“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 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.’ 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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
SERMON Worst Parable Ever November 8, 2020
So, this has to be the worst parable ever. What in the world is Jesus telling us! A million years ago I had a professor in seminary who said that if ever you run into a story in the gospels that is very disturbing or that doesn’t seem to fit with anything else then you had better believe that Jesus really did say it otherwise the writers would have left it out.
I mean those bridesmaids are really mean and obviously their parents didn’t teach them how important it is to share! And what is that business about half of us being locked out just because we are a little late? Where is the grace? Where is the mercy?
And what am I supposed to do with this story in light of so many other texts in Matthew’s gospel. I guess maybe we’re going to have to rewrite some of them.
Like Matthew 6:19. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, although to get there, you’re going to need some large oil reserves, so go ahead and store up a lot of oil.
Or Matthew 6:25. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or wear. Worry about your oil; that’s the main thing. Just make sure you have enough for yourself.
Or Matthew 7:7. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you, unless of course you’re late and the bridegroom answers, in which case, you might as well forget it.
Or Matthew 7:12. In everything do unto others as you would have them do to you. In everything except oil. Forget about others.
Sometimes I get tired of trying to defend Jesus. Sometimes I want to turn to him and say, “Okay, buddy, let’s see you get yourself out of this one!”
Of course, the real issue is that I have to get myself out of this one, because this parable hits close to home. The truth is, I like to be prepared. I think it’s a good idea to show up with a sermon if I’ve been asked to preach one. I’m in favor of savings accounts and life insurance; I believe in being prepared, and I bet you do, too.
I may not like those self-righteous bridesmaids who showed up with their own flasks all full, but the truth is that I recognize them, and if they were running for office, I’d probably vote for them.
So is that all we have here. In the end this is just a story that any Boy Scout or insurance agent could have told us? Be prepared, hang onto your oil, and remember only a fool gives it away.
And yet the more I think about this story I am led to think of this oil less in a “crude” sense and more in a spiritual sense. I’m not usually one to “spiritualize” things, but in this case I think that’s exactly what we have to do.
I think it’s justified here. There is, after all, another story about oil lamps in the gospels….one familiar to many of you I’m sure…the one about not hiding our lamps under a bushel. Surely Jesus was not talking about literal oil lamps. He was talking about the gifts we have been given. . .all of the stuff that makes us unique as beloved children of God who are called into God’s service in a unique and distinct way.
So let’s just agree that this is a story about spiritual oil…a story that teaches us that it is our responsibility for making sure we always have enough spiritual oil in our tanks…and that we really do need to be responsible for ourselves first. We can’t be lights in this world if we don’t have any oil left in our lamps. Remember that safety speech that you hear when you get on the plane? “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling; if you have young children, please be sure to secure your own mask first before assisting others.”
And as the Parable suggests, that such oil really can’t be borrowed or given to you by someone else. It’s kind of like studying for a test. You can do it WITH someone but nobody can do it for you. This is something you have to do for yourself.
Oh I know. It’s so hard right now….between a pandemic and a divided nation….I think most of us feel like the oil is running awfully low and we really don’t know where to turn for a fill-up. I mean the excitement of yesterday will soon fade and let’s be honest….Zoom Worship only goes so far!!!
So what do we do….what do you do…when the oil is running low? Where do you go for a spiritual fill-up? Where do you find God in your lives these days? Where do you turn at a time such as this, when so many of the things you are used to doing are no longer available to you, what feeds you spiritually?
Obviously I can’t answer that question for you. I struggle to answer it for myself. But one thing I know is that this is a time for digging deep. There may have been a time when oil bubbled to the surface of this earth, but that is simply no longer the case. I mean I’m very opposed to fracking, but maybe this is a time for some spiritual fracking. . .for boring deep into the hidden rock formations of our souls to find what it is that can spiritually sustain us.
This is a time to go to the very core of who we are as individuals, as a community, as a nation…..to ask ourselves the most fundamental questions about what it means to be a human being when we can’t stand in a circle holding hands and singing “We are one in the Spirit.”
And right now it’s very apparent that the source of that oil can not be grounded in the things of this world. It needs to be grounded in something deeper than political success….something that is not depleted by political failure. It needs to be able to keep us steady and constant when we are faced with the joy of victory or the agony of defeat…enabling us to hope and persevere no matter what happens in this world because it is grounded in the promise of God’s loving presence with us in this world. . .no matter what happens….no matter what happens.
But how do you tap into that? Well that’s on you to figure out. Take a drive…read a book….play with your kids….love on your spouse….dance…cook…look at stuff that makes you laugh…take pictures of snail trails….walk your dog…nature…music….focus on what you still have…find a way to keep giving back….sit in silence…or shout out your prayers. Do whatever it is that provides you with enough oil for your lamp to keep burning throughout your life….even during a global pandemic.
These are still dark times….tough times….they aren’t the first, of course, and they probably won’t be the last. But this will come to an end…the dawn will break….
I know….it may not happen soon enough for a lot of us. Often, as people of faith, we are often called to a holy patience.
Now is a time to dig deep friends….to dig deep into the wells of our faith…so that your lamp can keep burning until the dawn breaks. Now, especially now, is when this world needs the light we can bring.