Broad Brook Congregational Church
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Nov. 9, 2014
Keeping the Faith
As we near the end of our time in Matthew, we will encounter parables whose theme is the coming of the Christ and the ushering in of the Kindom (my choice of spelling) of God. The discourse we heard today is from a sermon Jesus preached only to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.
The parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is unique to Matthew’s Gospel and is the second of four stories about how to live until the end of the age. The story is allegorical with the bridegroom representing Jesus and the virgins standing for the members of the church; the fully realized Kindom of God is represented by the wedding feast; and the Last Judgment is portrayed by the rejection of the foolish maidens. While the ten virgins play a key role there is more to the broader picture. This parable gives a complete picture of the “kingdom of heaven,” as Matthew calls it.
At the outset the bridesmaids are indistinguishable. What sets the wise and foolish women apart? All of them had lamps; all of them fall asleep. All of them had oil enough for lighting the lamps upon the arrival of the bridegroom. However, the bridegroom is delayed. What distinguishes the two groups is: the wise maidens planned ahead and had enough oil to last during the time of waiting. Meanwhile the unprepared virgins are out looking for a 24 hour Cumberland Farms that carries lamp oil. The doors to the party are now closed and locked. The bridegroom and the wise virgins begin the banquet celebration.
Waiting. Delay. Instances of delay and waiting in our lives are difficult. I would wager that every parent down through the ages, whether traveling long distances by donkey, camel, horse, wagon, or car, has been asked by their child the dreaded question: “Are we there yet?” And so we play games, listen to music, or read; whatever we can come up with to occupy the time. Then came the GENIUS that invented portable technology for movie watching—God bless that person! This is a very simplistic example of how to live in the meantime—between point A and point B.
What about waiting on the phone to talk to a living breathing person in customer service, looking through magazines that are four years old in the office of a doctor who is never on time, having to slow down to 25 mph in a school zone, or standing in the only open check-out line behind a family of four with not one but two grocery carts overflowing with items? In our fast paced world waiting becomes a source of irritation. We hunger for faster everything; faster Internet connections, weight loss, travel, food, and let’s not forget faster answers to prayer!
This parable speaks a profound message to our fast-paced 21st century society. We need to learn patience; not “God I want patience and I want it now!” When asked about why a person’s prayer for patience was not answered, the pastor said: “God does not grant us patience. God provides situations in which we can learn patience.” The next time you find yourself grumbling because you’re having to wait for something remember that we need to learn patience and you have been presented with an opportunity to learn. We need to prepare for delay, specifically the delayed kingdom of heaven.
The wise maidens in our story were prepared for delay. They had readily available resources to sustain them when their faith in the bridegroom’s coming was tested.
There are many situations along life’s journey that test us, but the faith of the wise will see them through the pain and joy, boredom and intrigue, adversity and ease. The wise will let their light shine before others. How do the wise keep the faith?
The wise keep their faith strong by: continuing in community, doing good works, study and prayer, offering forgiveness, and spreading peace and justice. Aren’t these the things Jesus has asked of us if we are to be his followers? The wise hold tightly to the promise that one-day we will all be with God forever. They are filled with hope. Speaking of the wise and how they keep the faith, Lindsay F. Armstrong puts it this way: “With the Spirit’s guidance, they have built into their lives the disciplines and habits of a lifetimes that engender hope and empower living as if citizens of the kingdom of heaven.” We are called to live as though we are already citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Living in hope doesn’t mean that we are protected from the harsh realities of life. It doesn’t mean that we look at life naively either. Hope instead believes confidently that God is still at work in the world. If we take the time to look closely and hone that skill we will see the evidence of God’s work. That is what I hope the Blessings poster will do; put us on the path toward recognizing easily God’s presence of hope, redemption, forgiveness, and compassion in the midst of our lives.
When bad news, job loss, or some other stressor happens to test out faith that is when we are in need of Good News. That good news is: God will continue to spread love in astonishing and unpredicted ways.
We need to be prepared for the unknown; the in-breaking of God’s presence.. The wise do not procrastinate in their preparation. Through acts of faith in God and deeds of mercy, the wise are ready for a secure but unknown future. The foolish, on the other hand, expect a rosy future but don’t do much to prepare for their future.
Story: A Precious Gift
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.
The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.
But a few days later, he returned the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know the great value of this stone, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”
Sometimes it’s not the wealth you have but what is inside you that others need.
By growing our faith continuously we have the available resources to share our faith with others through good works and spreading justice, compassion, and love. The traveler recognized that the stone would provide the solution for a bright future but required little preparation. Wisely, he realized that what he needed was a strong foundation that would provide resources enough for him to weather a secure yet unknown future; a faith large enough to share.
Do Good works.
Spread God’s forgiveness, love, compassion, and justice.
Keep the faith.
In the greatest of hope.