November 8, 2020      2020 Foresight: Preparing For Joy, Pastor David Tatgenhorst 

Matthew 25:1-13 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But 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.’ 10 And 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. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Let’s have a moment of silence to take in the words from scripture and the word from this act of praise, as prepare ourselves to think deeper about what God is saying to us today.

November 11, 2020 2020 Foresight: Preparing for Joy St. Luke UMC

When I became the leader of my Boy Scout troop in high school, the scoutmaster seemed to have this strange idea that I should prepare for our meetings each week. I would go to the meeting and he would look at me and say, “What are we going to do tonight? Are you prepared?” And I would just look at him - “Uh, What was I supposed to do?” I hardly understood what he meant. So every meeting, we would kind of wing it. 

Over time, we learn to prepare for things. But I still have dreams now and then that I get up in the pulpit and all of sudden realize that I am naked and have no idea what I’m going to say. That’s serious preparation anxiety! My scoutmaster would be proud that I finally figured out to at least be concerned about preparation.

We prepare for a lot of things. We’re always preparing something, it seems. Planning our work, planning our calendars, planning for a zoom call, planning for family events, planning to vote, preparing for the next stage of our lives. The question I hear from our scripture this morning is, “When do we take time to prepare for joy?”
You see, the bridesmaids in this passage - it actually says ‘virgins’ in the Hebrew, but we choose to call them bridesmaids - they were waiting for the wedding procession. A wedding in Palestine in those times lasted for days. There was a big party and a procession. These 10 women, five foolish and five wise women, were waiting for the procession outside the house to light the way for the bridal party. The lamps were bowls of oil with a wick in the bowls. 

Since the bridegroom was late, everybody fell asleep. When they awoke to sounds of the bridegroom on his way, the five foolish women, according to the tale, did not have any oil left in their bowls. They asked the five wise women to loan them some oil, but those five said they didn’t have enough, and told the foolish ones to go buy some more oil - in the middle of the night.

Now we might look at this passage and say, “I would have lent them some oil. It’s a shame that they will miss the party.” I imagine Jesus would have said the same thing, when it was possible. But sometimes it’s not possible. 
My friend David Eckert in our Bible study was remembering his trip to the Grand Canyon. His family hiked to the bottom of the canyon. It is very hot and dry there and you have to carry two gallons of water with you to make it to the bottom and back. You can’t give your water to someone else or you get dehydrated. Everybody has to carry their own 2 gallons. In order to experience the joy of seeing the canyon, you have to be prepared.

In my house, we used to have phone cable wars. My son or my wife would want to plug in their phone on my phone cable - or vice versa. And inevitably, the one who cable was being borrowed would say, ‘Hey, I need to plug in now. Get your own cable.” I need to be ready for tomorrow. 

Eventually we got a bunch of extra cables to stop the phone cable wars, but noticing that we have our own ways we are not willing to share our energy sources helped me sympathize with the bridesmaids who didn’t feel like they could share their oil with their sisters. They wanted to be prepared for the next day. 

I really can’t say that I am always willing to share my cable charger, my energy source, with other people who didn’t bring their charger - or their lamp oil, or their water - with them, even if it means they couldn’t get in to the party. I had to learn that lesson for myself the hard way, and be prepared for the party. 

We might think about our energy source with God, and realize that we all need to have our own relationship with the divine. There’s just no substitute. You can’t borrow my relationship with the Living God. You have to have your own. You have to put in the time listening and waiting and praying, preparing, so you have can your own relationship with God.

Getting back to the passage. It is a kind of harsh judgmental passage toward these 5 supposedly foolish bridesmaids. The passage says with some finality, “The door was shut.” The five foolish maidens had missed their chance. Many of us can remember a time when we missed our chance, when a door closed, when we were trying to get somewhere or accomplish something and we didn’t make it. It can be a despairing kind of feeling. Eventually, we learn to be prepared. We learn to have our own relationship with God. Time is a limited resource. And we have to give our own time to God, so the door doesn’t get shut on us.

In spite of the feeling of finality in the story, though, I gotta tell you, when I read this story, I’m always hoping to hear a bigger word of hope  - knowing that God makes a way out of no way, that God is making a way around the shut doors of our world. I know that God has made a way for the women who have been abused and misused, and are just beginning to find the strength and the encouragement to tell their stories. The door that was shut is opening to a new healing. 

I find myself asking God - what happened to those 5 foolish women after they got locked out of the party, and in my mind’s eye, God showed me some pictures of one of them climbing through a window out back, one of them dressed up as a man to get through the door, and three of them pinky swore to each other that they would never get married. Two of them stayed together the rest of their lives and one of them was by herself - and she did just fine. Some people called her foolish to the end of her days, but she was actually quite content in relating to the world on her own terms.

We all need to find our own ways to prepare for the joy of connecting with the Living God. That is - the God who is opening the door to people who have been shut out of the world or shut out of the church, whether through abuse or neglect or because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, or because of names they were called or mistaken things they were taught, because of disabilities or ethnic background or mental illness. 

We know God wants everyone to be able to prepare for the joy of connection and relationship. Even if some of the doors of our churches or our society close for good, I am quite confident in the presence of the Living God in our communities, reopening ways, reopening paths for our children and for our friends and neighbors to find redemptive love, healing, and renewal, preparing us for a future of deep joy that we didn’t even know existed. 
Rejoice, God is present with us, opening the doors. Rejoice, God is with us, showing us a way when we were just about to give up. Rejoice, God is with us, preparing us for joy.

*Responsive Hymn 715 Rejoice, the Lord is King