Worship November 8, 2020
I welcome you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Friends it is time to wake up, for God is about to surprise us.
It is time to prepare, for God’s love is about to change the world.
It is time to get ready, for God needs us to proclaim the good news.
It is time to start planning, for God’s invitation will fill our church.
It is time to worship, for God is here now!
Your love has brought us together, O Lord, and it is your love that sustains us through each day.
We pray that you would keep us faithful.
Even as we watch for signs of your kingdom, strengthen us to work with you to bring about, here and now, your reign on earth.
Give us the courage to witness to your presence in the world, today, tomorrow, and into the future.
We pray in the name of the One who comes, Christ our Savior. Amen.
Hymn #707 Hymn of Promise
Invitation to the Word
Hey, wake up! It’s time for the sermon.
What do you mean, wake up?
This is prime nap time!
How can you sleep at a time like this?
You might miss something important!
Nah, I’ve been hearing this same old stuff all my life.
But this is God’s word!
Don’t you know this could change your life?
Change my life?!
Uh . . . . I must have missed that part.
Exactly! We’ve promised to serve God,
to be witnesses with our lives.
How can you witness when you’re asleep?
Well, I guess it might not hurt to pay attention. . .
just this once.
Pay attention today and every day!
This is the word of God!
And you never know what might happen.
Scripture Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.
6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 But 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.’ 1
0 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.
11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’
12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’
13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.[e]
Did you hear the joke about a circus owner who was walking down the street in a tourist district and saw a crowd of people around a table watching a show? On the table was a pot turned upside down and a duck tap dancing on it. The circus owner was so impressed that he offered to buy the duck from its owner. After some wheeling and dealing the owner agreed to sell the duck and the pot for $10,000. A couple of days later the circus owner returns to the owner. “Your duck is a rip-off!” He says angrily. “I put him on the pot in front of a big audience and he didn’t dance a single step!” “Well,” asked the duck’s former owner, “did you remember to light the candle under the pot?”
While someone might use a candle that way, that’s not what candles are for. Remember the song “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”.
We still have the candles from our wedding some 42 years ago. They certainly do no good packed away in a box that our kids will someday open and wonder why I saved those faded candles.
The style of weddings changes but weddings themselves never go out of style. They are as old as we can imagine and as modern as today’s newspaper. There is something fresh and beautiful about each one for we never seem to get over the excitement of watching two lives become one.
At most weddings a lot of fuss is made over the bride and groom, but no one pays much attention to the attendants.
Not so with Jesus. He chooses to use a wedding scene as a parable, a story, to help us understand what he means by the command, “Watch!” He doesn’t even mention the bride and only briefly mentions the bridegroom. His attention is focused on ten young ladies who were invited to the marriage.
The message for us in this story is not about a wedding or the bride or the groom or the attendants. The message for us is about watching and being prepared. The timing of His return will be unknown so we watch and prepare. Jesus uses the word “Then” to introduce the parable of the ten maidens. “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens,” etc. And when he finishes the story of the ten maidens the Lord adds again, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Let us now join Jesus as he relates this story to the disciples.
25 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
That is not the whole story but it is enough of it to serve as an introduction. The background is an eastern wedding in which the bridegroom, rather than the bride, is the center of attention.
In Eastern Jewish weddings it was the bridegroom who paid all the expense of the wedding and so has the prime spot. Weddings were always held at night and it was customary for the bridegroom to go to the house of the bride and take her to the wedding. As they walked through the streets they would be joined by guests at various places along the route. The parable of the ten bridesmaids is the story of such a group, waiting for the bridegroom.
There are five parts in this story as Jesus tells it. Remember that the story was intended for those who live in the time between our Jesus first coming and his second. It will be of value to us only if we recognize ourselves somewhere in the story. It is clearly intended to describe an element of watching that is vital and essential. If we miss the point of this story we may not be watching for his coming as he desires.
The first part of the story is one of a common expectation. Here is a group of people who are waiting for someone.
Life seems to be made up of a great deal of waiting. When we are little we wait to get out on our own. When we are in college we wait to get married. When we get married, we wait for children, and so it goes. One of the characteristics of life which make it worth living is tht we are waiting for something – the next thing. There must be something else, something worth waiting for. Otherwise life can become terribly dull and pointless.
