Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
November 12, 2017
“Hear now this parable from the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-five, verses one thru thirteen.”
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 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.’ 10 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. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
“Allow this parable, which is attributed to the teachings of Jesus, to open your minds to a deeper understanding of this intended teaching.”
As we begin reflecting on what Jesus is saying to us through this parable, about ten bridesmaids, we can make several obvious observations. First, the bridesmaids represent ourselves, you and me. Second, the bridegroom is Jesus, the Son of God. Third, the banquet we are invited to is: our invitation to be received into the kingdom of heaven. Taking these points as the ‘clear’ parallel meanings from this parable – we can now begin to ask some questions we ‘need’ to come to grips with. Bear in mind, if these are the references of which Jesus was/is leading us to, it is crucial we grab hold of the direction this analogy is taking us. We need to take this very seriously. Clearly, for most of us whom are seeking the promises of God, we sure want to know how to respond to this invitation properly!
Most of us, when invited to something special, we want to attend, especially if we believe it to be important. Getting accepted into heaven is important to a lot of us! Is it ‘not’ something you desire for you and your loved ones? And if this is indeed an objective one longs for, surely, we do not want to be caught ‘off guard’ and be negligent, remiss or indifferent in our responsibilities to be prepared when the time comes. What would your understanding be, regarding the time about which we need to be prepared for? Surely, Jesus is not truly speaking of a wedding, this reference is just the parable’s illustration of the hidden meaning; as this is what we have come to understand about the parables of Jesus. Consequently, as a result, we need to be prepared for that ultimate time… that moment in our journey when we are standing at the gates of heaven… praying that our invitations to enter are still valid!
This brings us to the question. You know what the question is; but there is a secondary question: are you willing to do what it takes to be prepared? Also, are you willing to continue to stay prepared indefinitely? This is crucial for us to answer! Why? Because, no one, no one still of this world, knows the answer! How do we prepare for an event, of which, we do not know when it will take place!?
Imagine, if you can, being invited to participate in a prestigious celebration of your life’s accomplishments! Yet, you are unsure of the moments in your life where you have done things worthy of praise! Then, you find out that everyone you know and everyone you associate with have received the same invitation. Now what do you do? Clearly, not everyone will receive the same recognition! Or will they! You simply do not know; at best, you are not sure. The invitation tells you the date and time have yet to be announced. So, there is still time you muse, and as you ponder and reflect on this you begin to think, well maybe there are still some things I can do to firm up my list of accomplishments. If this were so, would you not immediately begin to take the action necessary to accomplish this. Surely you would, if you thought the ultimate reward or prize was of great value.
If you are invited to a pot luck dinner you bring your appetite and your favorite casserole, salad or desert to share with other guests. If you are invited to participate in a ‘Spelling Bee’ you would study hard and try to expand your knowledge of words and the rules by which they are pronounced and spelled. Likewise, if you expect to be invited into a prestigious college you would study ‘really-hard’ to keep your grades as high as possible. But, having received an invitation to heaven itself – just how do you prepare yourself for such an event as this! Excellent question. If you are not asking the question of yourself… or are not prepared to follow the directions and examples given to you… well then, the doors to heaven may not open to you when your appointed time arrives! Have you given this serious thought? Eternity lasts a long time. You may want to consider how and where you want to spend it!
One theologian named Greg Carey speaks of why some of us are struggling with this parable. “Our discomfort with the parable of the virgins likely arises from self-awareness. Most of us know ourselves as wise in some contexts and foolish in others.” /Greg Carey/ You may or may not have someone you are willing to confide in, someone you can talk with about everything you know about yourself. Many find it very useful to do so. It seems to be a way of gaining a better perspective of different elements, or opinions you keep grappling with on your own. But somehow you have not been able to come to grips with this. We all have situations, which ultimately come up along the way, that we need to deal with. You may be concerned with your relationship with God. You may be stuck in finding the right action to take to resolve it. Don’t stay bogged down. Reach out for help. Talk to a friend or a spiritual adviser. Talk to me. Talk to someone! Talk to God in prayer!
