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What Are You Waiting For?

10virginsMatthew 25: 1-13
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Introduction to the reading

The Gospel reading this morning, from Matthew, is a parable about waiting for the Messiah. Scholars call it an advent parable. It’s not the Advent we will enter in a few weeks, anticipating the birth of Jesus, but rather an eschatological advent, that is, relating to Jesus’ coming at the end of time, when the kingdom of God will be realized in its fullness.

Here is a classic parable, an allegory, where every element stands for something larger than itself. The wedding banquet symbolizes the kingdom of heaven and the long-awaited bridegroom is Jesus Christ. The bridesmaids are the followers of Jesus, the very early church (the unmentioned bride) who light the way toward the banquet with their lamps lit with the oil of good works. The strange scene of the bridegroom’s arrival at midnight reflects the idea that the second coming will be at an unexpected time - like a “thief in the night”, Jesus has said (Matt. 24:43-44) – and interestingly, like the way Jesus was born into the world in an unsung place at an unexpected time.

What are all these people of Scripture waiting for? Well… they’re all waiting for Jesus.

The Thessalonians are anxious. These early Christians had to adjust to the reality that Jesus did not return, as they had fully expected he would, in their lifetime. Some of the first believers had died already. Uh oh. This was the issue Paul addressed in the verses from his letter to them which you heard earlier: Brothers and sisters, do not grieve as others who have no hope. HOPE – hold onto that word.

The bridesmaids in the parable are tired. They’ve been up for a very long time waiting to go to the wedding banquet. It’s really late; half of them have burned up all the oil in their lamps. Now all ten of them have fallen asleep.

At midnight, the bridegroom finally arrives. “Here he comes!” We know that five of them were ready for the wedding feast to start whenever the bridegroom got there, even if he was delayed; wisely, they had brought extra oil for their lamps. The other five were out of luck. They were only prepared for the groom to come at the time they expected, and by the time he did get there, it was too late for them. READY and WISE – hold onto those words too.

This time last Sunday, as we engaged in worship and celebrated Holy Communion in this lovely, peaceful sanctuary, a man entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and in a barrage of gunfire, slaughtered 26 people and injured many others - men, women and children, including the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor.

Stunned, appalled, frightened, angry. The church is supposed to be a welcoming, open, safe place, a sacred space. Just like elementary schools are supposed to be safe, and we know what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School just five years ago.

An editorial cartoon in The Star Ledger last week suggests one way for the church to be ready for such a violent possibility: four parishioners sit in the front pew with AK47s slung over their shoulders.

The issues of our day beg for wise and hopeful responses from the church: gun control, immigration, racism, ethical behavior, climate concerns, treatment of the mentally and emotionally disturbed, life in community, economic injustice. The list is long.

What are we waiting for? Have we fallen asleep? Have we used up all the oil of God’s love and compassion on matters that don’t matter, like saving money and arguing over church music?

Readiness is continually living according to God’s commandment to love one another, drawing upon the well of spirituality, compassion and goodwill. It takes a strong faith to keep going and going and going like that. Our Christian hope rests upon the providence of God, trusting that God continues to be present with us, continues to forgive and redeem us day after day until the end comes, whenever that may be. Our part is to keep the extra flasks of oil filled – to continue gathering as a community of faith in worship, study and prayer; to continue in mission toward justice, mercy and peace. Preparation for the coming kingdom of God means realizing that God’s kingdom is already here. We need to act accordingly.

Today, once again, we have joyfully celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism. In the pouring of water, the words of the ritual, the promises all of us have made on his behalf, Elliot is filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit. He has been made ready to be taught God’s way, to meet Jesus, to learn and feel God’s love and care.

This one infant baptism reminds us of our own. We are made ready too; most of us were baptized a long time ago. So living God’s way? What are we waiting for?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I pray this sermon. Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
November 12, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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