Sermon – November 12, 2107 – Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost


The Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

Many years ago I did a wedding for a young couple who were members here. Groom was in graduate school and the bride was working, and they decided they wanted to get married. So, we began our conversations about their relationship and began making preparations for the wedding which, it turns out, was going to be on Cape Cod. Since they were members here, they flew me and Ann and newborn Sophie out for the wedding. It was quite an affair. But on Friday night at the rehearsal, I asked the bride and groom which one had the marriage license. The each pointed at the other. The bride and groom were fine..  The moms, not so much. Nothing to do but follow through with the wedding. They made it legal before a justice of the peace in California some months later.

Weddings are elaborate and joyful and momentous occasions. They take tremendous planning and we have great stake and how it goes and what we say and who attends, and we always worry something might go wrong . . . like the bridesmaids might not be ready or the marriage license forgotten.   Jesus used them on more than one occasion to tell his stories, to teach because the event of the wedding bore its own weight of tradition and celebration and anxiety in his day. Now, what happened back then was that marriage was a two-step process. First the bride and groom would be betrothed. That means they would be given one to another usually by the parents. Here they are officially married and can only be separated by divorce.   But they did not take up the household together until the second part of the wedding which was the feast at the bridegroom’s parents home. As we see from this story today that event was rife with ritual. The appointed bridesmaids would wait at the appointed time for the bridegroom to come and then they and a whole host of others would parade in joy and celebration to the bridegroom’s parents home. It was a very important part of the ritual, that parade, and so if you were designated to be a participant you should be ready to go.

That is our set up, and it is easy to get lost in the details of the unanswered questions. Where was the bride? Why were those bridesmaids so mean? Couldn’t you have made an exception for the forgetful bridesmaids and open that door? We could chase these rabbits all morning and I don’t intend to. Because the main distinction here, the main point that Jesus is making in this parable, is that it will be the nature of the kingdom of God that some will be prepared and some will not and it is best and it is the will of God that we would be prepared, or more particularly,  awake.

One conclusion that I think we can safely make is that the bridegroom is meant to represent Jesus. His coming, his invitation, his betrothal to the bride, is cause for great celebration. It is a privilege to be part of it and responsibility. It says something about who we are as well as who he is. We are not to lose sight of the good news that the bridegroom is coming to take us to the joyful celebration, to the feast.

First, what does this say about us, we invited to wait and watch for the bridegroom? Well, first it says that the bridegroom – Jesus – has a stake in us and in our participation. We should begin with the understanding that the gospel has already called us to new life. Our encounter with Jesus has given us new vision, helped us to imagine new possibilities, given us a new community. So rather than wringing our hands over a perceived delay in Jesus agenda, instead let’s live the life that we have been blessed and baptized into. Rather than resent or fear uncertainty, let’s be about the joy of the journey and celebration of the fellowship in love for the community and in zeal for the neighbor. We have been blessed with hope, and waiting is a condition of hope, so we are equipped for this time – the oil in our lamps – is the knowledge of God, the love of Christ our faith in God’s fidelity, our worship and praise and our opportunities to love and serve the neighbor and welcome them to our faithful waiting.

This is a rich and purposeful time, and gift that is ours to engage in and live.

Passivity is not an option or a faithful response.  I don’t know how many of you ever watched the old program Hee Haw.   It was pure corniness, bad jokes and little bluegrass and country music. One recurring scene was with Junior Samples and Grandpa Jones. They would lie back in the hay, icons of laziness and sloth. In one episode, Junior stares up at the ceiling of the barn and gives a long sad moan. “What’s a matter, Junior” wondered Grandpa Jones. And Junior responded, “I sure wish I had my legs crossed.” Nope. Be awake. Be prepared. Get off your duff.  Live the life you have been given.

I think we have to say a few things about what this parable says about Jesus as well, the one who has issued the invitation and promised to accompany us to the feast.   What we know about this guy? Who would be surprised if he were late? This is a guy who’s always stopping along the way to widen the circle—how do you think we got here?!—stopping to embrace a stranger, to heal the leper, teach an inquirer, to give something of himself to those who hunger and thirst.   Of course he’s late! He’s still working.

Part of our waiting, part of our understanding of this kingdom, is to trust that God is still continuing to redeem this creation, still creating and making new, still making us a way to follow and creating opportunities for others to join us. Giving us every opportunity to wake up to listen and to act in love and faith.

And one more thing.  We wait together, because we will nod off, we will fall away, we will sin and we will suffer and we need the community to rouse us and remind us that the bridegroom has named and claimed us, that the feast awaits and that we are still his beloved.

So brothers and sisters let’s keep our light shining. Let’s refuse to  relinquish hope under any circumstances, not ours or that of our neighbors.  We all know that this is not as good as it gets, but he gets better if we live in active faith, and that hope is a part of the process as Luther reminds us.

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

The parable tells us it is wise to fill our lamps with these good things of love and faith and hope.  They will burn brightly in our time and illuminate the journey as we wait for the bridegroom to take us to the feast.  But let’s also remember that these things are only means and not ends, they are for use on this side of eternity.

There is already enough light at the banquet.

Thanks be to God.