By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 22, 2020
Matthew 25:31–46 (ESV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
For most of my life, I have lived within a church that has been focused on the end times. The left behind series was released when I was a teenager, and I read all of them. I believed all of them. I was looking for the signs and trying to figure out when these amazing things were going to happen. But even before those books were released there were other books like them. For the past century many in America have been counting the days down, so to speak, for the end. We have been trying to identify the antichrist and making attempts to explain how or where the mark of the beast will come from. We have been gorging our spiritual lives with the eschatology. I want to ask one simple question about this, what is it worth?
For my entire life churches have been making decisions, politicians have been using eschatological references to spur their bases into voting, and to garner support for foreign policy. It does not even matter what political party us support both sides have used the church to promote their policies, both have twisted the words of scripture to shame and promote their policies. Both sides try to put a divide within our ranks, if you do not follow us you are not a true believer.
The truth of the matter is that we have been living in the biblical end times since the first days of the church. For the past two thousand years the apocalyptic words of scripture have been playing out before our very eyes. We have experienced the end of the age and have been experiencing the end for generations. The first Christians, the followers of Christ believed that the end was upon them, those that lived at the turning of the first millennia believed that the day of the Lord was upon them. Those of us that lived through the Y2K panic also believed that we were going to see that glorious day. But there is something common with all those events. They distracted us from the reality that the apocalyptic literature was attempting to convey.
When we read this passage what is the first things that comes to mind? We focus on the last judgement of Christ, we focus on the end, we focus on justice being executed on those that have different opinions. We focus on the end.
I have been a pastor for most of my adult life. I entered ministry in 2003, meaning I have been active in church leadership for seventeen years. It is hard for me to wrap my head around that because in my mind, I still feel as if I have just started. Last week I talked with James on the phone as he was trying to determine what he wanted to do in the future and we laughed because I had to admit to him that I was still trying to work that out in my own life. In those seventeen years I have been asked many questions, I have entered many conversations and encouraged many people, but there has been one question or comment that has troubled me. That comment is that all Christianity is, is a death cult.
A death cult, for those that do not know what that might be, is a religious expression that glorifies death. Everything that they do is devoted to death. When this person made that comment to me, I was at a loss for words. In a flash, the synapses in my mind were working at lightening speed reviewing my knowledge of church history and personal experience. I reviewed every theological book I had ever read and considered a perspective of an outsider looking into the Church. And considered what they might see. And it grieved my heart. That one statement shook me.
I looked at my friend and I told him, that he was not wrong. That is often how the church is portrayed. We focus on the end. We focus on life after death. We focus and celebrate the sacrifice of our Lord. And we look forward to that time where justice will prevail, where those that oppose our Lord will be vanquished and the world will be at peace. I told my friend that I understood why he said those words.
Do not look at my friend as being an enemy though. We often want to judge those outside of the church as being unspiritual, or not willing to embrace faith. This is not true. This individual, though an atheist, read more scripture than most people within the church, and could speak to the deeper meaning within the words. Those that seek to disprove our faith, are not necessarily people in league with Satan, but are people that are searching and struggling with that of God within themselves. They are looking at the world around and inside them and are attempting to find a way forward. They are just like each one of us, the only difference is the conclusions they have drawn.
This friend of mine would never have said that he was seeking Christ and to be honest most of us would not say he was seeking Christ. But when people make attempts at disproving something, there is a reason. They are seeking to prove the necessity of faith. And his conclusion of Christianity being a death cult had merit in his eyes. What is the point of birth and life when our focus is on death? This has been a struggle for the church for most of our history. We do focus a great deal on the life beyond the veil. Each night as Albert goes to bed, we read a devotional that has been speaking about salvation, and in the words, it says that salvation will give us eternal life with God after death. This is important. But what about everything else?
I have lived forty-one years. I have been a follower of Christ for thirty-six of those years. Some of us have lived much longer while others are just beginning their journey through life. If all that is important is the end why does God require us to linger? Because the dash between the year of our birth and the year of our death is important. That dash is filled with stories of triumph and defeat, despair and hope, and miraculous heroism. That dash is life.
