This past week Jane and I celebrated our 32nd Wedding Anniversary. Like most weddings you plan and work hard to make everything just perfect, but usually there is always something unexpected or unplanned that happens. Sometimes people feel upset or nervous when things do not go the way they are supposed to. However, I think it is the unexpected things within the wedding that often make the event most memorable. As long as events can be smiled upon and are not of the catastrophic nature, it all works out. Sometimes people intentionally cause their own mischief. Watch this video clip.
When I was married, after the wedding service, I went out to get the car that for some reason was parked toward the back of the church. When I got there, I found out why. My brother, who was my best man, had taken the time somehow to fill up the car with balloons. The get away was not quick. Now we have a video tape of Jane and I and our maid of honor trying to pop all these balloons that kept falling out of the doors, so that we could get in the car. It was pretty humorous. Then in the process someone yells out, “Watch out some of the balloons are filled with water.” Fortunately, that was apparently just an idea that my brother didn’t go with.
I would bet that if I gave you the opportunity, some of you might have a story or two about your wedding, and quite possibly it is the unexpected occurrences within the event that you will remember the best.
Weddings were like that in Jesus times as well. In the parable of the five wise and five foolish maidens Jesus was not just telling a story, but he was relating one of the great customs of his time. A wedding! It was an event to be talked about for months afterward. The festivities could go on for days, and people are people. They will play games and practical jokes on you
One of the high points of a wedding in Jesus time was the custom of the coming of the bridegroom. Weddings were celebrated at night. The festivities might be held in the groom’s home and then the moment would come when the groom and his party would journey to the Bride’s home and offer gifts in exchange for the hand of his soon to be wife. It may have been the custom for some good nature bartering to go on before the journey could be made. The bride’s family would give up the bride only reluctantly after a certain amount of gifts were offered. This might account for why the groom was delayed in our story. Either that or the groom was simply engaged in playing out the custom of trying to catch the bridal party unawares. His delay may have been intentional. The bridegroom would arrive unexpectedly, in the night, and if he was successful in catching the Bridal party off guard then the high jinks would be remembered for years.
But there were certain rules. He had to arrive within a certain number of hours, and he had to have someone running ahead of him to announce his coming, but a large part of the game was to catch the wedding party off guard.
Whatever the case, along the way the bridesmaids were to meet the groom and escorted him to the home of his bride. Each bridesmaid carried a staff at whose top was a brass bowl filled with a rag and oil for a lamp. The torches swayed to their steps and sent flickering waves of light across the darkness.
For young girls it would be a real tragedy to be caught off guard. This was quite possibly the only party they would go to all year, and so they wanted in! But after the groom had returned with his bride, the doors were closed, and the wedding started. At that point, the doors were not easily opened for anyone! Those caught outside were victims of the practical joke, and had to suffer exclusion, with those on the inside quite possibly laughing at those caught on the outside. That is the way weddings were held back then. Jesus and his disciple probably saw this event happen many times in their lives.
To those hearing Jesus, this story must have just hung there from the very beginning. The people just knew that those maidens without the extra oil were probably going to be in trouble. When Jesus started talking about the maidens who did not bring extra oil, probably someone in the crowd nudge the sister next to them and said, “Hey Sis does that sound familiar?” Jesus listeners probably were just shaking their heads and thinking, “Yeah, I know what you are talking about, let me tell you about my wedding. You are never going to believe this story…”
But before the people could go off in those directions, they had another thought to deal with. Jesus was saying, the kingdom of Heaven is like that wedding story. Our reality of life and relationship to God is like that story.
So, let us think about that, before our minds wonder and we start reminiscing about the weddings of the past we have known. How is the kingdom like Jesus story of a wedding?
I think there are probably a few ideas we can come up with. I at first put down the title for this sermon as be prepared –I borrowed the Boy Scout motto. Five of the bridesmaids were prepared for the wait and five were not. The idea of being prepared is a valuable thought, but as I considered this text a bit deeper I would change the title somewhat to “Be attentive.” Pay attention. Jesus simply said, Stay awake, watch, be alert. The reason I would choose the idea of attentiveness to preparation is simply that the maidens who did not bring enough oil did not really fail in being prepared, but they failed in being ready for the moment when they more likely than not knew exactly what was going to happen. I think they could have been almost certain that the Groom’s coming would be later than sooner. Their foolishness is not in their lack of preparation as much as it is in their lack of attentiveness to their predictable situation.
It is more like playing a game of catch and forgetting to hold your glove up when the ball is thrown at you. The ball might hit you in the head, but it was not your preparation for the game that failed as much as it was the fact that you just simply forgot to pay attention to the ball when it was thrown at you. Your mind was on other things, you didn’t think through the consequence of the decisions you were making. Half of the maidens did not bring extra oil. What were they thinking, but then again, how so very human? Often in life we do not pay enough attention to the obvious.
Even in our relationship to God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, Jesus says to us stay awake. Be attentive, watch. In the background of this parable is the question, “Are you ready for the arrival of Christ?” In revelation Jesus is described as the bridegroom coming for his bride the church.
Are you ready? John Wesley was once asked by a lady, “How would you spend the time (if you knew you had only one day left to live)?” John Wesley replied, “I would spend it exactly as I plan to spend it now. I shall preach tonight at Gloucester, and again tomorrow morning. I should go to Tewkesbury to preach in the afternoon and attend a meeting in the evening. I should go to my friend Martin’s house, to talk and pray as usual. Retire to my room at ten o’clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father, lie down to sleep and wake in glory.”
John Wesley was one who lived life ready for the coming of God’s Kingdom. He didn’t have to change anything. So, must we be ready.
There is a certain irony in Jesus question if you are paying attention, because Jesus was basically calling people to be attentive to God’s coming and Jesus was the very embodiment of what he was calling people to be attentive to. Pay attention, for you do not know the hour or the day, and that moment was the hour and second of their visitation. They were in the midst of their moment even as Jesus was speaking to them, but did they notice? Did they realize that that was their moment. Were they attentive, and ready, or were they foolish?
What moment are we in? I think this moment could be your moment. This moment may be our moment. Have you taken the time in your life to pay attention to God calling you? If yes, then good. The scriptures tell us in Acts 2:21 “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If you lift up your prayer to God, God will hear and forgive you this very day, and you shall have eternal life within you.
Have you taken a moment each day to be attentive to what God may want of you personally or as a church? I just think that in today’s culture it is easy to become comfortable with where we are and who we are and simply ignore anything that may push us in a different direction. What is our identity as a church? What needs are we trying to meet for our community and world? Are we attentive to the person next to us and the needs around us? Perhaps growing churches are actually nothing more than those churches that have become most attentive to God’s direction within the church’s life as a community.
I think if we are attentive, then it will be with the joyful anticipation of a wedding that we shall stand ready to receive and walk in the presence of Christ. Therefore, pray that God may increase our attention to His holy work. Amen.