Sermon–November 12, 2017


23 Pentecost—Proper 27-A

November 12, 2017

William Bradbury

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16, Psalm 70, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13

“Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, come to the holy table.” That’s the invitation given at Holy Eucharist at All Saints’. Considering the parable we just heard we might say: “Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, come to the wedding of the Groom.” As Robert Capon puts it, this parable operates under the principle of Jesus’ parables that there is “inclusion before there is exclusion”. All ten bridesmaids are invited from the get go. God’s invitation is for everyone: all are invited. All. Yet every invitation, human or divine, calls for a decision—shall I accept the invitation or shall I refuse it?

To decide we must consider what it will cost us to go and what we’ll miss if we don’t go. If I accept the invitation I’ll have to drive 100 miles to the church and wear a suit and miss the Patriot’s game. 

If I don’t go, I may miss the greatest party ever!

Every invitation requires a decision.

This invitation from God comes to us every day and it produces the greatest decision we ever face. Our decision every morning determines which life we will live today: the life the ego invites us to live in which we ignore the needs of our neighbor and thereby fall into selfishness and death or the life God invites us to live in which we serve our neighbor and fall into love and life.

Put another way, it is a decision that confronts us every day in the face of our neighbor: do I chose to accept the invitation of my ego or the invitation of Jesus. Rudolf Bultmann speaks this way in the opening of his Theology of the New Testament

The parable starts off on a positive note: All ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to appear so they can usher him to the wedding.

Reminds me of the Drew Hickcox wedding some of us went to back in the summer when the friends of the groom were called out of our seats into the parking lot of the Danvers Yacht Club to greet the groom as he approached on a horse. Then we led him to his waiting bride. It was great fun and very different from sitting in a pew waiting for bride and groom to come to us in the church.

By the way this is the meaning of that strange line, often used for a terrible theology, that we see in 1 Thessalonians, in which the dead are seen rising up into the air to meet the returning Christ. The point is not that they are now going to fly into heaven with Christ, leaving behind the suffering on the earth, but rather that they are going to meet Christ and then usher him in celebration to earth to renew creation.

All ten bridesmaids are there to meet the groom, but only 5 are ready to meet the groom. The other 5 bridesmaids leave just as the groom is arriving. They are missing in action. Nowhere to be found. Gone, gone, gone, of their own free will.

They were invited and they were there for a time, but then they decide to go shopping instead.

This is the important point: The groom doesn’t leave them, they leave the groom.

They assume the groom won’t accept them without their torches going.  But is that true?

They accepted his invitation, but they didn’t think through the cost of acceptance. They didn’t think they might have to wait hours for him to show up and consequently might need extra oil for their lamps. These five are willing to follow the groom only on their terms, according to their timetable and convenience.

 They could have brought extra oil like the five wise bridesmaids, so why didn’t they?

One theory is they are lazy. This waiting for Jesus is hard, so let’s just coast. Let’s appear a little bit spiritual, talk the talk, but never break a sweat when it’s time to walk the walk.

Another theory is that they are cheap…. Not willing to spend a few bucks to buy the oil. They are all receiving and no giving. They are “consumer Christians”, who want to be fed but never feed, to take a lot and give only a little.

In North Carolina I got tired of hearing these folks tell me they changed churches because they weren’t being fed. Often they weren’t being fed, precisely because they were not willing to give of themselves to feed others, which is the best way to get fed.

Maybe another reason they don’t buy the oil is that they are too busy.

It’s like Hugh Grant in one of my favorite movies, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. Throughout the movie he’s consistently late to weddings, which means at the first wedding he’s rushing around with his hair on fire because he is the Best Man—and in the rush he forgets to bring the ring.

Here’s another theory I read about: they don’t bring the oil because they are too embarrassed to lug around that jug of oil. It would look funny, and god forbid they look like a fool in the eyes of society.

Bishop Gayle gave the vestry a bunch of pamphlets when she left last week. One was called, “A Shy Person’s Guide to Evangelism.”  It says that the average Episcopalian invites a friend to church once every 27 years, and it is the hope of this author to cut that number in half.

In all these scenarios what is most important is not the groom, but the comfort of the bridesmaids.  

Someone says, “Well I was told that we are saved by grace and all I have to do is give my mental assent to a series of propositions about the nature of Jesus and the Trinity, then I can live on my terms and nicely fit in with the status quo.”

But Robert Capon says, faith is NOT an assent to a theological proposition. Rather Faith “is the living out of a trust-relationship with a person.” Page 156, The Parables of Judgment

Five women take the invitation of the groom seriously and five women take the invitation of the groom frivolously.

At the end of the story the groom gets to say who actually has a relationship with him. He does not say to the five late girls, “I never invited you.” Rather he says, “I don’t know you”.

The haunting question for us is this: where does the invitation of Christ rank in the hierarchy of invitations we receive every day?

The answer can be found in the question: Do I want to be in a deeper relationship with Christ?

Do I care enough about Christ to talk to him every day?

Do I care enough about Christ to give sacrificially of my money to support his mission to the last, the least, and the lost?

Do I care enough about Christ to throw myself onto his mercy every time I fail to love my neighbor?

Do I care enough about Christ to carry around that funny looking jug of oil?

Jesus says this invitation from God presents us with the greatest decision of our lives. It is a decision which will determine which life we live: the life in which we ignore the invitation of Christ hidden in the needs of our neighbor and thus fall into hardness of heart and spiritual death or the life in which we accept the invitation of Christ hidden in our neighbor and thus grow into love and life.

Here’s how Robert Capon ends his discussion of this parable: He writes: “God is not our mother in law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped, He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other. We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.” Ibid. page 166