When I attended classes at Friends University, I loved theology class. I loved it because I had a teacher that loved theology. This guy could speak hours upon hours on theology and not once see it as being boring. He spoke about the theology of marriage, the theology of death, the theology of ministry, and the theology of pretty much everything. To him theology was incorporated into every aspect of life. He was also the church history teacher, so you could imagine if he got excited about theology, when he spoke about history, he saw the hand of God in everything. In a discussion about scripture and what needed to be included, he said the funniest thing. We need a fat bible not a skinny bible. By this he meant that we needed the complete bible, and not just the New Testament. He was not a fan of handing out pocket New Testament because he felt like it was not giving the complete story. Without the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament we cannot understand the hope of Christ. This same teacher once asked us a question in class, “what is the most important church holiday?” Is it Easter? Is it Christmas? They are all important. Without Christmas there would be no Easter without Easter there would be no Christmas, and then there is the dash in between those dates. There were Thirty-three years between the birth of Jesus and Good Friday, thirty-three years of life.
Life is important. All of life. That dash between the beginning and the end is filled with the most important and most meaningful events. It is the things within the dash that encourage generations and are spoken of during our memorial services. Jesus came not just to die, but to live life, to show us life. He came to restore all of creation to life.
This is the point of apocalyptic literature. It is not to strike fear in our minds or to worship the end. It is to jumpstart our minds to remember that we are in the dash of our lives, the end may be soon, and at this moment we still have time to live. The apocalyptic literature is there to encourage us to reexamine the current trajectory of our lives and to make necessary course corrections. The church is not to focus on the end but it should live.
Jesus, for the past few weeks has been speaking in apocalyptic language. He told stories of the kingdom using illustrations of ten bridesmaids and the stewardship of servants. In each of these stories there is something to look forward to, a feast or the joy of the master which is a welcome home party. But the most important aspects of those stories were not the end but what was going on during the space between the beginning and the end. In the story of the bridesmaids, the focus was on the availability of the oil. The whole point of the story was being able to complete the mission set before you when the time comes. The point is to be prepared, and the apostles understood that theme and Peter taught us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to the hope that we have.
The story from last week dealt with the Stewards of the Talents. I asked a question about how we are investing the uniqueness of our lives, which is what God invested in us. The point of that story again is to boldly live our lives, investing into the lives of those around us, and not cowering away in fear. Live the lives of our faith boldly entrusting every aspect of our lives in the lifestyle of Christ.
Today we see the culmination of these shorter parables. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will gather the nations and separate the sheep from the goats. This imagery speaks deeply to Hebrew spirituality. Israel began as a nation of shepherds, even their greatest king began his life as a shepherd. Throughout scripture Israel is often called sheep. The people of God were seen in their scriptures as God’s sheepfold. Jesus spoke of this as well. He said that his sheep hear his voice and respond, but he extends this imagery out to those outside Jewish heritage by saying he has sheep in other folds as well. The goats are a different story. Goats are often used to signify those outside of God’s influence, even today those that claim to follow pagan religions associate with the goat. But the goat has significance to the Hebrew people. The goat was used during the celebration on the day of atonement, it was a goat that carried the sins of the nation out into the chaos of the wilderness. Jesus in this parable brings the nations together and separates the sheep from the goats. He separates those that follow the ways of God from the ones that carry or bear the sins of the nations.
But what is the criteria of separation? As much as I would like to say that the criteria is something as simple as a prayer it is not. During the past generations of the church we have made attempts at fine tuning our faith, even the Friends have participated in these activities. We have whittled the law down from over six hundred and focused on ten, but for much of church history those ten laws were accompanied with means of grace called the sacraments or mysteries. We were required to follow the commandments and participate in the sacraments for our atonement. When the reformation occurred, these things were again revised to some degree. The commandments remained, but the means of grace were minimized to only two of the seven. Friends in their attempt to purify the faith made the bold statement that all of life is a sacrament and that we should live our testimony daily, this kept the commands but distilled the means of grace to one thing, a life lived. The problem is that through all of this we institutionalized religion, we made it into a series of rites, or a checklist of sorts and as long as our cards had all the proper marks we were assured by the keepers of the institutions that we have obtained our salvation.
This is not what Jesus describes. The nations are brought before the Son of Man and are separated. Like the bridesmaids both groups were attending the church, because both call the Son of Man Lord. It is those that ministered and encouraged those that were thirsty, hungry, naked, imprisoned, sick, and provided hospitality that were brought into the kingdom. It is not the amount of knowledge we possess or marks of religious adherence, but how we interact with those around us.
We are saved by grace through faith. This is the crowning theological achievement of the reformation and one that I fully agree with. We cannot work our way into heaven because it is only through Jesus that we have access to God. What Jesus is pointing out is true faith bears fruit. True faith is not just something that we have in our heads, but it is where we entrust every aspect of our lives to the direction of God. Faith is not something we believe only but it is lived.
These words of Jesus were being spoken to people that claimed faith, yet their faith did not reach their hearts. They may have been clean on the surface but deep within remained aspect of sin and rebellion. Where are we in this story? Where is our church? Where is our nation? Are we sheep or are we goats? Are we living our lives as visible testimonies of God’s provision and grace or are we seeking to control our own destiny?
Jesus is calling out to us in this passage. He is calling for us to repent and turn toward him. He is calling us to follow him, to take on his life and lifestyle. He is encouraging us to make it our custom to love God in worship together in our community, to embrace the Holy Spirit in prayer, and to live his love as we serve and minister to the needs of those around us. This is our purpose and our mission. This is true faith distilled to the purest essence, loving God in all that we are and do, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As we enter this time of open worship let us examine our lives. Let us recognize the areas in ourselves where we may be falling short and let us repent and turn toward Christ more fully. And let us be open to God’s Spirit and become willing to become a blessing and instruments of hope for those struggling in the chaos of our world.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 15, 2020
Matthew 25:14–30 (ESV)
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Last Sunday we considered the delay of Christ’s second coming. In the parable of the ten virgins Jesus gives us this insight that maybe the delay is because God is still negotiating terms of the marriage. God is still working on securing the finest for a bride of Christ. The church is still working, there is more work to do.
The ten bridesmaids are there serving the church. Five of those bridesmaids were wise while five were considered foolish. All ten were there ready to escort the bride to the feast, they all had their lamps ready at the beginning of the day but when the time came for them to step up and serve, only five were in a position to answer the call.
I hope the words of that story percolated through your mind and heart over the past few days. So often we look at the world and we see the negativity in the media, what we see distracts us from what is most important. We cry out to God and plea that the day of the Lord would come soon, and usher in the kingdom now. I want us to consider that for a moment, where is the light? God is actively negotiating for the bride; God is actively at work even through the chaos of the world. God is working because of the great love God has for the world, love so great that He sent his son not to condemn the world but to save it.
This is where I want our mind today. Not condemnation but salvation, not hate but redemption, not retreat but active pursuit. This is our God. This is our God coming from the throne of heaven, entering the societies of humanity, and showing us the way to our true home. Not wanting anyone to perish but actively seeking our hearts to give us life more abundantly.
The kingdom is like ten bridesmaids serving the bride, waiting for the bridegroom to call out so that they can enter the feast. Jesus called his disciple, He called them and they chose to join him in that journey. He called them to walk through life with him. He called them to become fishers of men, meaning that he would show them a way of life that is foreign to their current ways of thinking but would amaze all that see it. Jesus calls, we respond. Not one of the disciples were completely the same. Matthew was a government official and one of Simon’s were a zealot. Each had skills and personalities that were used to expand the influence of Christ throughout the world. Matthew wrote, while Peter spoke. Some of the disciples we know little about and others are nearly larger than life. Each of the disciples lived through persecution, most suffered martyrdom, they participated in miraculous events, and they saw God’s kingdom stretch across the Roman Empire, into Africa, and east into Asia.
This is where the parable of the servants and talents comes in. A man is going on a journey, and as he is preparing, he needs to entrust his estate to stewards. He considers the various servants that are available. He considers their various skills and abilities and decides how to divide the responsibility of his estate.
To one of the servants, this man entrusts five talents, to another two is given, and to a third one talent is entrusted. For many of us we fail to grasp the great responsibility that is entrusted to these individuals. It is difficult because we do not use the same measures of wealth as they did in ancient times. This is not only something that happens over the course of time, but even when interacting with those of different cultures. For us one dollar does not mean a great deal, we look at minimum wage and think that it is a ridiculously low amount of money. When I went to Ukraine, we were advised to never speak about the dollars we made at our jobs but instead we were encouraged to discuss our work lives in terms of how many hours we would have to work to attend a movie, or eat a meal at McDonalds. When we discuss wealth in those terms the people of Ukraine would see us as equals instead of rich Americans.
