Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beresheth Sermon: 10 Bridesmaids

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Oh this parable. It’s a good one isn’t it? You can see all the bridesmaids, waiting around for the bride and groom to show up. They’ve got their lamps or their flowers or whatever is appropriate for a bridesmaid to hold for the age the story is told. And they’re hanging out expecting the happy couple to arrive any minute, but they don’t. And like excited girls at any sleepover, the bridesmaids fall asleep. But they awaken to discover the bridegroom is approaching. They smooth their skirts, pat their hair, pad their bras and suddenly discover that five of them don’t have enough oil to keep their lamps lit.

“Give us some of your oil!” Five bridesmaids beg of the five other girls. “No way, they say, buy your own.” And the unlucky bridesmaids scurry to the store to grab some more oil. And of course, while they are gone, the groom comes, invites the five remaining into the wedding hall and shuts the door.

The five girls return with fresh oil and lamps burning but when they beg of the groom to be let inside to which he replies, “Yeah, sorry, not sure I recognize you.” And the door remains shut.

I actually hate this parable. Why do you need a burning lamp to get into a wedding anyway? And what’s up with the five stingy bridesmaids? Surely the gospel teaches us to share. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? And then there’s the groom. He doesn’t recognize them because they’re late to the party? I mean, better late than never right? Doesn’t Jesus remember telling the story of the Prodigal Son?!

So I read before this parable in Matthew chapter 24 to see if I could get any insight.

Well, we’ve got the destruction of the Temple in addition to wars, famine, and earthquakes. Then we’ve got faithful followers persecuted and false prophets running rampant. There’s also desolating sacrilege and vultures eating corpses. Then comes the story of Jesus and the trumpet trio, not to mention some mighty winds. After that a story about some guy getting plucked up out of a field and a cruel slave who gets cut up into pieces and of course some good old weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Helpful. Maybe I’m liking this bridesmaid story more and more.

Okay, so what comes after this parable? What does the rest of Chapter 25 say?

Next is the parable of the talents and the guy who saves his master’s money by burying it and then returns it to him as it was and gets reprimanded for not monopolizing on the opportunity. Then we get some sheep and goats and left hands and right hands and finally we find out that anytime we saw someone hungry and gave him food, or thirsty and gave her something to drink… anytime we saw a stranger and welcomed him, or someone naked and gave her clothing… or when we saw a sick person or someone in prison and visited them we were doing the same for Jesus. And maybe finally we can begin to make sense of these parables.

It’s important to remember as we read passages like Matthew 24 and 25 or any of Jesus’ parables, that we are not reading a systematized theology. Just as that goofball wrote his Left Behind series so could someone easily write the A New Creation series or the I Shall Draw All People Unto Myself series or The Great Divorce. Oh wait. C.S. Lewis already did that one.

My point is that this is a story. And just as soon as Jesus says, “you will know the time has come because of war and famine,” so in the next breathe he says, “no one will know the time it will come like a thief in the night.” The word eschatology means the study of the end times or of the final things, and a theology of eschatology deducted from these chapters would be hard to pin down. In fact, the most tangible word Jesus actually gives us in these stories comes to us at the end of chapter 25.

Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, hang out with the sick, refresh the thirsty, welcome the visitors. And finally I think. Okay, I don’t know about oil in my lamp, but I can do these other things.

In fact, I can do them now.

And suddenly we move from a theoretical eschatology to a realized eschatology.

In other words, ushering in the Kingdom of God was something that Jesus and the disciples did in their own lives before Jesus’ death and resurrection and after. And ushering in the kingdom of God is something the Holy Spirit continues to do on earth amongst us and indeed through us right now! Thus, if we are to celebrate the death and resurrection of God here on earth and live life abundantly, if we’re gathered to celebrate the wedding, we have to keep our lights shining, our lamps burning and our neighbors taken care of.

We need to be a city on a hill as a testimony to God’s love and mercy. We need to be salt that irritates the wounding sin of injustice in the world. We need to be faithful to wait expectantly for the bridegroom and active in preparing for his arrival. For just as he returned to the disciples in his resurrection, so one day will we be resurrected along with all creation indeed the entire universe to a new life fully realized with God.

For the end of the night is not the time to run off to attend church or to write a check to the Red Cross or drive down and feed a couple of people at the Soup Kitchen. At the end of the night if you’ve missed living fully in God’s abundant love and justice, you don’t want to miss the bridegroom. Don’t go running off to make last minute amends. Wait expectantly for God whether you’re a child on a playground, a college student in classes or a thief hanging on the cross. When God is among us it’s not the right time to try and usher in God’s kingdom. Rather, it’s time to meet the King.



Ron Tester said...

I love C. S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce!" Were you comparing it to the "Left Behind" series in a less-than-positive way? I couldn't tell by the tone of your post.

Ann said...

no actually. what i was saying was that the Left Behind series is very one-sided. it privies one view of "the end times" (and not a very well rounded theology at that). i was suggesting that there could be lots of eschatalogical books written because there are lots of different theories about the end times. The Great Divorce is one such book (and perhaps my favorite too!).