Proper 27a 2014: Waiting and serving

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Psalm 78:1-7 1 Thess 4:13-18 Matthew 25:1-13
If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve …
but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
The story goes that my brother came home from kindergarten and when asked about his day, said something to the effect, with all the disgust a 5-year-old can muster, of: “All we got to do was wait in line.” My empathetic mother, attune both to 5-year-olds and a larger world, replied: “You’d better get used to it, Philip. You’re going to spend a lot of time in your life waiting in line.”

We find ourselves right in the middle of a story about bridesmaids and oil lamps and waiting … for the bridegroom. We, too, do not like to wait, whether it is in the line for a bathroom or the line for a buffet or the line that is waiting to see a person about a diagnosis that will change our life forever. We do not wait well; most of us probably wait with little that resembles patience or grace. We honk the horn or wave our hands when the person in front of us at the light does not move forward at least by the time the light turns green. Or the person has the audacity not to rush through the yellow light so that we can slide through when it is … burnt orange, almost red.

The world around us tells us that we do not have to wait: buy!” “buy now!” In fact, don’t wait, because this fabulous something will not be available tomorrow. “Call now!” Many of us don’t watch that much television, we don’t spend much money, we are not influenced by that sort of thing. Right?

I’d rather fight than switch. Who’s slogan is that?
Remember the Marlboro man?
What builds strong bodies twelve ways?
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. Yep – shout it out. Alka seltzer.
Just do it.
The best part of waking up is ____ in your cup.
Clydesdale horses. Louie the lizard and a swamp full of frogs:

We have beliefs from within culture, not removed from it. We probably know more than we care to admit about the branding of things like cigarettes, coffee, beer. And although the world tells us that we do not have to wait, we spend a good bit of our lives doing exactly that.

Did your children grow up (or are they growing up) hearing about a Lord who might appear on our door at any moment? No. We are well removed from the culture of the imminent return of our Lord. From within a culture of immediacy, we are very much removed from the disappointment that Jesus has not returned. I suspect that we hold out the threat of Santa Claus not coming to us more than we do that our Christ will come. How about you? Do you, deep down inside, have the expectation that Jesus Christ will return to the world during your lifetime?

We are just as removed from the bridesmaid/virgin imagery, of lighting oil lamps and carrying them into the night. When we need light we flip a switch or turn on our phone and really, we are rarely in darkness. Try this: turn off the lights in your home one night and notice how many things glow with light in a “dark” house. Light spills into the darkness from coffeemakers and microwaves, digital clocks and computers. We have a much harder time escaping light than providing it for ourselves.

So what about this difficult parable? The bridesmaids all had light; they all had oil. They were prepared to meet the bridegroom, who is Jesus. Let’s clarify that: the bridegroom is Jesus. And without pushing the matter too hard, we are the bridesmaids, the ones who wait. We all have light and we all go into the dark night to meet Jesus. The ones who get shut out of heaven are the ones who are not prepared to wait. This does not bode well for the kindergarten version of my brother (or for many of us).

There is something else that the bridesmaids have in common. How did the women wait? What did they do while they were waiting for the bridegroom? They all slept. They spent their waiting time sleeping. We might be reminded of the garden of Gethsemane, in which Jesus asks his friends, his closest followers why they could not stay awake and watch with him. Jesus said to Peter “could you not stay awake with me one hour?”
Don’t leave home without it.
Where’s the beef?
Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
Like a good neighbor … is there.
When it absolutely, positively needs to be there overnight.
Mmm, mmm, good!

Who did you say that you are going to serve? Just checking. That’s a bit of an indictment – for me, too – from the prophet Joshua. Joshua asks the people which god they are going to serve … the “olden days” little “g” gods (of fertility and prosperity) or the Lord. The Lord who brought us out of Egypt, the God of Abraham and Moses; God. We certainly have a lot of choices. We are certain: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua says: “Don’t make pious little promises you don’t intend to keep, because they’ll come back and bite you.” (textweek.com)

So we choose. We choose what we will worship and how we will spend our lives. While we are serving the Lord we are also waiting for his return. How will we wait?

Which leads us to another question? Why did the bridesmaids – all of them waiting – have to get more oil? Yes, those who were prepared exhibit an incredible selfishness, a hoarding of the source of light. And those who left? Perhaps they were afraid of the dark.

Truth says that no one can hoard the Light. The light is Jesus, Jesus the Christ, and he comes to all of us. He will not slam the door shut because he will have already found us wherever we are: waiting in light. Waiting in darkness. God is not afraid of the darkness. Remember, the light overcomes darkness. It doesn’t come from a store. It has no catchy slogan.

We are called to hold onto our faith deep into the night, serving and hoping and praying for the victory of God. (Buechner?)

Choose Jesus. Choose life. Choose hope, for it is with us in the darkness, in the waiting, in the sure and certain knowledge that our Lord will come again. How will we be found in our waiting?

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