(sermon note: 03-19 sermon note)
[Jesus said,] ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a conductor who was getting an orchestra together for a performance but was having trouble finding a clarinet player. Finally, he called a contractor who told him, “Well, the only guy I’ve got available at this moment is this jazz clarinetist.” The conductor exclaimed, “I can’t stand working with jazz musicians! They dress lousy, they’re always late, and they all have an attitude problem!” “Well,” replied the contractor, “that’s all I’ve got.” “All right,” said the conductor, “I’m getting pretty desperate, so I guess I’ll have to take him.” The first rehearsal was a week later. The conductor arrived early and noticed the new clarinetist, wearing a suit and tie, with a pencil on his stand, sitting on stage practicing his part. During the rehearsal, the clarinetist played his part quite well and was responsive to all the conductor’s requests. At the second rehearsal, a week later, the same thing happened. This time, the clarinetist turned in a nearly perfect performance. One week later, at the final dress rehearsal, this occurred again with the clarinetist now playing his part flawlessly. At the break in the rehearsal, the conductor said to the orchestra, “I’ve got an apology to make. I was really dreading having to work with a jazz musician, but I must say that our clarinet player has certainly proved me wrong. He was always neatly dressed, he was always here early for the rehearsals, working on the part, and he has really learned the music.” Then, to the clarinet player he said, “I just wanted to tell you that I truly appreciate your effort and dedication.” To which the clarinetist replied, “Hey man, it’s the least I can do, considering I can’t make it to the show.”
Foolish jazz clarinetists! All that disciplined rehearsal time and all for what? It didn’t mean anything other than to prepare him for the audience performance. And all the musicians who prepared alongside him in the weeks leading up to the performance, their preparation was all for naught without a clarinetist to join them for the performance. I guess the conductor’s preconceived bias against jazz clarinetists was warranted. What a hard lesson to have to teach the other musicians! So many hours spent in rehearsal, fine-tuning their craft, only to have their work dismissed and unrewarded. I suppose they could have performed without the clarinetist but I can’t imagine it would have sounded the same. No, that clarinetist robbed himself and the entire orchestra of the rewards for all their hard work. Foolish…foolish indeed!
Not unlike the foolish bridesmaids in today’s reading. Their one responsibility was to maintain their lamps so they could light the pathway for the bridegroom when he came to the wedding banquet. Yet because they hadn’t considered a long wait for his arrival, they didn’t adequately prepare for it. They didn’t store up enough oil to keep their lamps lit long enough. The bridegroom eventually arrived and they were unable to perform their one responsibility. At least the clarinetist was prepared for the performance! He just foolishly didn’t arrive for the performance. The bridesmaids, on the other hand, were foolishly ill-prepared. But they were all fools in their own right.
It’s interesting that Jesus used this parable, just as he used several of his parables, to describe the kingdom of heaven. It really isn’t about the kingdom, the so-called wedding banquet. It’s about preparedness for the kingdom. Or is it? Perhaps the kingdom is revealed in the act of preparedness. Maybe, just maybe, it’s less about preparedness as it is about dedication. The kingdom is revealed to those who are fully dedicated. Dedicated to what? Well, to loving and serving God and each other of course. The foolish bridesmaids weren’t foolish because they failed to bring enough oil. No, they were foolish because they weren’t fully dedicated to serving the bridegroom. Like the clarinetist, they weren’t dedicated to the performance. Had they been dedicated to the performance, they would have stored up adequate oil. They would have dedicated their daily living to storing up adequate oil.
The kingdom is revealed to those who are dedicated to the Christian life. It’s one thing to claim you’re a Christian. It’s a whole nother thing to BE a Christian. To walk the life of a Christian. To place your trust in Christ to lead and guide you. To reflect on and take comfort in the wisdom of scripture. To love and serve God and your neighbor each and every day. To pray, forgive, encourage, and support. To walk humbly before God. Only then can the kingdom be revealed to us. Only then can we fulfill the task that has been assigned to us as Christians. Jesus is teaching us that the kingdom is less about a destination as it is an on-going revelation.
Friends, we have great wisdom in scripture to help support us in this Christian life. Peter writes in his first letter, “therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” (1:13) We prepare our minds through prayer and regular reflection on scripture. The discipline comes with regularity. Psalm 1 teaches us, “happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffer; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (1:1-2) Meditating day and night, over and over and over again. Praying, fasting, forgiving…the three key disciplines of this season of Lent.
The kingdom isn’t necessarily revealed to the prepared but to the dedicated. So let us fully dedicate ourselves to the life Christ has called us into. We hear the apostle John say to his friend Gaius 3rd letter, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (1:4) I like to believe these are words expressed by God himself. Let us faithfully walk in the truth of his Word and give thanks for it. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.