November 13, 2017
“What About the Foolish Ones?” ~ sermon delivered on November 12, 2017
Our New Testament reading this morning introduces one of Jesus’ most perplexing parables.
This particular passage from Matthew’s gospel is part of a series of parables that Jesus shares with his followers in Jerusalem in the days before his arrest and crucifixion.
Listen for the message in the story.
Hear now a reading from the gospel of Mark 25: 1-13.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Eternal God, you are our hope and our salvation, for in Jesus Christ you have conquered death.
Baptized in him, we are raised to new life. Increase in us our faith and keep us watchful, that we may welcome Christ with joy when he comes to set the whole world free.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Ten restless bridesmaids waiting for a big event.
Half of them are prepared;
Half of them are not prepared.
When the big event happens – the Lord arrives – the prepared half get to go to the party.
The unprepared half, do not.
I struggle with this text.
I recognize the traditional theme of being prepared for the coming of the Lord, but I am unsettled by the exclusionary dynamic in this story.
I can’t help but wonder if the five prepared bridesmaids could have reminded their foolish counterparts to bring some extra oil.
I wonder how often we exclude people for their own lack of understanding or preparation.
How often, in our culture, do we assume that those with less resources or less success are victims of their own shortcomings?
Why couldn’t Jesus, the bridegroom, open the door for the latecomers?
Why were they not welcomed to the banquet?
I need to imagine that the five bridesmaids without oil had made a conscious choice to be unprepared.
I want to paint them as self-centered, egocentric to the point of entitlement that they are caught by surprise that anyone would tell them ‘no.’
I want the metaphor of this parable to be about openness to God’s spirit coming into our lives – not ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’
I want the dancing bridesmaids who got into the party to have done something virtuous beyond supplying their own oil.
I want them to have lived lives of integrity.
I want them to have generous hearts and spirits and to have received God’s unmerited grace with joy.
I guess I want the bridesmaids on the inside to feel compassion for the bridesmaids on the outside.
What about you?
As we begin our stewardship season, I am haunted by the phrase “No! There will not be enough for you and for us.”
There probably is enough…there is almost always enough.
The other thing that troubles me about this passage is the stark reflection of our world today.
In a time when gender, race and sexuality are being defined on a continuum, other aspects of our community have devolved to a strict binary.
Red states and blue states;
Pro life or Pro Choice;
For the second amendment or against the second amendment;
Religious or Atheist;
Patriot or Traitor.
We have eliminated nuance, layers and complexity.
We seem to be frightened by anything that is not exactly the same as what we know.
Most frightening, we seem to have forgotten the beauty of compassion, understanding and compromise.
You are in or you are out.
For me or against me.
Why is everyone so mean in this parable?
The five won’t help the other five.
The Lord won’t let the latecomers into the feast.
Writing in Christian Century magazine this week, Audrey West suggests:
“Throughout the parable, the behavior of the bridesmaids (wise or foolish) is so poor, one wonders how they managed to wrangle an invitation to the wedding in the first place. Not one of them deserves to enter through the door with the bridegroom. The wise women are selfish, while the foolish ones run off just when they should be present to welcome the groom. All of them operate on the mistaken belief that the most important thing about the procession is the oil, instead of the celebration itself.
What sets the wise bridesmaids apart from the foolish is not the presence or absence of extra oil, but whether or not they remain in the company of the bridegroom.
All ten could have walked through that door together.
Imagine the celebration that could have been.”
Imagine, in our own lives, what richness there would be if we embraced all of our neighbors and accepted each one as a genuine child of God.
Last weekend we hosted the ‘Red Altar’ a storytelling presentation of the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States in the late 19th century and into the 20th century.
The actors presented a compelling personal narrative of bigotry, violence and hate.
It was startlingly similar to our current climate on immigration and otherness.
Why do we do this?
It seems that our human default position is to have to put someone else down in order to boost our own sense of power?
Today we honor our veterans who put their life on the line to preserve our freedom.
But is it freedom to condemn or freedom to flourish?
Our faith and our country share long histories of success paired with exclusion.
I believe we are called to something higher.
I believe that we are capable of being kinder and more compassionate.
Our colorful doors display will be dismantled this week removing our public statement of welcome and inclusion.
What can we do to ensure that our spirit of openness is conveyed to all who enter this sacred space?
We have several initiatives in the works that I want you to know about.
The first is our Called to Care program which will enlist volunteers to reach out to the people of our congregation who may be missing the sense of community one gets from weekly worship attendance.
We had our first training session last Monday and it was a spirit-filled, uplifting time shared by those who attended.
Another session will be offered tomorrow evening at 6:00 pm.
Another important initiative that the Deacons have undertaken is the drafting of a Behavioral Covenant for the Congregation.
This is an inspirational document that conveys the desire of this gathered community to adhere to communication that is respectful and empowering.
The Church Council will take responsibility for finalizing a draft that will come to the Congregation in the Spring of next year.
Next Sunday we will host a program called “Abraham’s Daughters” where four women of different faiths recount their spiritual journey.
These efforts signify our commitment to be counter-cultural, resisting the tide of adversity and division that plagues our society.
Those of us who believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and are committed to bringing the good news to the world are a minority now.
That doesn’t mean that we give up…I think it means that we try harder.
As Joshua said in our reading this morning:
“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The choice is yours to make.
You can be wise or you can be foolish OR you can create something new.
God created you to be kind and wise and generous and loving.
Let the barriers down.
Open the door.
Share with others.
Praise God with your life!
Let us pray.
Gracious, holy God you come to us in unexpected ways at times that we often feel unprepared.
Grant us the grace, we pray, to remember that your love is everlasting and that your forgiveness is eternal.
Remind us that we have the ability to transform ourselves and the world.
Help us to see opportunities to do good in the world; to help our neighbors; to share our resources.
Help us, O God, to choose your way.
Hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing – Jack Ritchie,
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort – for Clare, Dan and their family;
For those who cannot see their way across the divide, we pray for vision.
For our neighbors who go without food, shelter or community, we pray that our efforts might touch their lives.
O God, you have gifted us with every blessings.
We thank you, we praise you and we pray for your presence among us.
Hear now the prayers of our hearts as we turn to you in the sacred stillness of this Meetinghouse.