Sunday, November 12, 2023 – Pentecost 24

Speaker: Chris Paul
Category: Weekly Sermons

Wisdom 6:12-16; Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Mr. Chris Paul, Seminarian

We live in a culture that tends to spend a lot of time planning for events. Especially big wedding events. We spend months and months going over every detail to make sure everything goes off smoothly. Families and friends come from all over to witness these events. We have lavish ceremonies with receptions to follow to celebrate the love that is shared between two people. But everyone knows getting to that point of celebration can be quite stressful. It takes a lot of planning and preparation for everything to come together for a great ceremony. Some of you may be familiar with the show Bridezilla.  A show about how extreme some of these events can cause people to act. The TV shows were probably extreme cases, but still, they are a representation of the stress, time, and energy that is put into making sure the event is pulled off with no issues. What may be interesting for you to learn about ceremonies like this today is that they are not completely unique to just our current-day culture. In Jesus’s time, these ceremonies were also very elaborate and would sometimes go on for days. The highlight of the wedding event back then was when the bridegroom would go and take his wife from her father’s house and carry her back to their house, which would be their new home. When the bridegroom made this voyage, the path was lit by the lamps that the bridesmaids of the village carried. The bridesmaids had one job during this whole event: To provide the light needed for the voyage. We have to remember that, of course, during this time, there were no streetlights, no flashlights, no headlamps, and no electricity to help provide light for this trip. The bridesmaid’s job was to provide the light and get the bride and the groom safely through the dark to the big feast.

Take a moment and think about a time that you had to plan for a major event in your life. Maybe it was a wedding, maybe it was some other event for work, maybe it was a big change that was happening in your life. The one similarity between all of these events, today and back then, is that they all call for us to be prepared. To plan ahead and make sure everything is ready for when the day arrives. The parable we heard from Jesus today is also a parable about being prepared and taking the time to make sure we are ready for what is to come. Any good scout could tell all of us always to be prepared. There are many different events throughout our lives where we will need to do some planning and preparation. Maybe it is going to college; maybe it is a new job; or maybe it is a wedding, as we heard about today.

There is one event that I can vividly recall during my discernment process that caught me off guard, and it was one that I have to admit that I was not completely prepared for at the time. Some of you may remember me doing a short 3-month internship here at the Ascension back in 2020. It was right when Covid hit, and everything was shutting down. What a great time to do an internship, right?!?   Be it as it was, I was here with Candice and Drew, trying to discern my call while the world was dealing with a pandemic, which was new to all of us. What many of you may not know is that while I was here during that time and throughout my discernment process up to that point, I was always leaning more towards the Deaconate, not the priesthood. The story took a turn when I met with the Bishop and The Commission on Ministry to discuss further what my call would be within the church. While meeting with the Bishop, she asked me a question, and to be honest, I have no idea what that question was at this point. But I do remember answering the question and talking to her when she interrupted me and asked me which path I was on, Deaconate or Priest. I told her Deaconate, and in her most Bishopy voice, she quickly replied, “No, you’re not. You are going to be a priest!”. That was a jolt to wake me up even further into this call. Not that the idea of being a priest had not been in the back of my head, but I was not totally prepared for that change at that moment. With our parable today, we, Unfortunately, sometimes tend to focus in on the bridesmaids who fail to keep the oil for the lamps, which, of course, the parable also tells us that they are left out of the feast for doing so. This view is often interpreted as those who are not prepared or ready in some way will be left out. It is exclusionary.  But to me, the question leans further into what exactly are we preparing for and how we prepare for that. 

You could look at this parable from Jesus and say that the oil in this parable can simply be translated into what practices we do in our daily lives to prepare for the coming of Jesus. What actions are we taking in our own lives and the lives of others to ensure we are prepared and our lamp is full? If you think about it, though, one problem with getting prepared is also having to wait. We don’t like to wait! We want it now. We don’t like to be told to take a number and have a seat at the doctor’s office. We don’t like to wait two weeks to get our test results back on some recent medical exams. We see time as our own personal possession and a very scarce resource. If time is passing and we’re not producing something, then we are wasting time. This parable is one about preparation, but it is also one of patience while preparing and nurturing our own spiritual lives. Having oil in our lamps and being prepared comes from doing what we’re told to do, being obedient to God, and being formed by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. So, what are some practices that we can focus on in our lives that will help us to keep the oil in our lives full? 

Prayer, reading scripture, sharing in fellowship, helping our fellow man, loving others, and worshipping together are all ways to keep the proverbial oil in our lamps full.

But it’s not simply limited to those. There are plenty of other practices we can do in our lives to help replenish our oil. Simply taking time to do what makes us happy. We should notice what we have around us and not take things for granted. Maybe that’s working on the quilts for the quilt ministry here. That could be helping with New Beginnings and tutoring children.  It can also simply be as simple as spending time with family. Going out to lunch with a friend, knitting, going for a hike, bird watching, you can name so many different things that help remind us of God’s beauty all around us. These are all things that God freely gives us to help keep us going. To help us recharge, stay connected, and pass time while we wait. What’s most important for us to realize and be aware of is that, yes, our oil can run out if we ignore it. It’s not like we are bad or intentionally let our oil run out, but before we know it, our lamp may be empty if we aren’t careful and work on filling our lamp spiritually and emotionally. Another area I want to look at in this parable is where the other bridesmaids refuse to share their oil. Some people may think that it wasn’t very Christian of them not to share their oil, right? But all of these things I have listed should show us why those bridesmaids could not and did not share their oil. These are not things that you can freely share with someone. It’s not a loaf of bread that you can easily give to someone who is hungry. We may be able to help those whose oil is starting to run low, but we can’t simply give them our oil. There is a quote by a Scottish theologian, William Barclay, that looks at this parable and helps explain why the bridesmaids could not simply share their oil. Barclay states that this parable warns us that there are certain things that cannot be borrowed and why the bridesmaids found it impossible to borrow oil when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot simply borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it. A man cannot borrow character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things that we must win or possess for ourselves; we cannot borrow them from others. We can do good work all day long and have a horrible relationship with God. And we can have good character traits: honor, truthfulness, generosity, and love, and have no relationship with God at all.  Our character and our relationship with God are intertwined. We need both to be whole, and both require work on our part. If we put the building of the kingdom of God first in our lives, not trying to build ourselves up in the eyes of others, but truly working to love others with the community of love, we will live lives of readiness, preparedness, and we will have no reason to fear our oil running out because Jesus will know we are ready.

This parable asks us to live in hope for what has been promised and what will be but is yet not. It reminds us that we can gain tools for living in the current time before eternity, not tools only to gain entrance. You do not know the day nor the hour. Stay alert, wait purposefully, and be prepared. At the heart of our faith is the certainty that human history has a purpose and a goal, and that is moving toward fulfillment and completion. We need patience when waiting for God. We are not on his timetable and will never know when things will happen. In the midst of life’s journey and pain, ease and adversity, intrigue and boredom, the faith of the wise who keep enough oil remains enough. We cannot share spiritual reserves, development, or preparedness, just as the bridesmaids cannot share their resources with the ones who ran out of oil. Being prepared to welcome Christ is an individual matter regardless of whether he comes today or tomorrow. The kingdom of heaven summons us to new life, active waiting in hope, and renewed vigor in faith. The best part of all of this is that Jesus is preparing a huge feast for us. A feast that we are all invited to. The real truth is that the door is always open for us at all times, day or night, but we must be prepared to enter that door when the time comes.