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November 16, 2014 - Matthew 25.1-13

“The Wise and the Foolish – pt.1”

Matthew 25:1-13

November 16, 2014

 

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.[1]

 

Ever see a young child excited about the circus coming to town?  It is tiring to just watch.  They bounce up and down, jumping for joy, face lit with glee, breathless with anticipation.  Kids do not want to wait.  Come on Daddy let’s go now!  Get in the car!  Let’s buy our tickets now!  It’s a circus! (or fair or Blue Clue’s on Ice, whatever).  Weeks before a trip to somewhere, our boys are always ready to go days ahead.  They count down everything.  Christmas.  Halloween.  Summer.  They are excited about everything that is coming.

Adults on the other hand, we are more even keeled.  We know that vacations come and go.  We know that there will always be circuses.  We can get tickets for the circus anytime and there is no need to rush.  We have plenty of time to pack tomorrow.  We can do that tomorrow when it is more convenient.  There is always tomorrow, right?  Wrong.

Now I do not want to sound like some inflammatory evangelist - summoned from Texas to scare you into righteousness.  I am not gonna ask you, "If Jesus came back this week, would you want him to find you in a drive-in movie?"

Is that the point of this parable? You’d better watch out, you’d better not sin, you’d better get saved and let Christ in – Jesus Christ is coming again? Jesus is coming – look busy?  Somehow I think there is more to it than that.

Jesus tells the story of the bridesmaids.  Five are wise and five are foolish.  They all have lamps and oil, and they all sleep, but only some are prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom when he comes.  The others get locked out because they did not prepare.

This scripture is always used to shock us to our senses.  Wake up!  Time is short!  Be ready!  Those are warnings we are all advised to take to heart.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow.  Be ready today.  Live the Christian life now, not later.

We say that we want Jesus close to us, we say that we want God in our lives.  But are we ready when God shows up?  Are we ready when Jesus comes?  How do we know who’s ready and who’s not?  Those are good questions.

This is a group (the bridesmaids) in which the members looked the same in outward appearances, but are separated when their deeds are brought to light.  This is the reason that Jesus tells us that five were wise and five were foolish.  You can’t tell just by looking at them.

The oil, or rather having the oil, represents what will count: deeds of love and mercy in obedience to the Great Commandment, deeds of God’s Kingdom accomplished while we wait.  The problem was not having a lamp and oil and not that they went to sleep, since both the wise and foolish both fall asleep.  Matthew’s idea of preparation for the Jesus’ coming is to do deeds of discipleship, NOT constant “watching” for the end, not manufacturing excitement about Jesus’ arrival.

The key to understanding the difference between these two groups has nothing to do with which group knows the arrival or more anxiously awaits it.  Here is the difference between the two:  The foolish bridesmaids were ready for Him to come, but the wise ones were prepared to wait.

Readiness is of course, living the life of the Kingdom, living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount.  Many can do this for a short while; but when the Kingdom is delayed, then problems arise.  Being a peacemaker for a day is not nearly as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and Jesus is delayed.  Being merciful for an evening can be pleasant; being merciful for a lifetime, when Jesus is delayed, requires preparedness.

At the beginning of the life of faith, you cannot really tell the followers of Jesus apart.  They all have lamps; they are all excited about the wedding; they all know all the words to all the hymns and all pray, “Lord, Lord.”  But deep in the night, when we see someone trying desperately to fan a dying flame back to life, then we can distinguish between wisdom and foolishness.[2]

Yes, Jesus will come again later, down the road, at a time that we will never know.  But being prepared for his coming means that we must prepare now by being alert for his presence.  Jesus comes to us in all sorts of ways.  We have the chance to store up some oil every time we take a chance to share God’s love.  Jesus said that whenever we do something out of his love, we do it to him.  That means that his presence is here.  Store up some oil.  Show someone the love of Christ.  Show that love to someone that has not seen the loving side of someone in a very long time.

The foolish bridesmaids knew what was happening and tried to conform to the standards.  They all had their gowns; they had the lamps and oil.  They were ready, weren’t they?  No, they had merely conformed.  They had not allowed themselves to be transformed into persons that stored up oil, into persons that lived the life of the Kingdom.  Mere conformity can cause calamity.  Simply knowing Jesus is coming and agreeing with that fact is not enough!

Conformity seems to be a characteristic of our time.  You can see it clearly in middle school and high school.  Kids are ridiculed if the name brand of their clothes is not cool enough.  How stupid is that?  They must conform or be ridiculed.  Adults are no better by the way.

Years ago, they held a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.  Some of Chaplain’s best friends were the judges for the contest.  Unknown to them, Chaplain himself entered the contest.  Chaplain came in third.  Appearances mean nothing.  What we look like is meaningless.  Who we are and what we do are what God craves to see fulfilled.

Augustine in his Confessions wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.  Who will grant me to rest content in you?  To whom shall I turn for the gift of your coming into my heart so that I may forget all the wrong I have done, and embrace you alone, my only good?”[3]

Have we stopped searching for God?  Has our journey stopped?   Are we so content with the present reality of our lives that, unlike Augustine, we have no expectation of conversion, of meeting or being swept up in the great purposes of God? 

What will it take to be ready?  What will it take to keep oil in our lamps and keep them burning?  Is there a trick to it?  Is there a magic bullet that will get everything in place so that we will always be ready?  I don’t think so.  It requires us to make an effort and be doing the business of God where we are, to make it our life’s concern.  Sara Groves sings these words:

I’m standing at the foot of this mountain,

Wishing so bad that I could touch that sky
But in the time it takes to make my wish, I never take a step and I never try
I wish that I were closer to Jesus, But not enough to get me out of bed
For an early morning prayer before the Rushes of my life take me instead
I'm past the wishing, Past the wishing, Past the wishing
I'm gazing in these deep well waters,

Where the pennies of my life have all been cast
I’ve decided I am going to save my money To do something that lasts
You've shown me my man of Macedonia, You're calling me further on
And I'm tired of saying it's a nice idea, I wish it could be done
I don't wish that I could go I am going
I don't wish that I could be I am being
I don't wish that I could do it I am doing
By the grace of God I am doing
[4]

 

She has given up the idea of wishing she could be ready, of wishing that she could be closer to Jesus, of wishing she could do something about it.  She is ready because she is doing what she can and she is moving closer to Christ.  What an awesome concept!

Jesus ends today’s parable with the commandment to watch.  Be ready.  Do not be idle.  Be working to store up oil so that when Jesus does arrive we can be ready for him, not only in the big ending that so many people talk about and we all believe, but also in the quiet day to day serendipitous meetings with Christ that we so often miss. 

You have come to church this morning, not as a heroic act on your part, but because a loving, active God has first, in Jesus Christ, came to you. God came to some of you early in your life, when you were still a child. God came to others of you later, perhaps only recently. Yet, God did come and placed you in God's family, and called you to serve the kingdom, and gave you what you needed to be faithful.

The reign of God may be coming in its fullness, the living God may be sweeping into your life, just when you least expect, just like that bridegroom who finally showed up late at night. Even though God may seem distant to you at this moment, be well assured that God will come and that God will come to you.

God is coming.  God will either sneak in, or God will kick in the door.  Either way, watch.  Be ready.  And remember that being ready is no accident and does not happen by chance.  Watch.  Be Ready. Amen.

 

[1]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[2] Keck, Lelander; The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: Matthew, p. 451.

[3] Augustine, Confessions, Book 8.

[4] Groves, Sara; Past the Wishing, from the album by the same name.