Sermon Begins at 11:20
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Life Everlasting – A Present Reality
Jesus warned in his parable to those unprepared, ” ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Being prepared for and living into the anticipation of the future presence of Christ is at the heart of the Christian life for each of us now, and in the days to come. In the Nicene Creed each week we affirm our belief in the promise, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Today’s parable portrays an event in which, ten bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of a delayed groom are representative of the church who is awaiting Christ’s return. Five bridesmaids are described as wise and five are foolish because they brought no oil for their lamps.
It is interesting to note that all ten slept as they waited for the groom, so the focus of the parable seems to be less on the virtue of watchfulness, and more on the virtue of preparedness or prepared for a future certainty. At the announcement of the groom’s arrival, only those with oil could light their lamps and thus, only those prepared could see to follow him into the banquet. The foolish ones wanted a share of the other’s oil however, their oil was not transferrable and so, the foolish were left behind.
The wise bridesmaids were prepared for the groom’s arrival, the foolish were not. Oil is a significant metaphor because throughout the Old Testament, oil represented good works of justice and righteousness. Thus, the wise bridesmaids failure to share their oil was not an act of non-charity to the others, but rather a reality that good works of the wise could not be transferred to the foolish. The nature of the parable seems to be emblematic of our Christian journey, and Matthew uses the parable to clarify the difference between the disciples who are prepared to follow Jesus now, and those who lose sight of the necessity for preparedness. The wise are already participating in the life ,which is to come, a life of discipleship, as if it were already a present reality.
Discipleship is living a life changed, altered, and forever affected by the love of Christ. Discipleship requires that now, we live as changed beings as if the fulfillment of the Kingdom has already come to pass, because it is a present reality as well as a future hope. We recognize that God is actively working in us now and we are not merely waiting for the day that it will come to pass.
A man and woman dreamed of building their retirement home. They perused multiple blueprints, scoped out various properties, and they shopped for furniture with multiple design themes. They did not wait until moving day to begin preparing, they lived into the future hope by actively working toward it now. As the days passed, the ground was broken, the foundation poured, walls were raised, the roof was put in place, and all of the internal workings were completed. On moving day, the furniture arrived and within a few weeks, all was complete. As the couple sat down in their new home and surveyed all for which they had worked, somehow it all seemed so final. They had arrived and the question on both of their minds was, “now what?”
The arrival is not the final word. The couple could now anticipate many years of enjoying the bliss of retirement in their new home, and what was so exciting was that their relationship had not arrived at its pinnacle either. There was much more growing, learning, and passion for them to share. Our Christian journey is like that as well.
We are on a journey of expectant hope for the fulfillment of God promises, but we are to live as if that promise has already made itself manifest in our lives today. Discipleship is not merely the arrival itself, it is a journey; a journey with God. God is active. From the beginning of creation, God was active. Throughout salvation history, God was and is active. In our lives today, God is active, and when the fulfillment of God’s future hope arrives, God will be active even then.
Our Destiny with God
Paul Tillich a well-known 20th century theologian asserts, “The Divine life participates in every life as its ground and aim. God participates in everything that is; he has community with it; he shares in its destiny.” (1) Tillich eludes to the fact that God and creation’s destiny is found within each other. God’s being is about God’s becoming and likewise, our being is about our becoming; and we are becoming together, as a state of union with God. In other words, our salvation, our living fully into the redeemed life has already begun, but it is an ongoing process that will continue as we share in the divine destiny. Our expectant hope and our active living are inseparable. The future hope is already here, but not yet fulfilled. We see references of the “already but not yet” deeply embedded in our worship. We sometimes hear the prayers and say the words so often, we unfortunately may overlook it. In our Eucharist prayers for instance in Rite I, we ask God to “be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”(2 Here we express our desire for the fulfillment of our destined life shared with Christ.
In the Eucharistic Prayer found in Rite I, we say, “we proclaim his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; as we look for the coming of his kingdom.” In these words, the church declares that we have hope that the Kingdom of God will arrive, but also we declare we will live now in the transformation found through the life, death, resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If we believe this, then we should live in that way now, not out fear for a future judgment, but we live that way now because we love God for the healing Christ has brought us, is bringing us now, and the healing for which we await in the age to come.
Waiting and anticipating
Waiting and anticipating the age to come is a part of the active living and journeying , to which our baptismal vows call us to commit. Through those vows we promise: “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being.” These promises of ours, others may have taken for us as infants, but for those confirmed we affirmed them later on and each of us will be given the opportunity to claim them as the way will live today, tomorrow and in the future.
In a world where relational promises and vows have in some cases stood the test of time, and in other cases have lasted no more than a few days, the baptismal promises have brought together the church for 2000 years.
For all the saints who have come before us, those whom we commemorated this past Sunday on All Saints Day, we join with them and promise that while we wait for Our Lord’s return, but we will live fully now in the redeemed life, for when the hour comes, all will be fulfilled. Be ready my dear sisters and brothers, because, as Our Lord advises, “Keep awake . . . for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
(1) Taylor, Mark “Paul Tillich: Theologian of the boundaries,” Fortress Press, 1987, p. 173
(2) Eucharistic Prayer Rite I BCP