“Waiting Together” • Matthew 25:1-13 • November 9, 2014
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Let’s take a quick poll. How many like to wait? Waiting in line. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for your friend or spouse or co-worker or children. Waiting.
I get a lot of top 10 type of lists from folks in my email inbox or through my Facebook and Twitter news-feeds. You know the lists, 5 ways to become a better parent today or 10 ways to be a more effective leader or 10 things that every person should do before they die. This week I got one that I thought fit our gospel reading from Saint Matthew. The 10 best things to say if you get caught sleeping at your desk.
Here are a few of them –
“They told me at the blood bank this morning that something like this might happen after donating blood.”
“I wasn’t sleeping. I was meditating on the mission statement and envisioning a new paradigm that will result in greater profits for the company.”
“I was doing a highly specific yoga exercise to relieve work-related stress. Are you discriminating against my practice of yoga?”
Or my favorite “pause briefly after you realize you’ve been caught, and then say with conviction ‘… in Jesus’ name. Amen.’”
Waiting. Even for those of us who are gifted with a lot of patience, I think waiting is one of the hardest things we do. So let’s face up to the fact that waiting is part of our everyday life together in this world.
Waiting is a major part of today’s gospel reading too. 10 virgins or “bridesmaids” as our translation refers to them are waiting for the groom to arrive. This parable is the second in a series of four parables in this section of Matthew’s gospel that focus on Jesus’ return and a final judgment that seems to include some kind of sorting between who is in and who is out.
Texts like these are used in many Christian traditions as a way of scaring believers into making sure that you are “right” with Jesus before you die. Whatever “right” with Jesus means. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand that tradition of theological thought. Is the purpose of our life in Christ, the purpose of being a child of God at this time and in this place only about what happens to us after we die? If that’s all there is to being a Christian, if faith is only about what happens after I’m dead, then I don’t think I’m all that interested in a relationship with a God like that.
There are six occasions in the gospel of Matthew with final judgment scenes where separating is happening between things like sheep and goats or wise and foolish bridesmaids. Some are in. Others are out. Final judgment themes like this stand out in Matthew above the other three gospels. So, if we want to look at this text with a theological lens that puts us in control of life after our death, are you a sheep or a goat? Are you a wise or a foolish bridesmaid? When the bridegroom does finally arrive and you finally return with oil in your lamp, yes, all of us will need to go get more oil. I’ve never met another human being, and never will meet one, that brought enough oil in the first place. When the bridegroom arrives are you going to be in or are you locked out?
Please don’t hear me trying to make fun of this parable or discounting the theological thinking of our brothers and sisters in Christ in different Christian traditions than our Lutheran one or trying to cast this parable off as not being important to who we are as children of God.
I’ll be honest with you and admit, that, this is a difficult parable for me in a difficult section of Matthews’s gospel. But just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean we should fall asleep at our desk and ignore it or form God’s message in a parable like this into something that is only about what may or may not happen to us when we die.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are loved by God unconditionally. In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, you are claimed and named as God’s own child. As a child of God, you are freed and forgiven in all that you say and do – right now and for eternity! Never forget that. BUT – just because you are loved, claimed, forgiven, and freed unconditionally by God doesn’t mean that you and I should be passive or complacent. The great theologian William Barclay once said that, “The best way to prepare for the coming of Christ is never to forget the presence of Christ.”
Yes, you and I believe, we hope, we pray. We wait for that day to come when Jesus returns. Until that day comes, I worry that you and I sometimes forget that Jesus is already here? How do we experience the presence of Christ in our work and in our play, now…today? Today, in times of joy and celebration? Today, in times of pain and suffering?
Pastor Kathryn Matthews Huey sees great irony in a text like our gospel reading today. She writes, “We can be so busy reading novels and looking for signs that we miss the ways God is still speaking to us today, in this meantime. We might miss opportunities to do God’s will, working for the healing of the world, caring for the good earth we were given, offering our own gifts in the transformation of an unjust society, reaching out in compassion to a world that is physically and spiritually hungry. However much we may be anxious about a dramatic end time, our faith reminds us of how often the Bible says, ‘Do not fear,’ and then challenges us to work here, on earth, for the bright day of God’s reign in its fullness, which is glimpsed in every act, every moment of compassion, sharing, and justice.” Pastor Kathryn concludes her thought by saying, “Even as we trust that we will be with God one day, in glory, we taste the sweet goodness of generosity and love right here, right now, through ministries of sharing the abundance with which we are blessed.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, together we wait. And as you and I wait may God’s light shine in this world through us. And may God’s light shining through us bless others in our congregation and our sister congregations, in our community and nation, and in every corner of this beautiful world that is one small piece of God’s good creation. Amen.