BE READY- PERSEVERE
By Norm Story
Psalm 78:1-7 Matthew 25:1-13
The challenge of faithfully living prepared and ready…
When I was a Boy Scout, I remember how the younger scouts
struggled and suffered on long hiking-camping trips; because they always seemed to bring so much of the wrong stuff.
They’d come loaded down with unnecessary equipment & supplies,
and yet often, they would not have brought along the more useful & important things they actually needed.
With more experience and by listening to the advice of others,
you learned which items were better left back at home, and which ones were actually useful and needed, which supplies & equipment were worth the cost – the weight of carrying them on your back.
The result was that the more experienced scouts were generally
much better prepared and fared better in any situation.
They were better prepared for whatever might happen; and so they were more able to relax and enjoy their camping experience out in nature.
It was really a matter of learning how to prepare for the unexpected.
A most formative time in my spiritual journey was during, “The Jesus Revolution” of the early 70’s. That was a pretty heady time to be a young Christian. There were lots of Bible Clubs and Bible Studies
that sprung up in school and in the community. There were alternative worship services and events, quite different than mainline Presbyterianism.
In the excitement and religious fervor of the time, it was difficult to know what to do – what was true; whose theology & teaching was really God’s truth?
Which way of worship and which music did God most favor?
There was an amazing variety of answers to religious questions
Caught in the swirl of conflicting ideas and voices, each authoritatively claiming to be God’s truth, It was confusing to decide between religious ideas.
Back then, as a young Christian, it was almost impossible to discern the truth —so many voices making so many claims in absolute certainty each declaring that they alone rightly read the Bible and that their ways alone matched God ways, and were closest to the New Testament church.
So how could I possibly know who was right, way back then? Today its much easier, more obvious to discern who was right back then.
Those who truly followed God, are still in the faith; while that which was false, that not of God, has withered and waned, it is no more —-those folks have not weathered the years.
The passing of time has disproved their false claims. Some who I knew back then have grown in their faith, their walk with God has matured, broadened and deepened.
Others have strayed over time, some have abandoned their faith
Some of the loudest outspoken and most adamantly certain, did not hold to Christ, have not served God over the years.
When things got difficult or demanding, they left. So the passage of time and events have revealed, who was truly speaking God’s truth, and who was not.
That is the same principle of spiritual & prophetic discernment That God told Moses to teach the people of Israel.
You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the LORD has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.
The immediate appearances may well obfuscate and deceive, but in the long run, time will surely tell — the ones who persevere on the long journey, have truth, and the ones who do not, but falter & fail, are false.
Most anyone can make a good impression at first, for a season —-and on the surface, its easy enough to seem faithful, but its on the long journey that faith gets tested —-can it withstand hard times and harsh struggles? Can it emerge from questions and doubts still intact?… or is it only an easy fair weather faith? Is it prepared to withstand storm and tribulation?
The test of a genuine Christian faith is just that simple,and that is the point and that is the message of the parable Jesus tells.
The context is a Middle Eastern village wedding celebration, which was culturally somewhat different back then.
In our culture, the wedding is mostly the bride’s special day, but in that patriarchal society, the focus was on the groom.
The bride and her attendant bridesmaids would wait all together while the groom and his party negotiated the ’bride’s price’ with her family. A sign of the families love for their daughter, was to be difficult and draw out the negotiations, to show their reluctance at losing their daughter.
You’d have to have haggled & bargained in a Middle Eastern market to appreciate how much they enjoy the verbal exchange — the give and take is an important part of their culture;– its not really about the money or the cost of the item, but its establishing a relationship and respect; which is why even today it is a great insult when a tourist accepts the first price offered.
So having appropriately discussed at length the ’brides price. and once an agreed upon figure has been carefully negotiated, its now late into the night when the groom and his party would go and bring the bride and her attendants to the great wedding feast and celebration.
This was before the age of fireworks and neon lights, so the bridesmaids would provide lamps and torches; their job was to illuminate the way, their light creating a bright festive atmosphere.
Part of the fun and delight was to catch them napping, not ready; to show up unexpectedly, surprise and catch them off guard.
So Jesus frames his parable within that particular cultural context.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.
Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
To all outward appearances, there is no perceptible difference, between the wise and the foolish bridesmaids —they are all dressed in the same long gowns, their hair done up, each looking their best, with their lamps ready to celebrate.
If you just look around at them, you can’t tell which ones are the foolish, or which ones are the wise. Only by the passing of time, only the long delays will tell, who is prepared and ready for the unexpected, and who not.
The groom and his party are delayed, they show up very late, and the catch the girls napping — they are surprised, and then there is a mad scramble for the procession to begin.
Now the bridesmaids have just one responsibility, to provide a bright light ready for when the groom arrives.
The five wise bridesmaids fill-up their lamps with spare oil, but the five foolish have not planned ahead and prepared.
They have no oil for their now depleted empty lamps, and with no oil, there is no light, so they cannot fulfill their one critical responsibility, so they aren’t ready to take part in the procession.
As soon as the groom and his party arrive the celebration begins.
Then there is no more time for preparations & getting ready.
The foolish are not prepared or ready to do what is expected of them, they cannot provide light to honor the procession; which within that peasant village cultural context, would be a major insult against the bride & groom.
It would be unheard of doing such a rude thing, like inviting someone to dine at a restaurant, and then not having any money to pay for the meal.
Well, it is futile at that late hour to go out looking for oil.
It is futile to try and prepare once its already too late, so they are not welcome or permitted to share the joy of the wedding celebration.
The wedding procession and celebration will go on without them
The parable is really that simple and straight forward, the challenge is understanding how it applies to our lives.
The first application has to do with the second coming of Christ; that despite the delay of over 20 centuries, his call is still to be ready, to be found alert & waiting.
And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Whether its our own death or the second coming of Jesus, at some point the Bridegroom will come for us, and our call is to be found ready and waiting.
Being ready is not a life spent figuring out when and how, its not a passive life spent watching the skies, and its not being sequestered away from the world – or standing on mountaintop singing hymns, checking our watches.
A lot of Bible interpreters seem to focus on the judgment aspect, be ready or else —with the threat of accountability – answering for our sins, they teach fear and terror at the Lord’s coming.
Jesus told this parable just days before his arrest, it was meant to reassure his frightened disciples, to give them courage and hope in facing the future.
The setting is the joy of a wedding celebration – not a funeral.
For Christians, the coming of Jesus is good news, not bad.
If we believe, if we know and walk with Jesus now, then it describes the joyful coming of a close friend.
It’s the happy excitement of a festive celebration, which is hardly reason or cause for fear & dread.
To those who already know the Bridegroom, this marks the fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desire and delight.
Yet at the same time, clearly there is a challenge to this text; will we have oil for our lamps when the Bridegroom comes for us?
The oil for our lamps is our relationship with God through Jesus; it is having submitted to the Lordship of Christ, it is accepting His love and grace to transform our lives.
BUT far more than just responding to an alter call one time, it is living out an on-going and growing walk with God it is living out his teachings – reflecting his light, and dwelling purposefully in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit
It is taking God and God’s Word seriously, living a life that honors God and imitates Christ, seeking to grow deeper & more faithful in our walk
Among international students studying in our universities, if a fellow foreign student becomes lax or grows complacent, if they stop making an all out effort and really trying, if they forget the sacrifice necessary to be there, they will be accused of, ’going American’.
International students have noticed that some American students coming from our culture of free entitlements & easy opportunity seem to always demand more and more, better and faster.
They expect life to be easy without any great effort. They show little gratitude for all they have. and are largely unwilling to give or contribute back.
It’s a harsh evaluation of our culture that may reveal some difficult truth.
And sometimes Christians, ’go American’, in the Church; becoming lax and worldly, ungrateful and spiritually lazy, undisciplined and complacent in our faith.
Forgetting the high cost of God’s love poured out at Calvary, we figure God owes us God ought to be grateful just because we show up.
In unrestrained arrogance, inflated ego and pride, we expect God to make our lives easy and pleasant, for God to quickly provide exactly what we want, for God to always respond to our every little whim; even though we refuse to submit to his rule and authority, though we continue to insist on having it our own way.
The mainline American church is plagued by such passive Christians who will commit to only enough religion and faith, as to inoculate ourselves … from God’s Spirit & Truth actually directing our lives.
We figure God owes us, just for showing up at all. We want to control & limit God’s impact & rule in our lives We want a type of religion that doesn’t cost us very much.
The parable is a stark reminder to those who’ve grown lax, to church insiders and members gone lazy and inert, who choose to ignore and refuse God’s ongoing call, who are content to go no further than yesterdays faith.
The parable is meant to grab our attention and shake awake those who don’t take God’s truth seriously. There is a lot more to the Christian life than just showing up. There’s a lot more than just smiles and warm fuzzy feelings. It requires more than just being a member and then watching others support & serve the church.
It means to live out our lives to their richest & fullest, to fully commit our ways to serving our Lord. It means giving God more than just the leavings of our lives, but making God’s presence in our lives our priority.
It means first seeking and obeying the will of God, and not just showing up occasionally after we’re through doing whatever else we want to do.
The call is to be ready and prepared with oil for our lamps, and that oil is our deepening relationship growing in Christ. The oil is our lives lived usefully and faithfully, as we have been called and equipped for God’s service.
Our call is to wait and be ready, prepared no matter what the future holds for us. It means to grow deeper, more faithful with the Lord. Its easy enough to look good on surface – have a godly appearance, but has God’s truth permeated deep into our hearts and souls?
Its easy enough to be appear godly and holy for a short season, but will our faith last over time and adversity? The truth will be revealed by how we run life’s long race hour by hour, day by day, all the way to the end.
To quote Starbucks coffee:
“Life is short —- stay awake”
To quote Jesus Christ: Luke 12:35-38
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”
If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.