November 12, 2017
Matthew 25. 1-13
+ Now, I realize as I make this statement you’re going to no doubt think immediately, “Oh there goes Father Jamie, full of hubris, crowing on and on about himself!”
Actually, I don’t think any of you think that about that me. I’ve never heard any of you accuse me of hubris in my life.
But, there are times when I hear from someone who has come to me for some pastoral help who say, in the end, “Wow! You’re actually pretty wise!”
As though surprised that I might actually be wise.
I also get this sometimes from people:
“Huh. You’re actually fairly smart about things!”
Some days, yes, I am can be kind of smart. On good days.
In my younger days I was considered really smart and maybe been a bit wise. But I think the older we get, our intelligence and wisdom just sort of even out.
Or maybe we just put the flames of our intelligence under a bushel at times.
But there is an interesting question we need to ask ourselves sometimes.
What does it mean to be wise?
Certainly wisdom is something that is held up as admirable from a scriptural prospective. There is, after all, much said about wisdom in the scriptures.
And we need to be clear here: being wise and being smart are two very different things. We can be intellectually smart. Trust me, there’s a lot of intellectually smart people here at St. Stephen’s! There’s a lot of education under this roof.
But wisdom is something else. And one doesn’t necessarily have need to have a terminal academic degree to be wise.
From a scriptural perspective, we find two kinds of wisdom. We find the wisdom of the world, which more often than not, is seen as base-less according to scripture. World-based wisdom is fleeting, after all. By one definition, it is seen as “based on intuition and experience without revelation, and thus has severe limitations.” (The New Bible Dictionary).
The other kind of wisdom we find in scriptures is, of course, true wisdom. True wisdom is the wisdom that comes from God. It is a wisdom instilled within us by the Spirit and, by the Spirit, shared with others.
True wisdom is a beautiful goal to work toward. But…I want to stress, it is not something we ourselves can gain on our own. True wisdom does not come from reading lots of books, knowing lots of languages nor does it depend on the kind of school we went to or how many letters we have behind our names.
Certainly, we all strive for true wisdom in one sense or the other. We long to be wiser than we are sometimes. We all expect wisdom to descend upon us gradually over time, with the years, so that when we are finished with our journey here on earth, we will have a nice stockpile of wisdom at the end. The fact is, as well know, life doesn’t really work that way.
True wisdom is often elusive. Just when we think we have it, when we think we have grasped it, when we think we are truly wise, it wiggles away from us and we are left empty of it. And we realize: actually, maybe, I’m not really all that wise, after all.
But true wisdom is the ideal. It is the better place to be in our world.
And this morning, we find Jesus telling us this parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, complete with its not-so-subtle wag of the finger at us. The parable we encounter this morning truly is a strange one to say the least.
Reginald Fuller, the great Anglican theologian, found several questions unanswered in this parable. Fuller wondered:
“Whose house was the groom entering—the bride’s or his own—and in whose house did the marriage feast take place? What made the groom arrive so late? Would a wedding feast have taken place after midnight? Who were the bridesmaids, and if so why did they have to escort the groom?”
And of course, if you notice, no mention is made of the bride at all. Which is very interesting. Ultimately Fuller conceded that we know too little about the marriage customs of the time to answer these questions fully.
And ultimately, for us, it really doesn’t matter. Because, in the end, it only makes sense we make it our own story.
We find ourselves finding an analogy in it, as we attempt to do in all the parables. Without the analogy, these stories are essentially pointless to most of us.
And so, we find that in the story we do see the bridegroom is Jesus. The Bridegroom’s return is the second coming; The bridesmaids are the good and the bad among us Christian. And the wedding feast is that great feast that awaits all of us at the end of our journeys. This is probably the best way to proceed with this story and as such, it gives us plenty to take with us.
In examining the parable from this perspective, we find ourselves asking: who is it we want to be in this story? Do we want to be the foolish bridesmaids, the ones who go about in the night with our ears closed and not thinking ahead to what awaits us? Or do we want to be like the wise bridesmaids who are ready—who are ready to heed the calling, and to be ready for the Bridegroom when he comes to us?
Certainly we can look at this parable from the perspective of the end times—of that time when Christ makes his return among us on the Last Day.
