Winfield United Church Reflection – November 8, 2020
by Rev. Joan Kessler
From our reading from Matthew, I think we can probably assume that marriage customs some 2000 years ago were quite different from the way weddings unfold today. A wedding in Jesus’ time usually began with a young man asking a girl's father for her hand in marriage. If the father approved, and a dowry could be agreed upon, he would call his daughter into the room. Then the hopeful young man would hold out a cup of wine. "Take and drink," he would say.
If the young woman was willing, she would take the cup and drink from it. Then the young man would say something like, "I go to prepare a place for you, and when its ready, I'll come again and take you to it that where I am, you may be also.
And then the young man would go off to prepare a home for the future couple with the building a house. Time would pass, and everyone would wonder when the groom would be finished the construction. And when the house was complete, word would spread that the bridegroom was coming and the wedding would soon begin. And the young bride's attendants would go out with their oil lamps to light the way to the couple’s new home. And the wedding festivities that followed would include dances involving the bridesmaids and their lamps and the festivities could carry on for several days.
Jesus uses an event such as a wedding to teach us something about ourselves…it is a parable with a twist, for in it, the groom's estimated time of arrival is delayed. And five of the ten bridesmaids don't bring extra oil for their lamps, and they run out. By the time they go to the nearby convenience store to buy more oil and then return to the bride's house, they've missed the joyful party.
This parable is harsh. It doesn’t have the happy ending we would hope for. In conversation this past week about what this parable could say to us, one suggestion was couldn’t the bridesmaids have just shared with one another so they would all be ready to go to the party? That would seem to be the best resolution to the problem. Or maybe there was a pandemic going on…and there was only space for 5 more guests under the new household gathering protocol…we have come to sympathize with the experience of being left out this year with COVID. The writer of Matthew is intent on addressing the early Christian community…the writer knows there is unrest down at the Church….they had expected Jesus to return in their lifetime as promised and this clearly does not seem to be the case. So perhaps they were asking themselves what are we waiting for? This is a question I suspect crosses most of our minds at one time or another…when our best plans and hard work do not realize and the outcomes we had dreamed of. Clearly the last shall not be first in this story.
I do not lead an overly planned life…anyone who works closely with me would attest to this.…it’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for the art of organization. I have been in ministry now almost 10 years….and I keep telling myself that this week, I am going to be organized, so organized that I will have the weeks into the future all mapped out as well. I’ll know what my readings will be, my reflections written, hymns chosen for the next seven Sundays…but that’s not how I function. I can’t make those decisions and stick to them because I might miss some other more exciting opportunity. It’s why I write these messages in the early morning hours of Saturday…because I will have experienced my week and it is this that forms my thoughts and words I share with you today. I want my work to have context be and shaped by conversations I have shared in and commentaries I have read and God moments I too have been formed by.
This parable to me is about missed opportunities…but maybe even more so, it’s about gains and losses…those two words have been popping up for me this week. The bridesmaids were not all the same…some planned ahead and were rewarded….others did not and were left out in the cold….they all grew tired and fell asleep…they all waited for God to show up…decisions had to be made by the group who ran out of oil…if we leave right now, it’s not very far to the store, we’ll be back in time…doesn’t pan out…they are gone too long, they miss their opportunity to be present for the bridegroom’s arrival. Life is full of everyday, big and small, missed opportunities. The gas tank light comes one but we keep driving …we bought our house high and sold low…a gift was offered and we didn’t take it….and we are full of regret. This parable from Matthew is about real life…the hands we are dealt, the decisions we make, and the consequences we must learn to live with. This story cannot speak of preparing without mentioning the hard task of waiting that goes with it and we all know this experience….waiting for something way over due, waiting for something you are not even sure will come, waiting that involves active participation when you’re not even sure what you should be preparing for….all can present challenges.
As a community, we are missing things as they used to be…suppers to plan and the work that brought us together….Eat Play Love events with the space filled with laughter and smiling faces….COVID’s arrival, staff and planning team departures that left us hurt, confused and changed. I am sorry for my part in any of the hurt and disappointment I have caused. I want you to know that I wasn’t prepared for the conflict that met me upon my arrival and the decision that was asking to be made for a group of people I barely knew. This isn’t an excuse, it’s my truth, and I need to say out loud to you all… I know I missed opportunities to bring about a workable resolution. My longing is for there to be healing around Eat Play Love. And then we can go forward and begin again…to rebuild and imagine the future together.
Life is full of gains and losses…not all stories have a happy ending but we celebrate with the bridal party today, recognizing the Spirit at work within and among us…here in this community and our wider circles of interaction. It’s never fulfilled I am coming to realize…our preparations are never complete…could it be that this is what kin-dom living looks like?
I leave you this morning with a prayer reflection written in honor of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated the 24 March, 1980. These words I share with you, written by Bishop Ken Untener, spoke to me this week of how our life’s work is about taking risks, making new starts, not always seeing the completion and the waiting in-between… it is called
A Future Not Our Own…
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The Kin-dom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kin-dom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen