* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on March 15, 2015 *
Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Wake us up, O God,
To the redeeming and reconciling work
you are bringing about in all the world.
So, bridesmaids, how are we doing this morning?
Still asleep from losing that hour from last week, evidently…?
Truthfully, I’m still recovering, too. This has been a rough week for me. It feels like I just can’t catch up on that hour we lost. And it seems like this year, more than any other year previous, I’ve seen more people calling for an end to this practice of arbitrarily fidgeting with time. Have you noticed that too? It feels like I’ve seen more petitions circling and more threats of legislation being introduced than ever before.
Our own Justin Shimko wrote a really fantastic article last week about why he feels like Daylight Saving Time should be done away with. And I have to tell you, it’s hard to argue with him. He highlights studies that show a noticeable increase in traffic accidents and injuries in the week after a time change. He points out that it can take up to 8 weeks to fully recover from a time change. And it begs the question for me about what we’re really doing to our bodies by arbitrarily assigning and reassigning time.
And all of this is to say, that I’ve totally felt like a bridesmaid this week. Unable to stay awake, running out of oil, unwilling to share what I do have…
That’s me. Always a bridesmaid…
And…there are other times that I feel like other people in the story. A lot of the time, I feel like the bridegroom. True story, I’m late to pretty much everything, just ask Tiffany. And seriously, when I was actually the groom, at my actual wedding, I was late to the party too. Our reception was at a different place than our ceremony, and I left my phone charger at the church. And about halfway to the reception, I suddenly realized this, so we had to turn around and go get it. Late to our own party, go figure. And everyone had to wait on us. But…what else could they do. They weren’t going to start without us…
I wonder if there’s a character in our parable today that you closely identify with. Maybe you feel like a bridesmaid too. Either a foolish one, or a wise one. Maybe both. Or maybe you feel like the groom. Maybe you’re a guest at this fabulous wedding banquet. Maybe you’re feeling like the unmentioned, but assumed-to-be-present bride. Or maybe you’ve felt like all of these characters at different points this week. Maybe you’ve felt like all of these just this morning…
The point is, these stories and narratives aren’t read apart from our own lives. A good book, a good story, draws us in. We locate ourselves in it.
So when the story takes a dark turn, or there’s a twist that we weren’t expecting, or it doesn’t end how we’d like it to…it can make us squirmy, shifting in our seats. It can make us feel uncomfortable.
Which is sometimes how I feel about our parable today.
You’d think that the bridesmaids that had oil would share with the ones who didn’t. But no, they don’t.
You’d think that the groom would recognize the bridesmaids from his own wedding party. But no, he doesn’t.
You’d think that a wedding is a joyous occasion, and so the groom would be generous and willing to open the doors to the banquet to whoever wanted to come in. But no, that’s not what we get today.
And, when we have Jesus telling us that this is what the kingdom of heaven will be like, it makes us even more uncomfortable still!
And if this is what the kingdom of heaven is like, who’s playing which roles? Is Jesus the groom? Are we the foolish bridesmaids? Are we the ones who are locked out of the wedding feast of the promised kingdom of heaven?
Consider the place of this parable in the overall arc of Matthew’s gospel. It comes just before Passover, just before the Last Supper and Crucifixion. So when we hear the groom tell the foolish bridesmaids, “Truly, I do not know you,” maybe you hear echoes of Peter’s denial, “Truly, I tell you, I do not know this man named Jesus.” When we hear that the foolish bridesmaids get shut out of the party, have the door slammed in their face, maybe you think of the slamming shut of a tomb, or the disciples huddling behind locked doors the day after the crucifixion. Or when we hear about all of the bridesmaids, both the foolish and the wise, falling asleep while they wait for the groom, maybe your mind is drawn to Gethsemane, and the disciples’ inability to stay awake while Jesus petitions God to have this tremendous responsibility taken away from him…
The truth is…I am a bridesmaid. Always a bridesmaid. I’m the bridesmaid who falls asleep, who refuses to stay awake to the ways in which the reign of God is coming about in our midst. I’m the foolish bridesmaid who forgot her oil, caught unprepared and unwilling when I’m invited to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world. I’m the selfish bridesmaid, who can’t find it in her heart to give of herself so that others might have also. And I’m also the groom, slamming the door in the face of those that ask of me, and forcefully proclaiming, right along with Peter, “Truly I tell you, I do not know this Jesus!”
Me. I do that.
So, what’s the good news? What’s the hope for us? Are we really talking about matters of life and death like it seems that Matthew is presenting?
More than a few people have remarked how the endings of Matthew’s parables sound so ominous. Outer darkness…weeping and gnashing of teeth…you know neither the day nor the hour… It’s Matthew’s calling card, right? Matthew makes it sound like everything hinges on this one thing; makes it seem like an issue of life and death.
And really, that’s true for Matthew’s community. It really was an issue of life and death. See, for the early Christ followers, choosing to pattern their lives together in the life-giving ways of Jesus, meant certain death at the hands of the Roman empire. But, on the other hand, they could submit to the will of the empire, but in doing so, deny the very one who brings life from death.
Dear friends, we’re being asked to keep awake. To pay attention to the new thing God is doing in the world—in you, and in me, and in all of creation. We may not like the phrase, “life or death.” It may make us shift in our seats. It may make us uncomfortable. But make no mistake, how we respond to this invitation to participation is vital to the reign of God being realized right here and right now.
People of God, all throughout Lent, we’ve been inviting you into the discipline of Lent. Using spiritual practices as a way to deepen our faith and live more fully into the people and community God is calling us to be.
Keep awake, therefore, bridesmaids. Give some of your oil to those that ask you. Open the door to those who the world turns away. The bridegroom is coming. The feast is ready.
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