Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Actively Waiting for the Lord - Sermon on Matthew 25:1-12

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew 25:1-12
"‘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.” 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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."

I always get caught up when I hear Jesus say, I’ll have nothing to do with you.”  Words like these run counter to understanding and experience of Jesus.  They challenge our expectation of the bridegroom and the kingdom. Literally this could be translated as, “I’ll have nothing to do with you.” So when the 5 foolish come knocking, crying out, Lord, Lord, open to us, Jesus says “I’ll have nothing to do with you.”

Ouch Jesus. Ouch. Now I think we can agree that this can be a tough text to hear. And I think that it is very important for us to name that difficulty. Especially if we are going to attempt to understand the parable, or better yet, relate it to our lives today.

It’s necessary that we recognize the tension and the anxiety that apocalyptic, “end-time” parables like this stir up within us. We don’t have be ok with it, but we should name it.
As we approach today’s difficult text, might I offer two foundations that we can rely on.  Two things we can depend on as we shed some light on Jesus’ parable.
First, as Christians trust with hope and faith in the actions of God. Trust in God who is faithful to God’s promises. Trust that the Kingdom of Heaven means the absolute return of the bridegroom.  Trust that through the movement of the Holy Spirit, God is relentlessly faithful.

Second, we trust in each other, the community, the body of Christ gathered to hear God’s word.  Trust the support, the love, the grace, the work of the community who shares in the Gospel message; however difficult it may be. These two things, relationship with God and relationship with the body of Christ are strong and reliable foundations as we discern Jesus’ words this day.
Let’s wade together in today’s text.

Today, 20 chapters after last week’s Beatitudes, Jesus continues to teach about the kingdom of heaven.  This time he does so in the form of a parable. Ten Bridesmaids, 5 foolish and 5 wise, as they wait for the bridegroom.   This is the first of three “end-time” parables in the 25th chapter of Matthew.  All three of which, we will hear as our Gospel lesson for these last three Sundays of our church year leading up to Advent. But today’s parable is one of readiness and waiting, a difficult text with a rather abrasive ending. Jesus teaches, The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids, all of whom have lamps and all are waiting to meet the bridegroom. Now Jesus distinguishes between 5 of them, deemed wise for bringing extra oil for their lamps, and 5, called foolish, for taking no oil.

In their waiting to meet the bridegroom, there is a delay.  As ready as they might have been, the bridegroom did not arrive as they expected or hoped. All ten grow drowsy and sleep. Suddenly, at an hour unexpected they were all awakened to a loud shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!” So everyone trimmed their lamps in preparation, but of course the five foolish bridesmaids have no oil.  And despite the plea of the foolish, the wise do not share their extra oil. Waiting for the Lord.  Waiting, the time we spend now, in this place, in this community, in this world, our lives on earth...waiting until the bridegroom returns. You see friends, as Christians we live our fragile and God-given lives in the in between status of the kingdom.  On one hand, as Jesus proclaimed coming out of the wilderness, “the kingdom of God has come near.”  Joined to Christ in baptism we die in a death like his, and rise into new life, life within the Oh, so near, Kingdom of God.  But Yet, at the same time we confess that Jesus will return again, and with him comes the fulfillment of the Kingdom. A holistic reconciliation of all of creation to God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit.  That’s the now-and-not-yet of the kingdom of God.   And in the meantime, we are called to wait.  But how do we wait?

So the five foolish go off to find some at the 24 hour oil quick-e-mart, and it is while they are gone that the bridegroom arrives. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet and the door was shut.  Of course, the foolish return, knocking at the door “Lord, Lord, open to us.”  And the Lord says, “Truly I do not know you.”  

Keep awake therefore, for know neither the day nor the hour.

So what could this parable really be about?
Could it be a parable about the necessary resources one needs for admittance to the celebration?  Could it be a parable warning us of our surprise, shock, or alertness upon the bridegroom’s arrival? Could it be a parable advising us to be in the right place at the right time? Or is it maybe a parable about having a relationship the Lord distinguishing between those who know Jesus and those who don’t.

Well I might argue that no it’s not chiefly about any of these things.

It’s not strictly about obtaining the necessary resources, or accumulating works and deeds or doing enough things so that we might earn admittance to the celebration. After all, all ten bridesmaids, wise and foolish, bring lamps in their waiting.

It’s likely not about the surprise, shock, or alertness of the bridegroom’s arrival.  After all, all ten fell asleep, and all ten wake at the sound of his arrival and all are made alert of his imminent return.

I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that the kingdom of heaven is dependent upon knowing the Lord, or laying claim to our relationship with Christ. After all even the foolish bridesmaids know him when they cry out, “Lord, Lord, open to us.”  

And so really, the only thing that divides the wise from the foolish is the bit of extra oil that the wise brought with them in their waiting. The biggest difference is that the wise were prepared for the bridegroom’s delay and they were ready for the wait.

Perhaps then today’s parable, as it was for the disciples then who were soon to see Jesus die on the cross, as it was for the Thessalonians in our new testament lesson who were anxious because their loved one’s were dying and the Lord had not yet returned, is for us some 2000 years later... about readiness and waiting.

First we wait in God.  Waiting every moment in praise, thanksgiving, and worship to God.   The bridegroom will return. And in our waiting we rely on the faithfulness of God. God’s promise of love, peace, justice, forgiveness, and mercy.

Wait in the faithfulness of God that Jesus Christ, the bridegroom, IS coming back.  He will return.  And when he does… there will be a party, a wedding banquet, a heavenly celebration. A great feast where the Lord welcomes all with peace and love.
We wait in the full and confident expectation of Christ’s imminent return, Celebrate every possible moment of waiting, actively spreading the good news that Jesus will return.  Because washed in God’s promises we are lit with a flame that will not run out, supplied with more oil in our lamps than we could ever need, to keep us burning burning burning for the Lord and we can not help but spread the light of Christ.

Second, we wait in community.  We wait with the whole body of Christ, our neighbors, and our enemies. We wait with the whole church of Saints.   Not in a passive, foolish, nonchalant posture, but we wait in the calling of our baptism to...
   Live among God’s faithful people,
   Proclaim good news of God through word and deed,
  To serve all people, following Christ’s example,
  To strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

This communal waiting is an active waiting. One that embodies these baptismal promises and works to build up the kingdom of God, both now and not yet.   
This waiting means standing up against injustice empowering the voice of the oppressed.  Lately that looks like honoring the countless women who bravely share their experiences of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.  Means challenging oppressive and patriarchal systems until all are made equal.  

It means we are called to meet the person next to us. Listen to their stories.  Honor and respect their experiences.  Share in their joys and pains. Weep when they weep, mourn when they mourn. Celebrate in their victories. Pray without ceasing.  Waiting means encouragement.loving, supporting, and building up each other. Working for peace. Striving to end violence, as well as the multitude of influences that perpetuate and enable violence.  

Siblings, our participation in the Kingdom of God and our call to wait for the Lord means that we actually have work to do.  Not as a requirement or some pre-condition for our entering the celebration, but rather as outward expression of our embodied faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A Daily witness to God’s promise of Jesus’ return.

So Keep awake! Trim your lamps.  Wait in God.  Wait in one another.  For although we know neither the day nor the hour, we are called to wait.  And make no mistake, our waiting, in this life, is a gift.


© Pastor Daniel Locke Nov. 12, 2017 @ St. Mark's JAX 

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