Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 25)

Text: Matthew 25:1-13
“It was already midnight when the cry rang out, “Here is the bridegroom! Come and meet him!’ The ten young women woke up and trimmed their lamps. Then the foolish ones said to the wise ones, “Let us have some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ “No, indeed,’ the wise ones answered, “there is not enough for you and for us. Go to the store and buy some for yourselves.’ So the foolish ones went off to buy some oil; and while they were gone, the bridegroom arrived. The five who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was closed (verses 6-10.

 

Waiting

Kids are waiting for the end of the school year and of course, then it’s time to wait for Christmas.  Almost every day we are involved in some kind of waiting.  We wait at checkouts, we wait for trains and buses, we wait for the end of the work day, we wait for the start of a concert or our favourite TV show. 

How about making an important phone call, and you get a machine on the other end? The machine says, “Your call is important to us.  If you want to make a payment press 1; If you want to check your balance press 2; If you wish to report a fault or difficulty press 3; If you speak to customer service, press 5.”  You pressed 4.  What happened to 4 – there is no response, so you start all over again.  Finally, you press all those numbers and you get a recording which says ... “We are experiencing a high volume of calls at this time.  You have been placed in a queue and your wait time will be approximately 15 minutes.” You decide to hold the line and after 14 minutes the line goes dead.  You have been disconnected. 

Waiting is part of our lives, but there are some occasions where the waiting becomes too much and we lose all patience and sometimes our cool.

We must be nearing the end of the church year.  The reading from First Thessalonians reminds us that on the day of the Lord “there will be the shout of command, the archangel's voice, the sound of God's trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The writer is encouraging his readers to wait with hope and longing for the day when Jesus will return.  Wait for that day with eager anticipation, Paul is saying, because then all those who have fallen asleep in the Lord will rise from the dead and be with the Lord forever in eternal joy and freedom with all the saints gathered around the throne of God in heaven, as we heard last week on all Saints Sunday. 

The gospel reading today tells of 10 bridesmaids waiting for a wedding feast to begin.  There was to be a torchlight parade leading the groom to the wedding feast but for some reason (Jesus doesn’t tell us why), the groom is delayed.  The reason why he is delayed isn’t important.  Perhaps Jesus is anticipating the time when the early Christians will wonder why Jesus is taking so long to come back as he promised, they become impatient and discouraged, and begin to slacken off in their readiness for his return. 

So Jesus tells us of 10 girls ready to welcome the bridegroom.  Five, who Jesus calls wise, seemed to be the neurotic and nervous kind because they took extra oil with them.  Why do I say folk must have thought this a bit strange?  Weddings usually took place during the day and at the latest in the early evening so only a small amount of oil would be needed.  Why lug around extra oil when it wasn’t needed? 

It seemed the girls who travelled lightly without the burden of extra oil were the smart ones.  They must have given the other girls an odd look when they saw the seemingly unnecessary trouble they had gone to.  The bridegroom would soon be here, and they will have wasted their time and money on buying and bringing extra oil.

But in the end Jesus is right, the apparent neurotic girls were the wise ones.  The bridegroom is delayed until the middle of the night.  When it was time to light up their lamps to welcome him to the feast, five found that their lamps had gone out.  They quickly tried a last-minute attempt to save the day by running to the corner store to get more oil, but it was too late. When they returned the door to the wedding feast was shut.  They banged on the door, but the delay was fatal.  They begged to be let in, but the door stayed shut.

What is Jesus trying to tell us through this parable?  This parable is told at a time when Jesus is talking about the signs that will appear when the end of the age will take place.   This parable comes soon after Jesus refers to the people of Noah’s time who were eating and drinking, marrying and carrying on business as usual totally unaware of what was about to happen. When the rains came and Noah entered the ark and shut the door, it was too late.  They weren’t ready and so perished in the rising water.  Jesus concluded saying, “So then, you also must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him” (Matthew 24:44).

