November 8th: Proper 27, the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for November 8th, was based on the below manuscript. The sermon was preached on Matthew 25.1-13.

In today’s gospel text,
Jesus is telling another parable.
Parables, you’ll remember from this summer,
are supposed to make our minds wonder.
Something is usually off,
something that tickles our brain into
just sitting with the images and the story.
Also remember,
that parables are not simply allegories.
At times they can be read allegorically,
but that’s just one layer for reading them,
one layer for experiencing them.
Today’s parable,
late in Matthew,
after the triumphal entry
but before the crucifixion,
is directed at Jesus’ followers.

Jesus says that God’s reign,
which he’s been saying for all of Matthew
is at hand,
will be like 10 young women of marrying age
five wise and five foolish.
Following their customs,
the groom was being escorted to the wedding.
But, typical groom,
he was late.
He didn’t come
when they expected and hoped for him to.
So all of the bridesmaids
rest up until it’s time to go.
This text today shows
that Jesus, Matthew, and the early church
fully expected women to be a part of God’s reign
and Jesus’ mission after his departure.
Some of the bridesmaids are prepared
and have brought extra oil.
Some of the, however,
are not.

There’s an apocryphal story
about someone in his congregation asking Martin Luther
why week after week
he preached to them on the gospel.
His response was that
week after week
they forgot.
That’s why we at least hear a gospel text
week after week.
Hopefully I preach grace week after week, too.
Because if you don’t,
week after week I forget
that God’s reign is at hand
and Jesus is coming back
later than we’d hoped.

Tuesday came and went.
And then Wednesday,
and Thursday,
and Friday,
and finally yesterday.
We’re up to 238,000 COVID19 deaths,
with over 1,000 deaths a day
every day this week.
And it looked like nothing was going to change.
Where was God?
Why wasn’t God
rescuing the oppressed
or healing the sick?
Why was Jesus letting those who claim to speak for him
run roughshod over the very people
Jesus spent time with?
Why is the bridegroom running late?
Did we bring enough oil
to seek our work through our lives?

Jesus telling this parable
so near the end of his life
was warning, for sure,
but also preemptive reassurance.
We can easily read Jesus as the bridegroom,
and we Jesus’ followers as the bridesmaids.
While some read the oil lamp
as good works,
good works can’t be purchased at the dealer.
Looking forward to Jesus’ arrival
is lifelong work.
Half of these bridesmaids,
people who had been chosen for this wedding feast!,
aren’t prepared for all eventualities.
Half of them, are though.
Jesus telling his disciples
that there may be some delay in his return,
is letting them know that following him
is a lifelong work of accepting the gospel.

The half that are prepared,
the half that keep their faith
and know something could go wrong,
are admitted to the wedding banquet.
They join the great feast
at the end of time.
Jesus is warning his followers
that their actions and motives will be questioned.
“Have you been faithful?”
“Have you worked to build God’s reign?”
“Has your life been constantly transformed
into the full likeness of Jesus the Christ?”
There are bridesmaids, disciples,
who get to say yes!
Jesus gives all his followers
warning that it’s coming
so that we can prepare
to say yes ourselves.

Jesus’ parables about the end of days
aren’t about trying to figure out
when the end of days are.
Jesus’ parables about the end of days
are about telling his disciples through time
that it will take time.
We’re not to settle in anxiety about the end of days
nor in apathy about them.
Jesus’ telling us what is coming —
including the delays —
is meant to motivate us
to keep watch in our actions,
always looking to follow Jesus.

When I believe something on Sunday
and am racked with anxiety on Tuesday,
I don’t do great at that.
So I come back here
to be reminded week to week.
I come back here to be reminded
that God’s love is forever
and there’s nothing we can do to earn it.
I come back here to be reminded
that even in the midst of a pandemic
God is forever.
I come back here to be reminded
that God’s reign is at hand
and accepting the gospel
is a lifelong practice
of ever changing our hearts.

Jesus told us it could be a while,
and he invited us to bring extra oil.
Let’s keep our lamps trimmed and burning
as we wait for his return. Amen.

Leave a Comment