By Rev. Kris Eggert | November 12, 2023
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Read Matthew 25:1-13
I could have told Jesus that a wedding with 10 bridesmaids would have its share of problems! Any pastor could. But then, a groom showing up late doesn’t exactly bode well either. And, I might add, midnight seems late for starting a wedding!
Oh, the stories I could tell about weddings! After all the weddings I’ve officiated, it never ceases to amaze me for what can and does happen on the big day. Weddings are all about planning – it’s not at all unusual for them to be a year or more in the making. And yet, people’s behavior on the actual day often surprised me and not in a particularly good way. It seems weddings weren’t easy for Jesus either – the first one in Cana began with an argument with his own mother!
In the telling of this story with 10 bridesmaids and a late arriving bridegroom, there’s even more intrigue. Five of the bridesmaids arrived unprepared. And the other five who were prepared didn’t come also equipped with any compassion for those who were not. What do you mean you won’t share with someone who needs something in an emergency?
There’s plenty of blame to go around. It’s important to note that the five who were unprepared didn’t stop the wedding from happening. No, they suffered their own consequences and found themselves on the outside of a locked door, stripped of an invitation to join the party. Sounds harsh since we’ve all been guilty of a little poor planning. Where’s the forgiveness? Where’s the grace? Where’s the good will?
This story brings to mind two real time experiences from weddings I’ve officiated. The first had to do with the consumption of too much alcohol. Sadly, many weddings do. But the best man had partied too much the night before and was every shade of green the day of the wedding.
It was an outdoor wedding, in the middle of July, just after a quick summer storm. So, you can imagine the stifling heat and humidity in the air, which didn’t help his queasiness and dehydration, etc. He was standing next to the groom to my left, when suddenly he was gone. Gone – just as the music began playing for the bridesmaids to start walking down the aisle. The ceremony began, and as the vows were spoken, and as his big moment was approaching when I would say, ‘and what symbols of love do you bring?’ and he was to produce the two rings, he was still nowhere to be found.
Fortunately, an usher and probably a buddy of his realized he’d been gone too long and went looking for him. He showed up in the nick of time, still green and even more disheveled. The ceremony went on as planned, and the rings were produced, but I imagine he incurred the wrath of many in the wedding party. I can only imagine the mother of the bride and what she might have had to say about his behavior.
He wasn’t shot out of the party, but because of his irresponsible behavior, he missed out on adding to the joy, rather than the stress, of the day.
The other wedding in my memory bank involved a bride who had a difficult relationship with her mother. It had to do with her parents’ divorce and her father’s remarriage. This had been going on for years, and according to the bride’s mother, her daughter was wrong in trying to have a relationship with them both. Her mother threatened to not come to the wedding. That was a horrible threat, even if she did not intend to carry it out. But when I realized that she was deadly serious about carrying out the threat, though I didn’t know her, I reached out to her.
Don’t do this to your daughter on this her very special day. Don’t let your own feelings interfere with her need for her mother.
Well, she showed up. At the last minute and after her daughter had walked down the aisle. Disguised in big sunglasses, a scarf tied on her head, and seated on the groom’s side of the church. Conspicuous by her veiled attempt to be inconspicuous. But she didn’t stop the wedding. And she was not shut out of the party. But, like the best man, she was shut out of the joy of being there to celebrate with her daughter.
Both the best man and the bride’s mother arrived unprepared to be able to welcome the bridal couples with joy and to do their part in making it all happen.
But this story isn’t just about weddings. It’s about this: there are these once in a lifetime opportunities that will never come our way again, and we’re expected to respond. We may know well in advance of such an occasion or not. We need to be prepared to respond either way. Because not responding has its consequences. Consequences that can be dramatic, dire, and deadly. (You won’t be able to go back and get the forgotten life jackets once the boat starts sinking!).
But even when things are not so dire, your lack of response will affect you. Those you love. And even those you do not know. You will have missed out on something that could have been really, really good.
I don’t like this parable much, and I find it difficult to preach. It’s because I don’t like closed doors – I want there to always be another chance. I don’t like that the five bridesmaids who are prepared won’t share with those who are not. That selfish behavior goes against everything we believe about Christian community. But I’ve come to understand that what couldn’t be shared is what we must come up with ourselves. Preparedness is an individual responsibility.
The hung-over best man? I suppose anyone could have stepped in to hand me the rings. But no one else could have given him the self-discipline he was lacking. And the angry mother of the bride? No one else could share with her their emotional health. Her unresolved anger kept her locked out of the joy of life, and she was the keeper of the only key.
Each of us has our own personal responsibility to be prepared for whatever life throws our way.
This is a strong message about our own redemption. Christ is coming again – he is the bridegroom. He’s late and no one knows for sure when he will arrive. The gospel writer of Matthew was already hearing rumbling about when this was going to happen. People were restless; they thought Jesus was coming back in their lifetime, and now they’re a generation or so into this period of waiting. And so, the question of what do we when Jesus returns was evolving into the question of what do we do while we wait?
And we come into the story here at nearly the end of 2023, with few of us expecting Jesus to return in our own lifetimes, the question is still relevant. What do we do while we wait? How do we keep from being on the wrong side of a locked door? How do we capture the joy of a life shared in Christ today, how do we share in the blessings of such a life right now?
We’re very close to that day when we’re supposed to be thankful for all our blessings. Our blessings include not just the easy times, but the many times that we’ve come through hardship and struggle. Our blessings include all the times that we showed up and were present when we were needed, even if we didn’t know what we were supposed to do exactly. We showed up prepared to figure it out.
Carpe diem. Seize the moment. We mustn’t wait until midnight if we want to experience the true joys of sharing in a life of commitment to following Jesus and sharing in God’s unconditional love for us.
Do you remember the film, Dead Poets Society? When Robin Williams playing English teacher, John Keating, said to his class of young men. Pointing to a black and white photo hanging on the wall-- a photo of students like them – but a photo so old that few of those pictured would still be alive – this class of young men just like them, he said, they’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Same hormones. Invincible, just like you feel. They believed they were destined for great things – just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? He continued, because they are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen really close, you can hear them whispering their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Take a listen. They’re saying, carpe diem. Seize the day, Make your lives extraordinary.
Well, none of us here this morning is that young and just starting out in adult life, but the message is still for us to hear. The day of reckoning and redemption has not arrived, and we still have time to prepare for what is to come and for how God has called us to serve right here and now.
Prepare by recognizing God’s blessings and God’s presence amongst us. God is here, so set aside what keeps you from living such a life, fill up your personal reserves, so you can respond to a once in a lifetime opportunity. And though there may be millions of other people in the world who are at least as or more qualified or special or able than you believe yourself to be, no one else can respond for you.
This moment may not come again. Be blessed by responding to it.