Let’s start with three deep breaths and relax….
God of Mystery,
we want to stay awake
and be ready for your surprises,
but we are tired and overcome
with the un-usual routine.
We want to wait patiently
for the fulfillment of your kin-dom,
but we are frustrated by our need
for immediate gratification.
We want to believe your promises from ancient days,
but we are overwhelmed with postmodern doubts.
Come to us again, O God.
Awaken us with your unexpected grace.
Shock us with your daring mercy.
Lift us up from lethargy
and set our feet on your path once more.
let us begin today’s worship
CALL TO WORSHIP
L: We are pulled in many directions.
P: Many duties and tasks seek to lay claim on our lives.
L: This day, in this place, let service to God be your choice.
P: This day, in this place, we open our hearts and spirits to God.
L: Blessed be the God of creation who has called us here.
P: Praise be to God who sustains and nurtures our lives. AMEN.
Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise #1
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids
25 “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.
The word of God for the people of God!
Thanks be to God!
Sermon: Oil for the Journey
In the ancient days of Jerusalem a groom and his bride would go through a ritual cleansing
After the immersion, the couple entered the huppah (marriage canopy)—symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract.
Here, the groom would give the bride money or a valuable object such as a ring, and a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows. The wedding basically took place in two acts. This is the Erusin, literally betrothal, ceremony.
In this public ceremony under the huppah, the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year. Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations.
During this erusin period, the groom was to prepare a place for his bride, while the bride focused on her personal preparations: wedding garments, lamps, etc.
Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour. He could come earlier. It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for him to return to collect his bride.
For that reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night, sounding the shofar (ram’s horn) to lead the bridal procession to the home he had prepared for her.
So we can see the basis for this parable. Mathew is using the Marriage ceremony symbolically to answer the question “tell us, when will these things be, and what is the sign of your return and of the end of age?” (Matt. 24:3)
One interpreter points out that “this is a good story, though the point is not crystal clear. We are presumably meant to laugh, and learn the message, which is probably about being prepared rather than about staying awake; the story perhaps does not take itself all that seriously – there is the unexplained gap between the first announcement of the bride groom’s arrival and his actual appearance; There is an absurb picture of the ‘foolish’ maidens trudging off to the shops, which are presumably closed at the hour of night; and the pragmatic attitude of the sensible virgins (‘why don’t you go shopping’) is not especially attractive”
And dare I ask where is the bride? These weddings were great cultural affairs “Richard Swanson suggests that this was a good chance for unmarried women and men to connect, for prospective husbands and wives to find each other, so these young women might have been keeping an eye out for their own futures as much as watching for the bride's groom. It's no wonder, then, that; “the young women have a huge interest in being noticed favorably,” he writes. We may be surprised to hear that five of them refused to share what they have, a note that clashes with the rest of Jesus' teachings about generosity. Perhaps, Swanson continues; "This competition may help explain the odd actions of the young women."
One essential theme in this Parable is a matter of timing. The early followers of Christ were anticipating the return of Christ as any day now at any moment. By the time Mathew is writing the return of Christ as Immediate is becoming …well, rather doubtful for some. Some may even be growing lax in their practice. The tale here is more or less to remind us we do not know the hour or the time. The problem for the maidens is not that they fell asleep but that some were prepared and others were not. Even though they had plenty of time to prepare.
I was reading where spencer Kimball the 12th president of the LDS church had an interesting perspective on the maidens being told go buy their own oil. He says “This was not selfishness or unkindness. The kind of oil that is needed to illuminate the way and light up the darkness is not shareable. How can one share obedience to the principle of tithing; a mind at peace from righteous living; an accumulation of knowledge? How can one share faith or testimony? How can one share attitudes or chastity...? Each must obtain that kind of oil for himself .... In the parable, oil can be purchased at the market. In our lives the oil of preparedness is accumulated drop by drop in righteous living."
All in all this is not an easy parable to read or comprehend “If the disciples were looking for reassurance, the words of Jesus must have given them a lot to think about. After speaking at length about the end of the world in the previous chapter, Jesus begins to tell his followers several parables, … right before this week's passage, Jesus has spoken about a master's unexpected return that catches his unfaithful servant off guard, one who thinks he has plenty of time to misbehave, to beat his fellow servants and to eat, drink, and (presumably) be merry. Today's parable about ten bridesmaids follows the harsh warning about the fate of that unfaithful, unprepared and surprised servant.”
