“Discipleship: Ready, Set…” (1 of 2)
Matthew 25: 1-13 & Psalm 78 ~ Northwood UC ~ November 12, 2023
Jesus didn’t do much by accident. I’m not sure that he did ANYTHING by accident. The stories he told; the way he conducted himself; who he associated with…all had purpose and intention that revealed the ways of God. This morning’s curious parable had purpose and intention revealing the ways of the Kingdom of God.
And so, we find ourselves immersed in a seemingly odd text awaiting…a wedding…waiting for the bridegroom to come and invite us to the big feast. The setting of this morning’s parable is not coincidental. Weddings are filled with a range of emotions: nervous energy, expectation of the future, hopes and dreams of a new beginning… all of that grounded in a depth of love that unites a couple. The common aspect of all Jesus’ teachings in parables is that he is teaching about the birthing of something new…the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. And so, here we are, with Jesus teaching of the Kingdom that is, like a wedding… filled with emotion: nervous energy, future expectations, hopes and dreams of a new beginning…all grounded in the depth of God’s love that unites us with the unfolding of God’s Kingdom. Yet, it is not a simple wedding with confetti and cake. It is like the fearful moment in a wedding ceremony following the officiant’s question ‘does anyone object to the union of this couple?’. This moment is much more challenging than that awkward pause. In this morning’s parable, there is a harsh element of judgement: judgement of whether we have made ourselves ready for the union with God’s love. Boy Jesus, you sure now how to ruin a wedding!
Let me ask you a question…have you ever been to the Sistine Chapel in Rome? Have you taken in the art of Michelangelo? Perhaps you visited the art exhibit in Vancouver when it came through? Or perhaps you have poured over some art books that present the art of the Sistine Chapel? When the Sistine Chapel exhibit came through Vancouver, I took the opportunity to see the reproduction of Michelangelo’s many panels up close. And, earlier this year, during my recent sabbatical in Europe, one of my stops was to Rome and I saw it in person! Despite being crammed in like sardines and having security personnel shouting “silenzio”, my visit offered the wonderful opportunity to have our faith story come ever further alive! Michelangelo’s many paintings on the ceiling tell the stories our faith. As you enter the chapel and move towards the altar, you are touched with the story of creation, the fall, the first murder, the flood. Michelangelo’s paintings tell the unfolding story of God’s work to reunite with humanity through Jesus’ life and teaching. As you move further and further in towards the chapel, you move to the altar and Michelangelo’s final painting. It took him 4 years to complete; taking up the entire wall surface behind the altar, it is the ‘Final Judgement’. God’s final verdict. Just as we find with this morning’s text, judgement is a part of faith.
Judgement is not an easy subject to preach on in the Liberal Protestant church, yet it is a part of our faith story. I would suggest that judgement must be understood for what it is…and what is not. As you likely know, the various denominations of the church take a wide approach on this subject. There are churches who harshly judge for all the things we have done wrong. And there are some where judgement is never mentioned. An error in the Liberal Protestant church (at least in my opinion) is the habit we have of pointing fingers at ‘those churches’ who judge, and condemn people for the terrible things they have been judged as doing. We pride ourselves on preaching Jesus’ loving acceptance and affirmation, and we are usually quite quiet on this topic. We are great at lifting up Jesus’ way of welcome in the Liberal Protestant Church; which is true and biblically sound. However, do we ever discuss where judgement falls in our faith? And friends, we must ask this question because, as you heard Paul read, judgement is a part of the parable Jesus teaches.
So what is judgement, and what is it not? The Greek word for judgment is krisis. Contrary to how the modern-day church has shaped things, krisis does not (necessarily) mean the end, the final act, or what happens after one’s natural life concludes. More accurately krisis is a “turning point” in one’s life. A krisis is not, necessarily, what happens after everything is over; it is what happens when the plot of your life’s story takes a decisive turn. We all have experienced these decision points in our lives…sometimes at the beginning, the middle, or at the end. Krisis is part of the ebb and flow of our life. Our lives are punctuated with many turning points/ krises. Not just the final one. And this text is teaching us that at each of these turning points, we must be wise; we must be ready, for we are all disciples who are charged to follow Christ…especially at the turning points of life. The question being asked in the parable is about our following of Jesus: are we ready? Are we set? Are we ready…set through the many krises that life throws our way?
Looking at the text, there is some wonderful news for us if have are ready to dig into it. Ten Bridesmaids, 5 have prepared by bringing oil for their lamps. 5 forget to bring ample supplies; they go off to the market only to miss the invitation to the wedding feast. 5 are ready and invited and 5 are not and they miss the celebration. I wonder how the text is instructing us to live in ways of readiness? If you stay with me, I think there is some very good news to be heard!
Firstly, the good news is that we are not commanded to be perfect. We notice that neither group is always at the ready. All 10 fell asleep. Neither remain in a perpetual state of alertness. All 10 are waiting for bridegroom and all 10 become drowsy and sleep. I love that we are not judged for our perfection, for the 24/7 living of our faith. Sometimes, we don’t get it right…and rely upon God’s forgiveness and grace. Sometimes we are a little lazy, or absent minded…(I’m just speaking for myself here…you can fill in the blanks for yourself). We are not being judged on being perfectly ready in every situation! But we are being judged for doing some readiness preparation. And that’s good news!
Secondly, the good news is that we are not judged for having everything needed. The 5 who were welcomed only had oil. There was no mention of anything else of use! They didn’t have presents…they didn’t have food for the feast…all they had was some meagre oil to get through the night. We are not judged for containing the entire complement of gifts that Christ’s Kingdom needs. Judgement is about being ready for that moment and sharing the few gifts that God has placed in you. There were some musicians in the group who would get the merriment started; there were great dancers who would dance; there were others who would make a wonderful speech; there were others who would help clean up after the feast. The point is that the wedding celebration needed everyone! It is about stewardship of your gifts…nothing more and nothing less. And everyone needed to be ready to play their part! And that is (even more) good news!
The difference between the wise and the foolish, as I see it, is that the wise had prepared themselves with the few meagre resources God had gifted unto them. This calls us into considering how we prepare? How do you prepare for the krisis times ahead? How do you prepare for those times when you are called to ‘show up for Christ? How do you prepare to truly live a life that matters, when the time is critical? There are certain church seasons that are all about that very thing…making ready. Advent is just around the corner and this season is all about making ready for the birth of Christ. How we all do it will be different; however, the importance that we DO IT is critical! It is about times of quiet prayer and meditation; it is about study and reflection; it is about worship; it is about service and outreach; it is about what we say and what we refrain from; it is about all the little things we do to prepare ourselves: get ready…get set.
I did want to save the best of the good news for last. And that good news is about judgement. Did you notice that the bridegroom makes no judgement. It is the behaviour of some of the maidens, off seeking oil, that becomes their own judgement. Perhaps that is the way it is with God! Not that God judges us, but rather things we do take us away, further and further from God. It starts with a bad thought, then a white lie, then a theft, and things get worse and worse. They get to the point that the gulf between ourselves and God has become massive. We have slowly pushed God further and further away. The Bridegroom simply shows up and invites all who are ready to come to the wedding. Are you prepared: ready…set?
As we come to a close, I wanted to share a brief passage from the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish religious law. Words that Jesus would, of course, have been familiar with.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Discipleship begins with readiness.