Preparing to Wait24th Sunday after Pentecost
Sometimes you can’t prepare. In March 2020, one month before Easter, St. Andrew’s was closed. We were not prepared for COVID and we certainly were not prepared to have alternative ways to communicate and worship with the people that are St. Andrew’s. We took small steps with no webmaster or sanctuary technology. We made scripture reading, sermon, and music videos with our cell phones that were put together and miraculously became the way we worshipped for over a year. We weren’t prepared, nor could we be prepared for that. We had to pivot to a new way of being the church. This seems an extreme example, but it is not for those of you who have lost loved ones, or homes, or jobs and had life interrupted in significant ways.
We have an illusion of preparation and thinking that our bank accounts, our retirement, our medical plans are going to save us. They do serve us in some small way but we cannot be prepared for every eventuality that comes.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus sought to prepare his followers for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven. To prepare for that reality, Jesus also asks us to prioritize what really matters and what does not. Determining what is most important is not only an individual necessity but it must be a community priority as well.
Our first scripture was from Joshua. When the book of Joshua opens, the Hebrew people are still journeying to the promised land. Remembering the Hebrew people’s unfaithfulness during their time in the wilderness, God was giving them another chance. Joshua leads them to enter the promised land of Canaan.
In chapter 24, Joshua gathers the people together for the last time before his death. He reminds them how God has provided for them. Joshua asks them to choose whom they would serve. He instructed, “Now revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity…put away the gods that your ancestors served.” Joshua is trying to discourage a half-hearted commitment to promises that they have easily broken in the past. Unequivocally they say, “we will serve the Lord.” Joshua is calling the community to determine what is most important.
Matthew 25 is nearing the end of Jesus’ life as he begins to get the disciples ready for his death. Jesus begins the parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus taught that the kingdom is among us, the kingdom is here and not something in the future.
Jesus begins with a wedding story. It was the custom of that day for the wedding guests to arrive at the Bride’s home and be entertained by her parents while waiting for the groom. In the parable, ten bridesmaids brought lamps and prepared to wait for the bridegroom. No one knew when the groom would actually arrive. It could be days or possibly weeks.
Five of the bridesmaids brought an extra flask of oil to replenish their lamps. Jesus called them wise. The other five brought their lamps and no extra oil. Jesus called them foolish. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep as they waited.
At midnight, there was a shout, “The bridegroom is here! Come out and meet him.” The wise bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. Five realized they didn’t have enough oil and their lamps were going out. They asked the prepared bridesmaids to loan them some oil. The wise ones said, “if we give you some of ours, we won’t have enough, so go out to the dealers and buy some for yourself.”
The five that were out of oil went out to buy more. And while they were out, the bridegroom and those who were ready went, as was the custom, to his house where his parents were waiting and the ceremony would begin and continue for days.
When the five bridesmaids who had gone out returned, the door was closed and the wedding feast had begun. It was too late for them to enter the banquet. The ending of the parable describes their lack of preparation and the consequences.
There is a great deal of cohesiveness in the behaviour of these ten bridesmaids. All of them came to the wedding dressed for the occasion. They all carried lamps with oil in them. All of them became drowsy and fell asleep. We tend to judge who was prepared and who was not.
This is a parable about preparation, however, the only difference between the wise and foolish is that the wise bridesmaids prepared for the wait by bringing extra oil. So while the foolish bridesmaids are out looking for oil, the wedding feast begins and the doors are shut. What does preparation mean for us in this parable?
Preparation is about living expectantly and hopefully. This is hard today. At every turn, we are frightened about war, hate filled speech, economic disparities and the list goes on. Today’s news is not actually what dooms us. It is not our bank statements where our hope should be found. Political tyrants of this world who speak loudly and seem to carry the biggest stick, in fact, do not rule the world, nor will they have the final say.
Delay is difficult. Waiting for God is difficult. In fact, the Hebrew people were constantly perplexed that the Messiah delayed for so many generations. We are soon to enter the season of Advent, a season of waiting. We have another opportunity to practice what we do while we wait.
The five wise bridesmaids were prepared because it was their nature. They do their homework. They don’t wait until the last minute. They don’t rely on others to bail them out and probably wish that others were as responsible as they are.
The five foolish bridesmaids were at least at the wedding. They have their lamps and started with oil. It wasn’t their fault that the bridegroom was delayed. If they could just borrow a little oil because the bridegroom has arrived and the wait is over.
Another way of looking at this is that sometimes we are the wise bridesmaids who bring extra oil; other times we are the foolish bridesmaids who were not prepared. We would be wise to ask ourselves: . What can I learn from the times I have been prepared, when I had the bases covered? What did I learn when I was ready and I showed up on time?
. What can I learn from the times that I wasn’t enough, when I didn’t have enough, and I didn’t think things through? What did I learn when I expected someone else to bail me out when I showed up late?
. What does it look like to be prepared? How do we prepare when we don’t know what to expect?
As with so many things in life, the essence is in the timing.
In Matthew, the wise are those who know and tend this. They prepare for an unknown future. The foolish assume a bright future and do little to prepare for it.
Jesus wants us to be better than we are because we have the potential to be that.
Now is the time for active discipleship and every moment we can sense the ticking of the clock or the closing of certain doors. The kingdom of heaven summons us to new life, improved commitment, casting away false idols, and actively waiting in hope. Jesus’ parables teach the secrets of the kingdom.