Sermon November 8, 2020

The gospel reading brings back strong memories of the time when I was interviewed for the position of rector at Transfiguration.  For me, it was a time when I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and the love and care of many others. You may have heard parts of this story before.  As you listen, I hope you will think about times when God has guided your life.

I finished seminary in May of 2013.  I had already received a placement for a church in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I had interviewed for a position in Arizona but not heard whether they were interested in me.  I took a trip with one of our seminary professors to England to learn about the Anglican Church in that country and how it might help in my own ministry. 

While I was on my trip to England, I received an email telling me that I was not selected for the job in Arizona but I was asked to call the bishop.  I called bishop Smith and he asked if I would be interested in the position here at Transfiguration.  I was but I also shared with the bishop that I did not have a lot of time to decide since I was due to start my job in Cincinnati on July 1. 

Things were very busy for me.  Within two weeks, I was on my way to Arizona to interview for the position at Transfiguration.  Before coming, I had to do a mandatory retreat for three days outside Indianapolis.  In the rush of things, I did not clearly understand the interview schedule or the expectations for the interview at Transfiguration.  I had been given the information but it didn’t sink in.  On our arrival in Mesa, Jan and I went out for dinner but before we ordered, I received a call from Chris Whitehead that he was at the hotel to pick us up for a dinner with the vestry and search committee at Ruby Seyffert’s house.  So, we quickly went back to the hotel, met Chris and had a wonderful dinner.  On the way home that evening, I asked Chris what we would be doing the next day and he told me that we would start with a Bible study that I was to lead.  I had not done any previous preparation for a bible study.  But I had recently done a presentation on the parable of the bridesmaids, our gospel lesson for today, for a seminary class.  So, I used that parable in my bible study the next day.  Despite my mistakes with the schedule, things worked out.  I was thankful that Chris Whitehead, on behalf the vestry, offered me the position that evening. 

Looking back, I know that I should have been more careful and better prepared.  But I also found myself being watched over and cared for.  I felt guided by the Holy Spirit throughout that journey.  Each time, it looked as if I would stumble, God found a way to lift me up.  I was supported by two bishops, by clergy and lay people who showed their love and care.  Some of those folks I did not know well at all.  I am thankful and blessed.  

In the gospel, we hear a parable about a wedding.  In those days, the bridegroom would go to the house of the bride.  He would enter into an agreement with the bride’s father.  Then the bride and groom would return to his house for a grand party.  Those in wait did not know exactly when the bride and groom would arrive. 

In this parable, we learn about ten bridesmaids who were supposed to light the way into the celebration.  When the groom’s party was delayed well beyond their expected arrival, some of the bridesmaids ran out of oil for their lamps and they were not let into the celebration.  

It seems clear to me that the parable refers to Jesus as the bridegroom and the parable refers to the return of Jesus to bring God’s kingdom to earth and the end of the world as we know it.  If we were to look at the passages that come before this in Matthew’s gospel, they are all about the end of the world.  Jesus told the disciples that the Temple would be destroyed.  He gave them signs that they should look for.  He told them that people would be persecuted.  He said they should be watchful.  Jesus said that the Son of Man would come. It would be like this,  “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken.”  Then, “the Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory.

The followers of Jesus during Matthew’s time were expecting Jesus to return during their lifetime.  The delay in his return caused many to be worried and uncertain.  That message is found in the Epistle for today.    Paul’s followers believed that they needed to be alive when Jesus returned in order to be taken up to heaven.  They were concerned what would happen to their relatives who had already died.  But Paul put them at ease by writing and telling them that Jesus would carry them up to heaven along with the followers who were still living.

In the gospel, Matthew wanted to reassure his community. While Jesus had not yet returned, he was still coming.  They needed to be ready for Jesus to return at any time.  His coming will not be foretold, they will not have time to prepare.  So, they must always be ready.  They must live a holy life so that when Jesus did return they would be accepted into heaven.  Being prepared means following the words of Jesus.  We want to be like the wise maidens not the foolish ones. 

We live in a different time.  We don’t expect Jesus to come while we are still alive.  But the words of Matthew still apply to us as well.  We want to be prepared for we have no idea when we will die.  We want to live our life in holiness and not risk the possibility that we will be judged harshly by God when we die.

In many works of fiction, the ending of the book neatly ties up every problem and all is well.  The man and woman are in love and ride off happily into the sunset.  The detective catches the bad guy and everyone is safe.  Parables don’t always work that way.  They may tell us an important message but the answers do not answer all of our questions and they may leave us hanging.

Clearly, half of the bridesmaids were not prepared for the delay.  The message is that they should have been prepared.  They should have been ready for a lengthy delay.  But I struggle with the question of why the other bridesmaids did not share some of their oil.  On the surface, we can understand that each of us are responsible for our own actions and it is the responsibility of each of us to always be ready for God’s coming.  But I still wonder where is the mercy that Jesus always offered?  To answer that question though would take away from the meaning of the parable.

This week, our bishop wrote about liminal places.  A liminal place is a transition stage.  It is a position at or on both sides of a threshold.  The bishop said it is as if we are walking through a door and we still have one foot in the past and one for in the future.  We may not even see the future very clearly. Our country will now go through a transition and none of us really know what that will be like.  Covid-19 may mean that more people work from home even after the pandemic is over.  Our church has entered into a transition.  Some of the changes may be wonderful.  I think we will always live stream services so that people can watch the services from their home. Other changes I may not appreciate.   Change can be difficult especially for people who are older.  That is why I say it is a time for us to search for peace and comfort and healing in Jesus Christ.  The bishop reminded us of the passage in Romans which says that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. 

In the gospel today, we find the words like watch and prepare.  I wonder if we might instead use the words like stay steady and trust.  I prefer to think about staying steady in our faith, seeking to not fall from God’s grace.  I prefer to think of trusting in the presence of God rather than to find fulfillment in other ways.  I said that I felt the presence of God guiding my life as I transitioned into this position and I know that God’s presence will always be with me regardless of the changes I will go through.  May God bless you in this time and may you remain in the arms of God always despite whatever is to come.  Amen. 



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