Sermon for Remembrance Sunday
What we do while we wait…
It easy to forget that the context of the gospel reading today is that of Christ discussing the end times and the second coming.
That’s why the focus of the reading is not so much on the wedding festivities themselves, or even the coming of the bridegroom, but what happens in the period before He comes.
The passage that follows in the gospel brings that home as Jesus goes on to speak about the master who entrusts three servants with talents before he goes off and on his return finds that two of the servants have made good use of the talents they have been given and one has not. What’s happened whilst he’s been away? Today’s passage is part of that same preparation story.
As a church we are in the Sunday’s before Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas and the second coming. So these Sunday’s are in effect about being prepared to be prepared! Not just about the end event but the process leading up to the event, how we live and what we believe.
The Scout and Guide motto is ‘Be Prepared’, today’s motto might be ‘Be prepared to be prepared’
But how do we get ourselves prepared? Part of Matthews reading seems to be about making the right provisions, having enough provision to keep us going while we wait. For the virgins, or bridegroom attendants it’s a question of oil.
Oil, or that which is the source of power for the light. And the source of that power for the light in people lives is Christ Himself. When Jesus speaks about the oil it would appear He’s not just speaking about some abstract commodity.
Some of the virgins seem to have oil, the source of power for the light and some, who are unprepared, apparently do not. And for the ones who do not, two things seem to be clear.
Firstly, it would seem that the ones who are not prepared don’t seem to be really serious about the wedding, don’t really seem to care about the wedding they are going to, the banquet to which they have been invited. It’s not as if the wedding is at the centre of their attention and they are doing all they can to make sure they are prepared. Quite the reverse.
Sometimes when we go shopping, or go on holiday we write lists for ourselves so we don’t forget anything. Pintrest is one of a host of applications that help us make lists and remember things both with words and images and continues to grow in poularity.
If something is important to us, we make the appropriate preparations, sometimes very detailed, double and treble checking the details.
No such preparation for our foolish virgins. It looks as if they just want to turn up for the party. Just go through the motions and go along for the ride. There is a superficiality about their involvement in the events that are happening without any depth of commitment, or even comprehension of the significance of the event.
Secondly, it appears that when they realise they are short of oil they can’t just cadge some off their friends. There are some things in life it would appear that are just not transferable. Can I have some of your happiness? Can I have some of your peace? We can point others to our sources of happiness and peace, but unless the other person experiences it for themselves we can’t share it with them.
Similarly, if we have a relationship with God, we can share the knowledge of that with others, talk about what led us into this relationship with God through Christ, point others to Christ but ultimately the other person needs to have that experience for themselves, they need to experience that relationship on a personal level too. We can’t do it for them.
And there are implications about not being prepared. When the virgins hear that the bridegroom is coming they try to scurry around and get some oil but the bridegroom comes back. So they turn up at the party only to be told that they are not recognised, they are not known.
Not only had they not recognised what was happening, so that they could be ready when the bridegroom came, when it did come, they in turn were not recognised,
For the hearers, a mainly Jewish audience it’s as it Jesus is saying we need to look back both over at our dealings with God, and over God’s dealings with us, so we will know and will be known.
At the very heart of being prepared it would seem is our personal relationship with God.
Micah and Paul in our other readings emphasise the importance of this, and the eternal and everlasting implications.
Micah loves in 8th century BC and although he was in the Southern Kingdom of Judah spoke out against the sins and depravity which were infecting the capital cities of Samaria in Israel (to the North) and Jerusalem in Judah (in the South).
The exploitation of the weak and helpless, the dishonesty in business dealings, the lip service that was being paid to religion by many (he would certainly have been able to identify a few ‘foolish virgins’ who were only going through the motions superficially with no real sincerity or integrity. Because of this there would be judgement.
But Micah, who almost certainly saw the fall of Samaria in 722 BC and the siege of Jerusalem 20 years later, also saw a time which would be different. A time of restoration. A time when all relationships with God would be complete, personal and restored.
But until that time, when the relationships we have with God and with each other are perfect we will live in a fallen world. One of the consequences of that we remember today. The wars and conflicts that happen because we live in an imperfect world, often exacerbated by our own actions, or lack of them.
As we look back and remember those who have fallen in conflict, and the many more that are impacted by the loss of loved ones it’s important we remember them and give thanks for them and for what they did and gave to make the word a better place.
At the Tower of London we see the image of the 888,246 poppies representing those who fell in the Great War, the First World War. But they, and those that fell after them in subsequent conflicts, are not just mere numbers, they are the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters to someone.
We remember then so we do not forget. And as we remember them, we should be spurred with an urgency which characterises the passage in Matthew and in much of Paul’s writing, to do all we can to work for a world where more of God’s creation can know Christ in order that they too can have that relationship with God through which all the world is brought to perfection and peace.
To do all that we can to ensure that not only we, but all those we know, are prepared for when the bridegroom comes, as He surely will.