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Keep Awake

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Pentecost 24A2023
Matthew 25:1-13

Today, Jesus tells the disciples a parable, describing the kingdom of heaven. Because upon first glance it appears to be a terrifying parable, I invite us to consider it in 3D.

I need 10 bridesmaids, one bridegroom, and one shouter.

To set the stage: For families celebrating a first-century Mediterranean wedding, the final flourish was the moment when the groom would leave his home—which will be here at the front of the worship space—to travel to the home of his bride and then bring her back with him. Young couples would usually live in or adjacent to the family home of the groom, and the family home of the groom was where the wedding feast would take place. So the bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable would be waiting for the groom and the bride to arrive just outside the wedding feast venue, their lamps lit in celebration of the couple.

Please act out whatever you hear your character do. Groom, you’ll be at the back.

Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of the bridesmaids were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. [Are you sleeping?] But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up [get up!] and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ The foolish went to buy oil [go buy oil—maybe over by the door], and while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came [come, bridegroom], and those who were ready—the wise bridesmaids—went with him into the wedding banquet—which I think is behind the altar; and the door was shut. 11Later the foolish bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But bridegroom replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’

Jesus concludes his parable: Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Let’s give our actors a power clap on the count of 3.

This parable ends with some miserable words. The foolish bridesmaids call out to the bridegroom: “Open to us,” but he replies, “I do not know you.” From the groom’s perspective in this story, what is the error of the foolish bridesmaids?

I had always read this parable as an indictment of the foolish bridesmaids not bringing oil. Because that seems to indicate a lack of preparation, and preparation is what Jesus seems to be talking about. It’s also possible to read this parable and see the problem as the bridesmaids’ nap, I suppose, yet both the foolish and the wise bridesmaids get drowsy and sleep.

However, in Thursday Matters this week during our discussion of this parable, I believe it was Joyce who pointed out that the five foolish bridesmaids leave. They leave to go buy oil. Just when they know the bridegroom is coming. Instead of letting go of the oil—in order to be present for the moment of the bride and groom’s celebratory arrival, they leave.
We’ve probably all been there. Something we’ve looked forward to for a long time approaches. It’s taking a long time or it’s not exactly the way we thought it would be. When the moment finally arrives, we are checked out—physically or emotionally, worrying or angry or even just busy or preoccupied.

I searched my memory for times that I wasn’t present for the moment I was needed, for times when people felt alone in their pain or sorrow because I wasn’t there. I searched my memory for stories of times that I missed out on celebration and laughter and joy, but of course, I have no idea when that was. I don’t know when those times were—that I told the people I love that I was busy and couldn’t make it. I don’t recall those moments that could have been sweet and filled with joy—if only I had been awake to them instead of worrying or being nit-picky or angry.

A few years ago, I noticed that, in our culture, we focus on vacation or the weekends as times of freedom and joy while weekdays are mundane and lifeless. Monday is decidedly bad while TGIF: Thank goodness it’s Friday! As a culture, the story we tell about work is that it’s necessary drudgery in between weekends of freedom. And vacation is this glorious state in which we shed all responsibility and find joy. But what about now? This moment? Is this moment bad—or is it only bad when I wish to be somewhere else or when I can’t let go of my worry about the future?

When I, personally, was able to turn this corner and appreciate the moment I was in—instead of the moments I was anticipating—I was swamped by joy.

Whether I was in a staff meeting or a council meeting

Reading a book curled up on a couch or completing a crossword puzzle with my beloved

Grocery shopping or doing laundry

Exploring different parts of the world or laying on a beach

Hugging a child or meeting with a legislator about a policy or piece of legislation

Coming to worship or building a Habitat house

Every moment is full of possibility. Of joy. Maybe of pain or sorrow. When a moment is full of pain or sorrow, it’s understandable that we want to leave. It’s understandable that we wish to ditch out and avoid. But we don’t know how and when God will show up—as Jesus reminds us in today’s parable: Keep awake for you know neither the day nor the hour.

When Jesus reminds the disciples that they know neither the day nor the hour, we assume Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God coming in its fullness, about the world ending, about Jesus coming back. But perhaps God is unfolding the kingdom right before us. If we notice. If we stay present. Perhaps we would glimpse it.

Perhaps we would glimpse the kingdom coming as we listened to our neighbor share their joys or challenges. Perhaps we would glimpse the kingdom coming as we read books to our children or grandchildren. Perhaps we would glimpse the kingdom coming at work, in the ways our work contributes to the common good. Even in the mundane and ordinary, perhaps God’s kingdom comes, unfolding among us. Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Thanks be to God! Amen.