Sermon for June 16, 2019
Texts: Zephaniah 3:16-20; Psalm 119:1-6, 103-105; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-20; Matthew 25:1-13
Sermon: "Knocking on the Door"
Here is a favorite hymn from the Tennessee community where I lived before returning to Natchez. It is not in our hymnal. I don't think it ever has been in a Presbyterian hymnal. But I think we need these dear words this morning. Listen:
"Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, just to take Him at His Word, just to rest upon His promise, Just to know: 'Thus saith the Lord.' Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I've proved Him o'er and o'er! Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust Him more!"
The parable we read today needs this hymn. Yes, it is not just sweet to trust in Jesus; it is life-changing when we put all our trust in him.
Who is behind that closed door at the end of the parable? Is that our precious Jesus? It cannot possibly be Jesus who will not open the door to those teenage girls, maybe 14 or 16 years old! That cannot possibly be our precious Jesus who will not let them in the door because they were late with their torches!
What do you think?
This parable gives us pause. It makes us stop and ponder God's judgment. It calls us to remember all the beautiful word of God that surrounds this passage, this particular Gospel, and this entire body of work that God has given us to reveal who God is, what God is up to in the world, and what God is calling us to be, to think, to believe, and to do.
And so, the parable is working its way with us. That is what it is supposed to do.
"Lord, Lord," the five foolish maidens say to the one who comes to the door. And he says, "Sorry, I do not know you."
If we do not read this parable with plenty of faith and trust in the Lord our God, we will find ourselves in despair. I do not believe that putting despair in our hearts was what Jesus was hoping to accomplish with this parable then or now.
There is "wise" and "foolish" within each of us. Daily prayer and time spent with God in reading the Bible will strengthen us to stay more to the wise side; but we are never completely free of that human desire to cut corners, to skip a daily meditation, to look away when we see a neighbor in need.
Pray today that God will help us to be a church strong in his word, to seek it daily, and to carry out God's will for us -- loving God, loving neighbors, and welcoming them into our fellowship.
Pray also that God will mold us into a people who always have compassion for those who might need extra encouragement in their lives to make good choices.
As God strengthens us to live before him in love and faith, God also gives us strength to help others. Pray that God will bless you this day with wisdom.
Maybe the first thing that startles us about Jesus' parable of the ten maidens is that it takes place in a wedding setting. It jars us a little bit because we wonder where the love and joy can be found.
What do you make of the suggestion from the wise to the foolish to go out and buy more oil? At midnight? And the ending of the parable certainly has a prickly and icy edge to it -- much like the dividing of the sheep and the goats coming up in our parable study next week.
Instead of a happy, joyful story, the parable of the ten maidens is downright confusing and troubling -- or is it?
First, it helps to see where Jesus is in his ministry at this point. He is nearing the end. He has begun to teach with more zeal about watchfulness, end times, and preparation for all that might be coming for his followers.
Jesus speaks words of warning. Jesus wants to jar his disciples. And, yes, he wants them to know about love, mercy, forgiveness, and welcoming.
This parable is about serious business of the kingdom.
We know about God's free grace, about salvation through faith that is ours as a gift from God through the Holy Spirit. We know that Jesus died to set the world free from sin and calls us to believe and follow. We know perhaps more than many who were new to the words of Jesus at that time.
And yet -- here Jesus here has some specific suggestions completely relevant for us as we confront questions about doors that are open and doors that are closed, doors where young girls knock and tremble in fear that no one will open to them.
Some of the questions we might ask about this parable are these, for starters:
*First, what is this oil that we should have with us?
*Second, what is it about waiting that the five wise girls understand but perhaps the foolish do not to know?
*Third, what does Jesus want us to know about doors -- doors that are open and doors that are shut?
In his parables, Jesus always tucks in hidden meaning for us to find.
So, first -- what is this oil? One clue might be to look at how the ancient Jewish teachers referred to good works as "oil." And earlier in Matthew's gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers that they are to be "lights."
"You are the light of the world," he said to them on that day. "A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven" (Matthew 5:14-16).
It takes that kind of oil, the oil of good works, undertaken with grateful hearts, for followers of Jesus Christ to be the lights, to shine as Jesus instructs followers to shine.
Visit the sick and grieving. Make a phone call that will brighten someone's day. Take food to a hungry family. Pray for your enemies. That is oil for your lamp that will make you shine.
Second question: What is it that the wise maidens understand about waiting?
We know this: we are told that the wise maidens are "those who were ready" (25:10). At first, we might think, oh, yes, they are ready for the bridegroom! But all the ten girls were excited as they anticipated the arrival of the bridegroom.
On the one hand, we might say that the delay does not matter. Both wise and foolish girls fall asleep anyway. But look more closely at the opportunity lost by the foolish girls
For the wise girls, a delay would not keep them from being prepared. They had brought extra oil. They could wait. If the groom had been on time, all ten of the maidens would have had a fine time at the banquet. All ten would have been ready. But the five foolish maidens were not prepared for the delay.
And now the third question: What does Jesus tell us about doors that are open and doors that are closed?
The parable of the ten maidens warns that doors can and do shut.
We sometimes shut doors that we later wish were open. What is keeping us from opening those doors? Have you hurt someone? Acknowledge it and seek forgiveness. Do you know someone in need of encouragement? Why are you putting it off?
For God, time has meaning beyond our imagination.
For us, time in the life we know now is limited. We have little time to ignore closed doors, to forget neighbors who need us, or to lose opportunity to be lights of Christ in the world.
The maidens who came to the wedding feast but were not prepared for the long haul, for the unforeseen timing of the evening, were shut out of the banquet.
The wise ones were ready for the delay. Their oil was sufficient. Their lights were ablaze.
So here is another question: How do you replenish your oil? What does it take to bring the oil level back to full?
God is the giver of oil and the restorer of oil. God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit will fill us full of oil when we gather to worship and study and discern God's message for us. God fills us when we pray to him, sing hymns, and listen to his Holy Word.
I believe there is another important message in the parable.
Here are ten teen-aged girls, likely to have been friends or relatives. Five were prepared. Five were not.
Why did Jesus choose such young and delightful maidens all dressed up and excited about the wedding feast to teach this lesson about the closed door?
Is there a message to the church -- to be diligent in gathering and teaching the children? Does this parable say to us,
"Do not let five out of ten of our children go out into the world unprepared, not knowing how they are loved and cherished by God;
"Do not let five out of ten not know how to share, witness, and tell other young people about God's good news;
"Do not let half of the children go out into the world unprepared to know how to walk through doors in confidence that Jesus has invited them to come and welcomes them"?
As we live expectantly and live hopefully, we trust in our precious Savior. Yes, the old hymn has a good message: It is so sweet to trust in our God who has been made known to us through Jesus Christ.
Jesus has said to us: "For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened for you" (Luke 11:10).
We are called to accompany the bridegroom every day, to walk in the way of Christ with our lamps lit and held high.
Light your lamps. Let them light your path -- the path God sets before you. Amen.