The story, after all, isn't about generosity or sharing, but about being prepared. This is about navigating the real world, be prepared for here and now and yet knowing that what can go wrong will go wrong thus the bride groom is delayed. In the same way I do not believe any one of us expects Jesus to return tomorrow however we know it is possible that Jesus could return this very second and we work at keeping our hearts and minds with Christ and living out the Gospel the best we can…we are in it for the long haul and need to be prepared to leave now.
“Five of the young women had sense enough, then, as Thomas Long puts it, not to be ‘ready for the groom but...for the groom's delay.’ If the bridesmaids, both the foolish ones and the wise (or prudent) ones, represent the church today, how ready are we followers of Jesus for his return? What does ready, or having ‘enough oil,’ look like almost two thousand years after Jesus died and rose again, promising to return one day, but not saying when? ‘The wise ones in the church...hold on to the faith deep into the night,’ Long writes, and ‘even though they see no bridegroom coming, still hope and serve and pray and wait for the promised victory of God.’”
“Jesus' story ends with the foolish young women being locked out of the party. His words sound familiar to readers of Matthew's Gospel, because we remember another harsh warning from Jesus, as he finished the beautiful Sermon on the Mount, about people who sound religious but haven't lived out their faith, who haven't done the will of God. When those people cry "Lord, Lord," Jesus says that he'll claim he never knew them (Matthew 7:23).”
Those words are hard to hear. We do not like to believe that anyone would be locked out of heaven. I proclaim a loving and forgiving God. I believe in a God whose forgiveness goes beyond even what the most gracious human is capable of. So I suspect we might be getting more Mathew than Jesus at this point. We recently spoke of how Jesus in Mathews gospel was often chiding the religious leaders of the day for their behavior and bravado. I have no reason not to believe that some of this harsh-ness that is being expressed again may be some of Mathews disdain for those who would assume they need to do nothing more than what they have done to get into heaven.
One commentator asks; “What do we need to do?
Today's text, about oil and bridesmaids and wedding parties, is a bit more of a challenge, but we remember that these early Christians in Matthew's community, a generation or so after Jesus had ascended to heaven, were still scanning the skies, setting their sights and their hopes on his quick return. We suspect that the first generation may have believed that Jesus would return in their own lifetime, but by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, there had already been a delay. And perhaps that delay prompted some questioning and some falling away. Matthew's account, including these difficult parables, certainly addresses that falling away.
Today, we are nearly two thousand years of delay later, and our questions may be just as pressing: What are we to do? What does ‘ready’ look like for people of faith? When will things change? What is God going to do about the mess that we're in? When will our enemies get what they deserve? (We just can't help ourselves any more than they could, long ago.) We even have to wonder, unlike any generation before us, if we ourselves will bring an end to the earth, or at least to life upon it.”
So this reading leaves us with some questions. Why does Mathew have Jesus speaking so abruptly and how are we being called to live into this reality? How do we live as a people of faith knowing we are to expect Jesus at any moment and yet also live into this daily life not knowing if or when Christ may return? How are we to live faithfully in anticipation of his return but also prepared for the Continued delay? “Fred Craddock describes two types of parables, ‘those that offer a surprise of grace at the end...and those that follow the direct course from cause to effect as surely as the harvest comes from what is sown. There are no gifts and parties.’ Craddock notes that we need both kinds of parable, and the ‘justice and grace’ they convey.”
“We often need to hear about grace, but we also need to hear regularly about justice. While Craddock writes of cause and effect, Arland J. Hultgren describes it as "both threat and promise, law and gospel." One of my favorite phrases, heard years ago, is the image of "trouble and beauty." Matthew's Gospel has plenty of both, from the graceful lilies of the field to these unprepared bridesmaids, hearing the terrible words, "I do not know you" (25:12).”
As we wait then, for the return of Jesus and the fulfillment of all things, how are we to live in the meantime? Like the five "wise" or prudent bridesmaids, how can we be prepared? It may be true of every age there are those who are always anticipating the end of times. We have the bad theology of the left behind series. There are those who believe we need to get into Jerusalem and rebuild the temple as if this would force God’s hand and bring about the end of times. There are those who believe we can rape and pillage the earth abusing her resources as we a see fit for the end of days is now. So being good stewards doesn’t matter.