Without a doubt, there will come the day when Jesus will come again.  This idea may be viewed as a fairy tale by a large part of our community, but the fact remains, Jesus will return, the exact day and hour we don’t know, but it will happen.  There is no “If Christ returns” or “In case Jesus returns”.  His return is a certainty.  Matthew records Jesus saying, “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky; and all the peoples of earth will weep as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The great trumpet will sound, and he will send out his angels to the four corners of the earth, and they will gather his chosen people from one end of the world to the other (Matthew 24:30-31).

The delay of the bridegroom hints that there is a delay before Christ returns, so it seems from our perspective.  For me a delay is an unplanned, inconvenient event but nothing is unplanned from God’s point of view – this time before his return is part of his plan to enable as many people as possible to be prepared for the eternal wedding banquet.

The most important point the parable makes is to wait and be ready for Jesus’ return because he will come at any time, maybe a time when everyone will least expect it.  Jesus repeats what he had said earlier, “Watch out, then, because you do not know the day or the hour”.

This parable might also be used with reference to our own death.  We don’t know the day or the hour when that will happen.  We might think that it’s a long way in the future or not think it necessary to give any consideration to what will happen that day when we pass from this life, but like the return of Jesus, our dying will happen.  No-one can escape this.  It will happen, but the point is this – will we be ready for that day or be like the people in Noah’s day be totally caught off guard and unprepared.

I don’t mean to frighten anyone with these thoughts.  The idea of death is never a pleasant one, neither is the end of this world and everything that we hold dear in this life.  There are some very scary images of what will happen on the day of the Lord in the Bible.

But for those who are in Christ, those who know Jesus and we are in his heart and he in is ours, there is nothing to be fearful of.  We are the Lord’s.  We are his loved and chosen people for whom he died; and whether it be our dying die or the last day of this world, he will not abandon us but draw us near to him and protect us from all that could possible harm us. 

When our hearts are being filled with fear, we need to remind ourselves who is telling this story.  Who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End with authority over all things including death?  It is the one and same person who deliberately and purposefully set his focus on Jerusalem and there died a horrible death for you and me.  He died and rose again so that our last day whenever that might be, will be a victorious day as we join with all the faithful happily enjoying eternal life with our Creator and Saviour.

Through this parable Jesus is urging us to wait with expectation.  That doesn’t mean spending our time on our knees and Bible study 24 hours a day seven days a week so that if Jesus should come at any moment he will find us in a pious and holy activity.  Of course, being ready involves prayer and studying God’s Word to know his will and plan for our lives, but it also means honouring God with our lives, caring and forgiving, comforting and encouraging, helping and supporting others in the same way as Jesus has done these things for us. 
Being ready means to continually give praise and thanks to God for the people and blessings in our lives, using the gifts that God has given each of us to further the work of his Kingdom in whatever way we can in our small part of the world preparing others for the days ahead. 
It means continually reassessing how well we are travelling in tune with what God wants us to do.  Satan is very sneaky.  Very subtly and convincingly he gets us to believe that what we are doing is God’s ways when in actual fact they are more what our own selfish desires want.  If those 5 girls had continually reassessed the amount of oil they had for their lamps, they wouldn’t have been caught out when he finally arrived.  Continually we need to reassess with repentance and faith how well we are following Jesus’ way.  

In short, we live our lives every day in anticipation that Jesus will return today.  What we do now, living as a child of God, being Christ to the people in our lives, is the way we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ return. 

Unfortunately, while in this life, even our most diligent preparation and discipleship will be flawed because of sin.  Our true readiness for entering eternal life, depends on Christ and what he has done for us.  In the end, we rely on his grace and forgiveness to get us through the door to the side where the eternal partying is taking place.  We depend on his Holy Spirit to keep on prodding us to keep alert, faithful, busy and ready for the day when Jesus will come again.

Each of us can confidently say, “I know that when that hour comes, whether it be my death or Jesus’ return, I can confidently say that everything will be okay.  Jesus is my Redeemer and Saviour, my Friend and Protector.  He has loved me.  He has called me.  He will welcome me into that eternal banquet.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
12th November 2017
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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