Something to Live For

Matthew 25:1-13

Something to Live For

November 12, 2017

 

          We’re getting close now to the end of Matthew’s gospel.  In chapter 25, Jesus tells three parables about the return of the Son of Man, the end of time.  And each holds a surprise. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we learn that when Christ comes in glory, he will sort us out not by what we've believed or how much faith we've had, but by whether or not we fed the hungry, visited folks in prison and welcomed strangers.  Hmm . . .  More on that in two weeks.  And in the Parable of the Talents, Jesus says that upon his return the master will want to know not what we’ve done to protect what he's given us, but how we’ve used and invested everything entrusted to us. More on that next Sunday. 

          And then there’s today’s parable.  Ten bridesmaids take their lamps and await the arrival of the groom.  Five bridesmaids are wise and take along extra oil for their lamps; five are foolish and don’t take any.  The groom’s flight gets delayed and they all eventually go to sleep.  When he finally arrives, the wise maids fill their lamps and relight them.  The foolish ones have to ask to borrow some oil, but the wise ones say 'no' and send them off to the store.  And while the foolish are shopping for oil, the groom comes and takes the wise ones into the wedding hall.  The door is shut and the groom won’t let the foolish ones in when they got back.

          Now, I’ve got some questions about this story:

  • Why did they have to have a lit lamp to get into the wedding?  An invitation I can see, but a lit lamp? 
  • Would the groom (presumably a Christ figure) really shut the door in their face, just because they forgot their oil? Frankly, I don’t believe God ever shuts the door on people.  But in the story, I suppose, this might communicate a sense of seriousness, that our choices really do have eternal consequences.
  • Most of all I wonder--shouldn’t the wise bridesmaids have shared with the foolish ones?  Isn’t sharing a part of wisdom? Elsewhere Jesus does talk a lot about sharing.  Here, I suppose, it means no one can live your spiritual life for you.  Each of us has to be ready for Christ our own self.

 

          So I have questions, but here’s what I take to be the point of this story: Jesus wants us to be ready not just for his return, but for his delay, for him not to return. Put another way, this parable means Jesus wants us to be ready not just to die, but to keep living. You see billboards along the interstate that say, “IF YOU DIED TONIGHT, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU WOULD GO?”  This parable suggests a different question: “IF YOU DON’T DIE TONIGHT, DO YOU KNOW HOW YOU WILL LIVE TOMORROW?”  Do you have oil in your lamp?  Is your light shining with the love and the mercy of Christ?

 

          Here’s a real-life example. After our daughter Rachel was born, Carolyn had some internal bleeding.  They rushed her to surgery, and let me know that it was touch-and-go.  Even after the surgery, they stressed that her life was still at risk.  Now, thank God, she did recover.  But when she got home from the hospital, I wanted to make sure I was prepared to lose her at any time.  Suddenly I understood that as a real possibility. So I tried to stay in her presence constantly.  I wanted to get her anything she needed and tell her repeatedly how precious she was to me. And all that’s good . . . to an extent.  But it turns out Carolyn needed me to do things other than wait on her and tell her how much I loved her—things like taking care of our daughters and doing the dishes.  And it turns out the better Carolyn felt, the less she wanted me in her presence all the time—don’t you have a sermon to write or a Trustees meeting you can go to?  In other words, she needed me to be ready not just for her to die, but also and especially ready for her to live.  To keep some oil in my lamp, to let my light shine for our daughters and our church and for everyone.

 

          So what is the oil in our lamps?  How do we prepare for Christ not to come back?  What does it mean to have something not just to die for, but to live for?  Well, that’s what all of Matthew is about, what we've been reading all year.  To be ready to live, Jesus teaches, means

  • To forgive people not seven, but seventy-seven times—let that light shine!
  • To trust God and not to worry—let it shine!
  • To choose not to retaliate when others do harm—let it shine!
  • To care for the sick, visit those in prison, and welcome strangers—let it shine!

Here, I believe, is the secret:  to be ready to live every day in these ways is to be ready to die. To be ready to meet Jesus is not to say the Sinner’s Prayer obsessively; it is to forgive people, to stand with the persecuted, to welcome a stranger.

 

          And here is the connection to Veterans Day.  We know our military members have something to die for—our freedom, our security. But shouldn’t we also make sure they have something to live for? 

  • Ready access to health care and mental health treatment. 
  • A sense of honor and respect for what they’ve endured—even if we civilians can’t fully understand it. 
  • And a country worthy of their sacrifice—a country where all kids can go to quality schools, a country where our discourse is guided by kindness rather than anger, a country where their sisters and daughters (and they themselves) can go to work and school without being groped and harassed. A worthy country.

I want to be part of giving our veterans something not just to die for, but something to live for.  How about you?

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