“Time to be Ready!”
Matthew 25:1-13, November 8th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us now prepare ourselves to hear the words of our gospel as presented in the gospel account according to Matthew, chapter twenty-five, verses one thru thirteen.”
“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; 4but 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.”
“As we listened to the words of this ancient scripture, let us pray our hearts have been opened to the spirit of this writing. As surely, Jesus wanted us to be more aware of how the gates of heaven will open to us!”
“Time to be Ready!”
Throughout this journey of life, we have found ourselves setting expectations of things that are yet to come. A great many of us have learned that when something we are expecting to happen does not… we find it rather stressful and oftentimes very disconcerting! When we humans get disturbed or perplexed by people, places, or things, we often become less hopeful of the future. Having been thrown off balance by something in our lives we will need to find a way to right ourselves before we will become ready or perhaps even willing to venture forward again. It is important to discuss this as I am sure you are all aware, this past week has been very turbulent in many ways and a great many of our neighbors, friends and families are still in distress. As we as a people are of two minds, two opposing views of the same reality! Yes indeed! It is a good time to stop and reflect on what heaven is like as Jesus puts forth for us one of his parables to unravel, before we can get a clue as to what he was trying to say to us!
We all set expectations on a wide variety of events and situations. Back in March of this year millions of Americans went shopping for their preferred brand of toilet tissue, only to find the shelves in short supply. Very, very stressful as the now well document shortage of paper products caused by ‘panic buying’ of such items, which left millions of us scrambling. Expectations set us up for stress! The obvious solution tells us to never set an expectation, except that too is ridiculous! Of course, there are things which are reasonable to expect. We expect the sun to rise each morning to our East and set again in the West. We expect that there shall be hot water for a shower in the morning and that the lights will come on and our electric stove will work so we can cook dinner tonight. Why is it reasonable to expect some things and not others? If you are able, you will endeavor to make the payment to the light company every month, then and only then shall there be a high chance you will continue to have electricity. Yet, if you do not set aside some money and set aside some time to write a check each month, when the bill comes due, then the probability of your electricity being shut off increases. For every expectation we set there is a corresponding action that needs to be taken. Therefore, we shall need to set in motion the things which are necessary to affect the desired outcome. For example, as I worked on today’s sermon my hope was to have it written by mid-day Tuesday. But I did not really make time to get to work on it till Thursday. I am going to be very embarrassed in a few moments if I did not continue working on this transcript through its completion!
Let us take a moment to look at this from a different vantage point. When I was a bit younger, I enjoyed hiking up into the White Mountains up north in New Hampshire. Every summer my youth group, from the church I attended, took a planned week-long trip to the mountains. In my naivety, in my inexperience, I did not realize how much planning went into the event every year. We would spend a few nights at a base camp then hike up Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, and Mt. Washington, staying at the huts near the top, where meals were provided. We were advised what type of hiking boots to wear and to bring a backpack, so that we could carry everything we might need along the way. It was a wonderful adventure. Each summer I had hopes of doing it again and again. I was not alone in my feelings, most of us who got to make the trip longed to do it again. The key, of course, was to bring the things on our lists so that we would be prepared for the harshness of the terrain and the difficulty of the hiking experience itself. As an adult these valuable lessons prepared me to hike some expert trails which I explored. The adventures were meaningful, especially, when I took the advice of other experienced hikers, which I met while on the trails and while at the Appalachian mountain huts and camp sites which I always checked in at. When I properly planned and prepared, my adventures were uplifting, as well as inspiring. When I did not – my adventures were far less than expected.
Looking to our scripture lesson we find Jesus spinning a parable about ten bridesmaids and a wedding. Jesus is telling this story so that folks, of that time, would understand the workings of the story. It is a bit harder in today’s culture. Nevertheless, to unlock the key to this parable we must see ourselves as either the wise, or the foolish bridesmaids. I know, a bit outlandish but stay with me on this. When we look to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, we hear this explanation. “Sincere Christians are the wise ‘bridesmaids’, and hypocrites the foolish ones.” Clearly, we want to be ‘seen’ as the sincere Christians, because we want to be invited into heaven! In the parable the foolish bridesmaids drop the ball, so to speak, in that they were not ready at the appropriate time and, consequently, were left out of the wedding banquet! To be clear the presumed bride groom, in the parable represented our invitation from Christ.
