(here is a very rough draft of my sermon, enjoy and help me out by clicking an ad, thanks and happy preaching)
Foolish or Wise
It was a picture perfect fall day in the mountains. It was one of those days that you look up into the sky and tell God, “stop showing off.” As I hung out in the locker room with the groomsman and groom we waited for the time to take the long walk to the site of the wedding. We were Grandfather Mountain’s country club and we were walking to this island in the middle of the valley and golf course. Yes it was one of “those type” of weddings and as the officiate I was simply along for the ride. The family and guests started to gather and so did the clouds. We stood out there, on that island, with the bride in her sleeveless gown and veil whipping in the wind. Oh, did I forget to mention that instead of being the nice sunny fall day it was unseasonable cool and most people came dressed for 60 degrees and not the 45 it actually was. As teeth chattered, mine included, I talked as loud as I could over the wind to pronounce this couple man and wife. It was their dream wedding but it wasn’t exactly like they had planned.
Some of the best advice I ever received as Alycia and I prepared to get married was from my associate minister who actually married us. In one of our pre-material counseling sessions Alycia and I were discussing the worst case scenarios about what could happen as families, ex-wives, out-of-towners, and friends all collided to celebrate our day. Our minister looked at us and he said, “no matter what happens, at the end of the day, you will be husband and wife.” That gave us some peace and we could rest a little. We had to remind ourselves of that as a bowie knife wearing husband number three backed up strait into husband number one after the rehersal. Things don’t always go as planned.
When things don’t go as planned it is an opportunity to gain patience. This is not what you want to hear in the middle of these situations. When your three year old who is on the floor of the grocery store throwing an epic temper tantrum, the person who comes up to you and reminds you that this is the perfect time to practice patience, may actually find themselves on the floor because of the fist you just planted on their face. Sure in the hindsight it may seen as a place patience is fostered but not in the throws of chaos. Fuses can be very short then and patience can be a long way away.
In this parable of Jesus ten bridesmaids await the arrival of the groom. Back then a wedding was a frantic and chaotic as it is today, except in Jesus’ time it could last a couple of days. The way a wedding went back then was guests and the bride and her family all gathered at her house and awaited the arrival of the groom. When the groom showed up the guests and bridesmaids all went out and greeted him, lit torches and then in a grand processional walked to the groom’s house. There the groom’s family and guests awaited their arrival and then had the ceremony and banquet that could last for several days. You can see how a little mishap could make things go easily array.
The groom has a flat tire on the way to the bride’s house or entrance into the bride’s city doesn’t go as easily as they had hoped because of Roman soldiers. For whatever reason, in this parable the groom doesn’t show up until midnight. Some of the guests have fallen asleep, including some of the bridesmaids. When they yell that he is coming everyone jumps into action and start to light their lamps. Five of the bridesmaid had brought enough oil and five hadn’t. The five foolish ones run off to the nearest 24 hour Walmart to buy some more but when they finally get to the groom’s house they had already gone inside and they are left out in the cold. Things don’t always go as planned. Jesus tells us to “keep awake because you don’t know the day or the hour.”
There are two ways of looking at that last statement. One way is the revival preacher kind of way. “Be awake, be alert because you never know when Jesus will come back again. Where do you want to be when he returns? When Jesus comes back where do you want to be part of the party or out in the cold?” This interpretation leads us down a threat line of thought. We are warned to be ready. We are commanded to be on alert out of fear. I have to admit I am usually turned off by this type of preaching. I am uncomfortable with preaching that way because I have witnessed it be more about emotional manipulation than preaching the gospel. Yet it does have it’s place and there are tons of people who find that message inspiring and thought provoking.
When we play on the idea of fear or the threat aspect of this scripture people do stand up and listen. Fear and threats are prevalent in our daily lives. There are certain malls that people will not go to because of the fear of the people who frequent them. There are others who have bunkers in their back yards stocked with a decade’s worth of food and supplies to live through whatever attack they are predicting is coming next, whether it was the nuclear scares of the 60s, Y2K, or this idea that once again the world will come crashing to a halt because of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Simply watch the news tonight and you can find out what the next thing is we should fear.
There is purpose in this tactic though. I think back to my Boy Scout career and all the way up from Cub Scouts to being an Eagle Scout we were taught the Scout Motto, Be Prepared. The merit badges we earned taught us things that would prepare us for life. Wilderness Survival, camping, economics, environmental science, hiking, first aid and so on. The work you did in these earning these badges gives you the foundation to handle things as life is lived.
