Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ants-In-The-Pants Expectation

Trinity Lutheran Church, Crookston, MN
Pentecost 22/November 9, 2014
Matthew 25:1-13

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Think for a moment about what you spend most of your time thinking about.

What occupies your attention in most of your waking hours?

Three possibilities come to mind.

  • Perhaps you reflect primarily on things that are past.  Memories of bygone days can be foremost on your mind.
  • Or you can be caught in the present.  The relentless tug of the here-and-now can consume you.
  • Or you can spend your time pondering the path ahead.   Your imagination can be captured by the future and all that it might bring.

I would have to confess that the present moment, the stuff that’s right under my nose, consumes most—actually too much of-- my time, energy and attention.

And I’m guessing I’m not alone.   If the hectic pace of modern life, the busy-ness of it all, the never-ending “to do” lists, demand most of our energies—we may agree that “present tense” concerns gobble up most of our attention.

What we spend most of our time thinking about is what’s right before us, this present moment, this “now.”

Such ruminations naturally lead us into this puzzling parable of Jesus about the ten bridesmaids waiting to welcome the bridegroom, so that the wedding party can begin.

Unlike so many of Jesus’ other parables, the characters in this story have weighty adjectives hung around their necks.    There are ten bridesmaids, but they are not all carbon copies of one another.  The Storyteller tells us, right up front, that five of them are wise and five of them are foolish….which immediately makes us wonder how we’ll be able to tell the difference.

Because in the actual unfolding of this story, that difference is not readily apparent.   If we follow how the story plays out…

  • We see ten bridesmaids, all known and loved by the bride and the groom.  
  • We see ten young maidens all chosen to lead the bridegroom in festal procession, as he meets his blushing bride. 
  • We see ten bridesmaids all with lamps to light the bridegroom’s way. 
  • We see ten young women who all grow drowsy when the bridegroom doesn’t arrive on time—all ten of them getting heavy eyelids and dozing off.  
  • We see ten bridesmaids, all waking up with a start at the stroke of midnight when the bridegroom finally shows up.

In the unfolding of this story only at midnight does it become fully apparent which ones are wise and which ones are foolish…..because often who we are becomes clear only in light of what we do, especially in the clutch moments of life, when our true character is revealed.

Not until midnight is the curtain lifted, because only when the clock strikes twelve do we come to see that although these ten bridesmaids all seem so similar, five of them are living in one time zone and five are living in another time zone.

Five of the bridesmaids are deemed “foolish” because at midnight, it’s revealed that they were living as if the only time that mattered was the present moment.   They might have been the classiest dressers, the most “with it” bunch of bridesmaids, even though they couldn’t apparently see beyond the ends of their noses.   They were so enthralled by the “now,” that it never occurred to them that things might not unfold “on time.”

So the five foolish bridesmaids were caught completely off guard by the tardiness of the bridegroom!

The other five bridesmaids were the “wise” ones, even though they might have appeared frumpier than the other five—frumpier, because along with their lamps they were also lugging along those ungainly jugs of extra oil.   The reserve oil might have slowed them down, and in the group photo, they might have appeared less stylish….but they were the “wise” ones because they already inhabited the future.

And, being daughters of the future, the five wise bridesmaids were already living differently in the present.   The day before the wedding celebration (instead of getting manicures with the five foolish ones) they were out buying extra oil, because you know how men can be--some of them are never on time--like this bridegroom, whom they’d been invited to serve.

The five wise bridesmaids may well have been the uncool bridesmaids, because like good Boy Scouts, their motto was “always be prepared” for whatever the future throws at you.  They were “belts AND suspenders” kinds of folks, so aware that surprise might be just around the corner that they were forever anticipating, always getting ready for unforeseen possibilities.

In short, the five wise bridesmaids inhabited a bigger world than their five foolish counterparts.

And here’s where this parable intersects our lives in this time and place.

Because life in general, and modern life in particular, is always locking us into the narrow, suffocating space of this present moment.  

The hectic pace of life, all the demands that forever crowd our days, the frantic busy-ness of today, the multiple distractions we’ve fashioned for ourselves—they all conspire with one another to whittle our world down to just living for “now.”

And that’s a problem for us, especially as people of Christian faith, because God has created us and in Christ God has re-created us to inhabit a much, much wider world.

The grand sweeping story of God’s love affair with us--culminating in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--all that God has been, is now and intends to keep doing in our midst is fashioning us into people destined to live today as if God’s promised future were already dawning among us.

God intends for us to be sons and daughters of God’s preferred future in Jesus Christ….which means that God’s fondest dream for us is that we live every moment of every day, wide awake, keenly alert, sitting on the edge of our seats, anticipating eagerly our next encounter with God, the One who made us, who travels with us and is (at the same time) always out ahead of us!

In short, God in Christ, invites us to live in this world as “time travelers,” inhabitants of another world.   God calls us to live now in such a way that we have one foot in this present moment and the other foot already in the life of the world to come.

God intends for us to live in God’s own world, the world for which we were made!

And that world--God’s world--is always bigger than our puny “now.”   God’s world encompasses past, present and future.   God’s world is going somewhere, because God is active in it, moving, taking us and the whole creation along on a wild, amazing journey.
The God we know in the story of Israel and Israel’s favorite son Jesus is a God who is always going somewhere, always encountering us, always snatching us up into God’s own life.

This means that living with God is about living in a  world of surprises, for we never know ahead of time exactly where and when God might meet us next….which is to say:  we’re never sure just when we’ll wake up to God’s constant, abiding presence with us

  • So God comes to us whenever God’s Word switches on the light-bulb in our heads, captures our attention, shakes us out of our drowsiness.
  • God comes to us whenever Water and Word birth a new beginning, a death and resurrection in the midst of our ordinary time.
  • God comes to us whenever it dawns on us that food and drink are always holy gifts, especially the Meal we eat at tables like this one.
  • God comes to us in the darkness when we feel completely overwhelmed, utterly bereft...
  • God comes to us in the blazing light of a sunrise or a mountaintop moment...
  • God comes to us in our neighbor who helps us or our neighbor who needs something from us, offering us a chance to love as Jesus loves….
  • ….and because God always finishes what he starts, we expect God to come for us all, one last time to finally make us and all things new in Jesus Christ.

So we live, as the five wise bridesmaids lived, in ants-in-the-pants expectation for the next time God shows up.

The other day I heard about one way such edge-of-the-seat mindfulness might be lived out.   There’s this woman who always keeps, on the front seat of her car, some baggies—each of which contains a new pair of socks or a couple of granola bars or a $5 gift-card from the local grocery store.   She wants to be ready, you see, for the next time she meets someone along the highway who’s holding up a sign that reads:  “Homeless—anything will help.”

This woman is prepared, you see, for the next time God comes to her, wearing the mask of a neighbor in need.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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