Sermon November 8 Matt 25:1ff Fuel Up (Bridesmaids) Rev. Betsy Hogan
Pity the foolish bridesmaids. Not because you're meant to, in the context of this parable we just heard, in the sense in which Jesus actually told it, toward the meaning it was meant to convey –
But pity the foolish bridesmaids. Who imagined as they drifted off to sleep, when the bridegroom was delayed and delayed and delayed, that ALL the bridesmaids were in this together. That ALL of them wanted the same thing. That the point for ALL of them was making the wedding go beautifully, was making the wedding go perfectly.
The way it had all been planned. With ten bridesmaids with their ten lamps lit, illuminating the pathway for the bridegroom as he approached the banquet hall where the wedding would take place.
Pity the foolish bridesmaids who instead woke up to discover that that WASN'T the point for all ten bridesmaids. To make the wedding go beautifully and perfectly the way it had all been planned with ten bridesmaids with their lamps lit.
That they weren't all in this together. That they didn't in fact all want the same thing. That for half of them, in fact, making the wedding go beautifully and perfectly and exactly as it had been planned with ten bridesmaids wasn't important at all.
Pity the foolish bridesmaids who couldn't believe it. When they're awakened because the bridegroom's finally arrived, and they've run out of oil for their lamps but the other half of the bridesmaids have plenty and all they have to do is share it – and obviously they will, because we're all in this together, and the point is to make the wedding perfect the way it was planned –
But they don't. The wise bridesmaids don't share. They won't share. And how is that even possible? The foolish bridesmaids can't believe it. Don't the wise ones want to make the wedding perfect the way it was planned, ten bridesmaids with their burning lamps?
How is this even a thing? Pity the foolish bridesmaids when they find out inescapably that for the other half of them? That point simply doesn't matter. Only five bridesmaids when there are supposed to be ten? Too bad, so sad, who cares, still a wedding. Not the one that was planned. Not the one that includes all of them. But half the bridesmaids? They don't care. That's not what matters to them.
When Jesus told his disciples this parable, it was meant to be understood as a parable about waiting. Waiting waiting waiting. And trying to be hopeful in the meantime. When Jesus told his disciples this parable, it was an act of compassion.
Because what it comes down to is this. The whole story and what it points to. Listen, Jesus says. The reign of God is like this.
It’s like a wedding banquet, where everyone’s gathered and it’s so ready. It is so ready. But it can’t begin yet. It’s being prevented from beginning because the bridegroom’s late. And that’s making its guests wait.
The bridegroom’s late, it’s being prevented from beginning, and that’s making the guests wait, and they’re waiting too long. So long that they’re falling asleep. So long that their fuel’s running out. It wants to begin. But it can’t begin. It’s being blocked. It’s being prevented. The guests are waiting, and they’re waiting too long. The energy’s going. The energy’s gone.
In other words, listen, Jesus is saying. The reign of God is like this. It’s like a banquet. Justice and peace and grace and healing, it’s like a banquet of all of these -- that wants to begin. It is so ready. But it can’t. Not yet. It’s being prevented.
So the reign of God is like this: there’s waiting. Until it stops being prevented. And that waiting is so long, it’s just so long – it’s hard. It’s hard to stay expectant and ready.
It’s hard to stay awake. It’s hard to keep the lamp trimmed and burning. But the reign of God is like this: there’s waiting.
The parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids – it isn’t a parable Jesus wants to tell – it’s a parable he has to tell. It’s an act of compassion. Because he’s looking at his followers, he’s looking at us, and we’re expectant, and we’re hopeful, and we’re yearning – Justice, peace, grace, healing --
But the reign of God is like this: there’s waiting. And it’s long waiting. You're going to need a lot of fuel. The expectancy fades – but keep alert, Jesus says. And the hopefulness wanes – but keep the faith, Jesus says.
And our lamps go out – but this light cannot be extinguished, Jesus says. This parable's meant to be an act of compassion. Offered to the disciples and to us when HOW can we keep hoping when the waiting seems endless. When not only are gains we thought were made, and changes we thought had been real, obviously not NEARLY as fixed and done and behind us as we thought they were –
but on top of that, when we turn on the news and we really believed that obviously all the bridesmaids know what the most important point is... and it turns out half of them literally don't care about that point at all.
The wedding the way it was planned? Whatever. Pity the foolish bridesmaids. And we do. Because we know how they feel.
This is literally the point in my sermon-writing (yesterday) when the US election was called and my computer pretty much exploded with joy. Including videos of NYC and Philadelphia with car horns was blaring in celebration and impromptu street parties.
But there was also Van Jones on CNN, weeping with relief. That he can again tell his son that they live in a country in where character matters. And being a good man matters. And yes, weep with relief. And yes, it was hard to stay hopeful. And yes, the light of justice and peace and grace and healing can NEVER be extinguished.
But I had a bunch of people who immediately teased me that now I'd have to write a whole new sermon. And a bunch of colleagues who went ARGH, that now they have to write a whole new sermon.
And no way. Not on Remembrance Sunday. Not on ANY Sunday, but especially not on Remembrance Sunday.
The hardest heartbreak of the past six days for me has been watching half the bridesmaids' hearts breaking when they finally realized what I'm sorry to say I already knew. That something approaching the other half simply does not care about the same point. The point that we imagined that surely EVERYONE or at least ALMOST everyone must surely care about. They don't. They care about a different point, with different values.
And that's not going away. And if we can feel fired up with relief and fired up with hope, which absolutely! then on Remembrance Sunday when we bow ourselves down with grief because of the devastation that happens when value-systems collide and that collision becomes deadly –
What we need to be fired up with is vigilance. And fearlessness. And the honour of being willing to make sacrifices. What we need to be fired up with is relentlessness in being absolutely UNwilling to concede even one more inch of space to prejudice and personal greed and contempt for other people in the value-system of this place.
Because the gospel message that grounds our faith could not be clearer. It is ANTI prejudice and ANTI personal greed and ANTI contempt for other people. What we need to be fired up with is relentlessness in pushing back against these whenever and wherever we see them manifest. Because they're here and they're real and they're wrong.
Pity the foolish bridesmaids. And Jesus does. This is a parable of compassion because now the Reign of God is like this: so so long waiting, and keeping the lamps trimmed and burning, and holding fast to hope.
But the last words of the parable are crucial, because it's also a parable that demands action. Keep awake, be alert, be vigilant. Now the Reign of God is like this: this is not a game. A different worldview, a different value-system, the looming possibility of collision, these are real.
So be relentless for justice, peace, grace, healing. Push back. Be fearless. Be ready to make sacrifices. On Remembrance Day we stare in the face what it looks like when value-systems collide. This is the time to be vigilant and relentless, so it really will be Never Again. Amen.