First Congregational Church
November 8, 2020
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Sometimes a person’s got to wonder - like calling a sock without its mate a lost sole. Or when the past, the present and the future get into a fight and you realize it’s pretty tense. Or the idea that I was going to tell you all a joke about time-travel, but none of you liked it.
Of the 28 chapters in the book of Matthew, between the beginning of Jesus’ last week in chapter 21, and his betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane in chapter 27, a lot of teaching takes place. Most of those chapters focus on two very broad areas: pointing to the time after Jesus’s earthly life and the kingdom of God. Over those days and chapters, the people - regular folks, disciples, and all the religious folk - heard about a dried up fig tree, a couple of sons, vineyard renters, a wedding dinner, Caesar and taxes, the greatest commandment, warnings against deception, and predictions of future trouble. Today, we get the Ten Bridesmaids or Virgins as our pew version calls them.
Scripture Matthew 25:1-13
1 "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 7 "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'
9 " 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
10 "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' 12 "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
13 "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Thank you, Rosemary. So there’s a little video running around these days on the internets, connected to “Trending World” by the Epoch Times, where a number of kids are asked what they are hoping to get for Christmas and what they would want to get their parents. The kids wanted things like a computer, a big, giant Barbie house, a trophy case and an Xbox 360 for themselves, and a ring, a dress, a new TV, and a night watch for their parents. These kids are probably fourth of fifth graders, and once they’ve made the decisions about the gifts, the people doing the test actually purchased both gifts for each child. Then they threw the curve ball “The catch is that you can either have the gift for yourself or the gift for your parent.
For some kids, the choice was pure agony. One sweet, sweet boy, before the questioner even finished asking which one, patted the one for his father and said, “I’ll give him this.” When the questioner asked him to state his reason for such a decisive answer, the little guy said, “Because Legos don’t matter. Your family matters. Not Legos, not toys, your family. So, it’s either family or Legos and I choose family.”
Another little girl said, “I get gifts from my family every year and mom don’t get anything.” “If I get a laptop, my mom will lose something. She helps me when I’m sick. She helps me with my homework. She gave me a house to live in. They look out for me and do stuff for me so I need to give back to them. Now I have an opportunity to give him something.” It’s not so much that this is such a sweet experiment, but a reflection of not only the parenting that has taken place in these children’s lives, but of a future view of this event, that will undoubtedly have these young ones remembering, cherishing and instilling the same values into the people, especially children, they will encounter as they live out their lives.
And then, you know, they told the kids that because they chose the gift for their family, they would go home with both. When asked how they felt about it, then the waterworks came on. And after they let the parents in on the choices, they got to see their kids. And well, then it was all hugs and tears and joy.
I wondered about the parable about the ten women and this particular day, after this particular week. I think there are more holes in this tale than a barrel of Swiss cheese. What’s with the bridesmaids, or more specifically, virgins? In the ancient Greek, they could have been marriageable maidens or young married women. Time and time again, the power of words is huge. And where was the bride - who is still often considered to be the central figure in a wedding.
How did five women think to take extra oil? It’s sort of like thinking to take extra gas if you are going for a ride. Although they were “prepared,” not sharing the blessing of the extra seems a little on the selfish side, because apparently it wasn’t an issue of supply. More oil was available - just not in that spot. And not all that much earlier, Jesus said, “If someone ask you for your coat, give them your shirt, too.”
What if you’d not thought to bring extra oil? It’s not like you planned to not think of it. And hey, they all fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom. Just like any other parable Jesus told, it is so easy to be drawn in, that we forget to step away from it, to take in the larger view.
At whatever age it was written up, Katharine Hepburn remembered a day from her teenage years. She and father were standing in line to buy tickets for the circus.
Finally, there was only one other family between them and the ticket counter.
As she told it, there were eight children, all probably under the age of 12. The way they were dressed, you could tell they didn't have a lot of money, but their clothes were neat and clean.
The children were well-behaved, all of them standing in line, two-by-two behind their parents, holding hands. They were excitedly jabbering about the clowns, animals, and all the acts they would be seeing that night. By their excitement you could sense they had never been to the circus before. It would be a highlight of their lives.