These maidens were waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. In terms of the Lord’s ultimate message, they were waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ. These maidens represent those of us who believe the end of the age will come just as Jesus describes it.
We trust that only the return of Jesus Christ allows us to reach eternity and so we wait.
But the second portion of this parable is about the wise and the foolish. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’
9 But 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.’ 1
This portion of the parable reveals how people wait differently. Five maidens have brought along extra oil, and five have not. This does not represent a division between good and bad, but, as Jesus says, between the wise and the foolish. The wise brought extra oil but the foolish did not. As the night wore on the foolish ran out of oil and were left in the dark. As the bridesmaids wait for the bridegroom they are all equally sincere and devoted. The only difference is, five of them felt it would be wise to provide some extra oil.
This is the most significant part of this story. All the maidens were waiting but half of them were not prepared. They all agreed on the importance of oil and were all using it for its proper purpose-the giving of light. The only slight difference was that some felt more was needed than others.
At this point we see that the story represents that the wise and the foolish are still with us. Despite our agreement in desiring the bridegroom to come, and our belief that history will end as Jesus describes it, there are some who will prove in the end to be wise, and others will be revealed to be foolish, lacking the essential for waiting till the Lord returns. If this parable has any message at all for us, it is that we determine what that essential is.
We can assume all would have gone well for the whole ten if the bridegroom had come when expected. But the next portion of the story introduces a delay:
“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'”
No explanation is given for what delayed the bridegroom. This seems to be another hint from the Lord that his absence would be long extended, as has certainly proved to be the case. It was this long delay of the bridegroom which created an unexpected demand on the part of the ten maidens for more oil. At any rate, the story describes how all ten grew weary of waiting and fell fast asleep.
But this is highly suggestive, for it indicates the awareness of Jesus that watching does not mean a constant, conscious anticipation of his return. We are not to be continually peering up into the heavens. We have lives to live. We are to live as though Jesus is coming back today; And plan as though he is not coming back for a hundred years. While watching we are to be preparing. Money must be earned, investments looked into, food must be cooked, babies washed, school lessons studied, weddings held and funerals attended-all the usual activities of life must go on.
While these wise and foolish maidens were sleeping, their thoughts were diverted, for the time being from the coming of the bridegroom. Thus, while we are engaged in the normal activities of life, there is no need to feel guilty because we have not been thinking of the Lord’s return. There is nothing at all wrong about this, it is as it should be. We have not failed to watch because we have been busy doing natural and necessary things. These maidens were waiting for the bridegroom’s coming, even while they slept. There was a sense of imminence when they went out, yet a perfectly proper activity took their attention for a time.
Here Comes the Bridegroom
But suddenly there is a cry of warning, “Behold! the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” It may well be that the ten had even posted a sentry to warn them when the bridegroom came, or it may be that the bridegroom was proceeded by someone sent for that purpose. At any rate the cry is sounded and all ten of the maidens are awakened. Again it is clearly evident that the problem which would soon confront them did not arise out of the fact that they had fallen asleep. They are awake in plenty of time to meet the bridegroom.
Many times we are, like these, called back to an awareness of the Lord’s imminent return by events of the day, or some realization that time is short. We are often made aware that the grind and routine of life was never intended to go on that way forever. And certainly one day the awakening will come not through events but the actual cry, it may be, of the returning Lord himself. Paul tells us that when he comes for the church it will be with a shout, and that shout may be these electrifying words, “Behold, the Bridegroom!”
And the story continues with a crisis. In it is revealed the wisdom of the wise and the foolishness of the foolish:
“Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.'”
To the consternation of the foolish, they find their lamps are flickering, guttering, about to go out. The long delay has used up the oil and they have no more. They make their appeal to the wise: “Give us some of your oil.” The reply of the wise indicates that oil is not something that can be borrowed or loaned. Whatever it may represent, it is an individual matter. We have all felt something of this in some crisis hour when we have found our resources unequal to the demand. We see someone else who is going through the same thing, and he appears unmoved and calm, well able to take the pressure. We may long to borrow some of his strength, but it is impossible. In such an hour each has what he has and nothing more.
