Friday, November 17, 2023

Who is Who?

 This is the sermon I preached last Sunday at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Matthew 25:1-13.


This is a seemingly clear, yet troubling parable. There are a few things scholars cannot agree on, even going back to Martin Luther. For instance, does the oil symbolize good works or faith as Luther believed or the Holy Spirit? We don’t know for sure.

Another funny thing is the identity of the bridegroom. From other parts of scripture, we tend to believe that the bridegroom is Christ, and that this is about his return in the age to come. But one pastor says, “this Bridegroom simply cannot be an image of God. God the lurker; God the waiter-until-some-people’s-oil-is-spent; God the “gotcha! master”; God the forgetful – these are such unworthy ways of imagining God” (D. Mark Davis, leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com). Hmm, makes you think, doesn’t it?

This passage is often referred to as a parable, but, nowhere, are we told that this is a parable. After all, it doesn’t have the earmarks of one, which I shared with you in the e-ministry. 

There are some odd things about this gospel passage. The one that bothered me the most is the last verse, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (verse 13).  It squares with other passages, for instance, when Jesus exhorted the disciples to wakefulness when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

But here, both wise and foolish bridesmaids fell asleep. None of them got in trouble for that. The issue that distinguished the wise from the foolish was their preparedness or lack thereof for the bridegroom. 

So why would the bridegroom say, “Keep awake?” It’s a head-scratcher—that is, until we check out the Greek. It is better translated “be prepared,” not “Keep awake” (M. Eugene Boring, Matthew, New Interpreter’s Bible).  One commentator writes that, “Matthew… pictures faithful disciples as those who do their duty at appropriate times and are thus prepared for … [Christ’s return] whenever it comes” (ibid.). Now that makes sense! “Be prepared therefore, for you know neither the day not the hour.” That is what this passage is all about. 

Something else I found interesting is that there is the issue of honoring the bridegroom. By being unprepared, the foolish bridesmaids were disrespectful and insulting to the bridegroom. This story highlights, honoring the bridegroom who has gone to get his bride by being prepared for his return-at the time of his choosing, whenever that may be. 

How shall we here today await the Bridegroom with honor? (David Ewart, Holytextures.com).

Yesterday, I was at Heather Allport-Cohoon’s ordination. The music and liturgy, the preaching, were all inspiring and beautiful. As Bishop Lee Miller II was praying for Heather, while the congregation was singing, he anointed her with oil, which is so very symbolic—the Holy Spirit and its work when there’s a new role, good works, God’s continued presence. And memories came flooding back from my own ordination. We sang some of the same songs, prayed some of the same prayers, and I was challenged whether I would accept this new role in my life, serving the people of my first call. 

What is God saying to us today, as the people of God of St. Timothy? How are we to proceed in the face of fewer people and other issues? How can we be better prepared to live the lives God has set before us, to serve those around us?

Accenting waiting, David Lose says:


Can we offer ourselves as a genuine community in a world where more and more people feel isolated? A community that celebrates together. That slows down to prepare together. And that waits together, making sure when the waiting is the hardest part that no one – not one person – has to wait alone? The waiting is the hardest part. We can’t change that reality, but we can change the experience by waiting together, in Christian solidarity, community, and fellowship.

 

Waiting is hard. We can wait in a prepared manner like the wise bridesmaids, or we can let things come upon us, seemingly suddenly. I don’t know how the Palestinians of Gaza could have been better prepared for the onslaught they’ve been experiencing. Or how could the Israelis that were initially attacked have been ready for this? Many Christian Arabs have left the Holy Land and moved to America and other places. That’s fine for them, but what about those left behind? I know from my time living there that those who are suffering think that the rest of the world is unaware of their plight. Let’s not forget the Ukrainians, which have disappeared from the news cycle. 

Overseas and in our own country, there are countless people seeking genuine community. They look in all the wrong places, making gods out of sports, alcohol, drugs or possessions. These people need God’s church and we need them. 

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he challenged his disciples then and now to share the good news. How can we best do this in a way that is understandable and appealing to today’s generation?

Wednesday night, we had a Finance Committee meeting, which consisted partly of spontaneous brainstorming about the future of our church. I want to spread this out to each of you. When you walked in today, you were given a card with these words on it, “What is one way we can reach out to our neighbors?” Please take time to think about this. Write down your idea and return your card by next week.

Let us pray. Almighty God, grant that your holy word which has been proclaimed this day may enter into our hearts through your grace, that it may produce in us the fruit of the Spirit for witness and service in the world and to the praise and honor of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

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