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Ready Or Not...
December 1, 1996

MATTHEW 25:1-13

It hardly seems fair. After all, the bridegroom was late. If he had arrived on time, all ten bridesmaids would have met him with their lamps burning brightly. Because he was late, five of the bridesmaids ran out of oil, so they went to buy some, and while they were gone, the bridegroom arrived, the festivities began, the door was shut, and the five bridesmaids were locked out. Jesus called them foolish.

In Jesus' parable, the other five bridesmaids, who had brought extra oil with them just to be safe, were called wise. They weren't generous, however, because they refused to share their oil with the five who ran out. Wise, maybe, but not sharing and caring. However, who knows, perhaps the five wise bridesmaids had warned the others. "You had better bring extra oil, just to be safe." And the five foolish hadn't wanted to be bothered, had thrown off the suggestion, with, "Oh, we'll have enough. After all, it's a wedding. Surely the bridegroom will be there on time!"

But, why shut the door and refuse admittance to the five foolish oil-less bridesmaids? Seems heartless and cruel, doesn't it. Where is grace? Where is forgiveness? Where is the second chance? Five chapters earlier in Matthew, chapter 20, Jesus told the parable about the farm workers who worked the last hour of the day, and received the same pay as those who worked all day, due to the grace and generosity of the grower. The door is open. Don't worry that you didn't get here until the last hour. You get the same pay. Don't worry that you did not get here until midnight. There is still room for you. God is gracious, always, forever gracious. Now, in chapter 25, just five chapters later, what's happened to grace? The bridesmaids were foolish, and too lazy to bring extra oil, but they weren't evil. Yet, when they got to the banquet, the door was shut, locked, bolted, and they were excluded. It hardly seems fair or consistent.

Yet, that's the way it is. In one sense, there is time to accept the invitation. Every Sunday, I give the invitation for you to open your life to God, accept God's grace, and give your life to Jesus Christ. How many Sundays have you heard it? God is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast, never-ending love. Yet, there always comes that time when there is no more time. When Christ comes in final glory, his people will be gathered. You are on your own. Your mother can't help you. Your father's faith will not cover you. No matter how many caring people try to share their oil with you, it is too late. Ready or not, Christ will come.

Death also often comes unexpectedly, without notice, without warning. The little beeper on the machine falls silent, the ticking heart stops, the auto leaves the road and turns over, the train can't stop. Life flashes in an instant before our eyes, and it is over. The door slams shut. I don't want to sound morbid this morning, but this is true, it is real. And, there is then no more time to get ready, no time to get more oil, no time to sort things out or straighten things out.

The point of the parable is that every day might be our last, ready or not... Paul wrote, Be angry, but do not let the sun go down on your anger. Good advice. Don't let a day end without straightening out relationships. Don't carry anger, unforgiveness, resentment, bitterness with you. Work out the difficulty. Are you in right relationship with your family, friends, workmates, neighbors? Do your children know how much you love them? Your spouse? Is there anything yet unsaid, undone? Ready or not... How about God? Are you and the Lord on good terms? No one can loan you oil. You are on your own. Ready or not...

A young pastor was discouraged by the low attendance at Sunday worship. He confessed his discouragement to an old, wise saint of his congregation. She said, "When you think about it, I think it's rather amazing that anybody comes to church." "Really?" asked the pastor. Was it his sermons? Was church really so boring? "Think about it," she said. "The church is forever forcing us to face up to questions we spend most of our lives avoiding. It talks about things we never talk about in daily life. Church can be a downright uncomfortable, unpleasant place for most of us at one time or another."

You might think of every Sunday's worship as a preparation for crisis. The church helps you prepare by asking uncomfortable questions, by confronting you with your life, by challenging your relationship with God. The church helps you prepare by teaching you about God's love, God's faithfulness, and by encouraging you to trust, to believe, to hang on to Christ when there is little left to hang on.

For 444 days in which she was moved blindfolded 13 times, Kathryn Koob was an American hostage in Iran. No one was there to help. The door to the world, the door to her family and friends was shut. No one was able to give her oil for her lamp. But, she went into captivity prepared. She had extra oil with her! During her captivity, and through her captivity, she experienced a spiritual awakening. She deepened her prayer life, and learned how to rely on God despite captivity and chaos. She said, "During this time I began to learn about joy." Imagine! She learned about joy. She is grateful for memorized Scriptures and hymns she sang by herself. She is grateful for the Bible and a Christian community which had prepared her for the ordeal. She wrote, "What we are teaching in our churches is what will give strength."

It is the season of Advent. The church year begins today as we wait for the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas, and the ultimate coming of our Lord. We are urged to prepare, to get ready, to get things in order with those around us, and with our Lord. May the experience of Holy Communion this morning be an opportunity for you fill your lamp with the oil of the Holy Spirit. Get ready. When the time comes, no one else can help you. No one else can walk your road. No one else can give you oil. Ready or not...

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris