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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Not All Waiting is the Same

 Matthew 25:1-13

            It’s another sunny, warm day in heaven (just like every other day there) and Jesus and Moses are bored stiff. "Hey Moses," says Jesus, "why don't we disguise ourselves, go down to earth and play a round of golf?"

Moses agrees, and after putting on the appropriate clothes and renting equipment they arrive at the first tee.

They flip a coin and Moses wins; he tees off first. He takes a mighty swing and the ball sails 300 yards right down the middle of the fairway. "Nice shot," says Jesus grudgingly.

Jesus tees up his ball, takes his driver and swings; he hooks the ball onto the side of a hill less than 100 yards away.

A squirrel spots the ball, picks it up in his mouth and runs off.         A snake curled up on a rock strikes out at the squirrel and swallows it whole, ball and all.           

An eagle spots the snake, swoops down and carries it off in its talons.  

Just as the eagle flies over the first green, lightning flashes from the sky and hits the eagle, which drops the snake.

The snake regurgitates the squirrel on contact with the ground, whereupon the squirrel drops the ball which rolls five yards across the green and into the hole.           

Moses turns to Jesus and says, "Are we going to play golf, or just mess around?"

We might think that the problem with the five foolish bridesmaids in the parable Jesus tells is that they weren’t taking their roles as members of the wedding party seriously enough. They were just messing around.

The five foolish girls were every bit as much a part of the wedding party as the five wise ones; the distinction between the two groups is based on what the wise or the foolish girls did in response to their already granted acceptance, not on anything they did to earn/deserve it in the first place. But once given the honor of being chosen, did they take the gift seriously, or did they mess around?

Both groups had the same invitation, the same role to play, the same circumstances in which they found themselves; they each were faced with an unexpected period of waiting for the bridegroom to show up.

What distinguishes them from each other just might be how they approached the grand position in which they find themselves through the grace of the bridegroom, especially when there was a wait to endure.

We all know about waiting. I remember as a young girl how long every single wait seemed to take. It seemed like the better and more exciting the thing you were waiting for, the longer it took. The perception of time passing while waiting for something changes over time and depending on the value of the thing you are waiting for.

But not all waiting in life is the same. Waiting for the traffic to move along on Route 23 right at the end of Quarry Road for instance, may be frustrating, but it’s a relatively insignificant wait. While sitting and waiting, you might fool around with the radio stations, or check the messages on your phone, check your makeup or hair, or gaze up at the sky. It’s okay in that waiting to be relatively inattentive – until it is time to move! What you do while waiting could be construed as “messing around”.

In the past several months, we have impatiently waited for a good many things: we have waited for the pandemic to ease up and go away; we have waited for church to resume indoor worship or our favorite store or restaurant to begin serving the public again.

Some have waited uncomfortably to find out what would happen with their jobs.

We have waited to visit with loved ones, waited to take the planned trip, waited to find out the latest in infection rates and what that would mean for wedding plans, graduation parties, or funerals.

Students in all levels of education have waited to find out if or when their classes would begin or resume or how they would be held at all.

Families have waited to learn the outcome of loved ones’ hospital treatments, and far too many have waited to learn whether their loved one would live or die, separated from them and unable to receive the comfort of their beloved.

This week found us waiting for the results of the election. We have come to expect results of the races the night of Election Day or by the next morning – but not this year. In fact, as I wrote my sermon this week, we were still waiting. Now, many of us are waiting to determine what our holidays will look like, and to figure out how big a risk is too big a risk to take to come together with friends and family.

We don’t like waiting. We don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like feeling the lack of control – the “unknowing”.

The Gospel writer Matthew was living through a great time of waiting. What were he and his community waiting for? They were waiting for Jesus to return. They were waiting for the Second coming of Christ, when God’s kingdom would come in all its fullness. They were waiting for our broken earth to be restored and for all the world to be restored, just as God had promised through Scripture.

The wait had been long. They had expected Christ to come with healing on his wings long, long ago. Instead, their world continues to crumble around them as Jerusalem falls and the Temple is destroyed and as they face persecution and uncertainty, and everything, just everything has become so hard.

Some came prepared with a deep well of faith and endurance for an indeterminate wait – after all, Jesus didn’t exactly mark an X on the calendar telling them exactly when he would return.

Others were ill-prepared for such a long wait, like the “foolish bridesmaids”. They have not only run out of oil, but out of patience, and many of them, out of faith and hope as well. They no longer really expect the Good Shepherd to return.

Some have begun to wander off, and some lose focus, keeping one eye on the banquet room door just in case Jesus appears, and the other on all the distractions around them.

We don’t like the part of the story where the foolish bridesmaids return the find that they are too late for entry into the banquet. We don’t like the fact that they are left out in the cold. We don’t like the fact that they are left out of the party. What, we fear, if that would happen to us?

Yet, how many of us today can say that we, too, are waiting in anticipation of the coming of Christ? How many of us even have that on our radar? Perhaps it is hard for us to understand any symbolism which may be found here because we no longer focus on the Second coming of Christ as being a real and intensely awaited reality.

While most of us here today probably believe in heaven and an eternity promised through the salvation of our Lord, Parousia, or Second Coming, or Christ’s Return – whatever you want to call it – has simply lost its meaning to us.

The Scriptures remind us, however, that Jesus will indeed return one day, and in anticipation there are things we can be doing while we wait, rather than just “messing around.” We can read Scripture and pray and continue to feed and grow our relationship with God.

We can recognize that in Christ we have all that we need. We won’t need to leave the waiting room in order to get oil for our lamps, for Jesus is our light and in him we find joy, hope, peace, love, and faith.

Unlike the “foolish” bridesmaids, we don’t need to turn away from the door and turn to the world to give us the oil we need, and unlike the “wise” bridesmaids, neither do we need to hoard what we have, refusing those who come to us in need, because in Jesus, we have what? We have all we will ever need.

Jesus invites us all to the wedding banquet where there is celebration, remembrance, thanksgiving, sharing, laughter, and completion. As Christians, even as we wait, we can live fully into the abundance of God. We worship the God of abundant light, love, forgiveness, generosity, grace, and mercy, who out of his abundance cares for us and gives us plenty to share.

As we wait we shower love on one another, caring for each other in our need. As we wait, we continue to feed, clothe, forgive and love those Jesus places along our paths. As we wait, we continue to look as our world in wonder, knowing the blessing of God with each sunrise and sunset. As we wait, we care for the stranger, protect and share our abundance with our neighbor, offer a word or gesture of care and concern for the one struggling in the midst of the world’s brokenness and the oncoming winter. As we wait, we continue to look for the Lord, we continue to love him, worship him, honor and praise him for all his goodness to us in the midst of this precious time of waiting. Amen.






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