This is what I THINK I'm preaching tomorrow. Spirit willin' and the creek don't rise.
The Parable of the Ten Maidens and Their Lamps -
I count among my few friends a wedding planner. What a high-pressure, responsible job! One of the biggest moments - one of the great events in any person’s life - When I read this parable this week, I couldn’t help but think right away of how the wedding Jesus talks about in this story could have used the services of my friend Gwen. I mean REALLY! The groom is late. The guests fall asleep. Half the wedding party fails to perform their assigned duty. Then the groom locks out 5 of the bride’s best friends. . . What a disaster! And you know I am planning a wedding myself. In my current nuptial state of mind, I’ve had wedding nightmares this whole week.
But finally, I had to say to myself what I’m saying to you this morning: Jesus isn’t talking about weddings. The wedding stuff is just an analogy. It’s just a narrative device. So I’m not going to spend alot - heck, I’m not going to spend ANY time talking about first century wedding customs or explaining the whys and wherefores of wedding customs through the ages.
Jesus is talking about Big Events - Once in a Lifetime Moments - Experiences that Change LIves Forever. This parable is about Once in a Lifetime chances and whether we are able to rise the occasion. So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
And the first truth about moments like that - God moments in our lives - is that moments like that don’t happen according to OUR schedule. We can’t write the really big events on our calendars with the time and the place in pen.
In Jesus’ story - the groom does not arrive when he is expected. He is delayed, and doesn’t show up when everyone is waiting and ready. He shows up way late, in the middle of the night, when everyone has fallen asleep.
This is the way God moments happen in our lives. Week before last, Tim was gone all week. From Monday through Friday he was in Phoenix, and Friday evening, when I expected him home, I was really looking forward to seeing him. He pulled in the drive and I walked out to meet him, but as I did I saw a neighbor, someone I have known casually since moving to Philo, walking down the street. I waved, and this person walked straight toward us. “Cindy, do you have a minute? I need to talk to you.” Something had happened to that person that day that caused them to need to talk about God and life and death and the big stuff. I’d wanted to talk to this person about their faith, and share my faith in Jesus for ten years. And this was the moment. This was the time when the door was finally open and we finally got to share and pray together. Was it on my calendar? My schedule? No. It was not. It happened when it happened. And by the grace of God, ready or not, I was there. That’s how God- moments occur.
How can we loosen our grip on our schedules, our control, our goals and objectives just enough to be able to be there, ready and expectant, when a Big, life-changing moment comes too early, or too late to fit into our plans?
Some of the people in Jesus’ story managed to do that. Some didn’t. But some did. Here’s the mark of the successful bridesmaids - They were packin’. Not guns. But flasks of oil. They had the resources to deal with the unexpected at the ready. Now, those other bridesmaids might have had plenty of oil in great big barrels at home. Olive oil is hardly a scarce resource in Palestine, then or now. But they didn’t have it with them. They couldn’t pull it out and use it when the need arose.
What about our faith? Are we packin? When we face a “Big Event” - whether it is the chance to share our faith, or do an important service for one of the least of these my brothers and sisters - Do we have what we need close at hand? Do we have a relationship with Jesus that is close enough, solid enough that we can describe it to someone who needs to know him? Do we know how to pray well enough to do it if someone asks? Have we thought deeply enough about the big questions to at least know how to phrase them should the occasion arise? When it comes to faith, are we packin? Having a Sunday go to meetin faith is good. It’s like having a big barrel of oil at home. But when someone is hurting - and they need a light for their darkness - it often isn’t enough to say, “My church has services on Sundays at 10. That’s where God can be found.” When it comes to faith - each of us needs to carry it with us. We gotta be packin’.
Which takes preparation. Cause here’s the thing - each one of us needs to be prepared to meet God and to walk into the Once in a LIfetime moments God puts in our lives one by one. There’s no such thing as faith by association. That’s why the bridesmaids who have oil can’t share it with the ones who do not. Your mother’s faith may be great. But it isn’t your faith. Your grandfather’s generosity may have been legendary. But that doesn’t make you generous. Your brother, or your sister or your best friend may be the most compassionate person ever. But their compassion doesn’t make you a loving person. To be the person God is calling you to be means that YOU have to respond to the call. Nobody can trust God or serve God or meet God for you. Each one of us has to decide what kind of person we are going to be and practice being that person for ourselves.
Preparation is about habits and practice. Part of Tim’s success is that he’s one of the best lighters around. Putting the best light on a situation - literally - takes time and a certain amount of trouble. Sometimes people say to him, “Oh, we don’t really need to take the time to do it right for THIS shot. It’s not important enough. Not enough people are going to see it. Nobody will notice the difference. Nobody really cares.” And he say, “That’s true. This shot doesn’t really require great lighting. But if I don’t do good lighting on this shot, then when the really important shot comes, I won’t know how.”
The habits of faith - prayer, worship, giving, Bible study, building up the church, speaking the truth in love, forgiving one another, trusting God - are like that. Most times whether we do them or not doesn’t seem to make much difference. But if we don’t do them on a regular basis, they don’t become part of who we are, and when we DO need to do them, we find that we don’t know how. The Big Event comes, a loved one dies, a child is in trouble, a opportunity to make a difference or to make a big mistake comes and we are clueless as to how to respond.
The Big LIfe changing events happen and if we are ready, willing and able to answer the summons, we become part of the celebration of God and all those other invited guests. We stand on one side of the door and enjoy the party. But the door has another side. And there are eternal consequences for not preparing, not being ready, not being able to respond.
I don’t think Jesus was trying to scare people. But I think he was trying to motivate people to be ready for the Big Opportunities for faithful living that God puts in each believer’s life.
Let’s get ready for the moments that come whether we are ready or not.
Let’s get set by practicing our faith every week, every night, every day.
Let’s let our lights shine for Jesus. Ready? Set? Burn!