Matthew 25: 1-13
“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 ones, 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. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Congregational Church of Easton – 11/12/2023
The chapter just before today’s reading about the bridesmaids had talked about the end of the age, when the Son of Man will appear and a new era of history will begin. So the parable about the wise and foolish bridesmaids is an allegory. The bridesmaids represent the early church and you and me. The wedding is the Kingdom, the new era, and the bridegroom is Christ.
The early church believed the resurrected Christ would return soon. This second coming would bring about the end of history as we know it, and a new way of living on this planet would begin. All those who had died would be resurrected; there would be a final judgment; and the elect would enter God’s new earthly kingdom.
2000 years later, not many Christians have this kind of excitement and enthusiasm about Christ’s return. After all these years of waiting, the only people in our society who are excited about Christ’s return are members of a few millennial sects who most of us think are pretty weird. The rest of us don’t have that kind of hope.
What many Christians DO hope for is going to heaven. But the afterlife is not what the early church was thinking about, even though Matthew’s term for the Kingdom of God is “the Kingdom of heaven.” No, the early Christ community to whom Matthew was writing, was thinking about a new phase in human history in which justice and compassion would be the rule.
When I read the paper or listen to the news, I don’t see much justice and compassion. The horrific war in Gaza has dominated the news for weeks. As one commentator about today’s reading on the bridesmaids said, “freedom, justice, and compassion seem fragile in the face of the forces of oppression, injustice [and] violence.
Hope for a new social order of love and justice seems hopeless. The question I’d like us to wrestle with this morning is: how do we regain our hope for the Kingdom and how can we prepare for its arrival?
What distinguished the wise from the foolish bridesmaids is the wise ones had prepared. They made sure they had enough resources to cope with the long delay in the coming of the bridegroom and the promised wedding banquet.
That’s the second part of today’s question coal how do we regain our hope for the Kingdom and how can we prepare for its arrival?
The wise maidens were different from the foolish ones because they had brought enough resources to sustain them while they were waiting. What does that mean for you and me? What resources do we need? And how do we prepare for this long delay in the final coming of the kingdom?
As I’ve tried to answer this question about resources for myself, i think about what you and I need as individuals and what we need, together, as a church. Let’s start with what we need as individuals.
The question for us as individuals is how we can sustain hope for a better world in the face of the violence and climate disasters that surround us. Therapists report that they have never seen as much anxiety and depression as they do today. People are coming into their offices feeling pretty hopeless.
How can we remain hopeful? The only way I know how to do that is to obey Jesus’s command in today’s reading: “Keep awake!” Stay mindful. The early church believed that there were ways in which the Kingdom had already arrived. Jesus said the Kingdom is already in us and among us.
So, the way I stay hopeful after getting depressed reading the New York Times in the morning, is i spend a little time practicing mindfulness focusing my attention on the orchid blooming on our window seat.
My spiritual director gave me a wonderful little poem by Billy Collins. It illustrates what mindfulness is like. It shows what it’s like to honor Jesus’ command to stay awake.
Let me read you the first stanza, and then I’ll read you the last two. The poem is entitled “Endless Love.” I’ll put copies on the coffee table.
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table….
… After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink,
gazing down affectionately at the soap.
So patient and soluble
so at home in its pale green soap dish
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt it’s turning in my wet hand
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
This is mindfulness. The poet is awake to the mouse she carries into the woods and awake to the soap as she washes her hands afterwards.
In God’s new order to come, the mindfulness movement will no longer just be a movement. All who enter the Kingdom will spend most of their time awake to what is before their senses in the here and now. I believe it is in the present moment that we experience God. It is in the present moment that I experience heaven! Maybe you do too.
That’s one answer to the question of what resources we’ll need to prepare for a long delay in the final coming of the Kingdom. We need a spiritual practice that prepares us to be more and more mindful, more and more awake.
Back to today’s question: “How do we regain our hope for the Kingdom, and how do can we prepare for its arrival?” If the wise bridesmaids brought enough oil for a long wait, what resources do we as a church need as we wait for society to be transformed?
Well, we could keep awake to the way society is already being transformed. We could stay mindful about where we see signs of the Kingdom already being present.
Groundwork Bridgeport engages underserved young people through activities that promote improvement in the environmental and economic decisions of their cities while at the same time providing opportunities for youth to learn and engage with their community. This afternoon Groundwork Bridgeport is sponsoring a tree planting in Seaside Park down near Long Island Sound. Underserved young people will be there planting trees.
Did you believe that Christ will be present in their work? I do.
Another example are the members of Westport Rotary who are currently in Uganda for the ribbon cutting of a new intensive care unit of a hospital, an ICU which they and Rotary International had funded. One member had a large number of machines in his basement, equipment that had been replaced when more modern ones had been purchased in the New York hospital where he worked. Rotary arranged for the outdated machines to be sent to Uganda and installed in the ICU unit.
There are hundreds of examples of churches and other organizations working together in ways that show what the reign of God is like. They certainly give me hope.
The Boy Scouts motto is “be prepared.” The wise bridesmaids were prepared.
Let me give you three examples of how you as a congregation might want to prepare. The wise maidens prepared for a long wait. We have a long wait in front of us before global warming is no longer a threat, and until gun violence is a thing of the past, and until undocumented immigrants no longer have to live in fear. These are three things you can prepare for.
First, global warming. Think of the people who needed to be evacuated during Hurricane Sandy — people whose homes were in danger along the coast and from flooded rivers up here. Sandy was quote/unquote “only’ a category three storm. What if Connecticut took a direct hit from a category four or five storm? You as a church may want to do some thinking about how you might want to prepare to house and care for evacuees.
Second, you may want to think about your response as a church to gun violence. What if the next major massacre resulted in a call to mobilize a million people for a March on Washington? Would the Congregational Church of Easton carpool or rent a bus to take you and your friends to Washington to join that March?
A third example is undocumented immigrants. What if federal officials began wholesale deportation of thousands of immigrants in Bridgeport and Danbury? Would this church join a coalition of churches that would offer safety to those immigrants in our sanctuaries?
You may not want to answer these specific questions now. It may be sufficient to decide in principle whether the Congregational Church of Easton would respond in ways like these to a crisis. Wise churches, like wise maidens, will have grappled with questions like these and be prepared to act when the need arises.
Jesus told his followers, “… keep awake, because you don’t know the day or the hour.” We can stay awake individually by becoming more and more mindful. We can stay awake as a congregation by thinking about the possible threats to women to children, women, and men in our community and planning possible responses ahead of time.
Let us pray: Thanks be to God who reminds us to keep awake. Thanks be to God who calls us to be alert for the signs of God’s kingdom that are already around us. Amen.