“Be Prepared”Matthew 25:1-13
By: David E. MacDonald
November 9, 2008 (26th Sunday after Pentecost)
Niles First United Methodist Church
--Scout motto: “Be Prepared” (Baden-Powell, “Why, for any old thing, of course!”)
(We taught scouts to be prepared by having them pack their bags, and do the grocery shopping. . .there was one boy who always forgot something, like the salad dressing, and that boy grew up to be a preacher. . .)
--Jesus tells this story of 10 bridesmaids. (In those days, a wedding was a week-long event! The groom would collect the bridesmaids, and they would process by lamplight to the bride's home, where they would greet her in song, and the groom would take the bride to his family home. Then the ceremony would take place the next day, then there would be music and dancing and partying for the rest of the week----this is why the wine ran out in Cana.)
--This whole section of Scripture, beginning in Chapter 24, is all about being prepared.
--For what? (The persecutions to come, and for the time when Jesus would return.)
--After this, Jesus tells his disciples exactly what he expects will happen (“The Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”)
So, let's place these bridesmaids into that context—Jesus is about to be crucified, and he's preparing his disciples for what is to come.
--That why I call this a “Parable of the Kingdom,” because Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) what to expect in the new community that he is building.
--Let's begin by looking at those bridesmaids who were prepared.
--Most of us would put ourselves in that category, right? (Remember the salad dressing. . .)
--To be prepared in this context means to have enough for yourself, but not enough for others—doesn't that sound a bit cruel?
Think about it this way: we can only fill our own lamps. As much as we try, we cannot force others to come to Christ, nor can we learn their lessons for them. The bridesmaids who remembered their oil knew the lesson that every lifeguard learns; you cannot save a drowning person if they pull you under first.
--Are we then to be selfish? (Grab all the grace I can and leave nothing for others?) No, but we are to do like they tell you on the airplane-- “In the event of a sudden drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the compartments in the ceiling above your seat. If you need to help a child or another passenger with their oxygen, please put your own oxygen mask on first.”)
--We are to be grounded enough in our faith that we can fill up our own lamps before we can be of use to anyone else.
The lesson of the wise bridesmaids is simple: Fill up your lamp, and be prepared for any eventuality. (God often surprises us-- these stories all take place in the middle of the night—a time when unexpected things happen.)
--Now, to the foolish bridesmaids. They didn't have enough oil for their lamps. Pardon the blatant stereotype, but these are the sisters of the Gamma Gamma Phi sorority, the party girls, who don't study and hope that they'll get by on their charms and family connections. These are the bridesmaids who show up at the rehearsal an hour late because they had to get their nails done, who demand that everyone listen to them and pay attention to them instead of the bride and groom, and who show up on the wedding day and talk about how their wedding will be so much nicer. (I don't have anything against weddings, really, it's just that I've seen too much of what goes on behind the scenes to have a fairytale outlook on them any more.)
--The foolish bridesmaids are the ones who think that it's all about the wedding day, and not about the important task at hand—the wedding of two people together for a lifetime of days, spent caring for and loving one another and those around them.
--So the foolish bridesmaids don't have enough oil. Ever felt like that? Ever known anyone who was perpetually like that? (We had a guy at camp, whenever we went out for wings, who always wanted to go “halvsies” with someone, and then mysteriously never had his full half!)
--These bridesmaids expect everything to be handed to them on a platter. They don't want to think about what's coming up in the future—they want to party now! And living in the now moment becomes such a high for them that they forget that tomorrow there will be a new 'now' that needs their attention, and that they will be left out in the cold if they don't act in the now now.
--But in this case, when they ask for some oil from the wise bridesmaids, they get denied.
(What? But I've always had someone who would help me out!)
--Ever felt like that? (Ever known anyone like that?)
Oh, so that's what responsibility is all about! Oh, I didn't know that if I took a high risk variable rate mortgage that my rates would go up! Oh, I didn't realize that student loans had to be paid off! Oh, you mean to tell me that credit cards aren't free money? (Wow, this is like my college days all over again!) Or, in the case of Wall Street-- Oh, you mean that we can't just keep offering people cheap loans and huge lines of credit? What? The market for that kind of stuff will eventually implode and cause a financial crisis?
Help! Bail me out! Just this one time, I swear it won't happen again! Just go halvsies with me, won't ya? Just this one time!
The lesson of the foolish bridesmaids is this: sometimes, we have to learn from our own stupid mistakes. Sometimes, there are certain lessons in life that can only be learned the hard way. (I see some nodding of heads—am I breaking through here? Are we finding common ground in our experiences? I think so.)
But—and this is a biggie—God is a God of grace.
--Forget for a moment what the groom says at the end of the story, about the other bridesmaids being shut out of the wedding banquet, and look at this from a different perspective.
--Some of us are like the wise bridesmaids, and some of us are like the foolish bridesmaids, but I would venture to guess that at one time or another, most of us have been both of these characters.
--When we are the wise, prepared virgins, God reminds us of this simple lesson: Don't forget who gave you the oil for your lamp to begin with. Don't get ahead of yourself. You remember what it was like when you didn't have enough oil. Get out there and remind others how to get it, too. But remember, if the foolish ones need to learn the hard way, the best thing you can do is let them do just that.
--When we are the foolish, unprepared virgins, God gives us this message: Wake up, get out there, and go get yourself some oil. Ain't nobody gonna do it for you. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and don't expect anyone else to hoe your row for you. But remember, when you hit rock bottom, someone who has enough oil will help light your way so that you can come back and get filled again.
--So, how do we get our lamps filled with oil? (Spent this weekend with the E.Ohio Clergy Spouse Retreat—talked about prayer—I can’t help you with your hang-ups; I can’t teach you to pray; I can’t fill your lamp, and you can’t fill mine; some preachers might end with a five point plan on how to fill your lamp; others might preach a whole series, with a visual of a lamp being filled with oil each week; as you know, I’m not a gimmicky kind of preacher)
That’s the lesson of the bridesmaids—no one can find out how to fill your lamp but you.
Story—“Why I Make Sam Go to Church” by Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies, pg. 99-100)
Well, maybe no one can fill your lamp but you, but it sure helps to have a community of faith like the one in the story, and this one here, to help you out when you need it.
Thanks be to God.