Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on November 9, 2014, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. The text is Matthew 25:1-13, the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Every year in November our scripture readings talk about getting ready for the Second Coming of Christ and how we can live our everyday lives in preparation for that great event. You might even say this parable is about our own death and our expectation of heaven. Today’s gospel lesson is Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. Five of them were ready for the arrival of the bridegroom and 5 were not ready. I wonder: when the time comes, will we be counted with the wise or with the foolish?
Here’s a true story from 19th century America: In early 1874 an inventor named Elisha Gray transmitted a few musical notes over a telegraph wire. He thought to himself, “If I can send music, perhaps I could send the human voice.” The New York Times reported predictions of a “talking telegraph” and the public began to grow eager for it.
Just one year later Gray believed he had the answer. Tin-can like voice chambers connected by a wire in a liquid that could turn vibrations into signals is what came into his mind. But inexplicably, he did not put his idea on paper for two months. After finally making a sketch, he waited four more days before he went to the patent office.
When he arrived, Mr. Gray was told that just two hours earlier a school teacher had come through that same door with his own sketch and had already applied for the patent. His name was Alexander Graham Bell. When you compare the sketches, the voice chambers, the wire, and the liquid, everything was identical. The reason we know the name Alexander Graham Bell and until today, never heard the name Elisha Gray is simply because one man seized the opportunity when he could. The other one waited until it was too late*.
Let’s look at Jesus’ Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids and see what it has to do with excuses and not being prepared. Matthew 24 and 25 are a series of teachings by Jesus on his Second Coming and the Kingdom of Heaven. Here’s the parable: There is a wedding in the evening (that was the Jewish custom of the day) and folks were waiting for the bridegroom to show up with the bride and her family at who knows what time (that was also the Jewish custom of the day). The 10 bridesmaids knew that their important role was to escort the wedding party the last stretch of the journey to the place of the wedding. They had torches and these were rags dipped in olive oil and placed on wooden poles. The flames lasted about 15 minutes before more oil was needed. In the parable, 5 are well-prepared and have extra oil. Five are not prepared and don’t have extra oil. At the last moment these last 5 figure out they don’t have enough oil and try to borrow from the 5 wise bridesmaids, but there is not enough to share. So the 5 unprepared bridesmaids go off to find some extra oil. While they are gone the groom and wedding party arrive and those prepared are invited to into the wedding. The door was shut and those unprepared bridesmaids were not invited in. The parable ends this way: Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
How about looking at our bulletin cover? The artist is Chinese, s Christian, and his name is He Qi. He’s entitled this “The Clever Bridesmaids”. Notice the 5 who have their torches lit, and see that one of the unprepared is not looking very happy…
Why do you think the 5 bridesmaids were unprepared for the arrival of the bridegroom and the wedding party? What excuses do you think they might have presented? What excuses do we present when it comes to our participation in the way of faith as Christians?
Here’s an excuse that I am sure every pastor has heard: I will be back to church when I get my life in order and I am worthy. I grieve for the folks who don’t recognize that the body of Christ is made up of folks who recognize their sins and shortcoming and who come for mercy and forgiveness and strength. Church indeed is a hospital for sinners. And we all fall into that category. The purpose of a hospital it to do everything possible to help people in their illness, and help them become as healthy as possible. The purpose of the body of Christ is to help people connect with Jesus and his authority to save us in this life and the next.
There’s a saying that’s been crossing my mind lately. It doesn’t come from the Bible, but from the word of politics. “Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the possible.” It seems that so many think that the only way they can participate in church life is being the best attenders, the best offering givers, and the best at volunteering. Because these folks don’t have the energy or time or enthusiasm or resources, they talk themselves into all kinds of excuses to not participate at all. Oh that one could say, “I will take baby steps and let the Lord lead me every day, including Sundays.
Have you in the past (or perhaps now) tried to live off the “oil” of someone else’s faith? Did you think that because your parents were faithful that it would count in the eyes of the Lord for you? Do you think that because your spouse is so wonderful and Christ-like that the glow will cover your shortcomings?
How can we refill our supply of “oil” that surely gets diminished in the daily routine and troubles of life? Here are a few ways:
+take some time to be alone with God.
++fellowship regularly with other believers.
+++use our God-given gifts and resources for the work of God’s kingdom.
++++pray with regularly with family and friends.
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tells about a most successful jewel thief back in the Roaring Twenties by the name of Arthur Berry. Berry liked to hobnob with the rich and famous of Boston’s elite, except he did his hobnobbing at night when they weren’t around. He wouldn’t steal from just anybody. As a matter of fact, a visit from Arthur was a status symbol among the ladies of Boston’s upper class. The police weren’t nearly as intrigued by his status-oriented thievery. And one night they caught up with him and shot him. He fell through a glass window, shattered glass stuck in his body, and he lay on the ground in excruciating pain. Not surprisingly he came to a conclusion amidst the blood, glass, and handcuffs, and muttered, “I ain’t going to do this anymore!”
To make a long story short, Arthur eventually got out of prison two decades later, and settled down in a quiet New England town. There he became a respected citizen, even leading a local veteran’s organization. But it finally leaked out to the press that this notorious jewel thief was holed up in this tiny New England hamlet and the nation’s media arrived in droves. One young reporter asked him, “Mr. Berry, you stole from a lot of wealthy people in your life was a jewel thief. Let me ask you a question. From whom did you steal the most?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Arthur Berry replied, “That’s the easiest question I’ve ever been asked. The man from whom I stole the most was Arthur Berry. You see, I could have been a baron on Wall Street. I could have been a successful business man, had I utilized my God-given talents and developed them legitimately. I could have made it big in business but I spent two-thirds of my adult life behind bars.**
Arthur was a thief who stole from himself. He did not use the God-given talents and opportunities at his disposal, and it haunted him forever. How about you? If the bridegroom were to come tonight and ask you to give an account of your life, could you say that you had taken complete advantage of the opportunities you have been given?
So the gift we are given today, while there is still time, comes in these words: Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
*James Merritt, www.Sermons.com **King Duncan, www.Sermons.com