11-12-17 Ready to Live

How do we live in hope in tenuous times? How do we prepare ourselves for God’s future when there seems to be so much evidence that things are getting worse rather than better? Maybe these are questions we all are trying to answer these days. This passage from Matthew brought the questions to the fore for me. We have been reading these difficult passages about weddings and end times for weeks now, passages that don’t seem totally compatible with what we usually think of as Jesus’ message. Yet, we listen, we are always listening for God’s message, God’s inspiration. So listen today for God’s word to you from Matthew 25, starting from the first verse.

 Matthew 25:1-13 Then again, the kingdom of heaven could be likened to ten attendants who took their lamps and went to meet the bridal party.  Five of them were wise; five were foolish.

When the foolish ones took their lamps, they didn’t take any oil with them, but the wise ones took enough oil to keep their lamps burning. The bridal party was delayed, so they all fell asleep. At midnight there was a cry: ‘Here comes, the bridal party!  Let’s go out to meet them!’

Then all the attendants rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there won’t be enough for us; run to the dealers and get some more for yourselves.’ While the foolish ones went to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived; and those who were ready went to the marriage feast with them, and the door was shut. When the foolish attendants returned, they pleaded to be let in. The doorkeeper replied, ‘The truth is, I don’t know you.’ So stay awake, for you don’t know the day or the hour.

November 12, 2017

Ready to Live 

A year or two after I graduated from college, I was invited to a wedding, the wedding of dear classmates from my school, the second wedding of that era. There would be many more. “Of course, I’ll be there,” I told them. “Wouldn’t miss it.” When the day arrived, I put on my best shirt, my festive purple shirt with the collar practically out to my shoulders. (It was the 70’s style, do you want to see it?)

I put on my white bell bottom pants, and probably sandals, and I headed out to the highway to hitchhike(!) down to DC. When I got to the highway, I looked at my watch and calculated the time. As I waited for a ride with my thumb out, it slowly dawned on me that hitchhiking was not the most reliable form of transportation, and that I would likely be late for the wedding.

As were the foolish bridesmaids in our reading from Matthew for this morning, I was not only late for the wedding. I missed it altogether because I foolishly did not plan ahead/ I remember that I finally got a ride into Wilmington and took a train from there, in time only for the party after the wedding. I had not remembered this foolishness for many years, and I’d rather not remember it, but sometimes reflection on a Bible passage leads to introspection and self-sacrificing connections. (and my advancing age is making me less protective of my pride.)

You see, the bridesmaids in this passage – it actually says ‘virgins’ in the Hebrew, but we choose to call them bridesmaids – they were waiting for the wedding procession. A wedding in Palestine in those times lasted for days. There was a big party and a procession. These 10 women, five foolish and five wise women, were waiting for the procession outside the house to light the way for the bridal party. The lamps were bowls of oil with a wick in the bowls.

Since the bridegroom was late, everybody fell asleep. When they awoke to sounds of the bridegroom on his way, the five foolish women, according to the tale, did not have any oil left in their bowls. They asked the five wise women to loan them some oil, but those five said they didn’t have enough, and told the foolish ones to go buy some more oil – in the middle of the night.

Now we might look at this passage and say, “I would have lent them some oil. It’s a shame that they will miss the party.” I imagine Jesus would have said the same thing. as we were studying the passage though, we thought of some present day analogies. We thought about the chargers for our phones. I know that I have told people in my family, “Get your own charger! That one is mine and I need it to charge my phone, now. I need it so I will have my phone charged for tomorrow. Ready for whatever happens.”

So I can’t say that I would have been quick to share my energy source with other people who foolishly didn’t plan ahead and bring their charger – or their oil with them, even if it meant they couldn’t get in to the party. And I can’t really complain that my foolish lack of preparation kept me out of the wedding.

The passage says with some finality, “The door was shut.” The five foolish maidens had missed their chance. Many of us can remember a time when we missed our chance, when a door closed, when we were trying to get somewhere or accomplish something and we didn’t make it. It can be a despairing kind of feeling.

 

This passage has an air of finality and warning about it. Matthew meant it as an allegory for the end times, for the return of Jesus. The Jesus Seminar thinks the parable was probably not told by Jesus but by the later community of Matthew which was waiting for Jesus return. It was a warning to people to be prepared and to be on guard for that day. It could be for us an early Advent story, since we so often skip to Christmas, and by all signs in our society, our time of waiting and anticipation has already begun.

My despairing hitchhiking heart goes out to those 5 bridesmaids who did not bring enough oil to get into the party – and to all of us who have faced closed doors in our lives, dead ends where we thought there was no way forward. I know that I learned my lesson in my youth and found better ways to get to important events, and planned ahead better. I imagine people hearing this story and deciding they would live their lives within the growing community of the Way, the Way of the Living God.

In spite of the feeling of finality in the story, though, I find myself needing to hear a bigger word of hope from this passage – knowing that God makes a way out of no way, that God is making a way around the shut doors of our world. God has made a way for the women who have been abused and misused, and are just beginning to find the strength and the encouragement to tell their stories. The door that was shut is opening to a new healing.

This morning, I found myself asking God – what happened to those 5 foolish women after they got locked out of the party, and God showed me some pictures of one of them climbing through a window out back, one of them dressed up as a man to get through the door, and three of them pinky swore to each other that they would never get married. Two of them stayed together the rest of their lives and one of them was by herself. Some people called her foolish to the end of her days, but she was actually quite content in relating to the world on her own terms.

God is opening the door to people who have been shut out of the world or shut out of the church, whether through abuse or neglect or because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, or because of names they were called or mistaken things they were taught. Even if some of the doors of our churches close for good, I am quite confident in the presence of the Living God in our communities, reopening ways, reopening paths for our children and for our friends and neighbors to find redemptive love, healing, and renewal.

Responsive hymn      2220 We Are God’s People