What are we looking for? – Nov. 8, 2020

What are we looking for?

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matthew 25:1-13

November 8, 2020

Main Idea:  Jesus calls us to stay engaged

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

We are living through an unsettled time.  This week has been dominated by political uncertainty.  The presidential election drama has been exhausting.  The balance of power in the Senate is still undecided.  Outside of politics, the corona virus is still rampaging through our nation and the world.  Our lives have been upturned by the virus since last March.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged by it all.  In times of uncertainty, wise people remind us to focus on what we can control rather than what we cannot, to focus on what is most important rather than what is most attention grabbing. 

So, to focus on what we can control, for the church, November is Stewardship season, a time to take stock and make plans for next year.  It is a time when we make commitments to support the ministries of First Baptist, pledging our time, our energy and our money. The work of the church is our work, our ministries together.  Through our pledges of time, energy, and money we hope to deepen our faith and understanding and we plan to make a difference in the lives of others.  Through our commitments to our mutual ministries we join with the generations of the past to ensure that First Baptist is a presence in Burlington and beyond for generations to come. Next Sunday will be our official Pledge Sunday but like so much in this extraordinary year, our Stewardship season is different this year.  Instead of all gathering together to place our Pledge cards in the offering plate, this year we are asking you to email or mailmail your financial pledges for next year. 

The parable of the 10 bridesmaids is a great text for today in general and for stewardship season in particular because it deals with anxiety, with planning, and with being ready to welcome Christ into our lives.  This morning we will move around in this parable and see it in a new way.  We are going to ask some questions about the text.  Why do the women behave in these particular ways?  And what does the story tell us about our commitments and priorities?  Just a hint…This parable is about more than just having enough oil.  Through this parable, Jesus calls us to stay engaged and focused on what is most important; being ready to welcome God’s love into the world.

Jesus says “The kingdom of heaven will be like this.  10 women took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  5 were foolish and 5 were wise.”  The five foolish had no extra oil with them but the 5 wise each had an extra flask of oil.  The bridegroom was delayed so all the women became drowsy and slept.   At midnight there was a shout, “Look!  Here is the bridegroom! Come out and meet him!”  All of the women jumped up and realized that their lamps had gone out.  Those without extra oil asked those with oil to share but they said “No, we only have enough for ourselves.  Go out and get your own.”  So they did.  The bridegroom was at the front door but the foolish women went out the back to search for a 24 hour convenience store.  By the time they found the store, bought the oil, and returned, the party was over.

When I told this story to my daughter Margaret she said “They all were foolish!  Why was the light of 5 lamps not enough?”

Why indeed? 

Why was the light of 5 lamps not enough? Why did the “wise” send the “foolish” away?  And why did the 5 leave just as the bridegroom arrived? 

All ten of the women came dressed for the wedding party.

All ten had lamps with them.

All ten fall asleep and all ten wake up as the bridegroom approaches.

What separates the women into wise and foolish were three mistakes made by half of the group.

First, the foolish did not have extra oil.  They were not prepared for the bridegroom’s delay.  Either they did not know he was likely to be late or they just assumed that someone else would take care of any issues that arose.  This shows either naive inexperience or privileged presumptuousness.

The second mistake is that they were distracted from what was important.

They were waiting and waiting for the bridegroom, but when he arrives, all they can think about is their lamps!  Instead of welcoming him in, they argue with the other women!  “Give us your oil!”  “No!” “Yes!”  “No!”  They think that the groom will care more about the light than about their presence.

The third and biggest mistake they make is that they leave the house.  Why do they leave just as the bridegroom arrives?  Why do they choose to frantically search the town in the middle of the night for an all night store when they could have just gone to the wedding banquet where there certainly would be plenty of lights?  This goes back to being distracted.  They were so focused on what they did not have that they could not see what was right in front of them.  This is the most foolish of their foolish mistakes.

Now, the other 5, the “wise” women, actually weren’t all that wise. They too make mistakes.  Instead of being wise, they seem selfish and self-righteous.  Why do they send the others away?   It is understandable that they were annoyed about the others’ lack of preparation but surely their light would have been enough for all of them.  They too, were focused on the lamps instead of welcoming the bridegroom.  He stands at the door while they are arguing and sending the others away.  “Their response reveals the insidious assumption that there is only so much oil – so much good- to go around. Their lamps are lit, but their vision is limited.” (Ashley West, christiancentury.org)  Their smugness also reveals their assumption that their possessions make them more righteous. They believe that what they have, rather than who they are, can buy their way into the bridegroom’s good graces.

In fact, the only wise thing they do is to stay in the company of the bridegroom.  Because they welcome him, they are welcomed to the wedding banquet.

The point of this story is not about the oil!  It is about being present and willing to welcome Christ into our lives.

So, are we the wise or the foolish?  Today and every day, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God, the community of love which enlivens and sustains us and all of creation.

Let’s learn from the foolish women’s mistakes.

1. Are we ready?  Have we done the prep work of committing ourselves to grow in faith, service, and understanding? We have our lamps. Do we have the resources needed to keep them lit?   We do not need to be perfect. In fact, we can commit ourselves to Christ regardless of what we have to give.  We cannot buy our way into God’s good graces but the more we turn our lives to Christ, the more we can discern God’s grace holding us and empowering us.

2. Are we focused on what is important?  It is easy to get distracted by the myriad details of life.   The foolish women though the light was the most important thing but it wasn’t.  We are inundated with decisions and issues that vie for our attention and the world is changing at a dizzying pace.  But what is the most important thing?

Jesus tells us that the most important thing is to love God and to welcome God into the world.  All other decisions and actions are secondary to this.

Finally, are we present and willing to embrace the future that God has in mind for us?  When Jesus knocks at our door, do we welcome him in?  Are we ready to make the leap of faith that moves us out of our usual comfortable habits and into the sometimes disconcerting practice of sharing God’s love in the world?

In this Stewardship season and everyday, Jesus invites us to be part of the great work of God’s kingdom.   Jesus invites us to commit our time, our energy, and our resources to the ministries of feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, advocating for the vulnerable, and teaching the faith.  As the community of First Baptist, even in this extraordinary year, we can continue to be a strong, faithful presence in Burlington and beyond.   We are all invited to the wedding banquet, and what a party it will be.

Let us pray,

Approaching God, we wait for you.  Empower us to wait with faithful action.  Remind us of what is most important.  Guide us as we commit ourselves to your service.  Amen.