So it is with these five foolish maidens. Their oil is gone and to their dismay they discover their need and there is a panicky rush to get more. But our Lord moves right on into the story, and the final movement is one of denial:
“And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
When the foolish finally arrived, the door was shut. Are we not surprised at that? Many will probably feel that these five were unjustly treated. Why should they not be allowed into the wedding, even if they were a few moments late? But there is no vindictiveness in this shut door. We must be careful that we do not impose our faulty judgments into this matter. What the Lord did was right, and we must be careful to look diligently for those clues that will help us learn why he takes such action as this. There is even a note of sorrow in these words, “I do not know you.” Our Lord’s words are a faithful, honest revelation of something that had been true all along. Weddings are no place for strangers. Only the friends of the family are permitted to come. So to these five foolish maidens the door is shut for the Lord says, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
With these revealing words from the Lord we can now discover what the oil signifies. Obviously, it was the lack of an adequate supply of oil which caused these foolish maidens to be met with the words, “I do not know you.” They did, of course, have some oil when they began but it was not enough. Oil, in the Old Testament, is frequently used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Kings and priests were anointed with oil as a sign of their consecrated (and, supposedly, Spirit-filled) lives. Zechariah, the prophet, was shown a vision of a great golden lampstand with two olive trees standing beside it. The trees dripped oil into the bowls of the lampstand, and Zechariah was told: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). The oil symbolized the Spirit of God by which the light of testimony could be maintained in the hour of darkness.
Some ministry of the Spirit is then in view. The supreme ministry of the Spirit is to impart to men the knowledge of Jesus Christ. In John 16:13,14, Jesus said of him: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his authority, but…will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
The Spirit’s task then is to take the Word of God, and through it reveal Jesus Christ. But there are levels of such revelation. There is even a Spirit-born ministry of the word to those who are not true Christians. Jesus revealed this too. “When he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8). Here is a ministry of the Holy Spirit available to anyone who will seek in the Scriptures to know the truth. But it is designed to take them deeper, into a fuller and permanent relationship that will involve the imparting of divine life.
The great danger is that in exposure to the truth of Scripture, in the knowledge of its teaching, we should become satisfied with an intellectual portrait of Christ instead of a living Lord. It is possible to know much doctrine but never to know the Lord. This is the problem with the foolish maidens, who represent those who gladly take enough of the oil of the Spirit to give them immediate help in their problems, or some release from fear or guilt, but who never go on to a surrender of the will to the authority of Jesus Christ.
The foolish, then, are those who reckon no deeper than a superficial knowledge of scriptural truth. They look for moral enlightenment or for comfort in some hour of uncertainty and doubt. They read to gain reassurance when life seems to be a senseless tangle of threads without apparent purpose. They believe in the Bible but not in the Lord of the Bible. But faith must go deeper than doctrine. Orthodox knowledge is worthless unless it leads to the surrender of self. God freely lights a lamp of knowledge for all who want to know the truth of revelation, but what Jesus indicates here is that there is a deeper level of commitment to the Spirit which is essential to meet the unexpected demands life will thrust at us.
The wise have found that deeper level. They have an extra reservoir of oil which continually feeds the flame of life, never letting it falter or gutter out in darkness, undergirding them in every hour of stress, of pressure or disaster, keeping them firm and steady in the midst of the buffeting pressures of life. They have found a friend who sticks closer than a brother. They have a hidden supply of the mystic oil that lights the flame of life despite the circumstances, and the greater the pressure the brighter the light shines.
Perhaps a personal experience will illustrate this. I called on man in the hospital once, a Christian of many years’ standing. I found him unable to talk, sitting up in bed, his body wasted away to a skeleton. He was unable to move a muscle, even to lift his arms or turn his head. The best he could do in the way of talking was to utter a few guttural sounds. I asked him if he would like me to read the Scripture to him and he nodded his head. As I read, I watched his eyes. As the marvelous words from passages in Isaiah began to sink into his ears, there came a flame into his eyes, a light such as never shone on land or sea. Before we finished, I could see in that emaciated body the glory of a flame burning, unquenchable, inexhaustible, fed by the oil of the Spirit, a flame that could never be put out.
