Sunday, November 09, 2014

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

Why are we here?  We are here, most obviously, to worship God.  We come to hear scripture read and the gospel proclaimed.  We come to state once again what we believe and to confess our sins.  We come to participate in and receive those Holy Mysteries which are the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We are also here to learn.  I hope you learn a little about God at each liturgy.  I hope you learn something with each sermon.  I hope you learn more about scripture with each class attended.  And I hope you learn a little about evangelism.  Lest you forget, we are all evangelists.  That is reaffirmed when, at the close of each Eucharist, we pray, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you.”

So part of the reason we are here, like it or not, is to learn to be better evangelists.  Last week I talked about the limited number of the Church Militant.  We are called to stand up to principalities, powers and dominions and proclaim the name of God in Christ.  And, like those ten bridesmaids, we are waiting for the coming of the bridegroom who is the Messiah, the Christ.

This parable of the ten bridesmaids, though, is problematic.  Ten bridesmaids have gone to meet the bridegroom.  Right from the start there is an assumption of expectation or promptness.  The bridesmaids had an expectation that the bridegroom would arrive promptly at the specified time.  What happened, though, is that the bridegroom was delayed.

This is where, for me, the parable gets problematic.  The ten bridesmaids all came to the appointed place at the appointed time to meet the bridegroom.  All ten brought lamps.  All ten expected the bridegroom to arrive on time.  All ten fell asleep.  None of them had any reason to expect the bridegroom to arrive at any other time.  But because the bridegroom was late, five ran out of oil and were dubbed foolish and barred from the wedding banquet; while five of them were allowed into the banquet simply because they had the foresight to bring extra oil.

Does this mean that only those who prepare for every scenario are to be admitted to the banquet?  I understand the need to prepare, but how do we know we've prepared enough?  Taken to extremes, the only people who will be admitted into the wedding banquet will be Doomsday Preppers.  Are they the wise ones?

I don't think this is what Jesus is getting at here.  There is certainly wisdom in being prepared.  Creating, maintaining and feeding a savings account or retirement fund is a way to be prepared.  For those living in areas prone to wildfires or floods, being prepared means being ready for those natural disasters to strike.  Being prepared can also mean changing the oil in your car, rotating the tires and having an advanced directive.

But like I said, I don't think that's what Jesus is getting at.

Today's gospel reading is chronologically located in the midst of Holy Week.  Knowing this, we can understand a little better why Jesus turns to end time discussions.  In fact, Matthew emphasizes a final judgment more than any other gospel, and today's parable is the second of four “advent parables” that Matthew gives us during Holy Week.

Advent is the season of preparation.  Advent is the season of slowing down.  Advent is the season of the already and the not yet.  Advent is the season of a delayed kingdom that is already in our midst.  And therein lies the difference between the foolish and wise bridesmaids of the parable.

The five foolish women were told, “He is coming soon,” and went out to meet him, expecting to gain immediate entry into the banquet.  They were ready now.  They weren't concerned with anything beyond the specified time because they had received word he was coming soon.  Not only were they not concerned with any THING, they weren't concerned with any ONE.  After all, once we know when he's coming, nothing else matters.

The five wise women were also told, “He is coming soon,” and went out to meet him.  The difference, however, was in their understanding of the word, soon.  They understood that soon was defined by the bridegroom, not by them.  Consequently, they were were ready for the delay.  They made preparations to be ready for a long time, not just for now.  As with us in Advent, they knew he was coming, but they needed to make the necessary preparations and not jump straight to the wedding banquet.

For us, there are many ways to be wise.  We can be wise with our pledges and know we don't pledge only for today, but for tomorrow.  We can be wise in our evangelism when we understand that bringing more people into the church isn't to improve our numbers and finances now, but should be with the understanding that it is to aid their future spiritual health.

The extra oil brought by the five wise bridesmaids symbolizes a willingness to live into the delayed kingdom.  The extra oil brought by the five wise bridesmaids symbolizes a willingness to think beyond our immediate desires.  The extra oil brought by the five wise bridesmaids symbolizes a willingness to evangelize for the benefit of their future, not our present.

In this respect, I hope we are ready for and living into the delay.
In this respect, I hope we are a wise church.



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