Sunday, November 6, 2011
Joshua 24:1-15 & 13-15
Amos 5:18-24
Matthew 25:1-13 “How Ready Are You to Choose…what to do and who to be?”
Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Cleveland, Ohio
Rev. Richard Elwell, preacher
Jake Pruitt, audiographer
To hear this sermon on podcast, click HERE:  111106SermonPodcastElwell

To see this sermon on videocast, go to:


I have one thing to say to you…Wake up! It was in my first church on a Pentecost Sunday I was preaching my heart out. In the meantime in the back of the church were Chuck and Haws, one the town barber, who claimed to be the only republican in town and the other a proprietor of a variety store which would make any pastor’s desk look as neat as a pin. They had both drifted off to a nice nap. However, my rousing ending abruptly ended their sleep and they both jolted awake their heads colliding with each other. Yes, it can be dangerous to sleep when Elwell is preachin! Then there was Paul preaching once when a young man fell asleep and proceeded to fall out the window from the upper room. Paul had to go outside and revive the embarrassed fellow. I’ll just call 911. So for your own good stay awake!


In Jesus’ day it was customary for the bridal party, be they virgin or otherwise, to gather and wait till they were summoned by the bridegroom, no less, to come to a wedding. This was before the day of nicely engraved invitations with the exact time, date, and place on them. It was not just to the wedding they were to be invited but for a whole week of celebration. In those days, instead of a honeymoon, the newlyweds would stay home and open it to their friends for a week of partying! The exact time was left uncertain. It seems all ten of them fell asleep. Even in more recent times it was considered great fun to try and catch the wedding party asleep. In this story it would appear that sleep during the service was not the sin of the day. The problem came, rather, when they were all suddenly awakened by the call of the groom.


Five of the bridesmaids were prepared well because they thought ahead and made sure they had an ample supply of oil. However there were the other five who we have not called sinful, but foolish. Indeed I wonder if many problems we create for ourselves are not due to some gross sins but the times we were foolish. One hymn does talk about our foolish ways being forgiven. And yet as a kind of footnote, let me say it is not always bad to be foolish. Somewhere Paul talks about the foolishness of the Gospel. Some thought that the church in Ashtabula was being foolish by not selling the building but simply giving it away, all be it to an agency that does work and advocacy on behalf of the poor. And then there was our own Alexander Campbell who was called a fool bya woman he was dating. She thought him to be a fool for his commitment to his faith and ministry


But now back to our foolish ones this morning; they were unprepared for any surprises. They thought they would have more than enough time to deal with any eventuality. This was the time before all night convenience stores. So they first made a hit on their fellow bridesmaids. They thought their friends would automatically cover their posteriors. It may seem a bit unkind but they refused to give. So much for the neighbor Jesus talked about, waking someone at mid night for some fish to feed unexpected company. So, the foolish ones had to run around probably waking up a merchant. When they apparently succeeded they at last arrived to the feast only to find they were too late and would not be welcomed. So much for being open and affirming to just anyone.


Apparently the late and those who suffered from being foolish were not allowed. My where does that leave any of us? We all may be a tad bit uncomfortable with the feast being closed off to anyone. But let’s hold on a minute. Could it be Matthew is stressing the importance for each of us to take responsibility for our own spiritual life? Maybe what is being missed out by being ill prepared is the opportunity at any minute to be available and ready to experience the reign of God’s grace and mercy, justice, and peace as it breaks forth here and there.


What then is the nature of the oil we need in our spiritual life in order to be prepared? Thomas Long suggests this: Thus the foolish bridesmaids are those Christians who are all fired up about Jesus but who lack the commitment to sustain the routine, and perhaps boring, effort of doing good works through the long “night” of waiting for the kingdom. How often are we distracted by others things we value, other commitments that demand our time and effort and focus, that we neglect being ready at any moment to go about doing good. Someone once said that it was Jesus who went around doing good while others just went around. Mmm…what is the purpose of our comings and going or just our waiting for that matter.


Henri Nouwen, Trappist monk and one who has influenced the spirituality of many, once shared that he would be so engrossed in what he was doing, say preparing a lecture, that he would get frustrated and irritated when someone would dare interrupt him. He then gained the insight that those interruptions were God’s way of calling him from what he thought was important to helping someone who God thought was maybe more important. The interruption led him to experience the feast of God’s grace by being a channel for it that he would otherwise have missed.


Maybe more important is to reflect in our lives what values are we prepared to put before anything else. What are the things which we cherish that really shape the direction of our life, that as a result may make us unprepared to experience the feast of God’s grace? The best experience being when we reach out and touch another’s life with the grace of God. I wonder besides oil what are the lamps we use? In other words what are the gods we are the gods that really guide and even determine our journey and the kind of party we want to attend?  It was to Joshua that fell the responsibility to lead the Hebrew people into the land of God’s promise. But before he could do that he challenged them to consider which god’s they would choose and be prepared to follow? Would they hang on to the gods worshipped in the land of their slavery or would they become distracted by the gods in the land they were about to enter. We so much are lured by the gods of glitter, advancement, prestige that meet just our own needs. But Jesus who foolishly died on the cross for the sake of God’s reign and realm would call us to another kind of wisdom, a wisdom that is prepared to do above all else that which is good for the neighbor, be that neighbor family, friend, neighbor, stranger, the one different from us, and even the enemy.


We talk so much these days about the transformation of the church and at the center of that is often discussions and arguments about styles of worship, about contemporary versus traditional. But our prophet this morning reminds that God will hate any of our styles of worship if they do not come from a life where justice comes in a huge flood and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Worship which comes from the wisdom of doing justice, loving to share mercy, and walking in humble ways that lead to reconciliation and peace is the kind of worship that brings joy to God and shows we are a people prepared at a moment’s notice to be wise enough to join in the sharing of God’s grace filled feast. Go ahead get your rest, take a nap, but then when awakened be prepared to get up and join the feast and hear the words, well done good and faithful servants, enter into the joy of God.