Sermong November 9: Anticipation

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 9, 2014

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Prayer of Illumination:        

O Lord our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Sermon:  Anticipation

There are two parts to anticipation ~ waiting and preparation. Faith is, essentially, a way of living that anticipates the fulfillment of God’s realm. We prepare for the coming of Christ while we wait for his return. And, luckily, throughout our lives we get lots of practice in waiting. I don’t know about you, but it seems like I am always waiting for something. Waiting on hold. Waiting in life. Waiting in traffic. Right now Gary and I are waiting for the leaves to fall from the maple tree in front of the parsonage. We are not-so-eagerly anticipating the day we can gather them up, rakes and leaf bags at the ready.

In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul wrote about the difficulty of waiting, of living in anticipation. The Christians in Thessalonica were concerned that Christ was not returning as quickly as they expected. Members of their community ~ faithful Christians ~ were dying and they were afraid that they would miss out on the joy of Christ’s return. Paul wrote to them with words of comfort and assurance. “…God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.”   Two thousand years of waiting later, those are words that can still bring comfort. For we still don’t know the day or the hour.

And today’s parable from the Gospel of Matthew is all about waiting and preparation. The foolish bridesmaids’ oil ran out and they found themselves locked out of the wedding banquet. The wise ~ unsharing ~ bridesmaids obviously were more organized and better prepared. We all know the saying, “Poor planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.” When the foolish bridesmaids tried to join their wise friends in the wedding banquet the bridegroom declared boldly, “I don’t know you.”

I don’t know you. If we dissect this parable and decided that the bridegroom represents Christ while the bridesmaids represent us waiting for Christ’s return, that’s a pretty harsh statement. I don’t know you. The foolish bridesmaids had been there, waiting along side their wiser friends right up until the moment they had to make a quick trip to the store. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to make a quick trip to the store because I forgot something. How can one misstep, one oversight, lead to: I don’t know you?

 It is interesting that this all takes place at a wedding. Jesus knew that weddings are stressful. Perhaps Jesus used the example of a wedding because it is not an every day event. Weddings take preparation and planning ahead. In Jesus day, a wedding involved the whole community. The party would be prepared and would begin once the bridegroom went to retrieve his bride. It wasn’t always clear exactly when this would happen, so it was the job of the bridesmaids to wait with the bride and greet the bridegroom. So when the so-called ‘foolish bridesmaids’ had to run out at the last minute to get more oil, it was more than a simple oversight. They messed up the most important part of their job.

It seems to me that this was the point of the parable. The important stuff. The foolish bridesmaids learned that there are certain things you can’t obtain at the last minute. You can borrow your friend’s homework, but not the hours of study for the exam. Your neighbor can loan you his leaf-blower, but not the strength it takes use it. And no one can train for a marathon for you! There are some preparations we can only do for ourselves, reserves that only we can build up.

The wise bridesmaid knew that they would need their oil to complete their task. They couldn’t all abandon their responsibilities. The foolish bridesmaids got this message the hard way. They were off at the 24-hour oil store instead of at their post as they were supposed to be and, as a result, they weren’t able to enter the party.

So what is the message for us in this parable? Is there a word of grace or hope? Is there any good news here? I think so. I think the good news of this parable is that Christ is coming. Just like the Christians in Thessalonica, just like those bridesmaids with their lamps and oil, we don’t know exactly when. But Christ is coming.

The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we ready? Are we spending our time in preparation or are we procrastinating thinking we have all the time in the world? As Sarah Dylan Breuer put it, “The party we’ve waited for is starting, and if we want to be in on the action, we need to prepare ourselves….”        

Christ is coming and there are some things we can’t borrow from another:

~ Time spent in prayer

~ Study of the scriptures

~ Acts of compassion 

So let’s not leave the important stuff to chance.   Anticipation is an active process ~ waiting and preparation. In a couple of weeks we are going to explore another of Jesus’ parables on the coming of the Kingdom. In it he tells his followers how he will know them when he returns. He explains:

For I was hungry and you gave me food.

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

I was naked and you clothed me.

I was sick and you visited me.

I was in prison and you came to me.

These acts are the oil that will keep our lamps burning long into the night. As one commentator put it, “…faithfulness in preparation is one means by which our savior will recognize his followers.”

Taken by itself, today’s parable is a little hard to swallow. I feel bad for the foolish bridesmaids ~ not even able to enjoy the party. At this rate they may be always the bridesmaid, never the bride! And then there are the wise bridesmaids. Well, they just come off as smug and ungenerous. Yet this story ~ told by Jesus ~ reminds us that although God’s grace, God’s love, God’s forgiveness are all free, we can’t just sit back ~ coast ~ thinking we can borrow what we need in a bind. Each person is responsible to tend the light of God’s life within. Anticipation is an active process.

So how is your oil? Are you getting low? Do you have some in reserve? Are there steps you can take to ensure you don’t run out? Christ is coming and we don’t want to be dashing out to the store at the last minute. When we take our preparations seriously, they become something greater than what we do. Our preparations transform who we are. This waiting time becomes a Kingdom-time as we grow into people who actively love and serve and pray and praise and advocate for justice not for our sake, but for Christ’s sake. We may not know exactly when, but Christ is coming. May we be ready, Lord. Amen!