Many of you know about my flair for the dramatic. One of my life goals in high school was to become a professional actor. I loved the theatre…and still do for that matter. One of my favorite musicals is “My Fair Lady.” And one of my favorite musical numbers in that show is “Get Me to the Church on Time." Of course, leave it up to me to confuse my musicals! While preaching in worship I introduced this video clip as being from "Fiddler on the Roof." Wow! Really, I do know my musicals. Please don't take away my gay card! LOL!
Okay...so back to the story. This past Sunday’s gospel text reminds me of that song—and as I read it more closely I imagined 5 of these 10 bridesmaids singing that song on their way to the wedding. But after further reflection, and a little study of early wedding practices in Palestine, I realized that even if, by some odd chance, these bridesmaids had been singing—I’m sure it wasn’t this song after all. The fact is, that in Palestinian villages weddings were at night, and the bridegroom could show up unexpectedly. All he had to do was send a runner ahead to shout, "Behold the bridegroom is coming," and the waiting bridal party had to be ready. In this case the clock was tolling twelve ~ midnight. “Here I come ready or not” he shouted ~ and then the door to the church was shut!
So what is the gospel writing really trying to say in this parable? Well, in order to understand that, we must dig a little deeper into what was going on in the community. The writer of the gospel of Matthew was certainly dealing with the discouragement of early Christians. They had been told that Christ would be coming back very soon—but the fact was, it had been over 40 years since this promise, and still Christ had not returned. Matthew was preparing them for such a delay. Yet it was how they would wait for Christ’s return, for the bridegroom, that was the crucial message. I think that this parable was a lesson about patience. In fact, the word for patience comes from the Latin word "patior" which means to suffer. Patience is the ability and willingness to wait a long time or to carry out a task that takes a long time. It also means not easily getting angry in situations of human interactions where the other is unreasonable. It is commonly referred to as a virtue.
The story says that five bridesmaids were wise and five were foolish. It does not say that five were good and five were bad. In fact, when it came to their external appearance, there was no difference. They all carried the same lamps; they all wore the same dresses, they all drifted off to sleep. This sacred story is dealing with character and not image. And if the issue is patience, then the oil represents inner resources ~ what we have in reserve when a crisis comes. The lamp is the outer form, but the oil is the inner fuel.
This parable addresses the experience of ignoring your spiritual needs and suddenly facing a crisis in which you have no resources left. It’s like driving you car with the gas indicator always on “E”. Running on empty is a risky spiritual practice.
I must admit that this morning I am a bit tired. No, I mean I am really tired. I’m so tired that the bags under my eyes need a luggage rack. If I had to fly anywhere this week the clerk at the airport terminal would require me to check my face in at the gate. I’ve been so tired these last few weeks that the snooze button on my alarm clock has filed a restraining order against me. I’ve now renamed the hour before church Slumber School. My cats at home have started taking Bricenaps. I need a serious siesta, a mandatory vacation, some time away…I’d even settle for just one good night’s sleep.
And I suspect that many of you are a little tired too. After all, this has been one traumatic year for you! You, and I do mean all of you, have been doing exceptional work around Holy Trinity lately. Work like transforming our worship space into a place where the homeless are welcome. Spending time visiting those who are in the hospital, connecting with those have left the church for a variety of reasons, hosting small group meetings, engaging in caring conversations, and giving intercessory prayer. Rehearsing music for our worship, preparing our sanctuary for each new Sunday service, creating our liturgies and preparing lessons for our children, making decisions about our future as a church—all of these activities are an important part of the of work in the church. This work, God’s work, takes a lot of energy. I think we are all experiencing some fatigue these days—and if you are not tired, then I assure you there are plenty more things to do!
It seems that so many of Jesus’ parables have to do with how we serve and share with our neighbor. And perhaps this one—the parable of the 10 bridesmaids addresses those who take that mission seriously. The oil, like the gas in our car, represents our spiritual resources of faith. When our oil, our gas, our inner fuel is running low, sometimes the darkness falls and the doors to our spirit are shut. We are burned out, or stressed out. We are drained, empty, depressed and exhausted. Our depleted stores of love and hope and purpose flicker and sometimes die out in our work or family or church. For so many today the supply of oil is low, and depletion and depression are realities for followers of the bridegroom. A culture of instant gratification, lacking inner spiritual resources, resorts to artificial, addictive quick fixes to fan the flame.
Sometimes, it is necessary to let go if we are to let God. In a machine often the bearings need oil to reduce friction or they wear out and wear down. To get our bearings we need the oil of God's grace to reduce friction in our personal relationships.
In many ways we are used up as Christians ~ God has sent us into the world to be spent. There is depletion, but there is also replenishment. Drained, we can be refilled. We live our life in the world, but we draw our life from God. The grace of God is a renewable resource ~ and we are recyclable. If your flame is burning low, listen again to God speaking ~ "Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" ~ refreshment ~ renewal ~ replenishment. Jesus is one who reminds me that even when you give everything you have, God is still with us at every step of the journey. There is replenishment! And for those who believe and practice that will trim their lamps with the oil of God’s grace. And will always have a spare gallon of gas in the back of their car.
I’ve had some really wonderful conversations the past two months since being called as you pastor. Some of you have joked with me about my schedule as I’ve been reaching into the congregation. Where’s Waldo? What’s the Restaurant King doing tonight? Do you ever get any sleep? But let me tell you a secret about me. While I love being fed with some of the best food in Nashville, I am even more fed by the relationships that I have development with you. I love to eat…but what I love MORE is being nourished by YOU in relationship and good conversation. Doing this work is not exhausting…because I am recharged, re-energized, replenished by our friendship and sharing our experiences of God. I love it so much.
I always thought I was an introvert…because my original Myers Briggs analysis said I was borderline slightly weighted in introversion. And I think that’s because for every second I spend in reaching out and reaching in, I try to reach towards my heavenly parent who feeds me spiritually and emotionally with a heavy helping of grace, love, acceptance and forgiveness. Friends, that’s how God feeds us. And that’s how we will grow as a community of faith. You can be sure that when God sends us to be spent, God will refill us with a beautiful feasts of care, compassion and grace. And that is what Holy Trinity has been called to do and be. We must feed the world, friends. But we must be fed first. Are you being fed? Amen.