Sunday, November 8, 2020
Lectionary 32, Year A

Prayer of the Day
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Readings and Psalms
Amos 5:18-24 Let justice roll down like waters
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The promise of the resurrection
Matthew 25:1-13 The story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids

Sermon
Title:  Waiting in Faith

Luca, so much to talk to you about today as you are to be baptized.  First of all, Happy Birthday.  (Luca just celebrated his first birthday this past Wednesday.)  And Luca, here’s the best news, you can think of today as another happy birthday.  A year ago, you were born into the Chase family.  And today, through this gift of baptism, you are born into God’s family. In fact, I hope that in the years to come, you will celebrate this birthday just as much as you will celebrate many more November 4th birthdays.  Take note, godparents, helping Luca celebrate this day can be one of your privileges as you help Luca grow into his identity as a child of God.

And I for one want to say, thank you, Luca, for bringing this birthday celebration into this place and this community today. In the midst of so many challenges and unease in the world around us, with so much uncertainty and confusion, it is so refreshing (pun intended) to come to the waters of the font to be reminded of how rock-solid, how comfortingly-constant, and how hope-filled, the promises are that God makes to each of us in this gift that is with us always.  And Luca, hear this, no matter what you do or where you go, no matter what the world does to you or says about you, no matter how far away you think God is, you can come back to these waters and hear again the promises that God is making with you today.

Am I laying too much on you, Luca?  Is this more than a 1 year and 4 day old wants to hear about life?  Probably.

But to the rest of us, I have to say that I am also thankful that Luca comes to be baptized this morning as we are beginning our three-Sunday walk through the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.  These are the final three Sundays of this liturgical year, in which we have been focusing on Matthew’s gospel.  The 25th chapter contains the final teachings of Jesus, the final three parables.  (We’ll hear one story a week.)    And speaking of final, there is a finality in each of these stories.  End of times type of finality.  Jesus coming again finality.  This finality is why they are given the label of apocalyptic. 

A confession -I’m not a big fan of focusing on those end times. The anxiety, the predictions, the fear, the blindness to today, I just don’t get the fixation of some on an unknown whenever.  I find head-shaking humor in hearing of a church that has huge hinges on it’s sanctuary roof so that if the rapture happens during worship, they will be able to safely float up, push the roof open and meet their Savior. Living in fear that Jesus could come back at any moment is not what I see as living by faith.  I’m with Luther who, when asked what he would do if he learned the world would end tomorrow, said he would plant a tree.

But it’s hard to avoid those end times here, with this story.  The ten young women are hanging out waiting for the bridegroom to come.  Of course, many see the bridegroom as representing Jesus. He’s telling the story so he must be talking about when he comes back and all is fulfilled.  Like love being fulfilled with vows and the binding of lives at a wedding.  In the Palestinian villages of Jesus’ time, everything stopped for a wedding.  It was a central event in the lives of the villagers. The high point came when the bridegroom took the bride from her parent’s house to her new home with her husband.  The procession was filled out with attendants and guests.  That is what the ten women are waiting for.  The highpoint.  For the real party to begin.

But the unexpected happens.  The bridegroom is delayed. And suddenly those who were prepared for everything to go smoothly are no longer prepared.  And the reserve-flask-carrying ones who perhaps were even laughed at for being overly prepared by the flask-less, are now being seen as the wise ones.  Hmm, the ones seen as over-preparing, of over-precautionary are later seen as wise.  I’m sure we can all think of current applications.

So, if Jesus starts this story with the often-used line “The kingdom of heaven (aka the reign of God) will be like this…”  well, the first thing we are to be aware of is that the reign of God is unpredictable.  Seldom works as we might plan.  Just like a bridegroom who comes at midnight when we were fully prepared for him to come at 6 PM.  All that “best laid plans of mice and men” stuff goes right out the window.  How many times does the Bible talk of waiting on the Lord?  Last night, we even heard the verse: Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings of eagles. (Is. 40:31)

Perhaps rather than doubts, it is the waiting that is the biggest challenge to faith.  (I know, Advent, that season of waiting, is still three weeks away.)  But, here we are today, when we have been waiting for months for relief from the confines of this pandemic, when too many have waited for months for healing from COVID-19 – either for themselves or for loved ones, when renewed cries for justice from black and brown people have reminded us that too many have been waiting too long for the full protection and possibilities of this country, when trans siblings live in danger waiting for the respect and safety that they deserve, the whole world has been waiting this past week as the divisiveness of our country created a very prolonged state of confusion over the outcome of this election.  Yes, perhaps 2020 with all its challenges has done more than its fair share of teaching us new levels to that art of waiting. Certainly, waiting can be the biggest challenge to faith.  Jesus knows it, so he tells this story.

So, what does all this oil and lamp, flasks and delays tell us about this life of faith in the midst of waiting into which Luca is being born into?  First and foremost, take note that all are invited to the wedding.  At the beginning of the story there are no insiders and outsiders, chosen and outcast.  Also, note that the oil reserves are not to be seen as some symbol of good works that are required to enter the party that will in some way get us through the period of waiting by racking up points. The bridegroom is not arriving (whenever) only to say “Show me how much oil you have” in the way that Jesus is not going to return and say “Show me how many gold stars you’ve earned while you were waiting.” Afterall, if the bridegroom had been on time, the flask-less ones would have been equipped, would have participated in the procession.  Would have joined the party before the door was shut. 

The wise ones are wise because they are prepared not just for the bridegroom’s arrival, but they are prepared for his delay. They are prepared for things to go NOT according to plan. Because Luca, if you have learned anything in this first year of life, you know that things in this broken world of ours do not go as planned.  

Luca, your baptism reminds us all that God has filled our flasks with all that we need for the wait.  The list of what fills our oil flasks of faith is long and even grows with the journey.  First and foremost, there is the presence of Christ made known to us through the Holy Spirit.  Your light shines because of the light of Christ that burns in you.  And in Christ, we see all that flows from him – forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, peace, hope, community,  – that is just the beginning of with what God filles our oil-flasks.  Hold on to that.  It is ours for the waiting.

A word about those who are called foolish for losing track of their flasks.  I believe that their biggest mistake was not in forgetting to bring them, but was not trusting that when the bridegroom did arrive, his light would have been bright enough for them, even if their lamps had gone out from all that faith-testing waiting.  Their foolishness was in going off, thinking that the challenge of their waiting could be met with something that they purchased.

Luca, and all beloved of God, while you wait for the unexpected God who created and loves us, keep coming back to the font, to hear again the promises of God spoken to you through water and word.  Come to the table for refreshment and renewal.  Connect with the community of faith created by the Holy Spirit for, as the story shows, the waiting is so much easier in groups.

Hold tight to the oil flask of faith, filled by God, for the waiting of today, and know that the real party is yet to come.

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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