Some people are so busy with their end of times novels, or seeking out each and every sign that points to the end of all creation that they miss what God is doing in our midst, here, now, today! They miss the chances God gives us to care for each other, to grow in God’s love and be a true supportive and loving place. God calls us to work to change this world to work at the injustices in the world and introduce the loving compassion that Jesus teaches us.
It really seems as if some are just living for the drama and the fear of the end of times as opposed walking the path that Christ calls us to. There is nothing in any text that says be fearful, hunker down, and make yourself ready for the end of times ignoring all the work that needs to be done.
“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. 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.”
We are ready to live in Love, we are called so seek justice and to do it joyfully. I mean just look at this community in which we live. I love our food pantry and the needs it fulfills. We are blessed and share in the ministry of the kidz cupboard. We still get donations for The Good shepherd UCC and the ministries they are providing at the border. Our community partners with the red cross to accept much needed donations of blood in this time of pandemic. We are resilient and amazing people!
Remaining faithful in the face of disaster or tragedy may be hard. We will hear cries of just wishing Christ would return now to make all things right again. But we are called through todays gospel story to remain vigilant and that means we are called to live out the life Jesus has called us to live every day and every minute. “Jesus told us how to live according to the values and vision of the Reign of God, and loving God and our neighbor expresses the heart of his message.”
“Loving God will inevitably lead us to worship God rather than idolize the false gods of modern culture (like materialism and nationalism …to name only two). Loving our neighbor will lead us to greater compassion and a firm commitment to justice, to making this a different and better world for all of God's children. This kind of living isn't sitting around and waiting; it's active and fully engaged in the present moment, as we trust in a future that is in God's hands, even if the timing of that future is unknown to us.
Arland J. Hultgren suggests that keeping faith "includes care of the earth and making peace for the sake of future generations. It is necessary to plan for the long haul, remain faithful, be wise, and stay strong." We note the difference, of course, between "making peace" and simply avoiding conflict.
M. Eugene Boring says that such faithfulness makes it possible to "lie down to sleep in this confidence, rather than being kept awake by panicky last-minute anxiety." But it also requires endurance: "Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed."
No wonder we're tempted to yearn for a sudden intervention where God takes care of everything.
However much we may fear a dramatic end, Hultgren reminds us that our faith sees "the end" not as the end, but as "the doorway to the new--the new age, the new creation." We can trust, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, that "we will be with the Lord forever" (4:17b). This, for us and for all creation, is "finally good news." Indeed!”
So in the meantime we keep studying God’s word and listening for it anew today. We keep seeking out ways to serve each other and the community around us. We seek to continue the work we are called to do as Christians every day, ever vigilant and always ready! Amen.
A call to prayer
we wait for you to come again into our midst.
Sometimes we wait patiently, sometimes not.
Always we are aware of how much the world needs you.
We pray today for those in our community
who need your healing and comfort.
We pray for persons in leadership across our country,
that together we might make wise decisions.
We pray for brothers and sisters around the world,
whose lives are torn apart by war.
We pray for the saints who have witnessed to your love.
We pray, knowing that you are with us now,
and that you will strengthen us to keep awake,
to keep the faith,
to keep working for the time
when Christ will come again to surprise us anew
with love and justice on earth. Amen.
Please write your joys and concerns in the comment section and I will lift them up after this hymn
Anthem Ubi Caritas From Edgewood UCC
Let us pray the prayer Jesus taught us
Our Creator, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kin-dom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kin-dom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Invitation to the Offering
We need oil for our lamps, food for our tables, and love for our lives. Let us share the bounty we have received, that no one may be left out alone in the dark.
We dedicate these gifts to you, Generous God,
even as we dedicate our lives to you.
Keep us true to our promise,
that we may witness to you
with all that we are and all that we do. Amen.
The office is open for regular hours
We are accepting donations for the kidz cupboard and the food pantry
I am available for one on one virtual visits or phone calls if you need any prayer we will be together again one day, but until then remember you are the hands and the feet of our lord in this world and in this world of no physical contact we can still smile, wave, chat, check in
#473 blessed assurance
Lord, we have listened to your word for us this day. We are grateful for the love of Jesus who takes our burdens and lightens our spirits. Be with us today as we leave this place. May we continue to place our trust in you, for it is in the name of Jesus that we pray. AMEN.
God has called and chosen you to be witnesses to hope and peace in God’s world. Go in peace and this same healing, reconciling love and peace will be with you. Go and serve the Lord your God in all that you do. AMEN.