prepare for all the what ifs. So, a part of me likes that these unprepared bridesmaids get what they deserve. They should have planned, prepared and brought more oil, they should have known, so good for you Jesus, lock them out and throw away the key. But in my heart, I know this is not what Jesus is saying.

So, clearly, we don’t take this inspired parable literally. I think there is a much deeper message to be found here, beyond our fear of being unprepared and locked out of our place in heaven because we forgot to pack an extra flask of lamp oil.

So, it got me thinking and wondering, what is this inspired parable all about? Or in other words, what must we do to be get into the wedding (the Kingdom of Heaven)?

Danger! Danger! This is a place of great danger of falling into the trap that Martin Luther put his life and his faith on the line to get us out of. Remember we are saved by grace and faith not by works. Remember, our theology is very clear and quite cautious about suggesting that there is anything we must do to earn our salvation. Which presents a whole host of other issues that are for another sermon but let me focus on just one. All too often we Presbyterians, and Episcopalians fail to recognize that there is more to being a Christian than our belief. The theological term is justified, we are justified, set right by Jesus. There is more to being a Christian, a disciple, a follower of Christ than being “OK with God.” I often think we Presbyterians (Episcopalians), have bent, “over backwards so far to avoid the laws of religion, that we have fallen over into affirming that anything goes. We seem to have adopted Oscar Wilde’s position that, “God likes to forgive. I like to sin; it’s a nice arrangement.”

It seems that this parable, while not contradicting our deeply help theological belief that we are saved by grace, does impart that how we live out our faith really does matter. It is not a free for all. It might help to set some context. Matthew is writing to a community that has come through some significant danger to keep the faith, to confess Christ, and to wait expectantly for his return, even though it has already been delayed beyond what first generation of believers anticipated. This parable comes at an interesting time in the development of the early church. On the one hand, people lived with the great hope that Jesus would return at any moment. But on the other hand, his followers had been waiting for some 40 years at this point. So, many of them are living with the anxiety that they missed out on Jesus’ return, so it is not hard to imagine they waited with a great deal of vigilance and fear.

But this is not a passive waiting, waiting while doing nothing, waiting without hope. I believe that this parable is encouraging active waiting, a waiting with expectation, hope, and yes, even joy. So, can we do something while we wait. Like get ready, like preparing for Christ’s return. We need the rest of Matthew’s Gospel to answer that question, for the rest of Matthew conveys an understanding of what it looks like to live in readiness with excitement and joy. Such a life is marked by active waiting as we expect God to make all things new.

Despite Jesus’ absence, despite the presence of circumstances of our world that seem to be so dark and negative, as Christians, we live in expectation. We anticipate. We actively wait. We pass along the faith to our children, the next generation. We teach them about God, through the stories of the bible, we teach them the rituals of the faith by attending worship and actively participating in the life of the church. We rely on each other and upon the best of our traditions to sustain us when doubt and fatigue seem to overwhelm us. We forgive one another. We study the scriptures. We baptize people into a new identity. We share a meal together that helps us to recognize the sustenance God provides. We live grateful lives.

By actively practicing our faith, then these things are no longer mere rituals or time-fillers. They sustain us in Jesus absence, as we wait, his return. These rituals promote readiness and even joy.

As we live out our faith in our imperfect, and troubled world, this parable can motivate us to act in response to the darkness and suffering around us and respond as Christ calls us. We have the responsibility to stay awake, to reach out, to serve in the knowledge that Jesus is coming and it’s a celebration after all. Celebrations are always joyful and full of life and hope and love. Come prepared to meet the bridegroom, because you just never know when he might arrive. And surprisingly the wait isn’t about drudgery and boredom. It’s exciting and joy filled. So, let’s stay woke because the Kingdom of God is coming and what more could we ask for.…