November 8, 2020 Chapel by the Sea Worship via Zoom

Matthew 25:1-13 A sermon by The Rev. Dr. Flatley

Matthew 25 “1Then 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.”

Well, we’ve had our fair share of waiting as a nation this week as we awaited the election results. For some it was an anxious time for some it was a time of hope. We found ourselves all waiting together. Some handled it better than others. Many of us were prepared for a few days of not knowing when the announcement would be made. I kept my lamp burning past midnight on election night then fell asleep. This expectant waiting we have all just experienced is an example of the kind of waiting described in today’s parable of the ten bridesmaids. They were all waiting together for the bridegroom

A year ago we started our year with the Gospel of Matthew and announced that we were taking up the PCUSA challenge to be a Matthew 25 church. Chapter 25 in Matthew begins with this parable of waiting… ten bridesmaids similar in age and appearance all waiting. But five were wise enough to arrive at the bride’s house prepared with an extra flask of oil and the other five have not thought that far ahead and had no reserves.

This parable is based on local Palestinian wedding customs at the time where the bridegroom would arrive at the home of the bride, the procession would begin, taking the longest route possible to the groom’s house where the festivities would take place, and not just for one day but for a whole week. They didn’t go away on a honeymoon.

As we’ve seen in other biblical passages in the Old Testament the bride can refer to the nation Israel. Here in the New Testament the bride is the church. Matthew is writing to the early church that was taking shape after the destruction of the temple. The bridesmaids are the new church members and again as in other parables they all go together. Like the wheat and tares they all grow together until harvest time. We won’t know until the end, the end of the age, who gets to sit at the banquet table with Jesus; who is first and who is last. That is not our judgement call to make and we are not to wait in worry about it or try to predict when end times will be. It is just not for us to know. We are to be patient and get on with it. Get on with living into the Kingdom of Heaven which is at hand ushered in with Jesus’ first coming. Our citizenship in heaven doesn’t change with the national election here on earth. Now that we have election results we continue the work of loving our neighbors.

The Kingdom of Heaven we are told by Matthew will be like these bridesmaids: all are invited, all bring their lamps, all are dressed ready for the celebration, and all fall asleep. Then the shout comes that the bridegroom is here! Half of them have oil reserves to keep their own torches burning and light the way. The other five bridesmaids have to go off in the search of the nearest 711, IGA, or U and I market to buy more oil and in doing so miss the procession and get shut out of the celebration.

Some of you may be ahead of me and wondering about verse 40 where we are to do unto the least of these and you may be wondering why the five with reserve oil didn’t share with those who had none? That’s a fair question. Isn’t sharing God’s love and God’s good gifts what it’s all about? Yes, and that is the way we are to live.

What Matthew is describing here is Christ’s return, the Second Coming in theological terms, the Parousia, the Eschaton. For the early church members they are wondering why it hasn’t happened yet. Why the delay? And 2,000 years later we are still waiting.

The point of the parable is that we are to be prepared for Christ’s return at any time, day or night. Waiting and being alert of course but the Greek word gregoreo is in this context more accurately translated as “be prepared” not merely keeping watch. Preparation is everything we say and do after we say “I believe”. Confession is the beginning of a personal relationship with Christ whom we worship in spirit and truth. As we go and grow we develop and mature as Christians. We call this faith formation. Your inner spiritual journey leads you outward to actions of faith and vice versa one flowing into the other like an eternal Celtic knot.

You develop spiritual resiliency through scripture reading and study, daily prayer, thinking theologically about how those practises inform your ethics, your politics, your life. Marriage and family therapists often talk about “an emotional bank account” in relationships from which to draw when the going gets tough. Your emotional bank account grows if you make regular deposits with acts of kindness, compliments and love. Your spiritual reserves are the same way: love God, self and others by keeping up the spiritual discipline and practises. This spiritual reserve is your personal faith statement and your faith you cannot give to someone else. Nor can you cannot borrow someone else’s faith or take credit for their good deeds.

In the parable when the bridegroom arrived only those who were prepared accompanied him. So encourage those who have questions of faith, help them prepare and listen to those Spirit promptings. I pray you’ll find a way to help in their preparation by imparting your wisdom, your testimony, and what faith means for you.

We all know someone we’ve invited to join in or come with us to church who has procrastinated, “Oh I’ll get to church one of these days, I’ll get right with God one of the days”. No time like the present! This parable reminds us not to put off until tomorrow what you can do today. When Christ comes again in glory, or if we are called to our eternal home before then, it may too late and one finds oneself with no spiritual reserve and no record of one.

When the bridegroom Christ arrives there is no time for last minute anxious preparation and regrets. The five wise bridesmaids couldn’t share their reserve oil because the oil is a symbol of a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we are called to the heavenly banquet, time’s up! Oil is symbolic of God’s love that we have shared. Through our discipleship deeds we have a reserve to light the way to the entrance, just enough light to get us to the door where the banquet awaits and the Source of Light. At that moment there will be no time for begging or borrowing when all are caught up in the procession.

Lifelong discipleship is not something you can purchase at the last minute. It’s not a ticket you purchase at the door. It’s not a ticket to heaven or even a stairway to heaven that you can buy. Here’s what we can do: cultivate our faith, gather with those who nurture our faith, and live out Jesus teaching in word and deed so that when that great day arrives we are not only ready, we are prepared!

Let me encourage you with these words from Matthew 5:14 the verse following the Beatitudes we read last Sunday, You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your F

Father in heaven. Amen.

Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4
Christian Century, September 23, 2020
New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII