There is no getting around the fact that this has been a week of wildly gyrating emotions in an already emotion—filled year. I want to assure you, I will not be making any political statements in my sermon. Simply to acknowledge, no matter who you voted for—a lot has been going on. And, whether you are jubilant about the results, or dismayed—the assumption is, we all love God and we all love this country.
And if you are wondering how we heal as a nation—I believe with all of my heart that we followers of the Jesus movement have a unique part to play.
And, that believe it or not, those wise bridesmaids who won’t share their oil, help show us the way.
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is located in the midst of what are called the “Judgment Discourses.” Jesus has lamented over Jerusalem, he is nearing his crucifixion, and is urgently imploring his followers to get ready—not only for his betrayal, but also for the time when he will come again. Matthew tells us the bridegroom is delayed.
We can imagine what ensued between the joyful arrival of the bridesmaids—expectant and excited for the great wedding banquet, and then the grumbling and irritation at the extensive delay.
One of the hardest parts about waiting for something we desire is not knowing when it will be over. Waiting for the healing from cancer—waiting for a vaccine and then mass distribution, waiting for the grief to lift, waiting for the divide to be breached.
If we focus on what we hope for in the future—we risk spending our whole lives waiting, missing the sacrament of the present moment.
And yet the waiting is real, and the darkness is real.
Finally, at midnight—the darkest hour of the night, the bridegroom arrives.
All ten of the bridesmaids brought oil lamps with them. All ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. Only the wise brought extra oil
What is this oil that is crucial to getting into the banquet?
Trappist Monk, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes that this parable points to the Kingdom of God—which is when we participate fully in the life of God.*
This is a love story—and the oil is our self-surrendering to God which is set ablaze by Jesus’ love for us. This love is always present—are we always ready to receive it?
The oil Jesus is talking about points toward an interior nature, a way of being.
We are like the foolish bridesmaids when we intend to offer our lives to God, but find ourselves consistently distracted. The antidote to foolish intention is the wisdom of FAITHFULNESS. Like the faithfulness of the wise builder who built a house on the rock of the teachings of Jesus Christ. The wise bridesmaids are like the priests in Exodus (27:20-21) who faithfully filled the menorah with oil keeping alive trust that God would provide.
Jesus uses extreme language in this parable because he wants us to stay awake to living lives that cultivate hearts that surrender to love—-
And Jesus knows—no one can do our living for us.
How do we do cultivate hearts that surrender to love? Surely faithfulness in prayer plays a part. There is faithfulness in what you are doing right now—despite the obstacles— worshipping God—online or in person.
There is faithfulness in serving others—not as one who is bound by obligation, but one who is bound by LOVE—love of God and love of neighbor.…
WE surrender. Christ lights the fire. It is an intimate love story.
And no one can do our loving for us.
Centering prayer is one of the bedrock practices of my connection to Christ. The primary movement in Centering Prayer is to consent to God’s presence and action within. At its core, Centering Prayer is like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine.”
I can be inspired by faithful Centering Prayer practitioners, but it is up to me to show up for this sacred time every day. Full disclosure—I do not bat 1,000.
Surrendering to God’s will and not mine, is preparation for the physical death I will experience one day. The ultimate surrendering.
No one can do our dying for us.
When Jesus lifts up of the wise bridesmaids as positive examples, he is speaking of a way of being that informs our doing. It is a beatitude way of being— resting in the very heart of God—-surrendering our lives to God.
blessed are we as we empty of our own agendas such that we are poor in spirit
blessed as we love so deeply we open ourselves to mourn
blessed as we make peace in a world screaming for division.
blessed as we are meek enough to receive the stories of those who are different than us.
blessed are you—Jesus tells us….when your lamp is full of surrendering your life to God.
What fills your lamp so that you can bravely watch until the light comes? Is it calling someone who is lonely and making sure they know they are loved and not alone? Is it receiving Communion and becoming what you receive? Is it praying morning prayer, sitting in silence?
If you have no practice of filling your lamp of love with oil, and you know not where to start, I have a suggestion. Could you take 5 minutes each day and sit in silence with a candle and lift your heart to God? Perhaps you might whisper, “Here I am.”
If all you can do is scream one of Ann Lamott’s favorite prayers, “help me help me help me!” There is ultimate surrender in that—-Let’s face it, sometimes we surrender ourselves to God in the darkest of nights— because we are out of options.
I am here to encourage you—as dark as your night might seem, do not give up. Pray for the grace to experience this divine union with God…God is already courting us, beckoning us away from our screens and our selfish ways.
It is not enough for us to intend to offer ourselves in love to God.
That is why the wise bridesmaids don’t even try to fill the foolish ones lamps. Yes, in community we can encourage one another on the path—that is one of the mainstays of the church.
But the wise bridesmaids know—no one can do our living for us. No one can do our LOVING for us. No one can do our dying for us.
As dark as these times may feel, they also hold the possibility for great light. We need not wait to offer ourselves in love. This is our time…this is our place…
We will bring our Christ-infused love into this pandemic-soaked, divisiveness-stained world. We will be a bridge, listening in love to one another, reminding others of our shared love of country and our shared humanity.
And grace upon grace…The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not over come it. Amen
*I cannot overstate the influence Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’s commentary Heart of the Word, Volume III on Matthew had on this sermon.