Sermon for Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Joshua 24:1–3a, 14–25, 1 Thessalonians 4:9–18 & Matthew 25:1–13
We are often reminded of the importance of preparation. Professional athletes fine tune their bodies and minds in preparation for important sporting events; whether that be events such as the Olympic Games, the AFL Grand Final, or a Grand Slam tennis tournament. Similarly professional musicians and entertainers will rehearse for weeks in advance before embarking on a world tour, or before taking part in a string of live performances. The same is true of actors, both film or television actors, and theatre actors. They spend significant amounts of time rehearsing their parts, so that they can deliver the most convincing and entertaining performance possible.
And it’s not only professional athletes, musicians, entertainers and actors who need to prepare well. Students need to study to ensure they are prepared for important exams. School teachers need to prepare daily lesson plans to maximise the effectiveness of their classes. Manufacturing businesses need to prepare detailed and integrated purchasing and production plans to ensure they have sufficient quantities of the right products at the right time to satisfy their customers needs. And even a task that some might consider to be rather simple, such as making a meal, requires adequate preparation. We need to make sure that we have the right ingredients, in sufficient quantities, for the dish we are planning and, we need to allow sufficient time in order to prepare it by the time we want to serve it.
Even the recent relaxation of certain Covid–19 restrictions required preparation. Regardless of whether we agree with what (and how) restrictions have been relaxed, the fact of the matter is that the State Government has been making preparations over a considerable period of time before making the relevant changes. They didn’t just decide one morning to announce to the public that they were relaxing restrictions. So, preparation is vitally important in all areas and aspects of life. That is particularly true in the case of our spiritual life.
A core belief of the Christian Faith is the “Second Coming” of Jesus; the belief that Jesus will return, at a date and time to be appointed, and at that moment the kingdom of God will be fully revealed. I say fully, because it has already been partially revealed. God revealed Himself to the world in the person of Jesus, and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the kingdom of God came into being here on earth. It will be fully revealed when Jesus returns to gather together to him all the peoples and nations of the world.
The point that we Christians might find difficult to deal with, is that no one knows when and how this will take place. Even Jesus himself did not the answer to that question. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is quoted as saying, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32 NRSV) Only God the Father knows when and how the “Second Coming” will happen. So what must Christians do between now and then?
Well, in today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us to prepare. To communicate his message, Jesus tells the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, five of whom we heard were foolish, and five whom were wise. When the ten bridesmaids went out to meet the bridegroom, the five foolish bridesmaids took only their lamps with them; they did not take any extra oil for the lamps. The five wise bridesmaids, on the other hand, did take flasks of oil with them. When the bridegroom is delayed, the ten bridesmaids fall asleep, and naturally the oil in their lamps burns out. When finally the bridegroom arrives, the bridesmaids are woken by a shout to go out and meet him. It is at that moment that the five foolish bridesmaids realise they don’t have any oil, and they ask the wise bridesmaids to share some of their oil, but they don’t have enough to share. The foolish bridesmaids then need to go into town to buy oil, and when they finally return to the wedding banquet, they find the door has been closed and they are not able to enter.
The message therefore from Jesus is that if we are like the foolish bridesmaids, and we don’t prepare for the Second Coming, then we won’t be able to enter the kingdom of God when it is fully revealed at the time that Jesus does return. So what must we do to prepare?
In order to answer that question, I would like to direct you to our passage today from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. ‘The preaching of the Second Coming had produced an odd and awkward situation in Thessalonica.’ Many of the Thessalonians expected the Second Coming to happen at any moment, and so they had basically stopped working, or doing anything productive, and instead were just standing around talking excitedly among themselves (which was upsetting others around them in the process) while they waited for the time to come.
Paul’s instruction to them, which is basically the same advice for us today, was to continue working, and to go about their daily busy as normal. In other words, the best outcome for them would be for Jesus to come and find them “quietly, efficiently and diligently doing their daily job”. Robert Rainy, a principal of New England College in Edinburg during the nineteenth-century, was quoted as saying, “Today I must lecture; tomorrow I must attend a committee meeting; on Sunday I must preach; some day I must die. Well then, let us do as well as we can each thing that comes to us.” The fact that Jesus will come again, and that life as we know it will cease to be, is the very reason why we should continue to work hard and faithfully.
If we can go about living our lives faithfully and joyfully; trying our best to follow the example of his own life, then not only will Jesus be happy when he finds us doing so, but the message that will send to non-Christians about the religion of Christianity is a positive one. It may make them curious about our faith. They may want to learn to more about the reasons why our faith produces such joy and goodwill. Our lives can be a living proclamation of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News, of Jesus Christ.