26 Pentecost - Proper 27
November 9, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart
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To serve the
To grow the
|Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
|The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
recent presidential election. Voter turnout was significantly larger than usual.
Quite a few people voted for the first time, not just young voters, but people old
enough to-have-vote-for-years but who hadn’t bothered. What was it that spurred
people this year? Something motivated many U.S. citizens to get to the polls this
time around. Maybe it was being part of a historic election, what with an African
American running for president for the first time; or maybe it was due to the low
approval ratings of our incumbent president; or maybe people turned-out because
they were worried about the economy. Whatever the reason, there seemed to be
an urgency among voters this year, a sense that it really mattered for each
person to cast his or her ballot in the elections.
A large number of people voted here in the Philadelphia area last Tuesday. News
reports were chock-full of people saying they got up before dawn to get in line,
when the polling place hadn’t even opened yet. Others went as a group, where a
son or a daughter was eligible to vote for the first time and was accompanied his
or her parents. Around noon it started to rain but that did not hold anyone back
from standing in the long lines that formed; people waited patiently to mark their
ballots and send in their votes. Of course, in this great nation, this strong and
established democracy, there was no violence, no force was used; the election
process went smoothly as people around the country stepped into voting booths
and made their selections. That’s the essence of America -- that we have the
right to choose our government. That’s one of the things that makes us great.
But again, …this year, there seemed to be something in the air, something that
stirred many, a sense that a moment had arrived, and people across the nation
made a special effort to get out of bed, to stand in long lines if need be, to
ignore the rain or the heat or the cold, and vote.
Moments like that will, on occasion, arrive in life. They may arrive for an entire
people, like September 11th, 2001 -- when we were all affected, all changed by
the terrorist attacks, -- or they may arrive just for you, say if the day comes for
you to take the bar exam, and either pass it and become a lawyer or fail it and
do not. But in life, those great moments arrive, moments when the accounting,
the reckoning takes place -- moments when everything comes down to right now
and we see who we are and who we will be. We prepare for those moments all
our lives, though we may not think of it that way, and though we are unaware
which moments are on the horizon. But still, we prepare for them in how we live
our daily lives, in how we prepare for life.
We prepare for “that moment” in how we prepare ourselves for work each day,
how we prepare for school throughout the semester and over the years, how we
prepare for marriage even before we are engaged, how we start getting ready (or
not) for a test that is still a month away. All of it prepares us for the big, as yet
unknown, moment. We make ourselves ready for ‘that day’ by whether we stop
when someone needs our help at the side of the road, by whether we offer our
condolences when someone’s loved one has died - bother to bring food… by
whether we help our neighbor when a tree falls on his house at suppertime… by
whether we take a moment to read to our kids or have a conversation with that
elderly lady down the street who repeats herself constantly because she is so
lonely. It’s all preparation.
There were ten bridesmaids altogether, lovely young women, no doubt. It was
the tradition in the ancient near east, that when the time came for a wedding, the
bridegroom would travel to the home of his bride and “carry her off” to their
new home. (isn’t that romantic!) Well, of course, the bride wasn’t simply going to
wait inside for him to show up! According to custom, she and her attendants went
out part way to meet him. The date was set, so they knew approximately when
he would come. But travel was usually by foot, which meant the bridegroom might
be delayed - by inclement weather, by a last minute preparation, by family
obligations -- who knows? One couldn’t say exactly when he and his attendants
would arrive. So the bride and her bridesmaids would get to the meeting place to
await the bridegroom, and the wait might be 30 minutes, or it might be several
hours, or it might be a day and a half. You never knew.
Jesus tells a story about a wedding party which makes us think about being
prepared. Keep in mind that this is a parable, a story with a point that teaches
us something. It is not an allegory where every character in the story stands for
something or someone in the kingdom of heaven. The bridesmaids knew what
weddings were like in their own culture. The time came and they went out to
meet the bridegroom. They took lamps – oil lamps, fueled by oil and a lighted
wick. Five of them thought to bring extra oil, five did not. They got to the
proscribed meeting place and the bridegroom did not show up within a couple of
hours. Those with extra oil were fine; those without extra oil were not. They had
to go off in the night and try to find someone who would sell them more oil.
Merchants closed for the night in those days. The foolish young maids were out-of-
luck until daylight. They had not planned well.
