Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sermon, Proper 27A, Matthew 25:1-13

I saw it. I saw my first commercial for Christmas last week. I guess I have to give them credit for waiting until after Halloween to run it; but still, it's not even Thanksgiving yet! And maybe I shouldn't be too hard on them; after all, you all received a bulletin insert that laid out the upcoming schedule for Advent and Christmas -- and it's not even Thanksgiving yet.

But I was thinking about that commercial and how the world is beginning to gear up for Christmas. Shop-early specials are beginning to appear. Programs for gift lay-aways are set up so you can avoid the Christmas shopping rush. Retailers everywhere are hoping to have a good Christmas season to make up for recent losses. And the government is hoping that we can spend our way out of the recession.

But as the world is beginning to gear up for the Christmas rush, the church is beginning to wind down as our long, green Season after Pentecost draws to a close. Three weeks, that's all the time we have left. And our appointed gospel readings from Matthew mirror the end of the season with selections from the end of Jesus' time on earth. We've gone from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the parables about the upending of the power structure to, now, parables and comments about the end of the age, his ultimate return and our need to be ready and faithful.

In this particular section of Matthew, there are three parables that Jesus tells about faithful waiting. Today we heard the second of those, the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids; or, as most of us know it, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Here again is one of those parables that most people seem to be familiar with. Ten bridesmaids, or virgins, take their lamps to go and wait for the bridegroom. Five took extra oil, five did not.

The first thing we need to do is to get past the label of foolish and wise, because nobody is perpetually foolish and nobody is perpetually wise. There are times when we can be either. For instance, a guy I know fairly well, and someone for whom I have the highest regard, took his kids out hiking one weekend. The only problem was that he forgot the map. So yes, we need to get past the foolish and wise label.

What this story is really about, though, is faithful waiting. And what are we waiting for? We are waiting for that great and terrible day of the Lord. We are waiting for the return of the Son of Man. We are waiting for God's kingdom to be established on earth. But this is not an idle waiting. This isn't a sit-in-our-pews waiting. The waiting we are participating in is an active waiting. It's a waiting with a mission. And it is a waiting for a time we know not when will come.

The virgins went to meet the bridegroom and took their lamps with them. I want to focus on those lamps. Looking at this story, we might simply assume that they had the lamps so they could see in the night. After all, the bridegroom didn't arrive until midnight, well after the young women had fallen asleep.

But go back to the Sermon on the Mount. Just two verses past the Beatitudes that we heard last week, Jesus says this, "You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

We are the light of the world. We are the ones who light the way for those walking in darkness. Following the mandates of the Sermon on the Mount, it is by our light, our shining example, that people are fed, forgiven, loved and welcomed. It is by our light that people see the face of God when they look at us.

But that is a hard task. It's hard to forgive those who injure us. It's hard to love our neighbors. It's hard to feed and clothe people who seem to only live for free handouts. And it can be discouraging to invite people to be part of God's kingdom and partake of his heavenly banquet, only to have that invitation continually rejected. But try we must.

However, if we try to do everything on our own, we won't last. If we tried to manage the food pantry and Ruby Valley Reruns, open a shelter, create a job placement agency, care for the church, serve on the altar guild and vestry and whatever else needs to be done . . . well, there's no way we can do that alone. That's why we have a community; so that our many and varied gifts and talents can reflect the many and varied blessings of God. Not only can we not do it alone, but if we don't rely on the sustaining power and presence of God, then it doesn't matter how big our community is, we still can't do it. If we try to do any of this without drawing our individual and communal strength from Jesus -- through daily prayer, weekly worship and other opportunities offered through the church -- then we will be like the lamps of those ten foolish virgins: we will simply burn out.

We need to realize that yes, we are called to do all those things; but we are called to do them using Jesus as our source fo strength. We need to rely on him. We need to listen to him. We need to spend time with him. We need to be refreshed by him. He is, in short, our flask of oil; and with him supplying us with the energy to burn, our light will never go out.

By allowing our lamps to burn, by letting our light shine continually, we will participate in that active waiting that lets us be ready for the coming of the Son of Man even though we know neither the day nor the hour. And when he does come, we will be ready to go out to meet him. We will be part of that faithful group that was active, not passive; wise, not foolish; and we will be allowed into the party, not left outside wondering what we did wrong.

Christmas is coming; both your bulletin insert and Madison Avenue will tell you that. The Season after Pentecost is coming to a close and Advent is only three weeks away. And the Son of Man is also coming. But unlike Christmas and Advent, the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour and like a thief in the night. Continue, therefore, to rely on and draw strength from Jesus. Continue to participate in the fellowship, prayers and breaking of the bread. Continue to do those things pleasing to God. And most of all, continue to let your light shine as we actively wait for his return.

1 comments:

Tripp Hudgins | 1:21 PM, November 09, 2008  

Nice...Mine is posted as well. Let 'er rip!

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