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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I was rummaging through my desk at home this week, I found my old Eagle Scout award that I was presented some 40 years ago. The silver scroll the metal eagle hangs from is a bit tarnished now, but the red, white and blue ribbon is still intact. Curiously, the award doesn’t say Eagle Scout on it. Instead, it has only two words embossed on the silver scroll, ”Be Prepared,” the Scout Motto. Someone once asked Scouting’s founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell the inevitable follow-up question. “Prepared for what?” His answer was simple. “Why, for any old thing,” he replied. In 1907, Baden-Powell, a British officer and soldier wrote in the first Scout Handbook, “Scouting for Boys,” Be Prepared means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” But Baden-Powell wasn’t just thinking about first aid and wartime emergencies. It was his idea that “Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.”
St. Matthew could have benefited from Lord Baden Powell’s scouting handbook. It might help us to understand the today’s parable as one of preparedness. When the evangelist penned his gospel, the church that Jesus had established was struggling for survival. The Holy City of Jerusalem had been destroyed, and men and women were suffering great persecution. Other were abandoning the faith. Jesus had promised that he would return, but the years were waxing. The elders feared that many of their children and their children’s children would never experience the joy of Christ’s return. They remembered that Jesus said that he would come at an unexpected hour, so they should always be prepared. But for how long?
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids may seem like an odd story to read for a Stewardship Campaign. After all, what can be uplifting and inspirational about five bridesmaids refusing to share their oil with the five foolish bridesmaids? “Go find your own oil” doesn’t sound like a Christian response to a friend in need. Certainly, we are surprised by bridegroom’s response when the bridesmaids finally arrived at the door. We expect to hear a gentle response “Oh Jane and Mary, at last. It is so good to see you. We wondered if you got lost along the way.” Instead, we are startled to hear Jesus say, “Go away. Truly, I never knew you.” After all, if the bridegroom had come on time as expected, all would be welcomed in the wedding feast. Truthfully, I think the most foolish thing the bridesmaids could have done was to head off at midnight searching for oil when the trumpets had finally announced that the bridegroom was on his way. They should have just stayed there, a bit awkwardly perhaps, together with the wise bridesmaids who were carrying the reserves of oil. So much for giving ones’ treasure away.
St. Matthew himself did not say that five were good and five were bad. The maidens were all the same. They carried the same lamps; they wore the same dresses, and they all drifted off to sleep. But there was one difference. When the foolish bridesmaids took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise maidens took flasks of oil with their lamps. They were prepared for anything. They had a reserve of oil for that time or occasion when a crisis arose – especially if the bridegroom was delayed.
Now you may be wondering: so what does the parable have to do with stewardship? After all, the wise bridesmaids were those who held on to their oil and didn’t part with it. In the parable, they appear almost stingy. But I don’t think that’s the meaning of the reserve of oil. The reserve, you see, is not oil, money or income, nor is the reserve about a percentage of giving or even a tithe. No, my friends, the reserve of oil is about the depth of the relationship you have developed with God. Jesus’ parable encourages us, indeed, each one of us, to ask the fundamental question: In the midnight hours of life, what is your reserve? What is your relationship with God that gives you the power and patience to wait?
For let’s be honest. It is not easy to wait. Waiting for something which is long overdue is hard. Waiting for something you’re not sure will ever come to happen, is frustrating. Yes, waiting for an outcome which is not yet certain, creates anxiety. And we can all suddenly feel a bit like the foolish bridesmaids begging for something which the wise bridesmaids could not share. So what are you waiting for? Is it the call from the doctor with test results? Or perhaps a sign from a family member or friend with whom you’ve had an argument that all will be well? Is it waiting for the pain of a death to pass? Or the inequality of life experience?
The purpose of the church, you see, and the very purpose of our stewardship is to help provide men and women with the spiritual resources to endure the waiting and to be prepared for anything. As Christians, we build up a reserve for ourselves and others for the midnight hours when we allow God’s gifts to be used. The kingdom of God needs your time. God desires your worship and praise. He knows that your presence in worship is important for your spiritual growth. It is where you come into contact with his word. But your talents and treasures are also needed to touch the lives of other believers struggling in their journey. There are people in emotional, physical and personal need all around you. When you give to your church, you are participating in God’s mission in this world. It is said that the church today is only one generation away from extinction. Why is your financial giving so important? It supports the Sunday School, Confirmation and Adult Education programs right now here at Lake of the Isles. And through this congregation’s gifts, you may also be assured that you are participating in the global mission of this church. Your financial gifts are providing the resources for proclaiming the good news through word and deed around the world. Time and talent are important, to be sure, but so are your financial gifts. As Lord Baden-Powell, once said, Being Prepared is not simply about first aid and wartime emergencies. To Be Prepared means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” For me, stewardship is the same. It is a disciplined response of faith to the possibilities of this world.
My friends, a congregation such here at Lake of the Isles must be prepared as well. A generation ago congregations believed that the pastor would visit them in the hospital, even if they didn’t call the church. Congregations believed that miracles could happen- especially when they passed the offering plates. They hoped that somebody else would put something in. That somebody else would carry the extra oil for the midnight hours. You and I must be mindful that there are some things that cannot be obtained at the last hour. Your spiritual reserve for the midnight hour and your relationship with God begins now. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.