The Pas Proper 27 – Ordinary 32 – Pentecost + 23
12 November 2017
Psalm 78:1-7 pg 806
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Brighten your Church, O God, with the promise of your kingdom, and waken our hearts to its light. Bid us hasten with faith undimmed to greet the bridegroom’s return and join the wedding feast. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s gospel, has, for me, a different emphasis than we’ve seen from Jesus before, when describing the kingdom of heaven.
Today, we see, we hear, we experience Jesus describing what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, for us. Once more, he is striving to describe the kingdom of heaven for you and for me.
Now, we’ve seen such images from Jesus, before.
Before today, he’s told us: the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that grows in the bread and helps it to expand to its finished proportions. It’s like a treasure buried in a field; its like a found coin that was lost.
Before today, we’re told the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl worth everything that we have. At the same time, it’s like a mustard seed able to host and protect all who shelter in its branches.
And other such images that captivate us, our attentions, our imaginations, with what the kingdom of heaven is like.
We’ve seen that the kingdom of heaven is an open and welcoming place, and all are invited. We’ve seen that it grows within us.
We’ve learned that it is of such value that we would willingly sell all that we have to be able to gain the kingdom of heaven, and that it will be so much more than we can ever imagine.
But today’s image is different.
Today we’re seeing that there is a different emphasis on gaining entrance to the Kingdom of heaven. In today’s gospel, we see that some got in, but some didn’t; and this is interesting to us as we look at what the kingdom of heaven is like.
This passage, this description of what the kingdom of heaven is like, comes to us out of the time when Jesus is beginning to anticipate the burden of the crucifixion, and the hope of the resurrection. His face is firmly turned toward Jerusalem, and he’s focused on the tasks ahead – tasks that will open the kingdom of heaven for you and for me, and for all who believe.
But do all believe?
We know there are Pharisees in the gospels, who have been trying to trip Jesus up. These people have been trying to find ways in which they can prove that they, their message, their display of faith is superior to the message to love your neighbour that Jesus has been teaching, preaching, and demonstrating throughout the length and breadth of his ministry.
Yet, at the same time, there are Pharisees who believe Jesus, his message and its implications for them and their lives.
And we an see the same with the other religious classes in Israel as well. In John 3, we see that Nicodemus, a member of the ruling council, and he comes to Jesus at night. He comes to find out who this man is, and why his message resonates so well with his heart, but not his head.
Yet, at the end of the crucifixion, John and Joseph of Arimathea are the ones to claim Jesus’ body and bury him in the unused tomb in the Garden.
In the end, they’ve allowed their hearts, we’ve allowed our hearts to rule what our heads are unable to comprehend. They’ve understood what Jesus is telling us, today, about what it means to be prepared, to be ready to wait for as long as it takes for the bridegroom to arrive for the wedding feast, and they’re ready to wait for as long as it takes.
Jesus has begun to show us, to tell us, that not everyone who has heard the word of God is prepared for what God has planned for each one of us. They’re not ready, perhaps we’re not ready, for God to welcome us, to love us, to encourage us to be ready for the day when Christ comes again, when that day comes.
And this is a good thing, because we’re still waiting for the kingdom of heaven to be a reality in our lives, in our hearts.
We’re waiting for Christ to come, and Christ is waiting for us to open our hearts to God’s loving message for us and for all of creation.
In today’s gospel we see the bridesmaids waiting, in the same way that we are, also, waiting.
They’ve been prepared for the wedding, for the wedding feast since the appointed time, and they’re prepared to go home in the dark.
Yet, here they are waiting for the one with whom they are to celebrate a wedding, and he’s no where in sight.
So, these ten ladies, we, are expected to ‘hurry up and wait.’ A phrase with which we are familiar, but one that also brings much frustration to our lives, still today.
When Paul was preaching the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, it was the common thought that the 2nd coming of the Christ would happen in the lifetime of those who came to Jesus, who came to believe in the One God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Yet, people died before realizing, before living through the Parousia. They had “Fallen asleep in the faith”, and yet, today, we are still waiting.
Some of the tabloid magazines that we can find in supermarket lines often show us such headlines like: “the end of the world is coming!” And yet, for all the years I’ve seen such headlines, here we are – still waiting for Christ to return in glory.
When I lived in Toronto, almost daily, I would pass the intersection of Bloor and Young, the metaphoric centre of the city, and there would be a man there yelling himself hoarse, about the impending end of the world, yet, here we are, still, today.
Perhaps what Jesus is telling us, today, is that we need to be prepared, continuously prepared, because even Jesus doesn’t know when the Christ will come again.
We need to be prepared for just about anything and everything we can imagine because God has a great imagination and all the time in the world to wait until we are truly ready for Christ to return.
We need to open our hearts, prepare our lives, and share our experiences with those who will continue to try to prove the world’s logic has no bearing on the love of God, no matter how much our heads don’t understand what our hearts have learned long ago.
Everywhere in God’s creation, we are encouraged to be prepared for what is unexpected, yet still a possibility for our lives.
In today’s gospel, we see that the bridesmaids, who were prepared for the unexpected, are admitted to the wedding feast, and there are those who were not prepared, are not admitted.
We see those who are prepared to wait as long as it takes for Christ’s love to be realized in the world, and those who are ‘just along for the ride.’
As I wrote, I watched the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” where the prisoners were incarcerated for decades for the crimes for which they had been convicted. These are men who got into a routine. Who never looked beyond today, because to know what tomorrow brings could break a man’s spirit, yet they held hope for tomorrow.
They know the ‘hurry up and wait’ philosophy quite well. They know that to look for anything other than ‘hurry up and wait’ is to invite crisis into their lives, into their hearts. At the same time, the hope of the end of their terms, of parole is a also constant in their lives as well.
We know that the kingdom of heaven is open to us with Christ’s return, in glory, but only God knows when that return will happen. So, figuratively, then, Christ is the bridegroom for whom we, the bridesmaids, are waiting.
But we’re not all prepared for his return. We’re not all prepared to wait as long as it takes for Christ to come to us, and to invite us into the marriage banquet.
Today, we are, many generations from the telling of this parable in its original context. Yet, here we are: still waiting, our lamps at our sides.
But are we prepared?
Are we living out the roles that Christ has asked us to live out? To show love to our neighbour and to love our selves, with the same love that God lavishes upon each one of us?
This doesn’t mean to give up what we need to be prepared, to wait for the bridegroom, but rather to encourage those who are unprepared to better practices.
At the same time, we are able to ask are we prepared, are we able to grow in our lives of faith, and in our faithful service toward those who are less fortunate than we are.
We don’t know how long the bridesmaids waited, throughout the day, before they were required to light their lamps, trim the wicks, and greet the bridegroom.
We are the bridesmaids. We are, I hope, prepared to wait for the arrival of the bridegroom, but in the meantime, we can encourage, we can teach, we can model for those who aren’t prepared. We can grow in our lives of faith, our demonstrations of Christian love toward those who are not prepared to wait.
Hurry up and wait. This is what we’re expected to do, but at the same time, we need to be prepared to wait for as long as it takes. It’s been generations, so far, and only God knows when we’ll be ready for Christ to return.
Only God knows when the bridegroom will arrive, and in the meantime, it is the bridesmaids who are prepared to wait who are admitted to the feast, to the kingdom, to the reward that awaits all of us at the end of all things.