(watch here: https://youtu.be/CPTFesEhuLI)
(Jesus said,] 1‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Our reading reminds me of the one about a native American who was curious one day. “How bad will this winter be?” he asked. “It is good to be prepared. Get some firewood ready,” replied the chief. The chief then called his friend in the national weather service to ask him. “How bad will this winter be?” The meteorologist said, “this will be a pretty cold winter.” The chief then told his people what the meteorologist said. A few weeks later the chief called to ask again, just to be sure. “Well,” said the meteorologist, “it’s gonna be worse than we thought this year.” Again the chief relayed this to his people and told them to put out more firewood. Right before the winter came, the chief called the meteorologist once more to ask, “how bad will this winter be?” The meteorologist said, “it’s gonna be worse than we thought!” The chief thanked the meteorologist and asked him, “how do you get such accurate information?” “Well, we have teams of scientists that study patterns to predict what the weather will be like. But we found that the most reliable method is to just look at how much firewood the native Americans put out.”
Oh, what a futile circle of men trying to determine the future! Some days one can’t help but wonder if the weather people aren’t caught up a similar circle of futility. It rains when it’s forecasted to snow. It’s sunny when it’s forecasted to rain. It’s cold when it’s forecasted to be warm and vice versa. Perhaps the weather people are looking at the wrong indicators after all. But I’ll say, of all the states and countries I’ve lived in, Nebraska is probably the most accurate in its weather forecasting. You all seem to know your land and weather systems pretty good. I’ve lived in some places where the forecasting was lucky to be accurate 50% of the time so good job, Nebraskans! You all seem to read the right indicators when it comes to the weather.
Of course, predicting the weather is a little easier than predicting when our Lord will return. But heaven knows that doesn’t stop people from trying to forecast his return! I’m curious to know just how many people over the last 2,000 years have claimed to know the exact time and place and in what form our Lord will come back. I imagine more than I would expect. And they get people all worked up, their hopes up, only to be proven wrong or misguided. People are disappointed and sadly return to their patient waiting. Unfortunately many don’t return to their waiting…they’ve had enough. They feel their waiting is without purpose if it doesn’t have any sure certainty. But they forget an important aspect of waiting: hope. We can only have hope in our waiting and hope is a great motivator in life, right up there with love. Hope enables us to do some pretty amazing things in life. And we can only hope when we are waiting so don’t be so quick to give up on waiting. Besides, Jesus said he’d return and there is nothing more certain than the words that came out of his mouth. Indeed, there is absolute certainty in Jesus’ words, of this we can be assured.
Herein lies one of the great mysteries of our faith. We are told to wait patiently for Jesus’ imminent return while clinging to the belief that he is alive and already walks among us. So which is it? Is he coming to us or is he already here? To which I can give only one response: yes. Yes, he is coming and yes, he is already here. We see Jesus every time someone does something of love and kindness for someone or something else. We see Jesus every time someone denies themselves something. We see Jesus every time someone behaves selflessly…joyfully. WE are the body of Christ now! Jesus is seen through US! We don’t need to wonder in what form he’ll arrive or when he’ll arrive…he’s here this morning in us. At the same time, he is yet to come in all the future generations of people. As long as there are people, there Christ will be. And when there are no more people, at least in human form? Well, then Christ will take on a new form to mimic whatever form we take on. Christ will forever bridge the gap between our mortal selves and God’s immortality. Christ will always be with us! What a blessing!
So if this is true about Christ, why do we need to stay alert and keep our lamps ready as the parable in today’s reading suggests? We need to keep ourselves strong and fit and alert so that Jesus can share his love and hope with a world that desperately needs both. We who have come to know the love of Jesus are forever intertwined with it and changed by it. We receive it only to share it. God is working for us but more importantly in and through us. We are not the end receivers of his love. No, God is using us for his work!
The apostle Paul understood this all too well. He understood he was a mere conduit for God’s work in this world. He continuously used Jesus’ words to compel his congregations. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” (16:13) In his letter to the Thessalonians, he advises, “so then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” (5:6) We know the love of Jesus! What a gift from God to know just how deeply He loves us! It takes courage and strength to share that love though. The world needs it but doesn’t necessarily want it. And not just in the future. The world needs God’s love NOW! We need to claim this idea that Jesus is alive and well in us right now and we need share his love NOW! As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (13:11-14) The time is now. Jesus is within us. Let us shine his light.
We hear yet another key to the kingdom of heaven: preparedness. Being prepared enables Jesus to work through us in revealing that kingdom. Let us continue through Lent alert and aware. Jesus needs us to be his hands and feet. WE are the body of Christ and will be as long as we hope for the future. Christ will come to us in that hope. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.