12 NOV 2017
Even before I was ordained I was warned about weddings. "Funerals are easier" was a refrain I heard more than once. The first wedding at which I officiated was really a blessing of a wedding that had taken place many years ago, but the couple were refugees from South Sudan and, for whatever reason, wanted a legal marriage in the US. I made it several more years but was hit with what, in my world, was a tsunami of weddings this year. Despite all the fretting and all the attempts to make things perfect, they weren't. Weddings are occasions where lots of things can and will go wrong. For those of you who have been part of a wedding, either as one of the main actors or one of the supporting crew, you likely have your own memories and I hope by this time they bring laughter rather than tears. At my own wedding this summer I was laughing as one of the vocalists had no idea what he was supposed to be singing and looked rather like a deer in the headlights. Luckily the other vocalist, my daughter, carried on with great aplomb. However, she was also one of the witnesses and signed the license in the wrong place so we had to submit an entire new copy. Despite the hiccups, everyone who wanted to be married ended up that way.
When I stood here three years ago and delivered a homily on the same text, some of you may recall the candles behind me went out. You had just changed to oil and I think there was still a learning curve, so the oil ran out. I never did decide if God was trying to tell me, or all of us, something about our preparation for the coming of the Kingdom. We learned that day to keep our lamps trimmed and burning!!
Maybe I am reading more into the Gospel for this week than is there, but I think that weddings in first century Palestine had their share of problems and some of them were the same as happens to us. The wedding guests would gather at the home of the bride and await the groom, then the whole party would go to the home of the groom for the ceremony and several days of celebration. I wonder if we have lost something in our obsessive-compulsive desire to stay to a schedule. But I am such a stick in the mud I am not sure I would enjoy a three-day wedding.
Jesus, however, was not known for telling stories to make his hearers laugh. He was serious about a lot of things and especially the Kingdom. In the parable preceding this one, the master returns early and woe unto the servant who was throwing a wild party for friends!! So, what are we to do? Must we be always vigilant? Or is vigilance not what Jesus is driving at. After all, all ten bridesmaids fell asleep. I think the preceding story tells us it is not so much that we need to be on edge all of the time, but rather we so the right thing, the God thing, all the time. There is no need to live life in a constant state of an adrenalin rush. When I was in Italy last year I was in the place that gave birth to the "Slow Food" movement. Why are we in such a rush to get to the end when there is, or at least can be, so much to enjoy. Creation is good and doing the will of God in part is to enjoy and honor creation, from the bounty of the earth to the people we meet. Slow down not just your eating, but your life. Savor creation and all that is in it and give thanks to God for all of it. Do not waste what is given to you.
How many of you were involved in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts? The motto?? "Be prepared." Check the furnace and locate the snow shovel before winter strikes. Take an emergency kit in your car. Get the ingredients before you try the recipe. Read the lessons before you give a sermon. We are to be prepared, are we not? This is a second lesson, among many, from Matthew and is, I think what Jesus is trying to get across to his disciples. I many never use my waterproof matches, but I have them. We do not know when Jesus will come again. Perhaps it is all about our work in making the kingdom happen here on earth. I do not know; you do not know and all those who try to interpret Revelations do not know. When I head out on a journey it is almost always one where I know where I am going, how long it will take, and what I need to take with me. But what if we have no idea how long the journey will be or if we will have to stop in one place for a long time? Now some things we know we cannot carry in infinite amounts, but some things we can. I always carry far more fuel for my backpack stove than I ever use; running out of that could be dangerous and, if it is winter or severe weather, might even be life threatening. I think, perhaps, the parable is about preparation or readiness, not perpetual vigilance. All the bridesmaids were alike save for one thing: the amount of oil. They dressed alike, they came together to wait, they all fell asleep and they all called the bridegroom "Lord". But only half we ready.
Without understanding that being ready was the crucial element of discipleship, the last lines are frightening. The bridegroom says to the five bridesmaids, "Truly I tell you, I do not know you." This frightens me. Why would you be locked out of a wedding banquet because you were a little short on oil and had to go get some? I mean, really Jesus, is that what the Kingdom is all about? Perfection all the time? No, not perfection but preparation. God is not a despot who decides things on a whim. We must be prepared to, of all things, wait. While we wait we act. Could it be that those of us who are wise are the ones whose oil is the oil of healing and of feeding and of tending to the needs of the world. The foolish are those who wait for a brighter future but do nothing to bring it to being. Matthew has been pushing us all year? Have you listened? Take bread for the journey and oil for your lamps.