You are beloved and trusted to be able to serve God’s healing of this world, and encouraged that, despite the time it will take, that healing will come.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 32 A
Texts: Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 4:18
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
All ten bridesmaids were prepared for this wedding.
Honored with such a role, these close friends and family were excited and ready to do their job, to process the groom and his party to the wedding place. All ten had their lamps filled and lighted. All were ready. At least at mid-afternoon.
Then an hour went by. Another. It started to get dark. Sitting and waiting for hours makes you sleepy. Finally at midnight they wake up, disturbed by the noise of the approaching people.
That’s when five realized they had a problem. They weren’t ready for a delay like this.
That’s this parable’s crisis: being prepared to serve is one thing. But what if there’s a long, interminable delay?
Jesus speaks to the depths of our reality. 2,000 years later, we’re still living in a world with injustice, suffering, oppression. We stand between the pain and evil we see in the world and our hope that God in Christ will bring healing and restoration. It’s exhausting to work and stand in that in-between space.
Because no matter what the outcome of Tuesday’s election, huge work was going to be there for all of us. The work of building a better society, working for the common good of all, would still be there. The work of trying to rebuild our cherished institutions of free and open elections, checks and balances in our government, accountability of our lawmakers and law enforcers – the list is long and the work will take time. So many in this world ask, “How long, O God, how long?” Many give up on the bridegroom, abandoning faith in God. It’s hard to blame them. How long can we wait for God?
It’s easy to be energetic when you first serve God, when you see places you can help.
We remember moments of high excitement and energy for being Christ in the world, making a difference. We remember elections, or moments in our society and culture where great hope dawned and it looked like we were turning a corner to being a caring society, a world like God envisions in Scripture. But the longer things take, the bigger the problems, the more daunting the political landscape, the easier it is to lose hope, to lose energy, to lose the will.
“Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore,” we plead in a beloved hymn, because weak resignation is all we can muster sometimes. Our country is clearly still deeply divided, polarized, demonizing each other. Do we even want to be engaged, we wonder, if evil is so strong?
And we’re not sure what it is to have enough oil, or if we can get it.
What is it to be prepared? The next two parables in Matthew 25 help. Next week, having enough oil is using the talents we’ve been given – time, wealth, gifts – to serve the Bridegroom. In two weeks we’ll hear that having enough oil is caring for those in any need, because that is caring for the Bridegroom, for Christ.
But do we feel we can get enough oil for what’s needed? What can any of us do?
Some of us are retired; how can they engage? Some of us are homebound, not getting around; how can they make a difference? Some of us have small children, lives filled every second; where can they find the time? And who of us has the leverage, the influence, to make a difference? Name whatever problem our society faces and our hope from God, and most of us get stuck here: I don’t know if I have any ability to help.
It’s not that we don’t want to store up extra oil for the delay; we’re not sure we can get any.
This is a wake-up call from Jesus – he literally says “stay awake” – a reminder that God’s restoration is happening, but it will take time.
Jesus says in this parable, be ready for that delay. Keep it in your heart that you might not see it all in your lifetime. Jesus tempers the hopeful encouragement that the Bridegroom is coming, God’s healing restoration is coming, with honesty about the timing. But that helps, doesn’t it? If you know it will take time, you can prepare better for that.
Jesus also says in this parable, waiting is not passive. Make sure you’ve got oil set aside, be of service. And if you’re concerned you can’t help or aren’t sure what you could do, remember Jesus assumes all the bridesmaids had it in them. Jesus assumes you can find the oil, too. There are things you can do that will bring about the promise God is making, using your talents, caring for those in need.
And if you think this wake up call is Jesus threatening you or me, think again. Remember, the true Bridegroom, a day or so after telling this, lets us slam the door in his face, kick him out of our party, saying, “Truth is, we don’t know you.” The Bridegroom allows himself to be killed by those he’s come to celebrate with. And in rising from the dead, the risen Bridegroom says, “I love you, but we’ve still got lots to do to prepare, so get your oil and lamps ready.”
“Therefore encourage one another with these words,” Paul says today in a different context.
Here are your reasons for courage today:
Jesus loves you enough to make you one of the beloved ones chosen to serve the coming of the Triune God, and to die and rise for you so you’re not terrified of punishment, but live freely as God’s beloved.
Jesus trusts you enough to believe you have the oil you need to be ready.
Jesus cares for you enough to alert you to the delay so you can be ready for that.
And Jesus believes in you enough to trust that if you, and I, and all God’s children, live such prepared lives, the healed, restored creation God is making through the true Bridegroom will come to pass.
Therefore, encourage one another with these words.
In the name of Jesus. Amen