A talent is a measure of wealth that we do not fully grasp. I have often considered a talent as being basically a year’s wage, but as I have researched this more fully, I found that the talent is a measure of weight not money. A talent is approximately seventy-five pounds, so depending on what is being weighed the value is drastically different. A talent of silver today would be worth just under $30,000, so a talent of silver would be around the annual salary of a common day laborer. A talent of gold is worth $2,251,080. If this landowner is using gold talents then one talent is approximately worth seventy-five years of wages. The first steward was basically entrusted with three hundred seventy-five years of wages, where the second was entrusted with the wages of one hundred and fifty, and the third seventy-five. That is if the talents were gold, but we are not told what metal is being referred to, because that does not really matter.
I feel that it is important to look at this in the terms of annual wages because it sets it in the perspective of management and human interaction. The man that was given stewardship over five talents could basically be managing a business with three hundred and seventy-five employees. This is a large business and a large responsibility. We have also been provided with much.
Each of us has different skills. We have different talents. Each of us have differing interests and unique perspectives. There is not one person in existence that is completely the same. Our uniqueness is the very thing that God has invested in you.
We often think of theses stories as being things way beyond ourselves. I have never been granted the opportunity nor the responsibility of a major business. I have not had to manage or encourage more than a few individuals. I am not that important. What if the talents given in this story are not gold, but silver? A talent of silver is what many of us manage every year. When we look at this story in terms of silver instead of gold, suddenly every one of us are right in the middle of this story.
The manager of our local grocery store could be the man the landowner invested five talents with. The postal worker bringing the Christmas cards to your mailbox could be the one in which the two talent were invested with. And the one who received the one talent is every minimum wage earner and every recipient of social security. God has invested in us all. God through countless ages and multiple generations has worked everything out so that you at this time and place would be positioned to participate in His kingdom work. And his desire is for us all to take what he has invested in us. He wants us to take our talents: our musical abilities, our technological prowess, our economic logic, our empathy, our abilities to cook, and even our ability to drive a car. He wants us to use all that investment. The investment that our parents and teachers encourage us to develop, the investment our grandparents made in our parents, the investment the clerk at the market made when they smiled at you as they packed the groceries into sacks. Even interaction we have been in and will be in are investments of life that God has made in you to be used for His kingdom’s glory.
We often think of the investment of Jesus. His life, death, and resurrection are monumental investments. But those are not the only investments God has made. Jesus said in his teaching that he came to give life, life more abundantly. That means everything and every relationship is part of that life-giving abundance of Christ. How are we investing what God has given to us?
In the parable, Jesus says that the landowner went away on a long journey. Each of the servants took what was entrusted to them, and they made decisions in the use. God may have worked things out for us over countless ages to bring us to this place and time, but God continues to work with us and through us. We make our own decisions and we pay the consequences or benefit from the reward of those decisions. I have often heard during this pandemic that our health is in God’s hands, those that say this are not totally wrong, but neither are they right. We should be mindful of the investment God has made in us and of how we invest in others. God might miraculously save us from certain death, but He might also let us taste the fruit resulting from the desires of our hearts. We must work with God as we live out our lives.
A few years ago, there was a resurgence of the question “What Would Jesus Do?” It has almost become a cliché, but it is important to consider. To fully answer that question, we need to know Jesus, we need to know his actions, his method of decision making, how he responds and why he responds in the ways he responds. To answer that question, we must be his disciple, we need to walk with him daily, study him, and practice what we observe. We need to become familiar with his manner and customs. John encourages us to abide in the vine, and when we abide, he says that we are no longer servants but friends because we know what our master is doing. The master in the parable that Jesus told in today’s passage is looking at those servants not as men that serve but as friends. They are trusted stewards that were entrusted with their master’s abundance to do as they saw fit.
The master returns from his journey and calls his friends to meet with him. There is a celebratory air in this portion of the parable. The first friend comes before the master and says you gave me five talents look from my careful stewardship; I have five more to give back to you. The master is pleased with the results, and tells him, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” The second man also present an additional return and receives the same invitation. But the third man has a different story.
The third man was trusted by the master. The master thought enough of this man that he entrusted to him one talent to invest as he saw fit. From all we know of this man, he was qualified and likely, knew how the master would have intended to use what was entrusted to him. But there was something about this third individual that was off. He did not fully trust the master. He looked at what was entrusted to him, and instead of seeing it as an opportunity to share in the blessing of his master, he saw it as a cruel test. This man took what was offered to him, and out of fear he dug a hole and buried what was given to him hoping that in the end he could simply give it back.
I want us to think about this third man. This third man was trusted by his master yet did not fully know who it was that he served. His master desired a relationship, but this man was not open to what was offered.
