“Here Comes the Groom”

  1. Matthew 25:1-13
  2. In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

A little more than two years ago, we New Yorkers were trying to cope with the damages caused by Superstorm Sandy.

Since that disaster, all sorts of preparations have been made for the next storm that might come along. For example, networks have been formed of clergy and churches that can spread the word about possible dangers and also deliver aid to people after a storm hits. Meteorologists are trying to improve their methods of forecasting the weather, so that they will be better able to estimate the force of storms in advance.

Unfortunately, much of the time, the future remains unpredictable. Hurricanes arrive when we don’t expect them. We just have to be ready for whatever happens.

That’s the challenge that the bridesmaids face in the story that we heard in today’s Second Lesson. The young women are supposed to meet the groom when he returns from a journey—presumably they will then escort him to the bride’s home for the wedding.

The five wise bridesmaids take flasks of oil with them to refill their lamps in case they run out of fuel; the five foolish bridesmaids bring only their lamps.

Then the groom is delayed. The night wears on, and the bridesmaids fall asleep. At midnight, the groom finally arrives. The women wake up and discover that their lamps are running out of oil. Those who didn’t bring extra oil with them ask to borrow from those with flasks, but the wise bridesmaids don’t have enough to spare.

So the foolish bridesmaids go off to buy more oil. Unfortunately, when they return, it’s too late. The house is locked up and the master of the house doesn’t want to let the careless women back in.

The parable then is about being prepared—about spiritual preparation. Jesus says that this story shows what the “the kingdom of heaven” will be like.

That doesn’t mean that when we arrive in Heaven, we will need to worry about being prepared! At that point, we’ll be at our destination–and we can relax!

Rather, Jesus wants to teach his disciples that to get to Heaven in the first place requires the utmost vigilance. The careless may find the door closed to them.

But besides getting ready for our eternal destiny, spiritual preparations have value in this life. Religion is useful precisely because it gets us ready for unexpected, real-life crises. Routine daily prayer, for example, builds up a foundation of confidence in God. Prayer gives us a source of strength that we can draw on in times of stress.

But if preparation helps us to face crises, lack of preparation leaves us vulnerable. The bridesmaids are locked out of the wedding reception because they haven’t kept a supply of oil for their lamps. By the same token, when we neglect the basics of daily faith, we lack the spiritual power that we need when times get tough.

But even while we recognize the validity of the warnings in the story—don’t we, like the five lazy bridesmaids, still procrastinate? After all, putting off a religious obligation may seem to cost us nothing.

That’s not true of secular obligations. Miss your morning staff meeting in the office and you’ll get in trouble; but if you miss your morning prayer time, your world seems pretty much the same.

If you skip lunch, you’ll be hungry at dinnertime. But if you neglect to call a sick friend, your friend may not even notice that you didn’t show the Christian charity as you planned.

And, like the foolish bridesmaids, we suffer the consequences of poor spiritual discipline when we don’t expect it. For example, if you are spiritually drained, you may get more tired physically. You may find that you get edgy and lose your temper at the slightest provocation.

And the worst effects of being spiritually unprepared become apparent if a crisis occurs. When bad news comes out of the blue, and you need to think and focus and pull yourself together, you are dismayed to find that you have no inner resources to draw on. Like those caught off guard by Hurricane Sandy, you’re not ready when you need to be.

So how do we resist the temptation to procrastinate? Professor Daniel Levitin in his recent book, The Organizing Mind gives advice on how we can accomplish the tasks that we tend to forget.

For example, he suggests that when you start your day, you make a list of things you need to do that day. Then you should begin by tackling every job on the list that takes five minutes or less. Professor Levitin also recommends that if you often forget where the house keys are, you should try to put them in a place where they’re always visible and where they will be convenient for you to pick up—for example, you can hang your keys on a hook not far from where you store overcoats that you need to put on when you go out.

These suggestions can be applied to religion. If you have trouble praying every day, you could follow Levitin’s advice by setting devotions for yourself that take no more than five minutes—like reading a page in a spiritual pamphlet like Forward-Day-By-Day.

You might put a Bible near the place where you eat breakfast, so you would be more likely to read a chapter or two in the morning. You could review the lists of people you pray for at the same time that you commute to work.

These days, it’s also possible to download the Bible and Prayer Book onto a smartphone. If you have a couple of minutes between appointments, you can pull out your phone and get some instant inspiration.

There’s no doubt that spiritual discipline can sometimes be tedious. But to benefit from this discipline, it has to be ingrained in your soul. Just as you don’t want a surgeon who has to consult his medical textbook as he walks into the operating room, so you don’t want to be the patient going into that operating room without having prayed for healing.

Much of religion is just preparation for the few times we need it. We may rarely find ourselves in peril. But if we do, we know how to find spiritual strength. For us, God won’t be a stranger.

Amen.


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