Sermon for 24 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Matt. 25:1-13
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"A Ready Faith"
Many of us are familiar with the following words from Ecclesiastes, chapter three, verse one: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." The parable in our gospel today also affirms this truth. It's a parable that raises questions for each one of us.
Questions like: How do we manage or waste our time? Do we have enough oil to keep our lamps lit until the bridegroom comes? Do we live like the wise or the foolish maidens?
This parable is not only about Christ's second coming and the last judgement ~ although it is often interpreted that way. It is also a parable concerning our faithfulness or lack of faith. What are we doing with our lives while we live now until Christ the Bridegroom comes? When Christ comes, will we be ready or will he say to us: "It's too late?" Do we have the oil of faithfulness in our lamps?
In a television MASH episode that I remember watching some time ago; Hawkeye is called out to the battlefront due to a shortage of doctors there. When he arrives, there are bombs and bullets flying all over. He suddenly realizes that his own life is in great danger. Therefore, in his spare moments, Hawkeye takes every opportunity to write out his last will and testament.
Eventually, another doctor arrives at the battlefront and Hawkeye is able to return to the 4077 MASH unit. He arrives late in the evening, enters the office, sits down at the desk and works on the conclusion of his last will and testament. The clerk, Max Klinger hears him, enters the office, and asks him what he's doing. Hawkeye tells him, and Klinger responds by saying: "No paper work is so important that it can't wait until tomorrow." Hawkeye looks at him thoughtfully and replies: "I used to think that way too, but not anymore."
It was not until Hawkeye had experienced his close-encounter with death out on the battlefield that he had come to realize the great importance of being prepared for death and of living each day to the fullest. What about us, how do we manage or waste the time God has given each one of us?
According to the Greek philosopher, Plato, philosophy serves us in the preparation of our death: "Those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward."
In Christ's parable, we notice that all 10 maidens have lamps. In a similar way, God has promised to save us all by giving us the gift of grace. Only 5 maidens were wise enough to plan ahead by bringing flasks filled with oil to keep their lamps lit. How much oil of faithfulness do we have to keep our lamps lit? We can take the flippant, careless attitude that it doesn't matter what we do, in the end we're going to be saved anyway.
Or, we can put our faith into action by being little lights which point the world and us in the direction of the coming bridegroom. The quality of our relationship with Christ our Bridegroom Right Now! Today! Will Determine How Active Or Inactive Our Faith Is.
For example, if we really love Jesus and we trust that he loves us; we shall not only give generously to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Rather, we shall examine the root causes of poverty and oppression and do whatever we are able to for a peaceful, just and equal world for everyone. If we really love Jesus and we trust that he loves us; we shall learn how to take better care of this world which Jesus himself loves so much. We shall not only try to reduce, reuse and recycle ~ we shall plan for the future to clean up the earth as much as we are capable of and to reverse the greenhouse effect and the destruction of the ozone layer. These and similar actions of faithfulness are lighting the road to God realm coming among us.
Jesus is teaching us to manage our time and our lives wisely. Every day counts, so don't put things off for tomorrow what must be done Right Now! Today! What we do or fail to do right now, today has very important consequences for our future. If we are in a good relationship with Jesus our Bridegroom, then every day our oil of faithfulness will shine through.
As William Barclay has observed: "There are certain things which cannot be borrowed. The foolish maidens found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A person cannot borrow a relationship with God; one must possess it. A person cannot borrow a character; one must be clothed with it. Tennyson took this parable and turned it into verse in the song the little novice sang to Guinevere the queen, when Guinevere had too late discovered the cost of sin:
"Late, late so late! and dark the night and chill!/Late, late so late! but we can enter still./ Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now./ No light had we; for that we do repent;/ And learning this, the bridegroom will relent./ Too late, too late! ye cannot enter now./ No light: so late! and dark and chill the night!/ O let us in, that we may find the light!/ Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now./ Have we not heard the bridegroom is so sweet?/ O let us in, tho' late, to kiss his feet!/ No, no, too late! ye cannot enter now."
May it not be too late for each one of us. When Christ our Bridegroom comes for us, may there be oil in our lamps burning brightly so that with great joy we are able to welcome him. May our relationship with Christ take top priority so that when he comes for us we may be found faithful.
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