Wednesday, November 12, 2014
What to wear, what to wear?
My guess is, by the time the next year is over, you will be sick and tired about hearing about Matthew 25. As hopefully all of you know, Matthew 25 serves as the point of emphasis in this year of the diocesan five-year plan. We will be more focusing on the “what you did to the least of these, you did to Me” aspects of the chapter, but the parables before that teaching certainly inform our reading and understanding of the five-year plan. I sometimes like to think of them as the disciples’ cram session before the final exam. Jesus is getting ready to leave them. They have lots of questions, and there is little time for all the answers. Today’s teaching from Matthew focuses on preparedness, on being ready. “For what?” you ask. His return!
The story that Jesus tells would not have surprised His audience very much. Weddings, as you all know, were huge events in the life of the Jewish community. They were the event on everyone’s social calendar. That is what makes the parable of the wedding feast for the king’s son seem so incredible to Jesus’ audience. No one ever would have missed that wedding for work, or family business, or mowing the lawn, or anything trivial. It was also acceptable that the groom and his buddies would increase the suspense or anxiety by showing up to claim the bride and begin the wedding at odd hours. Human nature being what it is, I am sure some grooms and attendants wanted the Bride to stress about whether he was going to show and marry her—that never happens today. I am also willing to bet some money that some grooms were delayed by an extra toast or three at the local pub. The ladies in this story, of course, would be familiar with these background traditions. Just as you eye-rolled at the thought of another bachelor party or another dragged out pre-wedding festivity, so would those invited to the wedding know what was going on.
So, knowing that background, the bridesmaids respond either wisely or foolishly. The wise bridesmaids, we are told, brought extra oil to their gathering, while the unwise ones simply can unprepared. Eventually, during the long dark of the night, the groom appeared with his friends ready to begin the ceremony and the party afterwards. The wise bridesmaids had oil, but the foolish bridesmaids were out. No doubt there will be many sermons preached today that the wise bridesmaids were mean and did not let the foolish bridesmaids share. Jesus, though, never condemns the wise bridesmaids. Jesus is always quick to condemn selfishness and self-interest. In this passage, though, Jesus praises the wise bridesmaids for responding and planning accordingly. The foolish bridesmaids’ lack of preparedness would be like a modern groom or modern bride or their attendants and groomsmen being late for their wedding. It just is not done! It would be the height of boorish behavior.
Such is our call to be ready for our Lord’s return. You and I and all whom we meet have been issued an invitation to THE WEDDING FEAST. As important as it was for us to get to our own, or our children’s, or our best friend’s, or any other wedding to which we have decided to attend, how much more prepared should we be for THE WEDDING FEAST! How do we get ready? What clothes do we wear? What kind of shoes do we wear? What present do we bring? In short, how do we get ready for that event, His return?
To begin with, we focus on the certainty we should have in His promise. Just as the groom in His parable has promised to marry the bride, so has Christ promised to return to us. That Easter morning so long ago taught us that His words are sure and that no power, not even death, can separate us from Him. You all chuckled at the thought of pub crawls and bridesmaid showers a few moments ago, but how many of us chuckle at the suggestion that He will return. We all know His promise. We all know His ability to keep it and so we accept it as true. But how do we go about preparing ourselves?
Partly, we go about preparing ourselves by gathering to worship. Every time we gather together to glorify God and thank Him joyfully for the saving work He has done in our lives, we are preparing ourselves for His return. We study His word. We eat His flesh and drink His blood. Today, we will anoint ourselves with oil and pray for healing, trusting that He will bestow upon us the healing that we need for His purposes and not necessarily the healing we want to fulfill our own. In fact, our active participation in all the sacraments prepares us for His return, readies us for the Wedding Feast. If sacraments truly are outward and visible signs of that inward and spiritual grace we all desire, we all long for, how else do you think we become clothed in the robe of righteousness that He has prepared for each one of us? We come to church not primarily to see one another, not primarily to be seen by each other, but for the primary purpose of being transformed in the heart and then learning how to show that transformation within us to the rest of the world. Don’t we? How else are we supposed to keep the light of Christ burning within us? How else are we to drink from His Living Stream? The sacraments replenish the oil within us. The sacraments prepare us for His return and for the Wedding Feast!
Unfortunately, just as Christ’s promise is sure and just as there are wise bridesmaids attending to the oil in their lamps in this age, there are those acting foolishly. Just like those bridesmaids that knew the groom would return to claim his bride and begin the wedding and the feast, there are those who have heard His promises, who have received His personal invitation to the Wedding Feast, and yet have decided not to prepare wisely, have decided that they need not be ready for His return. Perhaps you know some of them. Perhaps, you wonder into which group He would lump you. It is easy to discern whether He would judge you as wise or foolish. Have you accepted His invitation? If so, how are you going about getting ready for the Wedding Feast? How are you helping those whom you love, those with whom you work, those with whom you play get ready for that Feast? Do you accept their pronouncements that they will get ready when they are good and ready, or do you remind them that His return will be like the groom in this parable, the thief in another parable, and a ruler in yet another? Do you allow them to believe falsely that the “when” they begin their preparation is unimportant as they have plenty of time? Or do you remind them that preparations need to begin now as His return could happen any moment?
I get that these discussions are hard. I get that these discussions often make us uncomfortable because we do not want to be considered Jesus freaks or right wing wackos. The problem with that way of thinking is that is leaves too many people we care about in danger of finding themselves excluded when He returns. Those to whom we are speaking in these terms know us, understand us, should see us living out our faith in Christ each and every day of our lives. We are not random people on a street corner calling them to repent or die. We are their friends; we are their family. We want what is best for them, and they know that such is our love for them. In the parable of the thief, of the faithful and wise servant, of the slaves and the talents, and even of His discussion of the sheep and the goats, of the discussion of those who lived in Noah’s time, all of which surround today’s reading, look at the consequence of unpreparedness. Look at what happens to those who keep their own schedule, who try to supply their own oil, those who forget the Master—all express tremendous sadness and wailing for having missed out on the opportunity to attend the Feast. Jesus describes it as unconsolable. Each knew the path to wisdom and invitation, and each rejected it. Part of our responsibility, brothers and sisters, is to remind those in our lives acting foolishly that the path to wisdom is readily available. Part of our efforts to love others as ourselves is to remind them of the coming judgment. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be for centuries. But it will come. It will come with suddenness and with tremendous consequence. Those who have accepted His invitation and have prepared themselves accordingly will enter into a Feast the likes of which the world has never seen. Those who have rejected His invitation will find themselves consigned to the darkness and misery outside, fully aware that they rejected His invitation when they had the chance. If we truly love those in our lives acting foolishly, if we truly believe our Lord’s teachings are true, why are we so afraid to have these uncomfortable conversations? Why are we so willing to let others trust in their own method of salvation, when we know God’s plan for our salvation has been fulfilled in the work and person of Christ?
As you go forth this week, pray that God reveals to you those in your life who may be acting the part of the foolish bridesmaid. Pray that He gives you the opportunity to have that discussion about His invitation. Pray that He makes of you a worthy inviter, one able to draw them in with winsome and loving words, that they might take their place alongside all the wise and, more importantly, in His kingdom for all eternity!