First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
November 12, 2017
“What Do You Expect?”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But 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.’ 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
(Start by standing in the middle of the chancel looking up, looking at watch, looking at iPad, waiting, watching, looking, anticipating.
Or just stay seated and let the congregation wait and wonder.)
When something we know is supposed to happen and it doesn’t …. We wait….
A couple of thousand years ago, the followers of Jesus started waiting for his return. It had been a great ride, those three years of his ministry. The realm of God had been revealed in some whole new ways: the hungry were fed, the poor were tended to, the oppressed were relieved of their burdens, the lame could walk, the blind could see, the deaf could hear, politically sanctioned oppression was challenged.
And then, scandalously, suddenly, savagely, it all ended when the bringer of the good news was executed—brutally executed for sedition.
But…. God was still speaking and raised Jesus from death. Tradition has it that he was around for an additional 40 days or so before leaving again – taken up into the clouds. But, before that happened, he left a little note that said he’d be back. He didn’t quite say when but he encouraged folks to be ready for it could be at any time. Any time. Any time, now. (pause) Any. Time.
To put across the point about being ready, the gospels give us some examples of waiting and being ready in parables. Examples about a farmer being put in charge of the bosses spread and tending to it with exceptional care because you never know when the boss is going to show up. (Matthew 24:45-51) Remember the one about the guy who leaves and puts the doorkeeper in charge of watching for his return? (Mark 13:33-37) And then there’s the example of these ten maidens whose role it was to escort the bridegroom into the party but the bridegroom didn’t show up on time. He was late… very late. And so they had to wait. (pause)
While they were waiting, they fell asleep and, when the bridegroom finally made it, the five that brought along extra oil were in fine shape. The other ones, not so much.
This isn’t so much about the returning of Christ, but the delayed return. It wasn’t going to happen on the second Sunday of Easter and it didn’t. We’re still waiting. And while I wait, I want to know what’s taking so long? Can’t Jesus see it’s time? Can’t the Messiah see that we could really use some help here? Doesn’t he know what a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into and we’re not sure we can dig our way out?
Not only are there rumors of wars, there are honest to God wars going on here.
The people who are in charge of the government have dug a big hole and it just seems to be getting deeper and deeper and deeper.
The innocents are being slaughtered in churches, at concerts, on city streets, in refugee camps and in the wake of hurricanes
And the powerful just seem to keep finding despicable ways of using and abusing those who rely on and trust them.
So, Jesus, you can come back any time…. And now would be a great time to come back and straighten things out.
So, I wonder what’s keeping him?
So let’s imagine together where he might be. If we’re waiting for Jesus to show up in the expected places (like church) and he’s delayed getting here just where might he be?
Do you suppose he might have stopped along the way to get a bite to eat, perhaps with some sinners? He tended to do that on his first trip to earth.
Maybe he got held up in a crowd, talking with a woman who had been mysteriously healed when she reached out to him. Seems like that was something that held him up before.
Maybe, it was the group of people getting ready to stone someone that he had to stop and remind them about having a look at their own lives before passing judgment on someone else.
Maybe he took a side trip to welcome the children that are being gathered and used for human sex trafficking or the ones that have been kicked out of their homes when they announce to mom and dad that their little boy not only isn’t so little and isn’t really a boy after all.
Maybe he stopped off at some legislator’s office to have a chat about what’s going on in that realm….
Maybe he even stopped to help out some poor, ill-prepared maiden who didn’t take enough oil for her lamp and helped her get to the wedding down the street.
Perhaps we’re waiting in the wrong place for Jesus to come back again.
All due respect to the Gospel writers, I think the parable was told all wrong. And, I’ve gotten old and gutsy enough to suggest something different.
Here’s how I think the parable of the wise and foolish maidens should end. When they realize that the bride groom (aka Jesus) isn’t coming back any time soon, they rolled up their sleeves, filled their lamps and headed out into the world to see where they could find him. And they take their little lights and find him out in the streets taking a stand against the things that demean people, at the schools reading to children, in hospitals and nursing homes holding the hand of someone in pain, in the neighborhoods fixing someone’s steps, in the legislature hanging around with the ones who claim to be his followers and reminding them what Jesus would really do. And every time they find Jesus, their lights get a little brighter. And the ones whose oil runs out? He takes care of that, too. You think wine is the only thing that can be made out of water? Not when Jesus is around.
And when all the work of healing is done, everybody heads back to the wedding hall for the banquet…. Every body—wise, foolish, rich, poor, for then it will truly be time to celebrate that the will of God has been done on earth, just as it is in heaven.
The second coming of Christ may be taking longer than anyone ever thought but that doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t be found very much alive and well and working in the world to bring healing, hope, courage, love…. To bring salvation to the poor and hope to the oppressed and comfort to the mourning.
Whether you would consider yourself to be like one of the wise maidens or the foolish ones, our place of waiting is not at the door of the banquet hall for Jesus will not be found there. Jesus will be where we take him, shining his light of love, grace and mercy into the world.
May this be our prayer:
Oh let me be, your light to the nations. Whatever others may have done with unkind words, with a gun. Let me rise up like the Son to shine your love. All the way to the ends of the earth. All the way to the ends of the earth. All the way to the ends of the earth.