November 12, 2017
Matthew 25: 1-13
What if this had happened during Hurricane Irma? There was a wedding planned at St John, but the groom was delayed because of a fallen tree. They weren’t sure how long it would take for the road to be cleared.
The bride and her bridesmaids were already at the church. They had flashlights so if the power went out, they would still be able to see. As it happened, the power did go out, and the groom had still not appeared.
The bridesmaids turned on their flashlights when it got dark outside. Eventually, the batteries in the flashlights died, and the bridesmaids looked for replacement batteries. Some of the bridesmaids had brought extra batteries, but some hadn’t. Those who didn’t have extra batteries got in their cars to drive to the gas station. They bought some more batteries and went back to the church.
By this time the groom and his groomsmen had made it to the church. When the bridesmaids arrived back at the church, the groom turned them away. “You weren’t prepared for a long delay. You can’t come in.”
How do you respond to this story? … Not very welcoming / should have been better prepared / enough light to see once your eyes get used to it / not fair
I hope you can see that my story is an updated version of the parable in the Gospel. The usual interpretation of the parable in today’s gospel lesson is that we should always be ready for Jesus’ return. “Pay attention, because you don’t know when.”
For 2,000 years, people have tried to predict when Jesus will return. Every time there are a lot of earthquakes, or violent storms, or a new war, or a devastating disease, people point to it and say, “It must be the end times. Look at all these signs!” But, this has happened every few years for the last two millennia. Jesus said we truly will not know when he is returning.
Paul and the first Christians certainly thought Jesus would return soon in a blaze of glory. They became worried that some believers were dying before Jesus’ return. “What would happen to them?” they wondered. “Don’t get married,” Paul taught. “Jesus is coming soon.”
But, it’s 2,000 years later, and we are still waiting for that glorious return. We have for the most part stopped expecting Jesus’ return. We rarely even think about it in church except in November when the assigned texts force us to deal with it. Or when the signs of the time seem to point to it.
Some people deal with this by focusing on Jesus’ return, so they can end the suffering of this world. They look forward to the day when they will have no more physical or mental pain. “I’ll fly away” they sing. A friend put it this way: Some people are so heavenly-minded, they’re no earthly good.
Other people, including most Lutherans, focus on relieving suffering on earth while we wait. We feed, clothe, visit, house those in need. We welcome all, even those who show up late without batteries for their flashlights. We sing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
I prefer to believe that Jesus has already returned by sending the Holy Spirit to be with us in his place. Spirit helps us see the need and respond. Spirit helps us see Jesus. When we see our neighbor in need, we give him a little Jesus by feeding or clothing or sheltering him. When our neighbor notices that we are hurting, she brings us a hug, a pan of lasagna, and a cup of tea. We see Jesus in her. When we pay attention, we can see Jesus often.
And, when we pay attention, we can use the signs Spirit sends us directly as reminders to pay attention to God. Blood clots in my leg and in my pulmonary artery forced me to remember I am mortal, whether I want to consider that or not. For me, the end time almost came. But I had good medical care, and good medications to prevent a repeat, and here I am.
Chances are you have had such an experience as well, either you or someone you love. I hope the all-too-frequent mass shootings have you in prayer, asking for God’s mercy. As our Congresspersons and Senators put together a tax plan and try to resolve the medical coverage mess, I hope you both pray and contact our representatives.
This week, I hope you will pay attention to what is happening. Look for signs that Jesus is present through the Holy Spirit. Watch for those who bring Jesus to you. And watch for opportunities to be Jesus to others.
Please pray with me. Lord, in some way or another, we ask you to come to us, and make yourself known. Come to us through your Spirit, or through our friends, or through whatever is happening. We ask that you come, Lord Jesus. Amen