Our Waiting Is So Long

Year A, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Modern Society

One of the many gifts our modern society has given to us is “the wait,” “the cue,” or “the line.” Waiting in line is difficult to avoid in our society. I wonder if primitive man and woman had to put up with lines?
Many of us already anticipating and dreading the long holiday shopping lines. We just left behind all the amazement park lines that we shared with our grandchildren this summer. We are not sure we are ready for what awaits us. The retail stores know this. They have already begun to post online their “Black Friday” Specials. They are concerned that their “Black Friday” Specials may cause delays in the transmission of orders or even worse crash their website. Crashed websites are the only thing that is more frustrating than long delays at the checkout counter. They also want to avoid the craziness that occurs on the Friday after Christmas. Their liability for injury and even death may have had an effect on their profits.

They also want to avoid the craziness that occurs on the Friday after Christmas. Their liability for injury and even death may have had an effect on their profits.

They also want to avoid the craziness that occurs on the Friday after Christmas. Their liability for injury and even death may have had an effect on their profits.

Jesus Warning

Jesus Warning

After Jesus began to talk about his death and resurrection with his disciples, he introduced them to the idea that they would have to wait for the coming of the Kingdom of God. He did this using a variety of oratory forms. Sometimes he included it as part of the story—the parables of the sower, the weeds, the unmerciful servant, tenants and the vineyard, and the talents all contain this subtle theme of waiting. There is a delay between the of sowing the seed and harvesting the crop. A master entrusts property, money or his possessions. He then goes away on a trip. When he returns he expects a return on his investment.
The notion of delay baffled the disciples. They wondered why he could not introduce the Kingdom immediately. What could be holding back the plans of God? Jesus never attempted to address the whys. He only discussed the whats. The day is coming when this world will end in turmoil and confusion. Pray that it does not happen in winter. Only God the Father knows the day and the time. It will come unexpectedly and suddenly.
To highlight many of these themes and also to reinforce another wrinkle Jesus tells this parables of the 10 virgins.

The Ten Virgins

Throughout the history of the church, parables have been used to justify all sorts of human doctrine. Jerome, the translator of the Greek text into Latin, used this parable to praise virginity over sexual relationships in marriage. Fortunately, the reformers were not buying into his arguments.
The story is a bit strange to us modern westerners because of the change in wedding customs but it is still practiced by those who reside in and outside of Palestine. Recently a co-worker of Carol’s had a brother marry. Hearing her describe the movement of people from one house brought to mind this story.
Weddings in small villages were grand occasions involving the whole village. The wedding procession would begin at the groom’s house and make its ways to the bride by taking the longest possible route. According to the English scholar William Barclay, “The Rabbis agreed that a man might even abandon the study of the law to share in the joy of a wedding feast.” William Barclay, ed., The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1976), 319.
All this went on while the bride’s family and maidens remained at her house and waited. The bridesmaids would station themselves out on the street to welcome the groom. At night every person was required to have a lamp to give off light. They had to have enough oil in their lamps to welcome the groom. The bride’s party never knows how long they have to wait. The groom never takes a direct route to his bride’s house. He plays a sort of cat and mouse game with the bridesmaids hoping to catch them napping or unprepared for his coming.
In our story the groom takes such an unusual amount of time to come to bride’s house that the maidens fall asleep. Finally the groom sends a messenger to announce that he is coming directly. All ten maidens awaken but 5 find that their light is dimming. The ask the other maidens to share their oil but their request is denied. There is not enough oil for both. The five maidens but find a vendor who will sell them oil. At midnight few shops are open in this small village. The search for additional oil takes time and these maiden miss the groom. The doors to the wedding party are shut and guarded. No one can enter.
Finally he sends a messenger to announce that he is coming directly.
All ten maidens awaken but 5 find that their light is dimming.

The Maiden’s Lessons

The first lesson that I glean from this story is that waiting requires preparedness. Hurricane Katrina exposed the unpreparedness of FEMA. It showed that survival in a crises of such magnitude has more to do with how you prepared for the crises before it strikes. The successful maneuvering through a personal tragedies, health crises, terrible accidents and natural disasters are not done at the moment of a crises but in the days, weeks, months and even years leading up to a crises.
People have to learn that the days of sunshine should not only be enjoyed but also be used to prepare for the cold months of winter. Do you know why we say the Lord’s Prayer? (There is more than one correct answer) We say the Lord’s Prayer over and over each week not just because Jesus taught it to his disciples; not just because it is a model for prayer. We also saying each week so that when a crises strikes your life, you will know how to pray. Think of each Sunday’s prayer a practice time in which you rehearse the words you will offer to God when you have no one else to turn to.
We all have heard the Boy/Girl Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” We know its importance. We know how to do it both religiously and physically. But how many hours did you spend in prayer this week. How many chapters in the Bible did you read? How many gallons of water do you have set aside in case a crises strikes?
I feel like f
He turned to his pastor and said, “I feel like I’ve been preparing for this all my life.” The pastor was surprised. His father had just died of a massive coronary. What did he mean?
Tommy went on to explain, “All that sitting in church, listening to sermons, reading the Bible, all of it was getting me ready for the worst possible day of my life. That was like disaster training. Now the disaster has come. And I’m reaching down and I am praying that I paid attention, that I will be fully prepared.”
Ordinary 32 2008
I watched as some people are blown away by the disasters of life partly because they are unprepared. They neglected their training. Preparedness is not natural. It is not automatic. Unless you rehearse your part again and again you will miss out on the divine blessings.


For some, the refusal of the 5 maidens to share their oil seems selfish. I suppose it would be if the words “there may not be enough for the both of us.” The groom had not arrived. They could not tell when he was coming. They did not know if they actually did have enough oil. I think Jesus is telling us that preparedness is not transferable.
In the first church that I served as a Solo Pastor a young man had a brain tumor and had already had one operation. When I arrived things seemed hopeful. The tumor appeared to be in remission. Unfortunately brain tumors are unpredictable cancers. Alan’s tumor began to grow again. They tried another operation but the tumor and grown too much. In the months after Alan’s death his parents struggled to accept it. They blamed God for taking their son. They could not see any “good” coming from Alan’s death. I got the brunt of their anger. They had so distorted how God works in the world. I wanted so much to transfer to them some of my faith, my oil.
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