Proper 27a, November 12, 2017

November 13, 2017

Preparing For Life

Matthew 25:1-13


1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.


This is a nice passage of scripture for us to ponder this morning. You might say it’s a generous text because it points to the importance of living wisely and not foolishly, but it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It doesn’t spell out exactly what it means to live wisely as opposed to living foolishly so we are challenged to decide what it means to live like those who were prepared and not like those who had to leave at the critical moment and who missed the glorious wedding.


Sometimes people will ask me what I preached about on a previous Sunday or what an upcoming sermon will be about, and that’s usually a difficult question for me to answer. Often I just can’t remember what my sermon was about or I’m not ready for my next sermon. But often I can’t say because I can’t sum it up in an easy manner. And that’s an unfortunate thing on my part. I think the best sermons are probably pretty easy to remember and describe.


You might not find this sermon to be particularly memorable or describable, but regardless of what I might or might not say, I’m going to declare early on that there’s a clear point to this sermon, and the point is that it’s better to be wise than to be foolish. Be wise – don’t be foolish. That’s some wisdom you can count on right there. I’m all for wisdom and I’m against foolishness. I’m not so clear about many things, but I’ve got this straight.


I know I’m right about this because I’ve done some foolish things. Maybe you have too.


I remember very clearly the night I was driving to Colorado with a couple of friends in my 1978 Chevy LUV pickup. We left Fayetteville on a New Year’s afternoon and we were going to drive through the night to Denver. We were on Interstate 70 in western Kansas around 2 in the morning when we noticed we needed some gas. What we hadn’t really paid attention to was how far apart the towns were way out there on the prairie. We exited at a small town and found the one gas station to be closed. We studied the map and decided we could make it to the next town, and we did, but that one gas station was closed as well.


A little bit of wisdom kicked in at that moment, and we decided not to head out in hope of making it to the next exit on a night that got down to about 15 degrees in a wind that seemed to cut straight through the thin metal skin of that truck, and we waited for about four hours for that gas station to open up. I believe that’s about as cold as I’ve ever been.


I know what those foolish bridesmaids felt like when they realized that they had not properly prepared for the event that was coming. I’m guessing most of us know how it feels to be caught unprepared or otherwise had our foolishness exposed.


Of course Jesus didn’t tell this story to warn us against those average forms of foolishness that leave us looking ridiculous. He wasn’t concerned that we would live in ways that would simply cause us to suffer some form of humiliation. Jesus told this story in order to focus our attention on the need for us to be prepared for life in the kingdom of God. Because he knew that the most foolish thing any of us to do is to live our lives without regard for our relationship with God.


What this text does is to highlight the importance of paying attention to what we need in order to abide in the Kingdom of God. This parable doesn’t give us clear instruction about what it means to have a reserve of oil for our lamps, but it makes it very clear that this is something we need. And I suppose our task is to discern what it means to have those spiritual reserves. Jesus didn’t answer that question with this story, but he made it very clear that if we don’t pay attention to this matter we’re going to miss the party. This is a story that very clearly illustrates the reality of divine opportunity and the consequences of spiritual failure.


I guess it can be argued that Jesus was talking about the destination of our eternal souls when he told this story. I’m sure there are people who use this parable to talk about what we will face on judgement day, and I’m not here to say they’re wrong to use it in that way. But I don’t believe that’s the only way to think of this parable. What I believe is that Jesus was wanting us to develop ourselves in such a way that we gain access to true life while we continue to breath the air of earth. I’m thinking there are after-life consequences for the way we conduct ourselves in this life, but I believe Jesus wanted us to realize that there are also some immediate consequences for the way we chose to live our lives.


I think there are probably a lot of people who are motivated to live right and to do the right thing in order to arrive at the right destination upon their completion of life, but I’m convinced Jesus wanted us to have some fear of missing out on the party that’s going on right now. Jesus wanted us to seek those reserves of oil for our lamps because we need them now.


