How Are We Supposed to Prepare Ourselves 11-9-14

This morning’s sermon is based on Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. Jesus instructs us to be prepared, and I explore just what that means for us.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/how-are-we-supposed-to-prepare-ourselves-11-9-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Over the course of this week, I found myself reflecting back on the process that prepared me for pastoral ministry…namely the process of candidacy through the Synod office, which I began in the fall of 2007…including 3 separate steps which were completed at different stages alongside the process of my seminary education.

Both candidacy and seminary included a lot of milestone moments…each defined by a specific portion of time and effort…there were papers to write, interviews to endure, work to do…and in many instances, I found myself in a big hurry to finish some specific requirement by a deadline…only to find myself then in the process of waiting for that next step to occur…but one trend emerged throughout all that time and all those steps…for each and every one of them, I had to be prepared, even those that I really didn’t know what to be prepared for.

As I look back at all those different steps, I think my favorite one was my year of internship, fairly late in the whole process…a time when I was able to start putting all the theory into practice…experiencing ministry by doing it in a congregational setting…and while the year of internship had its fair share of times that I had to be prepared in one way or another…there is a specific instance that really stands out in my memory.

Fairly late in the year I had the opportunity to go along for a week in Green Bay, WI on a Junior High mission trip. Admittedly I was pretty excited about this whole deal. I’d been teaching the jr high confirmation class all year and had a pretty good relationship with most of the kids…I did, and still do, claim to be on the same mental level with jr high students so it promised to be a good time.

During the week in Green Bay, we had one evening of “free time” and the plan as the group, including about 40 kids and 5 adults…to head off to a small amusement park. We divided up into groups, and I found myself surrounded by about 6 or 7 8th grade boys…and we joked around as we headed off to our first destination…the roller coaster.

Now this particular roller coaster was an old time wooden coaster…and if you’ve ever ridden of those, you know that the safety system that keeps you in the cart…while certainly functional…isn’t exactly the most comfortable situation…2 people to a car, with a big metal bar that locks down over your lap. It keeps you there, but there’s a lot of sliding back and forth as you go around curves…not to mention a certain amount of bouncing up and down when you go over to top of hills.

Now as this group of young gentlemen and I took on the coaster for the first time we were all surprised at a certain point towards the end of the ride when a very quick hump lifted us up before immediately yanking us right back downwards again…and with the loose safety bar situation…you can imagine the reaction when we unexpected made contact with that bar locked down across our laps.

Interestingly enough, being jr high boys…and one adult leader on the same mental level…we all got quite the charge out of that…and it was certainly the immediate topic of conversation as we exited the coaster…and it took us all about 5 seconds to decide that we needed to go again.

Now on our second time around…as we approached this certain spot on the coaster…all of us anticipating the shock that we would once again experience…I yelled out the boys. “PREPARE YOURSELVES!!!!” and heard laughter from the whole crew for a brief second until everyone…once again…reacted to meeting with the cross bar…Now let me tell you…this whole group got such a kick out of the whole situation, that we actually named that portion of the roller coaster “prepare yourselves” and we spent the next hour standing alongside the coaster itself, just so we could laugh at the reaction of every single guy that went over it. (pause) Was it wise on our parts, probably not…was it foolish? Most likely…prepare yourselves.

This notion of being wise or foolish regarding being prepared pulls us right into the gospel lesson today…the parable of the 10 bridesmaids…a well-known tale that cautions us to “be prepared.” (pause) Now if we stop for a moment and think about just where we are in the church year, perhaps this passage starts to make a little more sense. It’s November, and we find ourselves rapidly approaching the end of the season of Pentecost…just a couple more weeks from now…and the season of Pentecost is one where we as the church take a long look at the ongoing history of the church itself…beginning with the acts of the apostles shortly after Jesus ascension…and culminating now as the church looks forward to the end times.

And this is exactly where our passage occurs today. In the chapter just before this passage, Jesus has been talking about the last days…speaking very apocalyptically to his followers about what will happen…about what to expect when all of this comes winding down to a close before Jesus returns…Matthew’s gospel is certainly keen on this notion as well…often times we catch glimpses of what is to come…of the trials and tribulations…of the final judgment to come…and today’s story does more of the same.

The bridegroom is coming…but when? That’s the real question…both the question for us today as we think about Christ…the ultimate bridegroom coming back for his bride…the church…as well as for the proverbial bridesmaids in the parable.

Now speaking of these 10 bridesmaids…we can raise the question of just what exactly were they doing? I wish I could give you some sort of perspective, but in all honesty I don’t really know that much about 1st century wedding customs to know what they were up to…all I know is that the groom goes and fetches his bride…and brings her to the wedding feast…and apparently the bridesmaids are tasked with bringing along a lamp and escorting them as they go.

