Rev. Stephen Baldwin
NT: Matthew 25.1-13
How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? If you’re like me, it takes a lot longer to get ready now than it used to. When I was in college, I could roll out of bed 15 minutes before class started and be in my seat 5 minutes before it begins.
Now? No way. It takes me 15 minutes to turn off my alarm and roll out of bed. The older I get, the longer it takes me to get ready.
There’s the waking up part, the bathroom break, the stretching, the dog’s run, the breakfast before school, not to mention calming down this crazy hair and picking out which shoes to wear. It’s a whole process! Amen?
I remember Carolyn telling me once that getting ready for church took longer than the actual church service! Is that a hint? Do you want me to preach a little longer each week?
There are lots of reasons getting ready ain’t what it used to be. Our bodies slow down. Our responsibilities grow. Our schedule changes. What we have to work with just needs…more work…than it once did, amen?
And what event which is taking place in Matthew’s reading takes longer than any other to get ready for? A wedding. This one has ten bridesmaids! For the record, if any of you ever ask me to officiate a wedding with ten bridesmaids, I will quickly decline. Because that means ten bridesmaids, ten groomsmen, twenty sets of parents who are all experts on weddings, twenty opportunities for someone to wear the wrong shade of the chosen color, & twenty people lined up at the front of the church who you have to make sure are attentive, on time, and sober.
The problem in Matthew isn’t any of those things. The problem in Matthew is that the groom took longer than expected to get ready. Maybe he lost his favorite hair gel, maybe he wanted to watch the end of the game, maybe he didn’t know how to tie his bowtie. Who knows. Whatever the case, he’s late for a very important date. So late the bridesmaids all fall asleep. All ten of them!
Five of them were smart enough to know the groom was always late, so they got extra oil for their lamps. Five of them either didn’t care or didn’t know him very well, so they didn’t have any oil for their lamps.
At midnight, the groom finally arrived at the party! If his wife had any sense, she would have gone home and gone to bed by then. Since they couldn’t just turn on the chandelier, they all got out their lamps to see what would happen. The five who prepared by having oil could see just fine. The five without oil asked to borrow some. “No! We told you to get ready earlier today. Go buy your own!”
So they go out to the market to buy some, and sure enough during that time the party begins, the doors are locked, and the five bridesmaids can’t get back in when they return. They’re sent away like strangers in the night.
So what are we to make of this strange story? In Bible Study this week, we first agreed that this parable was about being ready. Being vigilant. Being prepared. It clearly challenges us to be ready for Jesus’ return.
I won’t speak for you, but…PATIENCE…is a virtue…I don’t have. We don’t wait for much of anything anymore, so we don’t have to get ready for much these days either. Fast food and grocery pickup and medicine delivery and drive thru banking and google searches and expedited shipping and grocery delivery. Our society is built around not having to wait for anything.
When we do, it frustrates us. We want to open our presents now. We want to results now. We want our combo meal now, exactly as we ordered it!
And so, it is tempting to think this parable is just about being ready. Store up your oil for your lamps. Get ready for Jesus. Don’t be foolish and waste your oil; be wise, and have extra ready. But here’s the thing. In this parable, all the bridesmaids fall asleep. All ten of them.
And once they do wake up, five of them miss out on seeing the groom because they’re worried about not having oil…when the purpose of having oil is being able to see the groom.
The other five are no better. They spend their time arguing with the others about whether they should share their oil, and they too miss the groom.
This parable is not about oil. Not about lamps. Not about storing up any THING. That’s what led both groups to miss the groom. This parable is about being ready for Jesus’ return. It’s about experiencing his presence.
And to do that, we’ve got to be open to the world around us at any given moment.
Because at any given moment, we might be moved by the spirit. At any given moment, we might be talking with Jesus. At any given moment, the time may come. At any given moment, God might move among us.
It’s not about the oil or the lamps or the wedding. It’s about being there for Jesus in the moment.
Do not be distracted by the shiny things we wait for as if the world’s salvation depends on them. The world’s salvation depends on someone we’ve been waiting on for two thousand years.
Waiting isn’t lost time. It’s time to get ready for what comes next. Waiting isn’t a passive thing; it’s an active thing. It prepares us for Jesus’ presence.
We do not know the day or hour…and that’s a blessing from God. Because it gives us the opportunity to live our lives, ever open to the presence of God. And it will come when we least expect it.
How long does it take us to get ready for Jesus? A lifetime. Amen.