Perhaps you are saying, “I’ll get along as long as I have my friends and my church.” But what if they are taken away? What if you are shipped out to some remote post somewhere, surrounded by 20th century pagans who have committed themselves to seek nothing but the satisfaction of their immediate lusts? What will happen to you then? What if you are transferred to another city and you cannot find a church that ministers to your needs? What if you are confined to bed with a long-term illness, and you must lie there day after unyielding day with little opportunity to speak with others about the things of faith? Or, what is even more likely, what if imperceptibly, despite the eagerness you show now and the earnestness with which you read Scrpture or go to church, you begin to drift and gradually are drawn back into the great cold indifference of the deluded masses?
If something like that happens it will do no good to say to another, “Give me of your oil.” That cannot be done. Every impartation of the Spirit’s power to an individual is marked “Nontransferable.” He cannot share it with anyone else. It has been said that there are only two ways to take a thing seriously: either to renounce it or to risk everything upon it. Is this not what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25)?
There are some who want a third choice, who are continually seeking to make a partial commitment, who try to find a compromise arrangement with God in which they may subscribe to the truth of Scripture but refuse to let it change their activities or their attitudes. That third alternative simply does not exist. That is what Jesus is saying here. That is why he says plainly to the foolish maidens, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” The end shows them for what they are. The door is shut, both to the unbeliever who never tried to get in and to the foolish person who never took God seriously.
Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Gracious God of life and death, we live in both. We are mindful of how you made life and you made it to be limited. We have a finite amount of time to be on this earth, to be your children, to be kind and loving to all those you created blessedly. We have a finite amount of time to live life abundantly for us and for all. Indeed, you made every moment to be treasured, to be blessed, to be full of love and opportunity, but we often treat the moments as unlimited and ordinary. Forgive us, Loving God, for our tendency to not live in the present and accept it as a gracious gift from you. Help us to make each moment have its meaning and to be the energy that brings meaning to others’ moments. We are one in Christ; let us be united in love and caring for those around us. Hear our prayers, O God. When we are in joy, when we suffer loss, we are yours. The world tells us how to be: how to be strong, how to deny loss, how to push down grief so it does not get in our way. But those things do not help us to live fully; they help us to maintain an unfaithful image. Help us, God, to be fully who we are, mixing times of loss and times of gain into a full, faithful life. We know you are there, even though we must walk through the darkest valley from time to time. May we walk through those valleys with courage, with strength, with hope, for we lose so much in life, but it is never the final answer. We pray all these things in the name of the Lord that journeys with us through the darkest of valleys and helps us to find new life along the way, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray as one, saying…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amem
Hymn # 328 Surely the presence of the Lord
Giving is a not only a way to support your local church, but a way to show your thanks. Ken Sloan from Discipleship ministries says When he was a college student in late 1970s, he was once so moved that he took out all the money from his wallet and put it on the offering plate in a thanksgiving envelope. It wasn’t until after the service as he was heading home that he realized he didn’t save any money to take the bus back. It took him an hour and fifteen minutes to walk back home! He said I guess I was living by John Wesley’s words of earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can! While it wasn’t easy to walk so long home, he says this is one of his most precious memories of how he was moved by God to give. What do you have to celebrate today? A birthday? An anniversary? A blessing from God? Might that blessing you celebrate move you to give to the giver of all good gifts? What might God be able to do if we thought about thanking God in this way beyond just what we are supposed to give?
Are you grateful for your church? How has your church blessed you and the community you live in? As you give to its ministry today, perhaps consider an extra gift in honor of the many blessings of God in your life. You don’t have to put in a special envelope, but you could make a note that it is given in honor of a birthday, anniversary, or simply in honor of the love of God in your life. At least while worshiping at home, you won’t have to worry you give so much you won’t have bus money to get back! Amen.
Prayer of Dedication
As we offer our gifts to you, Holy God, may we remember those who are forgotten by us too many times – the hungry, the lonely, the homeless, the vulnerable – yet are important citizens in your kingdom of grace, justice, and hope. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
(Source: Thom Shuman)
HYMN # 405 Seek Ye First
Go out to stay awake! Go out to keep alert and be ready!
We do not know the day or the hour,
but we do know that God goes with us at all hours, on all days.
Go with the love of God, the peace of Christ,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Go to witness and serve! Amen.