The church is filled with people like this third man. I have been that third man for much of my life. As I have looked back through my life, I can see all too often how I lived in fear of the one I claimed to love. Always looking over my shoulder wondering if the action I was about to take would result in the wrath of God. There were days when I was a child that I would wake up in a panic because my parents were not in the house and I thought for sure I had been left behind and missed God’s blessing. Those that live in fear of God, are like the third man of this story. When we let fear drive us, we do not fully trust God.
I say this, knowing full well that I am not perfect. There are times even this week that I have succumbed to the anxiety of fear. When these anxieties grab hold of us, we can often shrink back into a defensive mode, burying ourselves with the hopes that we might manage to survive. I spent a great deal of time in prayer as I recognized this in myself. I do not want to live like that. I know that there is more to life than that. I know that lifestyle is not what God wants, but how do we loosen those chains?
God has invested much in each of us. Through countless lives and events, God has been investing in our lives to bring us to this moment. And he offers to us our lives. We might have access to five talents of gold, or maybe we are only offered one talent of silver, that does not matter. What matters is how we invest what we have been offered. Jesus encourages all who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and find rest, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He is encouraging us, when we are gripped by the anxieties of life to turn to him and his lifestyle. He is calling us to make it our custom to worship, to withdraw to isolated places to pray, and to invest our lives in service to those around us.
We are not alone. God has given each of us talents of life. He encourages us to invest our lives in those around us for the glory of his kingdom. If we have a business use that business for God. If we have a listening ear, listen to those that have burden they struggle with. If we have skills that could ease the struggles of a friend use those skills to help them understand that God loves them. God has invested much in each of us, how are we investing what he has given us?
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, consider the investments made in your life, and the investments you have made in the lives of others. Consider your weaknesses and your strengths and how God might be urging you to invest what he has invested in you. And let us all seek to enter the joy of our Lord.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 8, 2020
Matthew 25:1–13 (ESV)
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Last week we discussed the concept of staying focused and remembering. John was and is the disciple that Jesus loved, which is funny because Jesus clearly had close friendships with all the disciples. But there was something about John that exceeded the relationship of the others, it was set apart from the others, and it was unique to such a degree that the when the works of the apostles were brought together to compile what we know as scripture, no one thought it was odd that John was known in this manner. I have a theory as to why this is the case. I believe that John, who was the youngest of all the disciples, did not have as many distractions and opinions concerning life and lifestyle already developed prior to meeting Jesus. John was in all likelihood just coming into the age of majority, or just becoming a social adult when he was called by Jesus so the training and instruction that he received from the religious leaders in interpretation of scripture would have come not from the established religious orders, but came from Jesus.
The other gospel writers were attempting to provide a testimony of authenticity to people from a Jewish or Gentile perspective. There are several theories concerning the how and when the gospels were written. The one most scholars accept is that Mark was written first, then Matthew, then Luke, and finally John. When they make this proposal because most of Mark is included in Matthew and Luke, so they assume that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a reference, but then there are things not included in Mark that are in the other Gospels where do these things come from? This has led the scholars to seek after a different gospel source that is not included in our cannon of scripture, a document known in academia as Q. The problem with Q is that people are looking at documents such as the Gospel of Thomas, which is clearly something that was written in support of Gnostic belief, and some over look things that are clearly not supported in the other Gospels with the hope that they would be the one to find Q. Maybe they will find it eventually, but there are other theories that can be considered.
Tradition gives a different perspective one that I think we should not discount. Tradition tells us that Matthew wrote his Gospel account from a position like a scribe of the disciples, basically Matthew was the recording clerk. This means that church tradition suggests that Matthew wrote aspects of the gospel while Jesus was still walking among them and complied his notes together to form the Gospel message we read today. As the gospel of Christ was being shared to people outside the Jewish tradition of faith, Paul encouraged Luke to write the second gospel. This was written to give a broader testimony of Christ to those that did not fully understand the traditions of the Hebrew people. Now there were two gospel accounts being shared among the church. People were wondering, which was most accurate, so they asked to Peter to provide leadership and a decree. Tradition holds that Peter was the leader of the early church, that Peter was regarded as the first Pope. Peter looks at the writings of Matthew and Luke and begins to share his testimony of Jesus while he teaches out of both Matthew and Luke. This testimony is thought to have been a single sermon and Mark is thought to have taken a transcription of that sermon. Mark’s gospel account portrays Jesus as being constantly moving, because Peter was providing as many highlights as he could during one session of teaching.
