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Go and Buy For Yourself
November 9, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 25:1-13

Snoopy is on the doghouse along with two birds. There’s no dialogue. There’s little dialogue in Snoopy cartoons; you have to make up your own. One of the birds is a mother bird, teaching the younger bird how to fly. They have a little discourse. The mother bird flaps her wings and the little bird flaps its wings. Snoopy observes. The mother bird flies. The young bird flaps its wings and flies. Snoopy flaps his four legs, takes off from the doghouse and falls as he always does, headfirst into his dish with the comment, “I always say, birds of a feather flock together.” The mother bird could not share her gift with Snoopy. As much as she would have liked to share her gift of flying with the dog, it was not possible. 

We teach our children and as Christians, we try to practice sharing, being generous cheerful givers, sharing all that we have with those around us and the world. But there are some things that you cannot share. There are some things you cannot give to someone else. Likewise, there are some things that cannot be taken away from you, but you can lose them. You can surrender them, you can be unprepared. And when the crisis comes, you will not be ready. 

Five maidens had extra oil with them for their lamps and five foolish maidens came unprepared. They waited a long time for the bridegroom to come and when the call went out that he had come, they rose to greet him and those without any oil discovered their lamps had run out. They tried to borrow oil, but oil cannot be shared. They were told to go and buy for themselves. While they were enroute to buy oil for themselves, the wedding began and they missed it. It sounds like a nice little story, but actually it reflects the customs of that day. The wedding customs were quite different. The time of a wedding was never never announced. No one ever really knew what time the wedding was going to begin. So the bride and her bridal party would wait. The maidens were waiting with the bride for the groom to come. They never knew what hour he was going to come; he liked to surprise them. It was especially important to catch them sleeping so he’d come at all hours of the night. There was a great sense of mystery. Then when he did come and surprise them, the wedding began and the door was shut. No one was allowed in; so the maidens who didn’t have any oil left for their lamps missed out. 

There are some things you cannot share. You may hope, you may dream, you may wish, you may earnestly desire on behalf of someone else. Parents know what this means. Parents know the urging, the deep desire to confer upon children, but there’s some things you just cannot give to children. You can give them love, you can give them money. But you cannot give them personal success. You cannot give character to anyone else. You cannot bestow a gift of character upon them. You cannot give motivation to anyone else. You cannot give joy to anyone else . You cannot give spirit to anyone else. A relationship with God cannot be bestowed upon anyone else. You can witness to it, you can talk about it, you can tell what Christ means in your life, but you cannot give him to anyone else. That quality in in your life which causes the light to shine— the radiance of a personality, the joy, the confidence, the real you— the quality that produces that light cannot be shared. You can share your light with someone else. You can show your light so they can see a way. You can light their path. You can help them with their problems, their troubles, their grief. You can help to an extent. You can share your life but you can’t give them the oil out of which the light comes. 

And likewise, you cannot live off anyone else’s life. You cannot live off anyone else’s oil. You cannot live off anyone else’s spirit. You cannot live off anyone else’s relationship with God, it must become yours. You must nurture, train, develop that spark of faith in you, that oil. You must be prepared at all times so that when the crisis comes, when the event comes, when the bridegroom comes, you will be ready. If you’re caught unprepared, if you want to live off your parents faith, or you want to live off your friend’s faith or you want to live off the church’s faith, the word will come to you, “Go and buy for yourself.” No one can give spirit to anyone else. 

Secondly, no one can take the oil from you. No one can take the spirit from you. The foolish maidens could not take oil from the wise. You can be tortured. You can be persecuted. You can be mistreated. You can be imprisoned. They can do all kinds of things to your body, to your job, to your home, but they cannot take your spirit. They cannot kill your spirit. Your oil cannot be taken. It cannot be stifled. It belongs with God. There is no power greater than spirit. Our nation used to believe that but our nation has been forgetting that to our tragedy. I attended the Colliver Lectures this week. Robert McAfee Brown especially impressed us digging up those things about our nation which hurt us—the shame, the guilt, the grief, the tragedy that makes us all uncomfortable, especially about the Vietnam War. He said that has to be opened up to us. As a nation we have to face what we’re doing. Our nation is crumbling around us. We must look, we must face. Will we learn? Will we learn from what we are doing in this world? Will we as a nation learn that the strength of a nation is not in its military power. The strength of a nation is not in its stockpile of weapons. The strength of a nation is not in its power to create brute force and violence. In Vietnam, we were defeated. For the first time in our history, we were defeated. We were humiliated by a small people who had spirit. All our weapons, all our power cannot destroy spirit. When our priorities are placed in the wrong places, our nation is in trouble. We cannot give oil to anyone else. We cannot give spirit to anyone else. Likewise, they cannot take it away from us. 

Thirdly, but we can surrender it. We can lose it, we can be unprepared. The great crisis in our country today is not in economics, not in ecology, not in the military, and not in the government. The crisis in our nation today is spirit. We are losing our spirit as a people. We are abdicating it, we are giving it up. We are giving it up to the government. Our wise forefathers realized and set up a system of checks and balances to trust no one too far. No branch of the government is to go too far, there is a system of checks and balances. And the ultimate authority is in the people. We as a people have been giving up our authority to our leaders. Our country has lost respect and trust around the world because we as a people are surrendering. We as a people have surrendered to big business and we are at their mercy. We as a people have surrendered to labor unions and we are at their mercy. We have surrendered to organized crime and we are at its mercy. The country belongs to people. When we give up, when we surrender, we lose our oil, we lose our spirit. 

And we Americans believe most of all in the dollar. Because we have a comfortable life, because we’re complacent, because we have jobs, because we are secure, we don’t care about honor, justice and righteousness. Our nation is in deep trouble because we are unprepared. We forgot that the strength of a people, the strength of a nation is not in its wealth and not in its might. The strength of a people is in its character and in its spirit. 

We had one example of hope this week when a group of ten parents from Lincoln School were upset at a decision made in Sacramento that affected a very vital, dynamic program at Lincoln School. Ten parents were willing to drive to Sacramento to meet with a high official in the Education Department. When Sacramento got the word that parents were interested enough to come up there, they called off the meeting and reversed their decision. That’s the power of people. The hope of a land, the hope of a church and the hope of a community is when the people keep the oil burning in their lamps, exert their influence and make this our land. 

The theme of the parable is be prepared. You can’t live off anyone else’s oil. No one can take it from you. But you can lose it and your mind, the mind that God gave you, the intelligence that God gave you and your conscience that tells you what is right and what is wrong, what is just and what is true, your perception of truth; don’t surrender it to any government. Don’t surrender to any institution. Don’t surrender to any group. Don’t surrender to any church. Don’t surrender to any group of people that tells you what is true and right about the Bible and has a neat system all laid out of what is right and what is wrong, and what is God’s word. You are the expert in what is God’s word. We are all priests. Martin Luther led the Reformation cry with the priesthood of all believers—your mind, your conscience. your ideas of what is right and what is wrong. It is your oil, it is your life. Don’t surrender it to anyone but God, only God. 

When the crisis comes, when the challenge comes, when the bridegroom comes, we’ll be ready. Jesus used the analogy that the kingdom of God, the relationship with God Himself, is like a party, like a banquet, a feast and the great joy that is in store for a life that is surrendered only to God and that remains free and spirit-filled. To that life, the bridegroom comes in all his splendor and all his joy.

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris