In honor of Veterans Day yesterday, please hear this prayer of remembrance.
Remembering is our responsibility, O God. We remember women and men of the armed forces who suffer trauma and disabilities from war.
We remember the families of military personnel who wait, and who deal with the effects of war on their loved ones.
We remember civilians who suffer and die in the midst of conflict.
We remember those for whom illness drags on. There are sick persons on our minds and in our hearts this morning. We remember them in a time of silent reflection.
We remember those who can no longer remember because of memory loss.
We remember those who have lost loved ones, for whom the pain of loss will not go away.
We support healers and pastoral care-givers; we work to ensure that health-related budgets and costs match up. Our remembering is valuable. Learning from the past can lead us to right actions.
This has been a difficult week for churches what with the shooting of church folks last Sunday. I know it has been stressful for me it has been tough for other pastors as well. When there something happens that endangers the lives of the people in the church, like the killing of innocent lives in Texas last Sunday, we are caught up emotionally as well as theologically. We love our parishioners and we want them to be safe and protected and yet, we have a covenant with God for peaceful co-existence according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, our rock and redeemer. So, when someone says to me we ought to think about arming people in the pews to defend against someone who might come to do us harm, I shudder and say, really? Gun? In Church? I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the message of God through the lessons we learn here. Jesus didn’t carry a gun as far as we know, nor a knife. The Bible tells us he was a consistently non-violent person even to his death, which is why one of his many names is “The Prince of Peace.” How do we reconcile this?
In a church meeting someone recommended we hire a police person to circulate around the church doors. I like that – it means there is a trained person of authority here to discourage any malevolent behavior, simply by being there. Others weren’t in favor of that idea, because they felt it sent the wrong message. I get that. Another person thought we should have a training session for what to do if someone came armed to the church with bad intent. We all thought that was a good idea and so that is what we are going to do, this Wednesday November 15th at 7:00pm and you’re invited. In an age in which we are living, it is important to be prepared and watchful. Ready? Or not?
Today’s Gospel, interestingly enough, is about that - being prepared and ready. It is important to realize that the narrative of the 10 Bridesmaids in Matthew’s Gospel in Chapter 25 is an example Jesus was conveying to his Disciples. It was not necessarily based on a real-life incident. He used the example to make a comparison to the kingdom of heaven and in fact starts off by saying, HEY LISTEN - “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.” According to the scripture, five of the 10 bridesmaids waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive for a wedding feast were wise the other five were foolish. Why were they waiting this way? “In this parable the bridesmaids, rather than the bride herself, constitute the primary characters. Wedding processions from the bride's to the groom's home, accompanied by singing and dancing, normally happened at night and hence required light.
The lamps in ancient weddings were not the small, hand-held lamps used under normal circumstances, but torches (as in Plut. Roman Questions 2, Mor. 263F; Ach. Tat. 2.11.1), (or) perhaps sticks wrapped with oiled rags, as in traditional Palestinian Arab weddings (Jeremias 1972:174-75). Women torchbearers probably led the bride to the bridegroom's home, joined by the groom and his male friends (Jeremias 1972:173). Presumably the bridesmaids (were) waiting outside the bride's home for his coming, to escort her to his home (Argyle 1963:189).” The story goes that the not so smart ones went out to greet the lucky bridegroom but forgot to bring enough oil to last them the amount of time they needed to wait in the dark. The smart ones, of
course, had enough oil in anticipation (the smart ones always do!) As happens from time to time the arrival of the bridegroom got delayed – he probably got stuck in camel traffic. In the text, everybody fell asleep waiting for the Groom and when he finally arrived they booted up their lamps. The ones with just a little oil knew they would be in the dark so asked the other bridesmaids if they could give them some of their oil. The smart ones said no way, go get your own! So, the bridesmaids who went off to the market were completely out of luck when the Bridegroom did finally arrive because they were out shopping for oil! It must have been an insult that they did not have enough oil and were gone for the entrance to the wedding! The ones who were prepared with extra oil had a grand old time at the wedding feast but the ones who went off were literally left outside! When they pleaded for entrance to the wedding the response was resolute, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you. Keep awake! You know neither the day nor the hour.” Well, that doesn’t sound very nice, does it? In fact, it sounds like a lesson in very tough love. You snooze, you lose.
Scholars remain divided about whether the story of the bridesmaids is a parable (a story with multiple meanings) or an allegory (a story meant to fit one theological meaning). It echoes the thief in the night passage of Matthew 24:43–44, constructed to emphasize being ready for the coming fullness of God’s realm, despite its apparent delay. Each part of the story has meaning. However, usually the bride, who is missing in this story, would represent the church, following the Jewish tradition of Israel as the bride of God. Instead, here the bridesmaids (as a group) convey the sense of the church.
But wait! What if we looked at it in a different way? What if we considered the oil a metaphor for the lubricant of faith that we carry within us? Can we borrow faith from another person? I don’t know, though part of my job is to help people uncover a sense of their own faith, if they can. I often have the deep conversation about a person’s faith while they are sick in the hospital or preparing to die in hospice. That’s when people usually come face to face with the reality of their faith – when they are in need. That’s when the deep questions come and I hope to be of some comfort to them during those moments.
Right now, many people are experiencing fear and doubt about random acts of cruelty in our midst. We can’t understand why someone would do what they did last Sunday! I am not a psychologist, but it’s clear that anyone who would do that is not in their right mind. Some folks think there are too many guns around and too easy to get, by people not mentally well. Some folks think the easy availability of guns has nothing to do with the problem. I am not going into the politics of these issues today because I am told people don’t want to hear politics from the pulpit, so be it. However, I feel we all need to think, how can we minimize risk? What are we doing to help one another through periods of difficulty? Are things really worse than they used to be? I am not sure, but I do know that many people feel that way.
I propose something new. Unlike the so-called “smart” bridesmaids who kept all their oil to themselves, let’s instead answer, yes! You MAY have a portion of my oil, freely given to you. I know that sounds so “Pollyanna” doesn’t it? But really, what if we protected each other, had each other’s backs and shared our faith with each other? All the time? I’m talking about radical love! What a different world it would be, eh? I know it’s not easy. I know there are people that drive you up a wall or make you want to run the other way if you see them on the street or in the supermarket. I get that. Being Christian means you stop at that very moment and take it in. You face that feeling and go out of your way to reclaim who you are in spite of the challenge you are looking at or who you are passing by. Am I right here? Like Jesus said, “Ready or not?”