Todays readings for 23rd Sunday After Pentecost Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Psalm 78:1-7 1 Thessalonians 4:9-18 Matthew 25:1-13
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
I heard someone say, this week, that they preferred John’s wedding to Matthew’s. In John’s wedding, that is the Wedding at Cana in John Chapter 2, there is no rebuke, no exclusion, just a picture of God’s incredible love and generosity. It is written as narrative, part of the story of what Jesus said and did, whereas the two weddings that we have encountered in the last little while in Matthew’s gospel are both occurring in parables and both of them apparently end with unpleasant exclusion for those who are in some way unworthy. The wedding banquet is a familiar idea, from the OT and it is a metaphor for joyous life in the Kingdom, an idea taken up by Douglas Adams in his Restaurant at the End of the Universe!
This is a wedding banquet parable. When you consider a parable it is very tempting- especially for me- to try to understand every detail and turn it from Parable to Allegory. In an allegory each element symbolises something but in a parable there is one big idea. The other thing that we are told in the gospels is that Jesus does his teaching in parables so that only people with the right kind of awareness can hear and understand. Parables are meant to hide things, rather than to universally reveal them.
This particular parable comes in a long discourse, or teaching section that is about the eschaton, or the end times. The disciples have asked when the events will take place and Jesus is telling them that they can’t know, so need to stay awake to anticipate it, or perhaps to experience it? Jesus then says, “At that time the reign of heaven or the kingdom of heaven will be likened to ten virgins, etc.” now this is interesting- does Jesus mean that it will be like ten virgins or it will be understood as being like ten virgins? Matthew is alone in recording this parable and it may be that it relates far more to something going on in his community than it does to Jesus teaching about the eschaton. The problem for Matthew’s listeners, just as it is for us today, is that they thought that they were waiting for something to happen and the delay seemed hard for them to bear. But perhaps the bridegroom has already come, both for them and for us and this parable is about is life in the kingdom, now.
Of the ten girls, or bridesmaids in this parable, five are ‘morons’ the text tells us, and five are wise. Now ‘moron’ has a very negative connotation for us, and in Greek it is also stronger than ‘foolish’ is for us. So what do these girls do that is foolish? Or Moronic? They fail to be light in their world when they are called to be. Their lack of attention means that when they are called on to shine they can’t do it and they self-exclude, as they have to leave the party in order to remedy the situation, and then it is too late.
It isn’t the going to sleep that is the problem, they all go to sleep while they are waiting, but some of the girls have been prepared for a long time to elapse and some have not. The ones who are prepared are able to be the light, which is what they are called to be, they are ready to get on with kingdom business. The moronic ones have failed to prepare themselves, they didn’t have sufficient imagination to see the consequences of their inattention. This isn’t a moral tale- it isn’t about sharing what we have, or helping each other, it is about preparedness that enables. The other thing to notice is that once again the Kingdom of heaven is a party. The girls are being asked to be light so that people can come along with the bridegroom into the banquet.
So where does it leave us? If the Kingdom has already arrived, the bridegroom is already here, this isn’t a tale about what we are to do in some far off future, nor a parable that tells us how to exclude others, rather it is a call to us to be prepared for action, and to take it when called. We are to be shining our lamps so that others can come into the marriage feast. I am sure that you can see where I am going with this? We are to have our lamps full of oil, how is that for a metaphor for pecuniary investment? We need to be investing in our future and we need to have enough imagination to see the consequences of a failure to prepare. But it certainly isn’t all about money, indeed I don’t think that is the important thing, it is just a function of what I am saying- it is about investment in a different sense. Those girls who invested in extra oil were prepared to shine. Morons, in this context, are those who can’t or won’t see that they might need to invest spiritually both in themselves and in others. It is easy to be asked to be part of the wedding party but not to really commit to it. If you go with it for as long as the initial enthusiasm lasts but without a deepening relationship with God, you run out of shine.
Now the way we invest in our Christian life is much more complex than going to the shop and buying oil, it requires attention to ourselves, to others, and to God. We need to be growing and deepening, both things that are hard to measure in ourselves, at least in the short term but easier to see in those around us. So we need to relate to the body of Christ, to change the metaphor, and we need to learn from each other. We also need to allow the Holy Spirit or Sustainer to move in our lives. God grows the seed planted in us but we have to allow God to do that. And like the young women who are only there for the short haul, its easy to drop out of the process.
In our Old Testament reading we have the Israelite people who have entered the promised land, which is surely another way of saying that they have been invited to the party. They are, however, easily distracted, and indeed they have always been easily distracted. Joshua calls them together and tells them that in response to God’s offer to make of them a fruitful and abundant people that he and he household are going to hold on to God, they are going to continue to worship God. The response is keen- everyone agrees that they would like to serve God, who has brought them into the party. Sadly we know that they continue to be distracted and some self exclude ultimately. God wants us all, God has provided amply for us, but perhaps we need to be reminded, like the Israelites that we are invited not just to be insiders but to shine a light for the nations, which is Israel’s function, just as it is the bridemaids’ function.
We need to be a church that invests heavily in God, a church that prays, that listens, reads and thinks, a church that grows. A church who sustains and upholds each other. We then need to be a church who shines the light for our world. That will be seen in our actions for those in need, which Matthew deals with in another parable that we will read two weeks hence, and in welcoming the marginalised along with the mainstream, and in loving and caring for each other. And in our care for our community and our care for each other we will see the Bridegroom and come out to welcome him as he bids us to the feast. Brothers and Sisters we are part of the Kingdom of Heaven right now, so let us get up and trim our lamps, so that we can shine.
 Please see the Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe Douglas Adams