Note: This is what SHOULD have been preached on November 8th, not what was preached.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Of the parables Jesus tells, this is one of the stranger ones:
A wedding where the groom is late to his own reception.
Bridesmaids who fall asleep waiting, and when they are awakened, half are unable to keep their lamps lit while those who can, send the others out to get more oil.
The actions of the bridesmaids always leaves me wondering and questioning where it is the bridesmaids go? With no WalMart or Target or other 24 hour super-store open in the middle of the night, where do the bridesmaids go for more oil? Then, when they do return with extra oil and ask to be admitted to the reception, the groom refuses to let them in. Worse, the groom denies even knowing them.
The behavior of the bridesmaids and the bridegroom are almost as bad as the wedding guest a few weeks ago who is physically removed from the reception because of not wearing the appropriate wedding clothing.
We could look at these two parables and wonder what Jesus has against weddings or other social gatherings. Only, social gathering are not the issue at all for Jesus.
What is an issue is there were some in Jesus' day who were not ready for Jesus' coming. Even with Jesus present in their midst, many waited, failing to see the work Jesus was doing, failing to hear the message of repentance, of hope, of love Jesus proclaimed to everyone. Those who failed to see Jesus present with them were not ready for this bright reality: they had fallen asleep.
In all honesty, I can't fault the sleeping bridesmaids for falling asleep while waiting.
Even if they were excited, happy, and joyous about the bridegroom's marriage to the love of his life, these emotions can prevent sleep from coming in a timely manner. These emotions are like the energy of a child on Christmas Eve -- so excited and unable to sleep because of not being able to wait to see what's under the tree.
Nor can I fault them in falling asleep because there have been those times in life where there is a need to remain awake, beyond what the body is used to, and it is difficult:
For anyone who has ever worked third shift, you have my deep gratitude for working hours when most others are sleeping. Tried it, didn't like it, especially adjusting to a new routine of hours flipped between being asleep and being awake.
As a hospital chaplain, there were nights the pager would go off, piercing sleep with a reality of a need for pastoral care. Calls like that took time for the heart to settle, the brain to calm, and the body to relax before sleep returned.
In your children's younger years, or if you attended a lock-in, sleep is the last item on the agenda. There's the unwritten norm no one wants to fall asleep before anyone else. No one wants to be the first person to fall asleep.
It wasn't the fear of being laughed at that Jesus told this parable.
Nor was it fear of not being able to return to sleep, or exhaustion from working third shift.
For Matthew, the underlying theme throughout his Gospel is that of wakefulness and watchfulness. Matthew wrote to a community that had separated itself from the synagogue. In this separation, many wondered when, even IF Jesus' coming would indeed happen as they hoped and waited. Matthew reminded them -- continuously that the reign of God, the kingdom of God was present with them at that time and place in Jesus' words: "Keep awake."
By this, Jesus does not mean for us to remain awake at all times. To be awake all the time creates its own problems for the human body. Nor is it healthy for the human body.
Elsewhere in the Scriptures, Jesus encourages, invites, reminds, and teaches the disciples the importance and the need for rest, to take a break, to be renewed.
What Jesus does mean in telling the disciples and us to “Keep awake” is the reality to be on the watch for the reign of God, the kingdom of God present with us here and now even in this moment. Watching and waiting for Jesus presence in life can at times catch us unprepared. We’re unprepared because these moments, these little God moments are not expected or anticipated. Because they’re not expected or anticipated, we miss seeing them until it’s too late.
Earlier in Matthew, Jesus tells the crowd listening to him, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
These same words – words that are part of our Baptismal liturgy, remind us to let our lights shine so others may see and come to know the Father through us. Being human, we find ways without realizing it to prevent our light from shining: hiding it under a bush, trying to blow it out, allowing someone else to blow it out. As the song reminds us: it will point the way to heaven, all around the neighborhood, shine, shine, shine. Keeping our light shining, means being prepared, being ready to see Jesus, being ready to respond to a need, big or small.
Our special music this morning, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” comes to us by way of an African American Spiritual. A song of hope, a song of promise, a reminder to keep hope, and to keep faith, even in the darkest of days and the darkest of times. Faith shines brightest in the dark. Oil lamps and candles shine brighter in the dark than in daylight. We who carry the light of Christ with us wherever we go, need to be ready to carry this light into the darkness of the world – “For this work’s almost done.”
”Children, don’t grow weary, for this work’s almost done.”
May God who is gracious keep our lamps trimmed and burning, so others may see our good works, and give glory to God, who is in heaven. Amen.