By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

November 9, 2008

Read: Matthew 25: 1-13

Today Matthew gives us the parable of the ten bridesmaids–Five are wise and five are foolish. This parable can seem, on the surface, to be a tough one. There is the uncomfortableness surrounding staying awake, the wise not sharing their oil with the foolish, and the seemingly closed door. That’s on the surface, though. Let’s dig deeper.

Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven WILL BE like this.” The future tense, the WILL BE suggests the end times; but we know that John the Baptist and Jesus himself have told us that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near (3:2; 10:7). This is true, in part, because Jesus personifies the kingdom of heaven — Emmanuel — God with us (1:23). It is also true because the kingdom is present in the heart of every person who makes God the priority in his/her life.

The wise bridesmaids are different from the foolish bridesmaids at only one point — they have the foresight to take flasks of oil to replenish their lamps. Both the foolish and wise bridesmaids sleep, but the wise bridesmaids first prepare for the bridegroom’s arrival. They have lamps and oil, and are set to greet the bridegroom no matter when he might arrive. They are ready — and readiness is the point of this parable.

We might think the wise bridesmaids to be acting selfishly—that uncomfortable surface reaction; but they are instead acting wisely. If they share their oil it will quickly be gone, and the bridegroom will have no light for his wedding party. It is far better that they use five torches to illuminate the pathway for the entire distance than to use ten torches at the beginning and thereby to risk having to walk in darkness at the end — an unimaginable breach of wedding protocol. So the wise are not acting selfishly, but rather looking at the larger framework and understanding that their oil cannot be shared. Each needs their own store of oil. We each need our own energy, our own light source.

What is readiness or preparedness and what does it look like? Martin Luther looked at the psalms and their talk of Sheol (another word for Hell) as a place where no one is praising God and suggested that if we live a life in praise of God we are already in the kingdom and will remain in the kingdom, past this life.

In Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech he said: We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure. We are all meant to shine as children do. We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others”.

We can all be wise. We can take our flasks of oil; our store of energy; and let our lights shine. It requires developing our relationship with Christ. It requires a deepening understanding of ourselves and an acceptance of ourselves. It requires time spent exploring our faith. It requires time spent exploring the bible. It requires time spent developing character, integrity and compassion, to name a few. These are not things that can be taken or borrowed from another person. Your oil is who you are; it is your energy. And God is reaching out to each of us; wanting a relationship that builds our energy, our oil supply; so that our light might shine long and bright.

God’s grace and presence happens whether or not we are aware of it. Frederick Buechner, borrowing a phrase from Paul Tillich, tells us–We only want to show you something we have seen and tell you something we have heard…here and there in the world, and now and then in ourselves, is a New Creation. God speaks to us, God calls us, Buechner tells us, through the events of our lives. We see and hear God faintly, we catch a glimpse of God here and there…now and then. Sometimes it is in a kind word from a friend, or coming through a complicated surgery, or enduring a failure in your life, or a word of forgiveness from someone you care about very much and whom you hurt deeply, or hearing a friend or spouse say for the fortieth time–Why don’t you come to church with me on Sunday? These moments could be life transforming. These are the moments when the Holy Spirit could be opening your heart to the presence of God.

To be aware of these moments when God comes into our lives, here and there, now and then, requires preparation. What’s the difference between the five foolish and the five wise bridesmaids? Both fell asleep, both had lamps, both let their lamps go out. The only difference is that the five wise maids brought along an extra flask of oil. The five foolish maids prepared only for the wedding procession. While the five wise prepared not only for the wedding procession, but also for the time of waiting–the in between time.

The interpretation of today’s gospel depends a lot on what we make of the word wise or sensible. The wise bridesmaids are ready for the bridegroom when he comes; the others are not. The word in Greek means to think, or to set one’s heart on.

I can’t live off your faith. I can’t acquire the character that you’ve built and nurtured over many years of praying your life and living your prayer. I can’t borrow from your reserves of faithfulness and integrity. You have to carve out your own integrity. You have to live your own prayer. I can’t just associate myself with the church and expect to gain the credit for the courageous action for justice and peace that others in the church have undertaken. No one can go on living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed.

As for the seemingly shut door. When the foolish maids asked the Lord to open, he didn’t slam it permanently shut. Look closely. He replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour”. He said, I do not know you. It is an invitation to be known.

I’d like to close with lyrics to a song, entitled, “I Hope You Dance”. It is a beautiful life prayer; full of oil for the journey.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance…I hope you dance.
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance…I hope you dance
Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder
where those years have gone.
I hope you dance…I hope you dance
I hope you dance.

Let your light shine. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.