Some theologians such as, Hampton Keathley, sum up the thrust of this parable in a simple explanation. “The main point of the parable is that even if it might be a long time before Christ returns, don’t wait until the last minute to get prepared, because you never know when that last minute will be and you may miss out. And I think preparation is faith.” Prayerfully, all of us that are part of today’s discussion are people of faith, budding, promising faith, or mature, strong faith. Wherever you are on life’s journey, it takes some faith to move ever forward, as we continue following in the teachings of Christ.
“What is this faith thing we so often speak,” some have asked? Faith is believing in something that has not yet happened. Faith is that confidence that life has a purpose and the day to day things we encounter somehow will strengthen us for the journey ahead. Faith, just like any muscle needs to be exercised to become strong and vital in our travels. As people of faith we have expectations of being in heaven when our time here on Earth comes to an end. Living a faith filled life gives our journey’s purpose and allows our dreams to continue to expand and grow. Following in the footsteps of ‘The Teacher,’ we compassionately strive to assist others! Thereby, living into that which we ‘believe’ in. Helping and assisting our neighbors through acts of kindness, compassion, and charity, is part of our preparations for heaven itself.
Rev. Janet H. Hunt asks us if we can identify with the characters in the parable which Jesus told us today. “Do you identify with the bridesmaids’ lack of preparedness in your everyday life?” Some of us sure can, especially when we found ourselves out of toilet tissue because we did not prepare for a pandemic! Of course, that was something no one predicted, how could we have anticipated that one!? Yet sometimes life is like this. You get in your car headed for work and it does not start. You eventually learn rats gnawed through the wires going to the spark plugs. Two hundred and eighty dollars later you get to work four hours late. These kinds of events we pretty much can not anticipate. However, if we are diligent about tending to the things which need tending, like our modes of transportation, and have endeavored to keep our shelves properly stocked, then most times – these unforeseen events do not cause us too much aggravation. The areas of faith, where we might want to work at strengthening – is in our personal efforts to do the will of God. We can enhance our relationship with God, through our prayer life and involvement in a faith community which we support with our time, talents, and treasures. What we can not do is take our relationship with God lightly. It is something we need to continue to develop, on a regular and systematic daily effort, and do so as a beloved adventure!
For instance, this past week I was going through a meditation experience, a ten minute quite time where I was encouraged to clear my mind and focus on something peaceful and potentially inspirational. It was the evening of election day, a day of turmoil, and stress for millions. As I stilled my mind, while focusing on my breathing, the word peace came into my consciousness. As the moment turned into minutes, I found myself pulling together the words of a beautiful hymn. By the end of the ten-minute interval the lines came flooding into my heart and mind. “Let there be peace on earth – and let it begin with me!” As I went to bed that evening, I continued to quite my mind with the words, even as the election continued to bring me stress. Yet, the phrase “Let there be peace” has continued creeping into my thoughts. Even as the week progressed, these words, followed by the thoughts of perpetual peace in my life, and that of my family, my friends, and my neighbors continues to touch my heart. This pushes the question: how can we be a living example of the peace which God envisions for us? Can it be as easy as seeking to pass on the steadfast love of God, thereby, passing on God’s saving grace, which ‘stills’ our hearts even when all else fails?
Our acceptance of events, especially the ones outside of our ability to control or influence, is indeed the more ‘peace filled’ way to move forward in life. Preparing for those things which we can, is essential to a ‘continuation’ of a smoother passage through life. Doing so with our faith life, shall draw us ‘closer’ to the presence of God. Faithfully following in the footsteps of Jesus, through acts of faithfulness and service to others, will ensure us a warm greeting at the gates of Heaven – when our time of transition from here to there takes place. Be at peace my friends, God is with us – and a place at the banquet table is assured – if we simply ‘keep the faith’!