Joshua 24:14-18 and Matthew 25:1-13
(Quoted Scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
The wind howled all night. I could hear it as I was trying to sleep. We had three kids at the time, all of whom I had to get up and ready for school in the morning before I went to work. Joe was at deer camp. He’d made several trips to our family camp on the Ontonagon River hauling provisions out, and everything was ready for deer season in the U.P. Joe was ready to get that big buck!
However, he had failed to get our snow blower ready for the snow! Instead of being in the garage, where it was easily accessible to the wife of the deer hunter, it was way back in the shed behind the house. We have a hundred-foot driveway, and when I got up in the morning, I discovered it had snowed 8 -10 inches overnight! I think school was canceled because of the storm so the kids slept in, yet I still had to go to work. I had to shovel and scoop my way out of the driveway! I was late for work, and I was not happy! I don’t remember if Joe shot a buck that year, but I do know it was the last year he left for deer camp that the snow blower wasn’t in the garage ready for the deer hunters wife to use it!
Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids in our scripture passage from Matthew this morning, and the lesson here is all about being ready.
“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.’ (Matthew 25:1-9)
The five foolish bridesmaids went off to buy oil for their lamps and they were late for the party. Just as I was late for work the day the snow blower wasn’t ready. Unlike the bridesmaids, they let me in when I did arrive. However, the bridesmaids were not as lucky. When they arrived, the door was shut and the were not allowed in.
This parable describes the Jewish customs in Jesus’ day. The first stage of a wedding was the betrothal, when the marriage was arranged by the parents of the couple to be married. This was more than a modern “engagement” because it was legally binding and could be broken only by divorce, another legal action. Remember when Mary became pregnant through the Holy Spirit? Joseph considered whether he should divorce her or not. They were betrothed at the time, not married. The second stage was the marriage itself, which often occurred a year later, accompanied by a wedding feast. Jesus’ first miracle, changing water into wine, took place at a wedding feast which happened over a number of days. When a couple finally got married, they were ready to be married and they were ready to party!
This is the first lesson I see in today’s scripture.
We must prepare in this life to be ready to party with Jesus! Some preparation must go into being ready to party.
The traditional Boy Scout motto of “Be prepared” taught generations of kids lots of useful skills. And those “skills” were put into practice by going camping, fishing, rock climbing, toasting marshmallows over a campfire, the fun stuff! They were preparing for good times. Today’s gospel text tells us in parable form how Jesus wants us to be “prepared,” so that we can party with Him for eternity! Are you ready to party?
No one knows when the party will begin. Jesus says in Matthew 24:36, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In our reading from today, in Matthew 25:13 Jesus tells us, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
As Christians, we understand that we must be ready for Jesus’ return and the final defeat of Satan. We know from scripture that this could happen at any time, and we need to be ready. Yet I wonder, are we ready for life here and now?
In 1976, Indiana University’s basketball team was undefeated throughout the regular season and captured the NCAA National Championship. Controversial and colorful coach Bobby Knight led them to that championship. Shortly afterwards, Coach Knight was interviewed on the television show “60 Minutes.” The commentator asked him, “Why is it, Bobby, that your basketball teams at Indiana are always so successful? Is it the will to succeed?”
“The will to succeed is important,” replied Bobby Knight, “but I’ll tell you what’s more important, it’s the will to prepare. It’s the will to go out there every day training and building those muscles and sharpening those skills!”
Another famous coach believed the same thing. “Hurry Up” Yost was the football coach at the University of Michigan. A player once assured Coach Yost that their team was sure to win on Saturday because the players had “the will to win.” “Hurry Up” Yost answered: “Don’t fool yourself. The will to win is not worth a plugged nickel unless you have the will to prepare.” That is true. Success goes to the one who has made ready for the challenges they will face.
Joshua, in our Old Testament passage this morning, is trying to ready the people of Israel for the challenges they will face. Joshua had been young when he and his family were slaves in Egypt. He witnessed the miracles; the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the water from the rock, the manna and the quail. Joshua encouraged the Israelites to trust God when it came time to occupy the land of milk and honey, yet the people turned away the first time. They were not prepared to trust in God.