You never know when these skills you learned will come in handy. The first summer we moved to Thomasville Alycia’s parents came up to visit and her Dad and I went to Winding Creek to hit a couple of golf balls. As we were crossing over business 85 on 109, a lady pulled out in front of traffic and the little truck that had just passed us smacked the trunk of this lady’s car, spinning her 180 degrees. There is no worse sound than a car accident. Knowing we should hang around as witnessed for the police Ken and I got out of the car and asked if everyone was alright. The grandmother who was driving the car was upset and the mother who was in the passenger seat was trying to comfort her daughter who was in the back seat and who was bleeding from a small cut on her forehead. When I noticed the cut I asked if she had a first aid kit and my father-in-law did in the back of his car. The little girl started to freak out at this point as she realized she was bleeding and the mom started to go off into another world as well. But using my first aid training I learned almost twenty years earlier as a Boy Scout we applied pressure to the wound and we could tell she would be okay.
We have to be alert, always ready, because we don’t know the day or hour of the groom’s arrival. Some of the bridesmaids were ready, some were not. The wise were prepared, the foolish were not. If we are ready, if we are prepared, then the arrival will not surprise us. But to do that we have to train ourselves and form a foundation of knowledge and faith to be ready to use when necessary. As we are do this our vision of reality changes. For example, if I told you to count the number of white vans you saw for the next week and you took this seriously you would start to see white vans everywhere. You will notice them in the grocery store parking lot, at stoplights, and on the highways. Do this and you will start to ask yourself, is there an increase in white vans? Did Jim call people who owned white vans and asked them to drive close to me this week? No, but since our eyes were looking out, ready to see white vans, we were more apt to see them. If we are alert and ready our eyes are opened up to see God coming all around us.
The other way of interpreting this story is hearing the good news that God will come. No matter how dark your midnight may be or if you feel like you have any oil left in your lamp or not, God, the groom, is coming and will come. Our time is not like God’s time but God keeps his promises and he will come. When we read this piece of scripture this way we hear the promise involved, the hope, and the covenant. We tend to get so stuck on the bridesmaids who are left out that we forget there are guests and five bridesmaids that are in the party because they were ready. We pray all the time for God to come into our lives and if we are alert God does.
Today is All Saints Day is a celebration of those who have gone before us and who reside in the presence of God’s glory this morning. I had the honor of being let in to the lives of Frances and Wesley during their last days here on earth. As their illness started to overtake their bodies their families and I prayed that God would come, end their suffering. God in God’s time did come and answer our prayers. Peace and wholeness came to their lives eventually. It took some time and family members sat there for days and nights and waited, and waited, and prayed, and waited. As I look back at my visit to these Saints who have gone ahead of us I can see that God was really there all along. In those rooms where loved ones gathered, God was there. In the Hospice Care workers who came to provide comfort, God was there. In the silence of not knowing what to say but knowing you want to be by their side, God was there. God comes, God always shows up.
We all have saints in our lives. Those people who shape us and mold us into the Christians we are today. We remember them as our Sunday School teachers, the leaders of our church in years past, the people who pushed us to believe in God and see God in our midst. They are people who we point to and say God used them to help us grow. They are Saints and we remember them.
The truth is we can combine these two interpretations of this scripture. If we are alert and if we are prepared then we can see God coming into our midst all around us. God comes, in the darkest hour and through the people we love and cherish. If we refocus our minds to see God all around us, then we will start to see how active God truly is in our lives. Five bridesmaids were foolish because they had to scramble when the groom showed up and the party passed them by. They had limited vision to see and limited hearing to hear God’s promise. Five other bridesmaids were alert and prepared and when the groom shows up in their midst they are there to welcome and follow him to the party.
Today we remember our Saints and we recognize that they were wise in their lives. They were prepared to see God in their midst and they have gone on to follow him to the eternal party. The bread we break and the cup that we share today reminds us of the connection. In our Great Thanksgiving we say that we join the all the company of heaven as we praise God’s name. In the mystery of this sacrament we are joined together as people here on earth, with those who are surrounding the eternal table of God. In the sharing of the body and blood of our savior we join them once again, celebrating that our God has come and that we are in the midst of God.
And all God’s people said…Amen.