This perspective leads us to consider Mark as a bridge between Matthew and Luke instead of the source material between the two. This also could answer why Mark does not go into much detail of the events after the resurrection because Peter felt that both Matthew and Luke together presented them fully. This bridge concept is why the Gospels are in the order they are in in scripture, if Mark were written first it would or should have been placed in the first position, but Matthew is placed first. This fourfold gospel theory says that Matthew is the first gospel, Mark is the bridge, then Luke.
Matthew was written to people of Hebrew influence, Luke was written to those more influenced by the Gentile world views, Mark was written to bring the two groups together. But what of John? John was not focused on the things that the others were focused on. He was not concerned with convincing people of different backgrounds; he was focused on Jesus because that was all he knew. And that is why the Gospel according to John has such a different tone than the others.
John encourages us to remember Jesus. Remember his life and what he taught. Remember his suffering and death. And most of all remember the hope that is given through his resurrection. All the gospels do this in their own perspective. They all tell us about Jesus’s life, suffering and resurrection. And that is what we have presented in today’s passage. Last week John encouraged us to abide, to stay undistracted, and to remain in the purity of Christ. And Matthew presents that same message in the teachings of Christ.
There were ten virgins, or bridesmaids, that took their lamps and waited for the bridegroom. We do not really understand much about the first century customs surrounding marriage. Often when we try to understand marriage customs through our own traditions and this skews our understanding. This is a problem because there are not many similarities between our marriage customs today in America and that of the ancient peoples. The first thing that comes to mind is that today we do not have dowries negotiated and paid, so at best we often see this as a wedding procession. If we were to study cultures that have dowries, we might have a greater understanding. In those cultures, the groom’s family will have a representative visit the bride’s family and this representative will negotiate for the groom. This process could take a great deal of time, and while those negotiations were happening, the bride and the groom were separated from one another in their proper houses waiting.
When the negotiations were finalized the families would make the proper transactions, and the groom would then call for his bride to be brought. He would send his men to the bridesmaids who were attending the bride and making sure she was cared for during the period of negotiation. The bride’s maids would then call the bride’s family together and they would then make their way to the groom’s house where the feasting and celebration would begin. The entire family would participate in this procession and once the doors were closed, they would not be opened again until the celebration had ended. This might sound odd to us that the gates would be locked and sealed, so to speak, but marriages were a big deal. Everyone wanted to participate in the festivities so they would secure the gate so that they could enjoy themselves without interruption.
I do not know if this is exactly what is going on in this story but there are aspects of this occurring in the story. And we do not really know how long these sorts of negotiations last, but once they start a union between the families happens directly afterward. There was not months of wedding planning, because that had already been taken care of during the negotiations.
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like this. I do not necessarily think that Jesus is saying that these property transactions are occurring or are proper in marriage, but I think he is using this process to illustrate the value God has for the world. This passage is often considered to being a testimony of the future second coming of Christ. And by thinking of it in that perspective it would explain why that second coming remains a future event. God is yet negotiating for the bride of Christ. The largest portion has already been paid, but some fine details remain. God values the bride as does the bride’s parents, so the process will continue until all is set.
Have we ever really considered that aspect when thinking of the second coming of Christ? Have we ever really thought that there is a reason that it has not yet occurred, and that reason is not because God love the world so much that he will not settle for anything less than the best?
This bring us to the bride’s maids, or virgins as the English standard version translates. This is the same word that is used while describing Mary before the birth of Christ. It is true that in most cases this word is used to describe maidens, or young women that have yet to be married. The maiden translation is usually how the word is translated, but virgin is also accurate. These young women are the friends the bride, friends that are of the same age and most likely unwed, because if they were wed they would no long be able to attend the bride due to the fact they would have a household to manage.
These young women were brought in early in the negotiations. They had been there all day, and now the story says that the day has passed and night is upon them. This tells us that this marriage is important to all involved.
Jesus tells us that there were ten young women present, attending to the bride. Ten bride’s maids. I do not know if I even have ten friends that would be willing to attend to my needs during something like this. Five of these bride’s maid were foolish and five were wise. This tells us a bit about humanity. As I considered this passage in light of marriage negotiations, I personally would not consider any of these young ladies foolish in a human perspective. They probably made their way to the bride’s house at around dawn, meaning the sun was rising or already up when they left their house. And Jesus tells us that all ten had lamps. This tells me that they all fully anticipated that the negotiations would take an extended amount of time, and they all came prepared to have light just in case. But only five of the women thought enough in advance to bring extra oil for their lamps.