Joshua went with them for the forty years of wandering in the desert. When they finally returned, Joshua was ready and willing to lead the people of Israel to conquer and possess the land of Canaan, which they did. Now Joshua is one hundred ten years old and about to die, and he wants to remind the Israelites who brought them this far. He wants to remind them to be ready to live their lives day by day in this land they have conquered.
Joshua knows they will be tempted to stray from serving the One True God, so he challenges them, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (verses 14-15).
When the people of Israel chose to put God first in their lives, they were blessed. When they put God anywhere but first, no so many blessings.
The second thing the parable of the ten bridesmaids says to me is that as we prepare to reach our goal, we must also prepare for the unexpected. In the parable the bridegroom’s coming was delayed. Five of the bridesmaids prepared for that eventuality; they brought extra oil. Are you prepared, ready for the unexpected?
There’s a story told about a Cornish farmer who had difficulty keeping a hired man because his farm was located on the west coast of England, where storms roared in off the Atlantic. It was a miserable place to be. The farmer looked and looked, for help. Finally, a man came and applied for the job. He was a little fellow. He didn’t look very strong and appeared to be past middle age. He looked like he could be on his last leg. But he was the only person the farmer had found.
The farmer asked him, “Are you a good helper to a farmer?” The man answered in his Cornish accent, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” When the farmer said, “I don’t understand,” the little fellow repeated, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer didn’t know what that meant, but he took the man on because he desperately needed help.
The man worked well around the farm and seemed to be effective. Then one night the farmer could hear the wind kicking up and beginning to blow. He got out of bed, lit the lantern, went to the barn where the hired man was sleeping and shook him awake. “The storm is coming and the wind is howling,” the farmer shouted. “We have to do something fast.” The hired man looked at him and said, “No, sir, I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer went outside and saw that all the haystacks had been covered by tarpaulins, all the chickens were in coops, all the cows were in the barn, all of the things that could have blown away were secured and all doors and shutters closed. Indeed, the hired man could sleep when the wind blew. He was prepared, he was ready when it came to regular farm work, and he was able to deal with the unexpected.
When the unexpected diagnosis happens, when the unexpected death occurs, when the unexpected financial crisis comes, are you ready? Is your faith strong enough to handle day to day life? Earthly life is not easy; yet when life happens, if we draw near to God, He’ll draw near to us. If we have placed God first in our life, we know that He is with us in our struggles as well as with us in our joy filled times.
That is the last point I see in today’s scripture. Are you ready for the love, the joy, the peace God has waiting for you? I encounter people who do not place God first in their life. In fact, for some God has no place in their life at all. Some of the reasons are: ‘God is mean, waiting to punish me when I mess up,’ ‘I want to be in control of my life,’ ‘I’ll start going to church when I’m older. Now I want to have fun,’ ‘I don’t need God, I’m doing just fine.’
What I have discovered is when the people who want nothing to do with God finally bottom out and come to a place where the only way to look is up, and they decide they need God after all; they are not ready for the mercy and grace of our loving God. The unexpected God they encounter is not a God waiting to punish us, but rather a God of love. They are not ready for the love that surrounds them and fills them. They are not ready for the deep-down joy. They are not ready for the incredible peace of heart and soul. They are not ready because they have not prepared.
So how do we ready ourselves; for life’s struggles? How do we ready ourselves to party with Jesus through eternity? How do we get ready to experience the love, joy, and peace of giving our life to the One True God?
A church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday.
He wrote, “I’ve gone for 30 years now, and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons but for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time, the preachers and the priests are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”
This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column. Much to the delight of the editor, it went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:
“I’ve been married for almost 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals.”
“But I do know this; They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today.
Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
How do we ready ourselves; to party with Jesus, to handle the struggles in this life, to experience the abundant life Jesus offers to us?
We attend church, we engage in Bible study and prayer, and most importantly; we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind. We choose to love and serve the One True God and we surrender our heart and life to Jesus God’s Son and our Savior.
Are you ready? I hope so, because Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)
Pastor Rosemary DeHut