“Prepared for the Bridegroom”

Matthew 25:1-13

12 November 2017

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Church

 

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

Prayer.

 

With apologies to our dearly beloved members and friends

Who struggle with the chronic disease known as addiction, and

Who daily ride the bucking bronco of sobriety,

I personally like weddings in the Gospel of John a lot better than

Weddings in the Gospel of Matthew.

 

In John, the wedding is followed by a gala reception,

And when the wine runs out,

Jesus miraculously makes more!

In Matthew, weddings are occasions were some are not let in

And where some are thrown out and the door is shut!

Yikes!

 

Yet, it is not my job to select scripture that I flatter.

My job is to proclaim and interpret all scripture;

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Some scripture I’d just as soon not deal with,

Like the parable of the ten bridesmaids this morning.

Some may title this parable the wise and the foolish bridesmaids.

But I don’t think that places our attention on Jesus’ intention.

If I have a choice,

I’d title this “The Parable of the Coming Bridegroom”.

 

This portion of Matthew,

Unlike the other Gospel authors,

Brings laser focus to Jesus’ intent:

To focus his disciples on judgment, justice, and

What is commonly known as eschatology.

Judgment and justice are commonly understood.

But what is eschatology?

 

Eschatology comes from the Greek eschatos.

Escha- means last, or end.

-tology means the study of.

So eschatology means the study of the last, or the end of times.

 

Jesus is speaking about the final events of history;

When death, judgment, and the final destiny

Of the soul and humankind are at stake.

 

The setting remains

Where we have mostly journeyed these past two months:

Jesus is having a high stakes confrontation with Temple authorities,

Just hours before they would have him arrested, tried, and crucified.

Jesus is concluding this confrontation in the Temple

With this parable today,

Another related parable next week,

And a culminating allegory in two weeks.

 

In this setting,

Where our Lord is facing his own eschaton,

He is preparing his disciples,

And us, by extension,

For our own forthcoming eschaton, judgment, and justice too.

 

There are many ways to interpret the final events of history,

In light of scripture in general,

And, specifically in our Lord’s teaching.

 

In Hebrew prophecy, such as the writings of Amos,

The eschatology of the people was that the end of time,

Or, the day of the Lord, as it was known,

Was an event to be excited about;

An event to be anticipated.

It would come when the Lord took decisive action.

They anticipated the Lord would come and

Smash the invading armies who were camped outside the city’s gate and ready to conquer them.

 

To the prophet Amos,

He pulled back the reigns and said, “hold on just a minute!”

The day of the Lord was coming and

His judgment against their sin would be harsh.

The day of the Lord would result in their defeat and exile into a foreign land.

Amos proclaims,

“Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, not light.”

“But let justice roll down like waters,

And righteousness like an overflowing stream.”

(Amos 5:18, 24)

 

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

Is a question Amos asks.

After hearing these words of Jesus,

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

Is a question our Gospel begs us to ask, too. 

 

Early Church thought and study of the day of the Lord

Appear throughout the New Testament

But most definitely in the book of Revelation.

John of Patmos used prophetic prose to

Outline his vision of what the end of time,

The coming of the Lord,

Would look like.

 

Using Revelation as a backdrop

One can view eschatology from a futurist point of view;

That is, the final events of history that is yet to come.

It is unfulfilled prophecy.

The end will take place at some future date.

 

Others may interpret Revelation’s eschatology from to point of view

That prophecy was fulfilled

In the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

and subsequent Christian persecutions.

 

Others might take a longer historical world view

And interpret the final events of history taking part

Over the past 2,000 years

With associations and major people and events of the world

Playing key roles in the end of times.

 

And, there are those who take the point of view

That scripture is merely speaking symbolically

About the ongoing struggle between good and evil.

 

In the Early Church world

There remains the question of Amos,

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

 

While this may all appear academic,

These are important considerations when probing more deeply

Into our Gospel parable before us.

The bridegroom will return, but has been delayed.

Ten bridesmaids wait for his return.

 

Weddings are such festive occasions!

God has brought together two who are in love,

Joining together families and networks of friends.

A celebration waits for the conclusion of the formal ceremony;

People have been invited,

The reception is about to begin.

What’s not to like?

Everyone likes a good party!

Everyone looks forward to celebrating!

 

Yet, the bridegroom has been delayed.

The delayed bridegroom creates the circumstance for the bridesmaids

To ask, “what does eschatological living look like?”

In other words,

What do we do with ourselves until the bridegroom returns?

 

Some are foolish and unprepared, taking no oil for their lamps.

Others are wise, Jesus teaches; they prepared their lamps with flasks of oil.

But all ten fall asleep!

(Which makes me think of Peter, James, and John

Going with Jesus to Gethsemane in just a few short hours

Where Jesus would pray,

And all three of them would fall asleep!)

Matthew 26:36-46

 

Sleeping was the common denominator.

Jesus expected watchfulness,

Instead he received sleep.

Ten bridesmaids and three disciples failed him.

 

Being watchful is vital!

 

Being caught unprepared when the bridegroom appears

At midnight, the darkest part of the night,

The unprepared bridesmaids attempt to make up for their errors.

