Sunday’s sermon: Willing to PREPARE

Text used – Matthew 25:1-13

  • Peanut butter and jelly. Marshmallows and hot chocolate. Bread and butter. A pen and paper. A hand and a glove. Coffee and mornings … or really, coffee and life. Things that just go together! There are lots of things in the world that go together so well that hearing one basically implies the other at this point. As we continue with our Lenten series on willingness and faith this year, you can add last week’s Scripture reading and this week’s Scripture reading to that “go together” list, too.
    • Last week: talked about the importance of responding wholeheartedly to God’s call
    • This week: explore the importance of preparing for God’s call
    • Both two sides of the same coin → both essential parts of living our lives as followers of Jesus … living our lives as those who try to remain attuned to God’s call in our lives and all that that call brings
    • So since we talked about responding to God’s call last week with one of Mo Willems’ “Elephant and Piggie” books, and since last week and this week go hand-in-hand, let me share another Mo Willems “Elephant and Piggie” book with you this morning: Let’s Go for a Drive![1]

      • The whole focus of this story is preparing – what we need to do to prepare, how we prepare, what we’re preparing for, and how we prepare together.
        • Like I said, goes hand-in-hand with what we talked about last week[2]: what we need to respond to God’s call, how we respond, what we’re responding to, and how we respond together
  • So let’s look more closely at Jesus’ parable this morning – the “Parable of the ten young bridesmaids,” as my Bible subtitles it.
    • Jumped over quite a bit in Mt’s gospel btwn last week’s parable and this week’s parable → much of that “in between” involves that Pharisees conspiring to “trap Jesus in his words”[3] and scheming to get rid of this radical rabblerouser who keeps upsetting their religious status quo (thank God for radical religious rabblerousers, right?)
      • Includes some harsh words from Jesus for the Pharisees and Sadducees and some strong accusations from the Pharisees and Sadducees leveled at Jesus
    • Also jumped over “Greatest commandment” – Jesus: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”[4]
    • Bypassed Jesus’ veiled conversations with disciples about what is to come
    • Today’s passage = comes on the heels of two pointed teachings from Jesus on being prepared
      • Conversation with the disciples in which Jesus tells them to be prepared because they won’t know when the Human One comes[5]
      • Another parable about the faithful and unfaithful servants[6]
        • Faithful servant worked diligently while the master was away → found working when the master returned home
        • Unfaithful servant spent the master’s time away eating too much, drinking too much, and abusing their fellow servants
        • Another parable that ends in “weeping and gnashing of teeth”
  • Leads us into today’s parable about being prepared – text: At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish.
    • Gr. here is interesting[7]
      • Gr. “foolish” = word that indicates something lacking edges, something that is loosely defined or someone that has a loose grasp on things → today’s equivalent = someone who is flighty, impulsive, scatterbrained
      • Flipside: Gr. “wise” = someone who is rooted and thoughtful → based on word for heart/intellect/understanding
      • So right away, Jesus is making it clear that we have two diametrically opposed groups here. One group thinks about all the things, one group thinks about none (or at least very few) of the things. One group is definitive while the other is imprecise. One group prepares, the other reacts.
    • Abundantly clear which group Jesus is lifting up – text: When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’ “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’ But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.[8] → This feels a lot like Gerald and Piggie. Gerald had the end goal in mind – going for a drive – and while he prepared for a wide variety of eventualities (sun, rain, route planning, and packing), what he missed was the most glaringly obvious and essential piece of their plan to go for a drive: the car!
      • Even the foolish bridesmaids came prepared with lamps … but they didn’t think far enough ahead or cast their planning nets wide enough to encompass any possibility but the most immediate one – the prompt arrival of the groom
      • Also like Gerald, this shortsightedness doesn’t exactly work out for the foolish bridesmaids → find themselves distracted, even absent – having to go off to secure their last-minute necessities (more oil) when the groom finally arrives and takes the prepared bridesmaids into the wedding celebration, shutting out those who were missing in the moment
        • “Um … Do you have a car, Piggie?” “No. I am a pig. A pig with a car would be silly.”[9]
  • So it’s clear that we should be preparing for God in our lives, but what does that even mean?
