Painting of Jesus at St. Sebald Lutheran Church, rural Strawberry Point, Iowa
This is a sermon I gave at Church of the Saviour, Clermont, Iowa on November 9, 2008. The basis for the message is Matthew 25:1-13.
Today we heard Joshua say that we should “Serve the Lord” and then we heard Paul telling the Church in Thessaloníki that Jesus will return one day. The Gospel is from Matthew and Jesus combines those two ideas. We have been reading our way through Matthew this year. As Jesus told this parable in chapter 25 he was already well into a lengthy explanation of events surrounding his second coming in chapter 24. Jesus had spoke of his death and resurrection before, but this concerns his second coming.
Jesus has said in Matthew 24 that “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” However he has also said that “no-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the Father.”
Friends, that includes any human beings even religious leaders. Only the Father knows.
As part of the lead up to this parable Jesus has told his disciples to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Nearly two thousand years later, as we hear these words of Jesus, how do we react? Are we ready? Are we prepared?
As we hear Jesus speaking through this parable; what do we hear, and how do we react?
It is very fashionable for some in the Christian community to point out that we are living in the ‘last days’ or the ‘end times’, and that Jesus will soon return. That may or may not be true. However, this parable was especially poignant for St. Matthew’s first readers. Matthew wrote this down and it helped the church; it helped because in 50 or 60 AD the early church was starting to say things like this: “Where is Jesus? He said he would return ‘soon’. Where is Jesus? Is he coming back? When is he coming back?”
Jesus spoke to his disciples then, and speaks to us now, saying this:
1) I am coming back.
2) I may return much later than you expect.
3) I will return at a time when many least expect it.
4) Are you ready, are you prepared for my return?
5) Be ready!
The parable of the ten virgins asks us to consider which ‘group of five’ best describes us.
At the time of Christ in Palestine, marriage rituals were a lot more elaborate than we have at present. Once a groom had paid the wedding price to the father of the bride a period of a year would elapse. During that time the groom would go back to his home and prepare it for the arrival of his bride. When the right moment had arrived he would set off to the bride's house to bring her 'home'. A great procession would be the order of the day and everyone in the procession would have their own torch or lamp. To be in the procession without a lamp or torch meant that you were a gatecrasher to the wedding celebrations and you would be locked out when the groom reached his home.
So there are ten young Jewish girls who are waiting for the bridegroom. They are first century Jewish bridesmaids or bridal attendants but their job right now is waiting not for the bride but for the bridegroom. When he arrived they would walk with him, carrying flaming torches as the bridegroom took his bride home.
Five of the ten are prepared. They have plenty of oil to last. If the Bridegroom is a long time in coming they are well prepared. If he does not come for a long time yet they will still be prepared when he does come.
But five of the ten are not prepared. They only have enough oil to last a very short time. They are not prepared. If the bridegroom is a long time in coming then when he does return they will not be ready.
The bridegroom shows up at midnight. All of the ten are asleep. Life goes on. We need sleep. In fact I can personally assure you that sleep is our friend. This parable is not about staying awake. We are not supposed to be always awake with eyes ’glued’ open. Those who were well prepared were asleep. No, this parable asks whether we are ready. Are you prepared for the return of Jesus, the bridegroom of the church?
Which set of bridesmaids describes you?
It is not necessarily helpful to try to work out whether the ‘oil’ in this parable actually means ‘this’ or ‘that’; whether having enough oil ‘means’ regular bible reading or having faith or doing good works. Far more likely is that Jesus goes on to explore our state of readiness in next weeks Gospel lesson about the Parable of the Talents.
Like the plot of a decent book or movie the story develops. Jesus goes on to talk about what we each do with the time and talents he gives to us.
So are we ready? Are we prepared?
The return of Jesus is not something we can push to the back of our minds thinking it’ll never happen. Because it will happen someday. It may even happen before I start my next sentence....
OK, so Jesus has decided to wait a while longer....
But please remember this:
That our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is critical.
That living life in relationship with Jesus is critical.
That loving God and loving our neighbor is critical; there are no other commandments greater than these!
Are you ready? Are you prepared?
We know that we are like the foolish bridesmaids and that we aren't ready. May you help everyone of us here today to be wise and learn to be prepared for the time that you return. In your Holy name, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.