While they were gone, the bridegroom arrived. Of course the wedding party wasn’
t going to wait for those silly bridesmaids to return. The bride, bridegroom and
the other attendants went to their destination and got started with the festivities.
They were all inside celebrating when a knock came at the door. It was those
five foolish bridesmaids who, if I may say, had not carried out their duty - their
lamps were not lit at the crucial moment, they were not present when the
bridegroom arrived, they were not with the bride as she was given to the
bridegroom in marriage. They missed the whole thing. But now they want to be
let into the party. They say “Lord, lord, let us in.” The bridegroom comes over to
have a look, but he has not met these young women before. They were not
present when he arrived so he says “I do not know you.” That is the plain
truth. He does not know them. He’s never seen them before.
The lesson from this story is not that Jesus will suddenly fail to recognize those
of us who love him, worship him, and serve alongside him in ministry, at the last
day; no – the story tells about a bridegroom who does not recognize 5
bridesmaids he had never met. The ‘teaching’ of the parable is that you can’t
expect someone to recognize you if you’ve never been in his house, if you’ve
never been introduced, if you’ve never spent time together, if you’ve never had
a conversation, if you’ve never played on the same team, if you’ve never hung
out in the same company. If you’re a stranger to God during your life, you cannot
show up at the pearly gates and say “lord, lord;” he will not know you. Our lives
are our preparation. We get ready for the critical day, that moment when the
rubber hits the road, by living as the baptized people of God every day.
We learn, in our world, to be prepared for certain things – a big presentation at
work, a difficult conversation with a co-worker, taking a test or writing a research
paper for school, interviewing for a job, fulfilling your roll as a bridesmaid, having
that necessary talk with your spouse or your child or your parent. We learn to
make ourselves ready for these big moments so we can give our best, so we
can use the abilities we have, so others can count on us, so we can do our part
in the family, in the community. We hear what the story is saying -- don’t wait to
be prepared. Back then, you never knew when the bridegroom would arrive. For
goodness sake bring extra oil – it’s the only sensible thing to do.
If we can be prepared for the things in our daily lives – work, school, parenting,
being good neighbors, voting for the president we think will do the best job… if
we can do those things, how much more should we prepare ourselves for the
kingdom of heaven. People get so excited – myself included – when the candidate
of their choice is elected. “Wow!” we say, “Now things will really get done!” And
that excitement is fine; it means we care about our nation’s well being; we care
enough to be involved. But how much more significant it is that the kingdom of
heaven is coming -- when Jesus will reign completely. We prepare ourselves and
work hard for secular leaders – with all their promise -- yet how much more might
we do to prepare for the kingdom of heaven? Because when Jesus rules over
all, everything will be peace and righteousness and joy and harmony and
goodness and prosperity for everyone.
The kingdom of heaven is coming – something far better than the most astonishing
political election, better than the Phillies winning the World Series (it’s true),
better than the wonderful pies the St. Elizabeth’s Guild served last week after
service (if you can imagine that!). The kingdom of heaven is coming - God as
eternal ruler of earth and heaven. All other rulers will gladly serve the Lord.
There will be no more “little people” to be overlooked any more because
everyone will count equally. There will be no more poor and rich because
everyone will be fully satisfied and blessed. The kingdom of heaven is coming… it’
s better than Christmas; we want to be ready. That’s what today’s parable is
telling us. We don’t want to be caught napping, we don’t want to be those who
have forgotten to bring their oil because they were too busy watching American
Idol or buying new shoes. This is so much more significant – the kingdom of
heaven is drawing near. When the moment arrives, let us not be unprepared.
We won’t be because we’ve been getting ready all our lives… bringing food to
neighbors and church members who are sick or grieving the death of a loved
one - that’s good preparation; hearing and repeating the stories of our faith so
they live in our hearts and we know them by heart and we can share them with
the world by how we live and by how we talk. We’ve been preparing by praising
God in good times and bad, by serving God with collections of blankets and
coats for families who need them against the winter cold, by praying day after day
and together on Sundays for the Church and the world and people we don’t even
know. All of it is simply living, and yet preparing for the moment when Christ will
return to claim us, to rule over all creation. We have no idea when that will
happen, when our bridegroom will arrive, but until he does, we’re gonna’ keep on
preparing… praising God, listening to Jesus, showing one another mercy and
kindness, helping our neighbor… and on and on… amen.