This sermon is indebted to remarks made by Tom Long at a preaching conference
One summer on the shores of Prairie Rose Lake, my friends and I were playing in the gritty sand and greenish water. We were having so much fun that we didn’t notice thick, black storm clouds rolling in which herald a typical July thunder storm. I remember Zach’s mom calling us in and getting our things packed up.
As we walking toward the minivan in the parking lot, a man whom we did not recognize started saying the “end is near, repent the end is near.”
We shuffled passed him and were loaded up into our vehicle.
I think the ominous weather must have lent his message more weight than it deserved because I was fairly shaken up by the experience. Sitting in the front of the car with Zach’s mom I asked her “do you think that man was right.”
“about what?” She answered with a steadiness that was both calming and confusing.
“About the end of the world.”
“Oh, he could be.”
I have wrestled with her confident response ever sense.
As we get closer to Advent, we have more time with the darkness. The days are getting shorter. But we also get darker more ominous readings on Sundays. Advent draws our attention and imaginations to the end. But even before the season comes readings like these that begin to pivot us toward judgement and what we sometimes call the Apocalypse or end times.
For many this topic brings about anxiety.
We can think back to times when the world was supposed to end.
In my fairly limited experience I remember a lot of anxiety around Y2K at the turn of the millennium.
I remember anxiety around 2012 when the Mayans predicted we had run out of time.
I confess I have even sat through those History Chanel, Discovery channel “documentaries” about Nostradamus and countless other Apocalyptic prognosticators.
In shows like that and in the Zombie Apocalyptic epic, “The Walking Dead,” we see culture capitalizing on our anxiety.
We see it too in the “Doomsday Prepping” phenomenon pantries and cellars overflowing with canned goods, grenades, and guns.
There is money to be made from our anxiety about the end.
And we do know that there will be an end.
We know that bridegroom is coming.
In the hopes that his disciples might be ready, Jesus gives this parable of the bridesmaids.
First, we see an acknowledgement that the bridegroom has been delayed. Christ’s second coming has been “any day now” for nearly two thousand years.
But as we keep reading what unfolds is fairly disturbing.
10 Bridesmaids wait, five of them have oil for their lamps and five do not.
The wait for the bridegroom is so long that they all fall asleep.
When the bridegroom does come, five have oil in their lamps to meet him and five do not.
When the foolish ask for help the wise do not give it.
The foolish are left behind and when they ask they finally meet the bridegroom, he does not recognize them.
This is a stern and thick parable.
Its mysteries are easy to miss if we get caught up in the perception of injustice.
How could the wise not spare their oil?
How could he leave them out of the banquet hall?
Don’t we worship a God of grace.
Isn’t Jesus supposed to be nice?
Let’s look at this parable another way.
One of the big themes here is oil.
Oil was not magical. Oil was not special. Oil was a necessity.
We have a bit of an insight in to how easy oil is to get by the solution the wise give to the foolish.
Go get the oil from the oil store.
The wise haven’t done anything extraordinary. They’ve just stayed on top of their responsibilities.
What we can start to see is two different ways of life.
In the wise we see the disciplined life of a regular trip to the oil vender.
In the foolish we see the lackadaisical life of “I can get the oil any time, so I can wait to do that later.”
The wise get their oil everyday.
The foolish always leave it for tomorrow.
The parable reminds us that their will come a day when there is no tomorrow.
So now that we have established that the oil is important, what does that mean for us?
Should we stock up on coleman lanterns and propane?
What is the oil?
The oil is the source of light in the darkness.
If we recall Matthew 5:16 we hear that the disciples light shines through their good works.
Jesus will recognize us by this same light.
Our Vigil for Christ’s coming again is not supposed to keep us up at night.
It’s supposed to keep us disciplined during the day.
That type of attitude is not as fun.
It will not help bunker sales.
It will not prop up History channel.
But it will make us better Christians.
The vocation of a Christian cannot not wait until tomorrow or the last minute.
By then it might be too late.
Everyday we are called to the ordinary work of Christianity. To
Be true to your friends at work
To control your anger in traffic
To be generous in giving
To be mindful of the work you leave for others at the movie theatre
To be patient with the person with depression
To be empathetic to the stranger in town
To be brave in facing the uncertainty of tomorrow.
We are called to live this way everyday.
This ordinary offering will suffice.
But no one can offer it on our behalf
Christ cannot recognize us by the light of another’s life.
It’s our responsibility to get the oil.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t remind each other.
Every time someone asks me how I’m keeping us with the Daily Office, I’m reminded to get my oil.
Every time someone tells me about their work advocating for the vulnerable, I’m reminded to get my oil.
Every time I see the offering plates passed, I’m reminded to get my oil.
Every time I give out communion at the Tuesday Eucharist or see people at Wednesday bible study I’m reminded to get my oil.
As Jesus’ return gets one day closer, don’t be afraid.
As the days get darker, don’t get anxious.
Shine with good works.
Will Jesus come tomorrow?
He could be.
And when he does he’ll know us by the light of our lamps.