Can you believe Jesus would tell such a parable? Ten young bridesmaids, stood up by a delinquent bridegroom – five girls end up locked out in the dark night for being foolish. I assume you said, “Thanks be to God,” not because you agree that’s where fools need to be, but that’s what we automatically say, even if the story stinks.
I prefer Jesus’ more inclusive parables – like workers hired at days’ end who get paid the same regardless when they start; a lost son returns and dad throws a party; lost sheep and coins get found – again, parties; Jesus eats and hangs with sinners and tax collectors. But today, five bridesmaids don’t get a second chance, not for being evil or that they reek with sin – but for being foolish. Really – where’s the grace?
Who’s to blame? Five bridesmaids – maybe a bit obsessive-compulsive, bring extra lamp oil for God knows what reason – or five who plan for a groom to be on time for his own party? They may have less lighting in the banquet hall – big deal. Is it wise, or OCD to carry extra batteries, just in case your flashlight stops working? Or is the groom at fault for being late?
The early church expected Jesus would soon return. Eventually, some gave up. Others thought Jesus was a hoax. And today, 2000 years, we are still here. What do you expect? Do you live as Jesus says, “Keep awake?” Some of us wander away; some find better things to do. Others fall asleep, figure they’ll have time, or maybe have given up and gone away. And then some live in fear the bridegroom will burst in any moment. They won’t get left behind. They’re prepared, and they think we aren’t. And suddenly a shout in the night: “The bridegroom – light the lamps. Start the party.”
Those whose oil burned out, beg for oil from the others. “No, go find your own.” The five wise girls must not have been Episcopalians. Of course, we’d share. The five foolish scurry off in search of a 24-hour Home Depot. They return, but it’s too late. The door’s locked. Now the bridegroom suddenly doesn’t know them. They weren’t ready – even if he’s delayed. Is it possible to accept the invitation and miss the party? Where’s the grace and inclusive welcome stuff here?
Isn’t life just like that? Each Sunday you hear an invitation to a deeper relationship with God; you hear these parables; you know God oozes with grace and everlasting love. Of course, we have time. Yet there comes a time when time runs out. We don’t want to think about it, but you know it’s true.
Today we are here to worship God, eat a wonderful meal, hear about stewardship, and receive a packet. You know what is in the packet? Choices, decisions we are going to make soon and return to the church. These are not legally binding – but only what you intend and hope to do. We are going to decide what we will give, as best we can, of what we have, and what we will do for God through St. Paul’s Church in 2015. Read what’s in the packet carefully. Pray about it. If you’ve already decided without first reading the packet, read it, pray more and decide again. As when Joshua told Israel, “Choose this day whom you serve. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Time runs out and the door shuts. “Lord, you know I meant to study the Bible and pray daily. Lord, you know I intended to increase my pledge. Lord, you know how I longed to work with the children, but didn’t take the time.” We live in a world of decision overload. It’s hard to decide with so many choices. Deciding on one thing means we let go of other possibilities.
I heard of a couple who show up for church one Sunday and say they are “church shopping.” “How long?” “About five years – you see, there are so many options out there, and we can’t decide on one that’s right for us.” I told a friend that story this past week. He said, “Amazing. They must hit stewardship Sunday in every church they attended.”
Ask yourself as you pray and ponder your decision, “What will I decide?” – not someone else. Would you decide to increase your pledge by a percentage over last year – maybe even more? If you haven’t made a pledge to the church before, could now be the time? Is it time to decide to invite your neighbor to church; to call the person you’ve missed seeing around here to let them know you care? Is it time to decide to serve on the Altar Guild, join the choir, volunteer at the Thrift Shop, attend Adult Education, help our teachers recruit families with children. Will we decide to get to know the people who live in the shadows of St. Paul’s steeple, and focus our attention on their needs and concerns – and less on keeping ourselves comfortable inside these walls? Long-time church members want the church to be as it was twenty years ago – which is a great goal. If that’s what we want, will we decide to give it the energy and passion to make that happen in our day and context? Folks, it is time we decide what we will do now for the future of St. Paul’s. We still have time, but one day it will run out. Not to decide is an option we can’t afford. Prayerfully decide, “What is God calling me to do here? What will I commit to doing to grow more deeply in love with God and others? What do I need to do differently for that to happen? What will I decide to give back to God through St. Paul’s, and feel the joy of being fully invested here, and a more dedicated follower of Jesus?”
We may not enjoy this parable, but we know it’s true. I never considered this parable had a thing to do with stewardship. After this sermon, you may agree. Stewardship is concerned with management – our time, talents and money are gifts to be used for God’s will. Stewardship is the decisions and choices we make. Wisdom is to know what’s really going on, and act on it. Foolishness is to deny it.
The kingdom of heaven is like – a wedding banquet. I think the bridegroom is already here, has been always – just as he promised when he left the first time. Jesus unites and weds us into divine life and love. The party has already started. Are you in? Are you ready to bring others in with you?