This world isn’t an easy place for any of us to live. Certainly there are some nice experiences and beautiful places, but as Jesus so clearly illustrated through the course of his own life, our experience in this world can be filled with a lot of turmoil and conflict. Jesus didn’t seek turmoil and conflict, but he was very threatening to people who didn’t want God’s truth to be known, and that is often the case with people who do the work of God. This world can be particularly difficult for those who bring the light of God in to dark places, but I also believe that in the midst of trouble and conflict we can experience great peace and joy.


I believe that the gift of God’s reassuring presence is something that can come to us in this world, and that it often comes when we are in the midst of our greatest challenges. But I think we have to be properly prepared in order to fully appreciate those spiritual opportunities. I think we have to develop those reserves of spiritual oil in order to find calm when we find ourselves walking through one of life’s dark and dangerous valleys.


So what does it mean to be one of those wise people who has pursued a reserve of oil for their lamp? To put it very simply and generally, I believe a person with a reserve of oil for their lamp is a person who has sought the wisdom of God. A person with a reserve of oil for their lamp doesn’t confuse their relationship with God by the ups and downs of life on earth. A person with a reserve of oil is the person who knows that the most important thing in life is to develop a solid spiritual life. To live like one of those wise bridesmaids is to know the story of how God has been at work in this world from the beginning of time, and to do the good work of caring for others. To develop a reserve of oil is to develop an inner life that isn’t disrupted regardless of what’s going on with our outer lives.


Of course a mature inner life will inform the way we conduct our outer lives. I don’t believe our spiritual lives and our physical lives are disconnected from each other. I believe there’s an ongoing relationship between what’s going on within our souls and how we choose to live our lives. We don’t always have a lot of choice about where we are in life, but there’s always an opportunity of some kind to express the richness of our inner life, and I don’t believe our outward circumstances can ever prevent us from living a rich inner and outer life. We don’t all get to abide in the most choice accommodations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fully express our love for God and our neighbors and that’s about the richest life we can ever live.


None of us have made perfect decisions in our lives. It’s easy for all of us to identify the ways in which we’ve been out looking for oil when it was time for the wedding to start, and of course it’s always good to recognize and to learn from those foolish paths on which we’ve found ourselves, but our primary task is to have some urgency to become the wise people that God created us to be.


It’s not easy to create the kind of urgency we need in order to pursue life in the kingdom of God. Sometimes it takes a brush with death or disaster to get our attention and to get us focused on the pursuit of abundant life. Sometimes it’s actually through those foolish things we do that enables us to recognize our need to seek the wisdom of God. It’s interesting the way these things play out in our lives. Some of the worst things that come our way actually put us in touch with the greatest spiritual opportunities.


Jesus told this parable because he wanted us to know that there is this possibility of living wise lives, and nobody was more aware of this than those women who found themselves without any oil at the critical moment. Unfortunately there are those situations in life that we can’t go back and do over. There is this possibility of finding ourselves without any oil at the critical moment, and those are terrible experiences, but there’s probably nothing more instructive than a terrible mistake.


I assure you I’m a lot more careful about keeping gas in my tank than I once was. I continue to find new ways to exercise some foolishness, but I also know that it’s a lot better to be wise than to be foolish. They say we get wiser as we get older, but I don’t think this is automatically true. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to live an entire life in a foolish way. The pursuit of true life is not something we stumble upon and accidentally find. It’s a gift, but it takes effort to understand it. Luckily, we aren’t on our own in this work. God wants us to get on the path to true life, and God is continually reaching out to us, but we’ve got to respond. We’ve got to want what God is offering, and we’ve got work to do in order to obtain it. Finding the course of true life requires us exercise courage, persistence, patience, sensitivity, and attention to all the ways in which God’s truth is made known to us.


This journey in to the kingdom of God is a difficult trek. But it’s the best opportunity we’ll ever be offered. To seek God’s kingdom is to choose the path of wisdom, and to step away from the humiliation and  despair that foolishness always provides.


Don’t get left out of the party! Study scripture, pray for wisdom, love God, serve your neighbors, and enjoy the banquet that God will provide!


Thanks be to God. Amen.


One Response to “Proper 27a, November 12, 2017”

  1. Earl Says:

    Think I’ve got an oil light in my head, can always tell when my oil is running low and I sure don’t want to miss the party.

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