And when we take a look at these 10 girls…all 10 were ready to do that…all 10 picked their lamps…and stepped out into the street to wait…ready to do their duty…and what happens? Well…for whatever reason…the groom doesn’t show up when he’s supposed to…and darkness falls…and still they’re waiting…and as none of them had a smart phone to mess around with while they stood around…they got bored…and they got tired…and all 10 of them konked out. All 10…wise and foolish alike…and then, in the middle of the night when things are at their darkest…they are jolted awake when suddenly he decides to show up.

Now at this point all 10 discover that their lamps are out of oil…and here’s where the division starts…5 had thought ahead and brought a flask of extra oil…and 5 hadn’t. 5 were ready for this unseen delay…and 5 weren’t…all 10 were ready for their duty in the evening…but only 5 were prepared to wait.

And that’s the kicker right there…these 10 girls found themselves in a situation where they needed to be prepared to wait…but they didn’t know it until they were faced with the reality.

And so I pose to the question today, how are we supposed to be prepared for every unforeseen situation? (pause) Think about it…were those 5 wise bridesmaids simply type A personalities who thought about every single contingency? Perhaps…and maybe the 5 foolish ones were simply more reactive…getting themselves ready for the task at hand and never thinking that it might go beyond that.

And so think about that for a second…since parables are aimed at pointing out the truth of our situations to us, which side do you fall on? Wise…or foolish…oil or no oil…prepared or reactionary? (pause) Does one side resonate with you? Or maybe, just maybe can you see yourself in both groups at one time or another? I know I’m guilty of that.

There have been certainly situations in my life where I have “carried extra oil.” One simple example involves packing for our yearly trip to Colorado. Knowing that we experience hot and cold…back and forth…each and every day I have the tendency to fill a suitcase with all kinds of clothes…and honestly, way more than I need…all I’m really accomplishing is taking up unneeded trunk space…but hey, I’m prepared…but on the other hand…I have the tendency to be very reactive…particularly in ministry situations…long range planning…not one of my gifts…but if there’s a confirmation class pending in a day or two, I can write you a lesson. (pause)

Think about it…isn’t that our situation…completely back and forth between these two groups…ready one hand and caught totally off guard on the other? (pause) I think so…but if that’s the case for most of us…if not all of us…then just how are we supposed to be prepared in that unknown day and hour when the Father finally looks at the Son and says “Okay…time to head on back.”

No one knows the day or the hour when Jesus is coming back…and despite claims in recent years by individuals who have “cracked the code” and predicted when it’ll be…the reality of the situation is Jesus is coming back…sometime…but we don’t know when…and yet he tells us that we must be prepared.

The 5 foolish bridesmaids were caught off guard, while the 5 wise ones lucked into their situation…blind luck…that’s really all it was…because what if the groom had waited till morning…it would have been light outside and the lamps would have been useless…and all 10 girls would have walked through that door with him. (pause)
No one knows the day or the hour…so live your lives in a way that is prepared…because while Jesus might not come back in our lifetime…he might come back this afternoon…we just don’t know…and since we don’t know…we ask the question again…how can we be prepared? How do we live our lives as if he’s coming back in a moment, when history and our gut instinct tells us that we likely will not live to see it for ourselves?

This is the pickle that we find ourselves in…caught in the tension of living as if Jesus is coming back now, even if he doesn’t…of trying to balance out our own interests and endeavors while still living for him….this is the pickle…this is the Christian condition…living with the knowledge that the promises of God are both now and not yet…How are we supposed to do that? (pause)

You know what…I think Jesus himself actually gave us that answer…because there was a time when he was sitting there and someone asked the question “what’s the most important commandment?” That random stranger might as well have been asking the question “how are we supposed to live to keep God happy?” (pause) And Jesus responded…really quite simply…Love God…and then love your neighbor. (pause) Yah but that can’t be it can it…there has to be more to it than that right? Love God…and then love your neighbor.

Well what about those times when we mess it up? Because those times happen don’t they? If the answer is really Love God and Love your neighbor then hallelujah…because we have moments when we fall into the wise category…(pause) But…we also have moments when we screw that up don’t we?

And so, as a community of faith…as a community of believers, we offer a word of grace and forgiveness to one another…that’s one of the reasons that we gather here for worship…to hear a word of forgiveness for those times when we are unprepared…when we are foolish…and we praise God in the promise that right now…today…the door to the celebration is still wide open…and that God desires for you to walk through it.

And so today if you find yourself longing to walk through that door…and you are wondering if in fact you are worthy…if you are acceptable…if the door will be open for you, then know this…through the power of Jesus Christ, made real through his life death and resurrection you are cleansed from your sin…and to hear this and believe it to be true is to believe the promise of God to be true and clinging to that promise is what makes you prepared. (pause)

Love God…and love your neighbor…have you messed that up lately? Yah? Okay, own it…and by doing so you are repenting of it…and God promises that when you do that, you are a new creation through Jesus Christ…and if that’s good news, then hold onto it…because tomorrow, you might need to say it to someone else…That’s why we come together in fellowship. I say it to you…and tomorrow you say it to me…and together, we are prepared to wait. Amen.

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