November 12, 2017
Matthew 25:1-13, Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
This week, I asked for a little help from my friends. I asked them to tell me about a wedding disaster. They had some good ones. There were two ring bearers who got into a pillow fight at the front of the aisle. There was a bride whose underwear slid down her legs under her floor length dress during the ceremony at the Justice of the Peace office. She finally stepped out of it and kicked it under the desk. A bride brought her cat and left it in the minister’s office during the ceremony. The cat started howling to get out in the middle of the prayer. At an outdoor Texas wedding, an armadillo came up to sniff around between the couple and the minister. There was a maid of honor at a wedding at a nudist colony! She said the bride hadn’t realized how awkward it would be to meet her in-laws naked. She also said when it came time for pictures, everyone was vying for the back row! Worst of all, there was poison oak!
Weddings are stressful. At the rehearsal, I always tell those gathered to take a breath and think of ALL the details that went into the wedding and to expect something to go wrong. Someone will trip going down the aisle. We may stumble over our words. The cake may fall. I like to think it helps to know in advance that something will likely go wrong so that we can remember that it doesn’t detract from the love that is bringing the couple together. It is a small thing compared to the vows they are taking and the life they are beginning together.
Our gospel lesson is about being prepared for the bridegroom to show up for a wedding. This is a story about Jesus’ delayed return. His followers had been waiting and as time went by, it was hard to be positively prepared. The message seems to undermine the lesson throughout scripture that there is more than enough for all. In this case some of the bridesmaids were prepared with enough oil when the bridegroom was delayed and some were not. It is easy to get hung up on the ones who were prepared not sharing their oil with the unprepared ones. What kind of message is that? As we wrestled with it in text study this week, it was suggested that because this is a parable/allegory, the story may be one about our relationship with God. It is not something that others can do for us. We are the only ones who can fill the metaphorical lamp that will connect us to God. You may give so much loving attention to your relationship that it spills over and inspires me to grow in mine, but you cannot be responsible for my relationship.
There are so many competing claims for our time and energy. There are so many reasons that we may not be cultivating our relationship with God. Joshua talks about the many gods that the Israelites have to choose from. They have traveled a long way and finally arrived in the Promised Land. Joshua tells them that it is now time to choose which God they will serve. The people say they want to serve the God who brought them there, but Joshua argues with them. It may be that he sees best of all how many temptations there are that can pull us away from God. So he calls them out and tells them to “choose this day whom they will serve.”
It seems that the wise bridesmaids have chosen to serve God. The foolish ones have found something else more enticing. Perhaps they are binge watching “Stranger Things” or “This is Us.” Perhaps they are checking Facebook. Maybe they are shopping online to get a head start on Christmas presents. Whatever they are doing, they are missing the opportunity to connect with God.
How many times do we think we are going to really give our lives to God (even just for a day) only to find ourselves caught up in something else and the day is soon gone? Friday is my day off and I often think I am going to do something like a retreat on that day only to look up and realize it is dinner time and I never started my prayerful retreat.
Every day we make so many choices that impact our relationship with God. It is something no one can do for us. Every one of those days matters. Many of them, we miss an opportunity (or several opportunities) to move closer to God. Each day is kind of a multiple choice experience.
Joel Henderson was asked how he wrote all those books. He replied that he’d never written a book – all he did was write a page a day. When the year was up, he had a 365 page book. (Weavings July/August 1994 “Commitment” p. 23)
The scriptures we hear on Sunday come around every three years in a cycle called The Lectionary. Three years ago we were struggling with a budget with a massive deficit. Our rental property had been empty for way too long. Here is what I said in that sermon “I am most alive when I am offering my gifts in a local congregation even when things are hard. My commitment to you is deep. We stand on the shoulders of many people who have gone before us and we have so much potential. As we address the financial struggles that plague us, I am clear that there is one way and that is through. There is life beyond every issue we will face. I choose to serve God together with you. I choose to say yes to the opportunities before us. I choose to face the struggles with you. I ask you to choose with me. Here is what I know…making this choice will set us free. God has already chosen us. God says yes to us everyday. Now we have the opportunity to say yes to God. In our yes is freedom. In our yes is the way through.”
We said yes together and we have grown. We still struggle with a deficit budget, but it isn’t as big as it once was. The rental property has been occupied by Crossroads for Women for two years and it is a beautiful partnership. We have just hired a wonderful Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries. We had a difficult summer as we considered offering sanctuary without the time we wanted to prepare for such a big decision. It was painful and we lost beloved members. But we said we would offer sanctuary to Kadhim and we kept showing up for one another. Today we meet to talk about where we are as a congregation. We continue to welcome new people each week. We have received financial support from individuals and churches. We have welcomed nineteen new members.
Faith is a lifetime proposition. It doesn’t happen all at once. One does not fully become a spouse at a wedding. It is something we grow into over time. We don’t fully become a parent or a Christian or anything in an instant. It happens with the choices we make each day. I want to repeat the commitment I made three years ago. I choose you. I choose to walk toward God with all of you.
We will mess up. We will hurt one another. But we will keep showing up and lighting our candles for one another and for the world. The book of Matthew calls us to be light for the world. We do that as we recognize the importance of keeping the flame lit from within. And as we tend the flame of God within us, we become hope for the world.
I believe in us. I believe in what God is doing through us. Every choice we make is an opportunity for our light to shine more brightly in the world.