They try to buy some oil from local dealers,

But when they return, the door was shut.

The wise, prepared bridesmaids show

No mercy towards their unprepared sisters,

Which, to me, doesn’t appear to be very nice or empathetic of them.

They don’t share their oil, for fear not everyone will have enough.

They greet the bridegroom and are welcome to the feast,

The doors to the hall slamming shut behind them.

 

Apparently, preparation is everything.

 

The day of the Lord shuts the door.

Is this something we really want?

 

I’d add another question, “is the door shut never to be opened again?”

Consider Peter, James, and John sleeping with Jesus in the garden.

They were certainly embarrassed for letting Jesus down

By not staying awake and praying with him.

Yet, each of them went on to redeem themselves

To become apostles of the Church.

 

Jesus’ parable concludes with the bridesmaids left outside coming to the door, saying “Lord, lord, open to us.”

Jesus doesn’t say whether or not the door was opened

At that point, or at some point in the future.

The question is left unanswered.

Rather, Jesus says the lord door keeper responds,

“Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”

(25:11,13)

 

Apparently, knowing the lord gatekeeper is pretty important, too.

 

So, here we’ve plucked the diamonds from the rough

In this parable of the returning bridegroom.

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Watchfulness, preparation, and personal knowledge of the gatekeeper;

This is what Jesus desires us to know.

These are his main points.

Reiterating his statement from Matthew 24:50, Jesus states

“Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

(25:13)

 

Watchfulness, preparation, and personal knowledge.

What does this mean for us today?

 

Allow me to unpack this in reverse order.

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1. Personal knowledge.

Know the Lord.

Know the gatekeeper.

If you don’t yet know Him,

The time is now.

 

Just as the bridesmaids personally knew the bridegroom,

So too, should each of us come into a personal relationship with God.

Invite God into your life.

God is waiting for your invitation.

 

Once God is in your life,

Become friends.

Become best friends.

Invest in your relationship.

Talk out your disagreements.

Learn about what you hold in common.

Learn God’s ways and discern God’s will.

Pattern personal conduct on the behavior of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Speak words God would speak,

And refrain from using words God wouldn’t use.

Friends anticipate needs, and meet those needs, before they become a problem.

Anticipate God’s needs in the world.

Meet God’s needs.

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2. Prepare yourself to meet God face-to-face.

Take your shoes off, I reminded one of my colleagues this past week.

Because if you’re meeting God, you are standing on holy ground.

With humility, take your shoes off,

Physically or symbolically,

… and submit yourself to God’s presence.

 

How will this meet take place?

Two thousand years after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension,

And drawing from our rich theological roots from Revelation and related texts,

We can draw some logical, Biblical conclusions.

 

We may meet God face-to-face upon our death;

When we step from this world into God’s eternal kingdom,

And we are welcomed home by Jesus.

 

We may meet God face-to-face when Christ fulfills his promise

And returns to earth in a great apocalyptic clap of thunder.

It would be unwise of any of us to doubt the possibility

Of our Lord’s definite action.

 

Or, we may meet God face-to-face when good overcomes evil,

When light overwhelms darkness,

When our Lord’s prayer is answered

And the kingdom of God is established on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Regardless of how we will meet God,

It is essential we prepare ourselves for this meeting.

Live in every moment aware that this moment is a gift of God’s grace,

Knowing that judgment is in the future.

This moment of grace

Is a time to love and be loved.

God’s grace here and now

Is a time to forgive and be forgiven.

God’s present grace

Is an offering of eternal life,

Free for us to accept.

 

Don’t sleep away the grace God gives to you!

Do not treat God’s grace with casual indifference.

Denial of the end only works so long.

Time always runs out.

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3. Watch.

The bridegroom’s return is inevitable and unpredictable.

Therefore, watching must be done actively, not passively.

Watch and wait with the same diligence

As a soldier keeping watch,

Protecting the mortal lives of his friends.

Distracted attention or sleep is an invitation for catastrophe.

 

There is much to distract us and put us to sleep in this world.

We can be distracted by politics or religious dogma.

We can be distracted by money or prestige.

We can be distracted by power or self-interests.

Do not be distracted!

The Lord is coming,

The only question is “when?”

Since we neither know the day or the hour,

Our only choice is to keep awake,

To remain watchful,

To expect God’s imminent presence;

Anytime, anywhere, and in any circumstance.

 

The temptation is to let down the guard,

To become fatigued by a lifetime of watching and waiting.

This is where the community, the Church,

Plays such an important, vital role.

Encourage one another.

Support one another.

Yes, even correct one another. 

You heard me right; correct one another.

The stakes are life or death,

So why would anyone allow one of our own

To slumber away from God?

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Our Lord’s parable

Is an invitation to us all:

Watch.

Be prepared.

Know the Lord.

 

In the following verses of Matthew 25 over the next two Sundays,

Jesus will round out his eschatological message for us;

His promise for his eventual, inevitable return.

Death, judgment, and the final disposition of our souls

Rests in his hands. 

 

As for now,

Heed the lesson from this parable of the returning bridegroom:

Know the Lord.

Prepare to meet the Lord.

Watch for the Lord’s return.

Amen.