We each have an opinion or at least a cloudy understanding of what we believe heaven is or at perhaps what we have come to pray that it is. No one that I have talked with has ever been there. Yes, we have heard wonderful stories of a few people whom tell us that in a near death experience, they were in heaven just long enough to disclose to us some very tantalizing things. Thought provoking and intriguing to say the least! I could probably fill an hour, or more, simply telling you about some of the more interesting insights others have given me about this. Perhaps, you have someone whom has shared such an accounting with you. Indeed, I myself have had some moments along the way where I believe I was in the presence of my understanding of God. It was awe-inspiring. It was peaceful. It was a moment of ultimate peace. I had a sense of being safe and loved. A day later I was rushing to go somewhere, I forget where now, and I fell flat on the ground in a hotel parking lot and split open my chin! No, I am not in heaven yet, the journey of life is all too real!
We, you and me, we are not the first to grapple with this tug-of-war between life and the after-life and the promise it brings. A writer from what is considered the Geneva Notes, (which come from the Geneva Bible, it is the Bible with marginal notes authored by John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, and many other leaders of the Reformation. These notes were written between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century A.D.) /ABOVE INTRODUCTION FROM L. L. BROWN PUBLISHING/ These notes often give interesting and sight full insights into the thoughts of great theologians from our historical past. One such writing gives us a view of the author’s opinion about our conflict with this parable we are wrestling with this morning. “We must desire strength from God’s hand which may serve us as a torch while we walk through this darkness, to bring us to our desired end: otherwise, if we become slothful and negligent because we are weary of our pains and travail, we shall be kept from entering the doors.” /Geneva Notes/ A deep though provoking statement, to be sure. Another way to say this might be to… simple speak of our need to seek out God’s help through prayer and meditation. We ought not get lazy or complacent about this either. Nor can we allow ourselves the luxury of taking an attitude of defeat and giving up on ourselves because of the sometimes harshness of life’s realities! Most Christians and people of all faiths, believe there is a life after-death, a heaven of some sort! Of which we ought to be willing to take positive steps toward making certain – we will be ready when the time comes, and the doors are opened!
“So, Pastor,” you may be thinking, “just what am I to do to be certain I will be ready when the time comes.” Good question, as none of us wish to miss the opportunity to secure our invitation. Some theologians would harp on our willingness to give it all away. Thereby, literally take what Jesus has taught us through our gospel lessons. Jesus once told a rich man that he must sell all his possessions and give everything to the poor. Another time “Jesus says, those on their way to heaven will be decided by what they gave away, whether they fed the poor, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. Whether they shared what they had.” /David Henson/ This simplistic and literal approach will give you heart-burn and a big case of guilt! So, what was Jesus trying so ‘diligently’ to tell us about getting to heaven! In this parable he was clearly telling us we need to be prepared for we do not know when it shall be our turn, our time to accept God’s invitation into heaven.
The ultimate answer to this riddle is just outside our grasp. Yet, Jesus and the teachings of Jesus, have given us many, many clues! We talk about various and different aspects of this every Sunday. The critics of Jesus always were looking for him to give them the ultimate answer, yet he did not! He gave answers that are only heard by people of faith. People like you and me who are willing to open our hearts to the true love of God in all areas of our lives! Jesus simplified the 613 commands, laws by which the Israelites were taught to obey. Jesus broke down the misunderstood, the misread understandings of God’s love and compassion! The answer lies in accepting all of that which Jesus taught. Not one simple parable or one powerful statement. We need to look to the full story of Jesus and all that he was about! Not just one ‘sound bite’ that can then be put into every headline seen around the world!
Getting into heaven, it is like preparing for any dinner party or special event. It is like preparing to put together a church budget or a stewardship campaign. There are many elements that need to go into it. These things are all encompassing and take a lot of preparation. Getting to heaven takes a lifetime of lessons. It takes practice and hard work to be a good follower of Jesus. It takes a willingness to put in the effort! God will judge us based on the sincere effort we put into this; not our ability to figure out the ultimate trick or password to get into heaven! Having the right attitude, the right level of humility, and gratitude for the love of God, these are the keys to unlocking the doorway to the ultimate mysteries of heaven itself!