But even then the story does not quite apply well to our everyday lives. Yes, it’s good to prepare for the Last Day. But I still have to get through tomorrow and this coming week.
So, this parable can simply be applied to the simple fact that Christ often appears to us in our lives right now, right here.
Christ often appears to us in disguise. Our job as Christians in this world is be prepared and to be open for those moments when God in Christ breaks through to us, when Christ visits us when we least expect him. And that is how we should remember he comes to us sometimes.
Christ appears to us sometimes in someone we might not expect. And sometimes Christ might appear to us as that person who challenges us, who jolts us out of our complacency and pushes us just outside the limitations we have set for ourselves. That is the story of the wise bridesmaids.
We do not know how or when Christ appears in our lives. But we should always be open. We should always be welcoming. We should always be ready.
When Christ comes to us, he will appear to us as someone who opens our eyes from complacency and forces us to see the present for all its stark, ugly reality—a reality we did not necessarily see before as ugly. When Christ appears to us, he will challenge us. He will nudge us outside the boundaries we have set for ourselves. He will shake us to our very core and make us tremble there.
So, we ask ourselves this morning: when he appears to us, will we be ready? Or will we find ourselves annoyed and put out by that visitation? Will we find ourselves devastated and hurt by it? Will we simply turn into ourselves in some defensive mode and block him from us?
The message we can take away from today’s parable is this: are we ready when Christ comes to us? The parable today reminds us that we have a choice: we can either be wise or we can be foolish. Wise here means more than just being smart, as I said.
Trust me, in that moment when Christ appears, it will not matter that we have read the right books and gone to the right schools.
It means being prepared. It means being savvy enough to know that life is going to throw us a few surprises and in those moments we need to be ready. To be truly wise means to know full well that the things this life throws at us doesn’t defeat us. To be wise means that we go through this life prepared.
On this Stewardship Sunday, of course, we discuss being prepared quite a lot. Stewardship time is a time for us to use our resources with real wisdom and t help us be prepared. Stewardship is a time for us to look with wisdom at the financial resources we have as well as the gifts we have and decide how we are going to share those resources in a place like St. Stephen’s.
St. Stephen’s is a place where we strive hard to be prepared for Christ appearing among us and with us.
In a few short weeks, on December 17th, we will dedicate and bless our next stained glass window. That window reflects perfectly so much of what we do well here at St. Stephen’s. The message in the window dedicated to Sts. Benedict and Scholastica, is:
LET ALL WHO ARRIVE BE RECEIVED AS CHRIST
This comes from the Rule of St. Benedict. This is something we have been doing here at St. Stephen’s for many, many years. The question to ask ourselves during this Stewardship time is, how can I help to make sure that all who arrive here at St. Stephen’s are received as Christ, the Bridegroom.
As we near the Advent in a few weeks, we can already hear that familiar rallying cry:
That is also the rallying cry for Stewardship time.
We need to be like the wise bridesmaids. We need to prepared when Christ, the Bridegroom comes to us. We need to welcome him and receive him as he deserves to be received in whatever guise he chooses to come to us. Like those wise bridesmaids, we need to be wise, we need to be savvy.
We can’t go through life with a complacent attitude—expecting that others are going to take of these things for us. That is why we give of our finances, of our time and of all our resources.
We must not be the foolish bridesmaids who wander about aimlessly, unprepared for what life throws at them, expecting others to give and to work. We must instead be like the wise bridesmaids, who are alert and prepared, who are ready to heed the call of the bridegroom—Christ—when he calls upon us in the dark night of our lives. We must be wise and ready in case he shows up at times other than we expect.
So let us be wise. Let us be prepared. Let us bring the oil to fill our lamps through the long night.
Whenever we celebrate a baptism here at St. Stephen’s, we add a wonderful statement when we hand the baptismal candle, lit from the Paschal Candle, to the parents and godparents. We say:
Receive the Light of Christ, so that when the Bridegroom comes, you may go forth with all the saints to meet him; and see that you keep the grace of your Baptism.
We are hearing those words anew this morning. Let us keep the grace of our Baptism. Let us continue to carry the Light of Christ within us, so that when the Bridegroom comes, we may rush to meet him. Let us be prepared for that glorious day when the Bridegroom calls us by name and invites us in to the banquet.