    • Context for Mt’s initial audience: Jesus-followers who thought Jesus was coming back soon … like, within their lifetimes! → That’s why there was so much concern about the “when” of all their preparations.
    • Different for us who, roughly 2000 yrs. later, are still waiting
      • Scholar: “What are you waiting for?!” That is usually a critique posing as a question, because we live in a society uncomfortable with waiting. We are encouraged to act, to get moving, much like the bridesmaids who could spare no time to fill their lamps. Jesus too seems to live in a manner that wastes no time, privileging the present moment. … However, according to this parable Jesus also understands there is waiting to be done. Amid his many end-time predictions and declarations comes this timely parable about waiting. … To refuse to wait would be foolish, for it denies the possibility of a future outside one’s own design. To bring enough oil is to be wise, because the night might be longer or darker than expected. Still, the belief is that the morning will come. Waiting is an act of faith.[10]
    • But what are we waiting for? And how should we wait?
      • “What” is both simple and complex: Scripture tells us that we are waiting for God’s kingdom to be realized here on earth. “Thy kingdom come,” we pray. But what that might look like is something Christians have pondered and studied and debated and guessed at for centuries.
        • Mountains of theories on “the end times”
        • Mountains of theories about a 2nd coming of Christ
        • But here’s the thing: Anytime anyone asks Jesus about the particulars of all of that – the coming of the kingdom, the return of the Messiah, even just the future in general – Jesus’ response is deliberately vague. He tells us it is for God to know. In the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants just before today’s text, Jesus says, “Nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”[11] So I’m not the pastor who’s going to stand up here telling you Jesus is coming back some day in some recognizable way so y’all better be ready! Because the thing is, when Jesus does answer those ancient questions about when and what and how, he always answers them with a mandate that involves living out our faith.
          • Mandate to devote ourselves to God
          • Mandate to care for one another
          • “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”[12]
    • Friends, this is how we prepare ourselves for God’s calling in our lives: by putting hands and feet, a heart and a prayer to our faith. By living our faith out loud. Jesus makes it clear that preparedness isn’t about guessing at the end times based on wild Scriptural calculations or the “wisdom” of false prophets. It’s about action. It’s about keeping our hearts and faith focused on the inevitable arrival of the One for whom we wait, but, in the meantime, acting on our faith in ways that are meaningful – ways that bring about God’s kingdom here on earth one compassionate act at a time.
      • Scholar: If truth be told, we are living in what feels like an in-between time. The world is hurting, violence is a daily reality, illness and pandemic continue to haunt and hurt us, and it seems like the promise of peace, wholeness, or even hope seems far away. … We live in this in-between space where many are wondering where God might be amid all of this, even as we are waiting (perhaps more eagerly than we would like to admit) for God’s grace, peace, and love to infuse our lives, country, and world. … Perhaps the bridesmaids of this story might offer us some guidance. The ones who brought oil are labeled as “wise,” not because they had some kind of predictive powers to know how much oil to pack. Instead, their wisdom was in being ready for a timetable that might be different than the one they would have preferred. They are ready for the fact that things don’t always happen when and how they would like. But they sit (or sleep!) ready; they have what they need for the journey, even if it is long. … [W]e don’t know how long the journey to justice or peace or wholeness will be. But Matthew reminds us to “keep our lamps trimmed and burning” in order that we might not grow weary in the waiting. For, there is work to be done, even as we wait for the coming of the bridegroom who makes all things new.[13] → Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Mo Willems. Let’s Go for a Drive! (New York: Hyperion Books for Children), 2012.

[2] Mt 22:1-14.

[3] Mt 22:15.

[4] Mt 22:37-39.

[5] Mt 24:36-44.

[6] Mt 24:45-51.

[7] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy,

[8] Mt 25:5-13.

[9] Willems.

[10] Robert M. McClellan. “Matthew 25:1-13 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 254.

[11] Mt 24:36.

[12] Mt 22:37-39.

[13] Kimberly Wagner. “Commentary on Matthew 25:1-13” from Working Preacher,

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Willing to PREPARE

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WITNESS | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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