The bridegroom was delayed, the negotiations continued well into the night. The bride had clearly fallen asleep or the bridesmaids would be fussing over getting her snacks or making last minute adjustments to her attire. Everything has been taken care of on the bride’s maid front, and they fall asleep. Then in the middle of the night they hear the call. They hear the cry from the bridegroom, and the procession is about to happen. They all start to stir; the women find that the oil in the lamps are exhausted so the five wise women quickly refill the lamps so that they can safely escort their friend to the feast. But the five foolish women do not have any oil.
I have often thought that this was a terrible story. Why would Jesus present the kingdom in such an ungenerous fashion? If we look at most of his teachings Jesus is telling us to share all that we have, to go the extra mile, and to not even think twice about it. Why then would he say that the kingdom is like a bunch of selfish bride’s maids that would not share their oil?
I think there is more to this store than meets the eyes. An oil lamp functions because the wick is saturated with oil, and it is the oil burning that keeps the light bright not just the wick. If the wick is dry the lamps would give no light at all and would be smoldering. Often the picture that comes to mind is that these women were carrying around a jug of olive oil, but we forget that commodities like this were not as readily available in ancient times as they are now. When Jesus says that they brought extra oil, they did not bring an entire jug. If they brought the entire jug, how would their mothers manage the house? They only had a finite supply and that would need to be shared with the entire household, not just for their lamps but also for the cooking. These wise women had just enough oil to saturate the wick enough to make the journey. They could not share, because the most important thing at that moment was providing a light so that the bride would safely travel. And if they shared there would not be a light to walk by. The only option available was for the five foolish women to hurry to purchase or to procure oil in some other way.
We can pull a great deal out of this passage. Oil is often used to symbolize the Spirit of God. They used oil in the temple to keep the menorah lit and providing the ever-present light of God in the temple. It is the oil that is celebrated in the feast of dedication that we know as Hanukkah. The oil that should have only lasted a day lasted long enough for the priest to complete the temple dedication services and bless more oil. So, the oil has a great spiritual significance in this story, but the focus of the story. The bride’s maids are.
Scripture and church tradition often speak of the church as being the bride of Christ. The church is the bride that is at the center of this story. The church is who is being attended by these bride’s maids and it is the church that the bridegroom is seeking and having his representatives negotiate for. The church is the bride. Not the building, but all of us. We are all the church we are all the bride. But we are also the ones that serve and attend to the needs of the church. When there is someone in need within the church, we as the bride’s maids need to make sure that need is fulfilled in some way. Our ministry is to serve the church. But God so loved the world that he sent his son not to condemn the world, but to save it. The church might be the bride, but the entire world is involved in the negotiations. We as the church’s bride’s maids should not only be concerned with the needs of those in this building but also with those that have never stepped a foot in this building. We should be concerned and doing all that we can to help the marginalized, neglected, and hurting people throughout our society. It is a massive undertaking. There is so much need right here in this community that it is more than we can bear, and yet God has his sights on the entire world how can we make any dent in that?
This is where the oil comes into play. We cannot give what we do not have, and we need to use what we have in service. There were five wise women and five foolish women. The five wise women had oil for their lamp, and the five foolish ones let their lamps go dry. The oil is the spirit, but it is also everything that we have available to us that can help share and spread the light of Christ in the darkness of the world around us. All ten of these women were friends of the bride, but when the bride needed them the most only five had something to offer.
We need the Spirit of God to fill the wicks of our lives, so that we can shine bright in the world around us. We need the Spirit of God to encourage and direct our lives, but we also need the willingness to move and serve. We need the willingness of each person within our community to do everything they can with what they have, to shine light, and this begins by slowing down and listening. Listening to what those around us are saying, listening to what God is saying, taking time to let the Spirit’s oil soak into our lives so we can bear light instead of holding out an empty dry shell of a lamp.
As we enter this time of open worship, I want us to consider our words and our actions. Have the words we have spoken during this past week been saturated with the light giving oil of God’s spirit or have we been distracted by the things of this world. As we listen to God’s spirit this morning, are we willing to do the things necessary in our lives to escort the bride of Christ to her bridegroom?