Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids may seem like an odd story to read for the fall 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 the bridegroom’s response when the bridesmaids finally arrive at the door. We expect to hear a gentle reply, “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 into 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. There are somethings you just can’t obtain in the final hour.
The evangelist 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. The reserve, you see, is not oil, good deeds, 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 they had developed with God. Jesus’ parable encourages us, indeed, challenges each one of us, to ask the fundamental question: In the midnight hours of life when delays happen, what is your reserve? What is your relationship with God? There are somethings you just can’t obtain in the final hour.
For let’s be honest. Delays are never easy nor convenient. Waiting for something which is long overdue is hard. After nearly 2000 years, it’s safe to say that few Christians are truly waiting for Christ’s return. But waiting for something you’re not sure will ever happen today is truly frustrating, and all of a sudden we feel a bit like the foolish bridesmaids begging for something which the wise bridesmaids could not share. What are you waiting for? Is it the call from the doctor with test results? Or perhaps a sign from a friend with whom you’ve had an argument that all will be well? Or for a loved one’s life to turn around?
The purpose of the church is to help provide men and women with the spiritual resources to endure the delays in the midnight hours of life and to place their trust in God. As Christians, we build up a reserve for life’s delays when we allow God’s gifts to be used. It is a discipline that requires your time and talent now. 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 time and talents 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. That’s why your financial giving so important? Your gifts 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 the founder of the Boy Scout movement 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 has that same purpose. It is a disciplined, faithful response to the possibilities, challenges and delays of this world.
Lake of the Isles must be prepared to do its duty 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. Yes, they prayed fervently that somebody else would be brave and put something in. Perhaps, we are no different today. My friends, Jesus teaches us in his parable, that your spiritual reserve for the midnight hour and your relationship with God begins now. You and I must be mindful that there are some things that cannot be obtained at the last hour. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.