The father and mother were at the head of the pack standing proud as could be. The mother was holding her husband's hand, looking up at him as if to say, "You're my knight in shining armor." He was smiling and enjoying seeing his family happy.
The ticket lady asked the man how many tickets he wanted. He proudly responded, "I'd like to buy eight children's tickets and two adult tickets, so I can take my family to the circus." The ticket lady stated the price.
The man's wife let go of his hand, her head dropped, the man's lip began to quiver. Then he leaned a little closer and asked, "How much did you say?" The ticket lady again stated the price. The man didn't have enough money. How was he supposed to turn and tell his eight kids that he didn't have enough money to take them to the circus?
Seeing what was going on, my dad reached into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill, and then dropped it on the ground. (We were not wealthy in any sense of the word!) My father bent down, picked up the $20 bill, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, sir, this fell out of your pocket.” The man understood what was going on. He wasn't begging for a handout but certainly appreciated the help in a desperate, heartbreaking and embarrassing situation.
He looked straight into my dad's eyes, took my dad's hand in both of his, squeezed tightly onto the $20 bill, and with his lip quivering and a tear streaming down his cheek, he replied; "Thank you, thank you, sir. This really means a lot to me and my family.”
My father and I went back to our car and drove home. The $20 that my dad gave away is what we were going to buy our own tickets with. Although we didn't get to see the circus that night, we both felt a joy inside us that was far greater than seeing the circus could ever provide.
Sometimes we are awake enough to remember all the things we’re supposed to do, and sometimes, especially in goofy times, we can struggle with bringing the barest of light to the story. Sometimes fairy tales have happy endings and sometimes parables are left up in the air. Sometimes the wise ones fail to be generous and sometimes the foolish ones forget to be prudent and sometimes hope appears to fail on all sides.
But here’s the thing. Our Bridegroom has come to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit, God’s breath, is with us, in this very moment, filling the lamps of our hearts and minds and souls with the grace of God, the water of life and the long view of life beyond this moment and this day.
There are some worshiping with us today who are ecstatic over the present state of our election, and there some worshiping with us today who are angry and sad over that same state. 100 years from now, 1,000 years from now, perhaps the longest lasting effect of the state of our national election may be the earth that will be left for those who come after us. By-and-large, who ever sits in the White House, the Kremlin or on any other leadership chair in the world will be what it will be. What really matters in the here and now is the lamp filling we are doing - for ourselves and for our families, friends, neighbors and complete strangers.
The beauty of Lamp Filling is that it can happen in so many different ways. Letting someone merge into traffic with a wave and a smile. Going slightly outside one’s comfort zone at least once a day to make someone smile. (And I can tell you, standing on the corner, on a beautiful Halloween afternoon, waving and giving a big smile to those driving by only makes you smile bigger in their vast reactions to your bit of goofiness.)
Sharing a compliment or a funny incident can completely change a person’s day, and how easy it is to do so. Treating someone to a cup of coffee or paying for the order behind you is so subversively charitable, while at the same time being an exponentially greater spreader of kindness and graciousness. Dropping a $20 bill can mean so much more than a few circus tickets.
Good ol’ Mr. Stephan Garnaas Holmes provided the conclusion for today’s message, even before I knew which direction this sermon was headed.
Brush your teeth.
Our sickness is greater
than we let ourselves think,
our wound more profound.
But so is our love.
Our grief and even despair
are the work of the Spirit in us.
Let your flesh feel your rage,
your voice find your sorrow.
Let the river flow.
We are not called to end the winter
but to bear the light
that will become the spring.
The road is long.
The Suffering One walks with us,
bearing something. Come along.
The mending of the world
is threaded with simple
kindness and courage.
Attend to the small miracles.
Even as the cold descends
we can love. We can love.
Let us pray. Holy and Gracious God, thank you for giving us the Light of Christ and for continuing to fill our lamps as we help to fills those around us, that we can be a bright beacon of your love. HELP us to love. Help US to love. Help us TO LOVE. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.