The Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Today I going to begin with the first few words of Hymn 433.
"We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known; the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing; sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own."
You may well want to ask: "What has that hymn got to do with our readings this morning?" Well, I want to suggest that at the heart of all the readings this morning is a three-part question: "Why am I here this morning, why are we here this morning, why are you here this morning?"
The first line of hymn 433 offers one response to that question: "We are here to ask the Lord's blessing." We need something from God and so we have come to seek him, to seek his presence, to renew our acquaintance with him, because we understand that we need his blessing in our lives.
The next line is a little more uncomfortable for most of us: "he chastens and hastens his will to make known." The Lord, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is actively seeking to chasten us and hasten us.
OK, so I looked up chasten in the dictionary and it means: "a rebuke or a misfortune which will have a restraining or moderating effect on someone." Those do happen, don't they?
And then "he hastens," hmm there is another of those archaic words. The dictionary says that it means: "to cause something to happen sooner than it otherwise would." We've exprienced those right? That line in the hymn ends with "his will to make known." So, the Lord chastens and hastens" us to make his will known.
The next line is: "The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing" I am going to come back to that one.
The hymn concludes the first verse with these wonderful words: "sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own" God in his wonderous care and concern for us does not forget us. He does not forget his promises to us. What should be our response to him? To sing praise to his name. To remember those wonderful words from the communion liturgy: "Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name."
So I am going to circle back to the line I skipped over. I want to say that I believe that this verse expresses a deep longing within each and every one of us: "the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing."
For many of us, the world we live in is a deeply distressing place. We live in a time of great conflict and turmoil. Now there are those places where that is starkly obvious. The conflict between Israel and Gaza, the Ukraine conflict which just seems to drag on endlessly, and the ongoing warfare throughout many of the countries of Africa. These are stark reminders of the deep conflicts in our world. But if we turn to the United States we can also see and hear deep divisions within our own nation. None of us are untouched by the deep rifts that seem to exist in this nation as never before.
We long for the words of hymn 433 to be true here and now. "the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing." How can we expect that there can be healing and reconciliation? How could that be possible? Before I attempt to answer those questions I would like to offer some thoughts based on the readings for this morning.
Can I say that it is in times of deep conflict and turmoil that each one of us must seek the deep truth within us? We must come to understand just what it is that we believe about the claims and demands of Jesus Christ in and on our lives.
In 1 Thessalonians this morning, Paul, is writing to the community he founded and encouraging them to live their lives as Christians in a difficult and often conflicted society.
This reading reflects some of the challenges these early Christians faced as they stood up for their faith and their place in Thessalonian society. Obviously, there have been some deaths and others may have felt at risk in proclaiming their faith in Christ.
Central to their faith and steadfastness was the truth that they were placing their hope in. "For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words."
We need to remember that these Thessalonian believers were converts. They had left their former religious and faith practices to become believers in the Gospel that Paul shared. They had come to accept Jesus as representing their opportunity to be in a relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ.
They, in fact, had chosen to answer the very question that Joshua put to the people of Israel in Joshua chapter 24: “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord..... choose this day whom you will serve..... but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
I want to take a moment before I move on to our reading from Matthew 25. I want to examine briefly that word, serve, that occurs over and over again in the account from Joshua 24.
I want to say that many of us miss, or neglect, the importance of that word because of the society that we live in. Serve is a word that many of us associate with its military usage. We understand that the members of the armed forces serve in their roles as military personnel. But, serve in the scriptures, has a much broader connotation than we generally associate with it. The concept of "serve" in scripture is more connected to the system of public life, or society, that existed both in the Old and the New Testament.
To serve meant that you were a servant. It meant that your life choices and decisions were no longer your own. You actually belonged to someone else, you were no longer your own. That person was someone who could instruct you to do things and who had ultimate control over your life. In fact in extreme circumstances that person had the power of life or death over you. And not just you, but everyone else in your family. You were all in service to the master. He or she could do with you whatever they desire with you.
So when Joshua is saying to the People of Israel: "choose this day who you will serve" he is, in fact, saying choose who you will give the ultimate control of your life to.
Jesus in the account from Matthew 25, about the 10 bridesmaids, is seeking to illustrate a life lesson. It is more than just a simple story of five unprepared bridesmaids. This is a lesson about the Christian life. It could be said it is a lesson about complacency.
The 5 bridesmaids who run out of oil can be seen as people who have lost the urgency of their role and their place in the family. Of course, they did not expect that the bridegroom would be delayed. They expected that the provision they had made would be adequate. It could be said that they forgot their role as servants. Or perhaps that they actually had transferred their service to themselves. They allowed other things in their lives to take priority over being ready when the bridegroom came.
The readings, over the next couple of weeks, are leading up to the account of The Passion of Christ, his arrest, death, and resurrection. This is part of our preparation for Advent. Advent is about being prepared, being ready for the coming of Christ.
Do you remember my three-part question at the beginning of my message this morning? Remember I said that at the heart of all the readings, this morning is a three-part question: "Why am I here this morning, why are we here this morning, why are you here this morning?"
These readings and the ones to come in the next few weeks are reminders of the very last sentence in the readings from Matthew: "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Bishops & Father Mike