Traditional Sermon Pentecost 23
Note: Printed here is a written version of an impromptu sermon presentation made from this manuscript at this morning’s worship.
The Scout Motto is correct – be prepared. Preparation allows us to fully enjoy life most of the time. Being prepared enables you to make the best use of time and resources that have been entrusted into your care.
Some of you had to prepare yourselves today … to come to church. What are some of the things you did to prepare? CONGREGATION MEMBER RESPONSES — shower … get dressed … motivate my kids … eat.
Prep works great … until it doesn’t. Sometimes things get delayed, or don’t work out as they are intended. Then we may find ourselves waiting, to see how new circumstances will play out. In general, I don’t think we like to wait, much. We live in a culture of instant gratification. I have a four-year-old grandson. Trust me on this. I spent yesterday in Beaver Stadium with him at the Penn State-Rutgers game. And in Beaver Stadium on game-day, you wait for everything. Sam had to wait on a line to get a snack … and wait on another line to go to the potty … he had to wait to see his mother march in the alumni band because it took a long time to get to halftime. Lots of waiting for a four-year old … and for the rest of us, too. we don’t like to wait.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is a story about preparation and waiting. The parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids. We’re familiar with the parable. We watch five bridesmaids prepare well, and five that do not. The moral of the story is to stay awake … be prepared … and be ready when the bridegroom returns. The analogy of Jesus as the bridegroom is obvious.
The problem is, we can’t wait forever. The community that first heard this story – the congregation St. Matthew served — had already been waiting for Jesus for 45-50 years when they heard this parable about waiting and watching and being prepoared. can we be frank here? … no one stay alert for 50 years straight. No one stays alert for 2000 years, which is our challenge. So what do we do? What are the things that we do while we wait?
These days we pray for peace … a lot. The world has never felt less peaceful to us, I fear. We hope for an end to gun violence. We wait for answers to issues like homelessness and poverty. But at least we are waiting faithfully and loyally … that is what we tell ourselves. But that doesn’t offer us much in the way of answers. And so we look for more. More than just waiting.
It is easy to judge the five foolish bridesmaids in our parable, while we are waiting. The parable itself judges them. But as we judge, inside our heads we recognize that we also are unable to stay awake. Individually – culturally – spiritually … however you slice it, we fall asleep too. All ten bridesmaids sleep in the parable until the bridegroom is on the doorstep. Then and only then do they wake up. So, maybe in spite of itself, the parable invites us to consider something else.
In a world that seems off kilter, maybe we are not called to pride or judgment. Maybe we are being called to make sure others are prepared to meet Jesus – the bridegroom — when he does arrive in our world or at the very least in their lives. Maybe we are called to strive to make sure everyone has the oil of faith in their lives. Maybe we are called to reach out and help those who are empty-handed in their faith lives, and share the oil God has placed in our hands, so that they too may know the one they are waiting for.
This may not solve gun violence today or tomorrow. Nor terrorism nor hunger. That doesn’t mean we should not work for peace and strive to rid the world of violence. But the Gospel has always been about face to face interractions betweeen God and God’s people. We are first called to help bring people to Jesus so that Jesus has use them in his kingdom, too. That is something we can help to bring about in our personal ministries. That action grows from a core belief that God works among & within us.
One of our Lutheran rock stars is David Lose. You have heard all your rostered leaders quote him at one time or another. Hear his words around this topic:
Can we offer ourselves as a genuine community in a world where more and more people feel isolated? A community that celebrates together. That slows down to prepare together. And that waits together, making sure when the waiting is the hardest part – that no one – not one person – has to wait alone? The waiting is the hardest part. We can’t change that reality, but we can change the experience by waiting together, in Christian solidarity, community, and fellowship.
Advent is right around the corner – we’ll have a chance to practice this kind of perspective and Christian fellowship. Amen.