The Rev. Jay Lawlor
“Awaken to God” – 23rd Sunday After Pentecost Year A Proper 27
November 12, 2017
St. John’s Episcopal Church – Speedway, IN
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 |Matthew 25:1-13
Gospel parables can be tricky. There can be a tendency to read them as doctrine or allegories in which we assign certain roles. Who are the wise bridesmaids? And who are the fools? But can that cause us to get bogged down? Is it possible we could miss the point Jesus is trying to make?
The parables are instructive to us as Christians because Jesus is offering us teachings on how to live as disciples. Our brains are wired for stories/narrative and visuals. So Jesus told stories. He presented narratives, and created visuals for people to picture in their minds.
In today’s parable from Matthew, Jesus paints a picture of ten bridesmaids with their lamps. Five who brought extra oil with them to keep the lamps burning, five who did not. Even if we had never read this passage before, we can see where this is going. At some point, the lamp oil is going to become a factor. We just know it. And it does.
The five bridesmaids who brought extra oil are ready to go with the bridegroom when he arrives. They were prepared. They were ready when awakened. And what does Jesus say to the five bridesmaids who did not have enough oil – who had to go a buy more? “Keep awake!” Keep awake.
This parable is less about who were wise and who were foolish, and more about how we are all to live as disciples of Jesus. It isn’t particularly instructive to tease out who might be wise and who might be foolish. For such effort distracts us from Jesus’ concluding message: Keep awake. Jesus wants us all to awaken to God.
Throughout scripture God calls God’s people into relationship with God and others to live according to God’s principles; to work for God’s justice, peace, and righteousness. The common thread throughout all of Jesus’ teachings is that he has come to offer life to all according to God’s vision for the world. As followers of Jesus we are to awaken to God’s presence in our lives. As followers of Jesus we are to awaken to God’s mission for us.
The entirety of Matthew’s Gospel is about keeping awake. It is about our awakening to God’s purpose and meaning for our lives as disciples of Jesus. We can summarize this in seven statements:
- God’s reign is for everyone.
- We are to welcome and serve marginal people.
- Do things to please God and not human beings as reward comes from God.
- Apostles share Jesus’ ministry.
- Discipleship is important to continue the work of Jesus on earth.
- In becoming a disciple of Jesus, one becomes a child of God, will share in God’s reign, and engages in God’s mission.
- Loving as God loves is the essence of Christian existence.
When Jesus speaks of the bridesmaids he is inviting us to recognize that ministry is about keeping our lamps full. They are to be full of God’s presence. And we are to awaken to recognize God’s presence in our lives, and to carry our brightly lit lamps into the world.
We are called to right relationship with God and others. This was Jesus’ message to his first disciples, it was the message to Matthew’s Jewish-Christian community, and the message Paul wished to convey to the Gentile Christian community in his letter to the Thessalonians.
Jane Patterson, Associate Professor of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, had this to say in her commentary about our reading from 1 Thessalonians:
But the full appearance, or full presence of Christ that the earliest Gentile Christians were awaiting was grounded in their lively experiences of the power of Christ and the Spirit to bring them into right relationship with the one true God and their neighbor in righteousness and justice, in holiness and love. In other words, their partnership with Christ in their day-to-day moral decision-making was the first edge of the presence making its way into human life. They could see it, touch it, believe it, because it wasn’t solely in an imagined future; it could be seen in the transformation of themselves and their communities. (Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, workingpreacher.org)
My friends, we are called to live awakened to God so we may be grounded in God, partners with Jesus, and inspired by God’s Spirit to lead us into right relationship with God and our neighbor. When we live awakened to God we too can see, touch, and believe. We can see, touch, and believe because it is realized in our transformation and the transformation of our communities. So let us keep awake! Let us be awakened to God. Amen.