The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday November 8, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” (1) Five of these women are foolish, five wise. Five had extra oil, five didn’t.

This is not a news story depicting actual events, it’s a fictional story told by Jesus in order to teach us something, or perhaps to teach us many things. Oftentimes, when people read a story like this, they treat it like an allegory or a code that needs to be cracked. The bridegroom isn’t really a bridegroom, the oil isn’t really oil. They both point to something else and the point of the story is to crack the code.

But if that is true, then it’s rather mean of Jesus to make us do all that extra work just to figure out what’s going on.  If all that we need to do to understand the story is  crack the code and then swap out the terms –  the oil is clearly our good deeds, or our faith or maybe it’s a specific set of right beliefs – if that’s all we need to do, then why not just report the facts?

And let’s just say for a moment that it is a code,  our own biases often get in the way of reading the code correctly. We listen to the story, determine who the hero is, and then decide that that is either who we already are, or who we want to become.  Clearly, everyone who is listening to this sermon is a wise bridesmaid right?

I don’t think the reason Jesus told stories is because he’s mean or because he wants us to jump through unnecessary hoops in order to get his message. I also don’t think he’s an elitist who only wants people who are smart enough to crack the code to know what he is talking about.  I think Jesus told stories because he knew that stories can expand our imaginations and that we would learn more from stories than from news reports especially if we chose to engage with stories as stories, not as codes to be cracked.

So the kingdom of heaven is not ten women waiting for a bridegroom, but there is something about that scenario that is like the kingdom of heaven.

Today I am going to pick three images from the story to explore : the bridegroom, the door, and the oil. Not to try and crack a code, but to see what we can discover by playing with these images.

So first let’s quickly recap the story.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like ten bridesmaids who take lamps and go to meet the bridegroom. Five are foolish, five are wise.   The foolish women bring lamps, but no extra oil, the wise bring flasks of oil.

The bridegroom is late. The women fall asleep waiting for him.  Finally they hear a shout, “The bridegroom is coming.”  They all wake up and light their lamps.  The so called foolish women realize that their lamps will soon run out of oil and ask the so called wise women to share.  The so called wise women refuse and tell them to go buy more oil instead.  In doing so, they miss the bridegroom’s arrival and when they return they find the door is locked and they miss out on the party.

So first, I want to point out that while it may be true that some of these women are wise and some are foolish, none of this would have happened if the bridegroom had just showed up on time.

This whole mess is his fault, and it bothers me that throughout history we’ve focused on calling out women in this story for their foolishness instead of calling out the bridegroom for his poor time management.

He shows up late and instead of apologizing, he whisks everyone who is present into the party and then shuts the door on anyone other than himself who has the nerve to show up late.

It doesn’t strike me as an overly compassionate or self-aware move – the man who is late punishing others for being late.

And it’s especially unsettling if this story is a code and in that code, the bridegroom is Jesus.

Is that really what this parable is meant to teach us about Jesus? That Jesus is like a bridegroom who punishes people because he is late?

I don’t think so.

But before I try to do some damage control on his image here, let’s talk a bit about being made to wait.

Advent is just a few weeks away and in Advent we’ll get four weeks dedicated to thinking about waiting – the beauty of waiting, the benefit of waiting, the challenges of waiting.  All of those ideas will get plenty of airtime.

However, not everything is improved by waiting.

Wine improves with age, French fries do not.

Lots of things are better right away: being told you did a good job, medical diagnosis and treatment plans, vaccines, vote counts.

It’s true that in some of those scenarios you don’t want people to rush and do a poor job – you want a vaccine that’s been tested and proven to be effective – but once that vaccine exists you don’t want the scientist to say, now let’s just let it age on the shelf for a few years, you want them to roll it out right away.

You want every vote to be counted, but you also want them to be counted as quickly as possible.

You want your doctor to carefully review the details of your medical history, but you also want to start feeling better right away.

You want to eat your French fries as soon as possible because they are just better than way.

Waiting doesn’t always make things better.  Sometimes it’s just better if the food, or the medical results or the bridegroom shows up on time.

But here is something else we should be honest about, the concept of “on time,” is a pretty subjective one.

The bridegroom in today’s story is late, but we have no idea why. Is he actually a thoughtless jerk or was the delay beyond his control?   It seems to me that delays are predicable at weddings, they are to be expected.

Who gets to decide when the bridegroom is supposed to arrive? Things always take longer than you think they will at weddings and none of the bridesmaids guess correctly either. They all think the groom will arrive sooner than he does.  They all fall asleep.

So perhaps, everything would have gone a lot more smoothly if the bridesmaids didn’t assume that they could predict when the bridegroom would arrive. And maybe that’s something we all need to learn too – don’t expect the election results on November 3rd, don’t try to predict when the pandemic will end or when a vaccine will be available, and whatever you do, don’t try to read the Bible like a code you can crack so that you can circle a date and write “Jesus returns” in that square.

Nothing is gained in trying to predict the future in this way, but perhaps, there is a lot to be gained in resisting that temptation, in admitting we have no idea when any of those things are going to happen and learning to live within that tension.

When the pandemic began I predicted that it would be over by spring. Why did I do that? This is literally my first pandemic. I’m not a pandemic expert. I don’t know anything about pandemics. But I still decided I could make an accurate prediction about this pandemic’s timeline. I planned accordingly agreeing to do things and working at a pace that was only sustainable if my timeline was correct.

I was wrong. My assumptions had consequences that could have been avoided by not making assumptions.

This is the kind of mistake Jesus is warning us of in this story. Don’t think you can predict the future. Don’t assume you know when the bridegroom is going to arrive. It’s going to take longer than you think it will.  Remember the warning at the end of the story, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (13)

You know neither the day nor the hour and it’s not helpful to keep pretending that we do.

I want to thank Sharon Cadigan for this next image which I have found really helpful this week.

In our story, the bridesmaids are waiting to be let into a party.  They are waiting on one side of a closed door, longing to be on the other side of that door.

What, are you waiting for? What are you longing for? What is currently on the other side of a shut door that you cannot open right now?

Perhaps it’s being in this space sharing bread and wine and singing at the top of your lungs, maybe it’s inviting people over to your own home and sharing a meal, maybe it’s hugging your parents, or your grandchildren. Maybe it’s being in a crowded movie theater or hopping on a plane.

Right now, there are so many good things that we can’t access because that door is locked up tight and we can’t open it. Many of us willingly placed those things, those people, on the other side of the door because we understand it is the right thing to do when we’re experiencing a global pandemic.  But when we did, we didn’t realize how long that door was going to remain closed, we didn’t realize how hard it would be to wait.

In our story,  the bridegroom does eventually show up and open the door. The people who are still there waiting get in, the people who left do not – at least not within the timeframe of our story.

The women who are left outside of the party are not punished for sleeping, everyone falls asleep in this story.  They are not punished for running out of oil. That’s never mentioned. They miss the party because they leave.

This waiting, this longing to be on the other side of the door is so incredibly, painfully hard, but don’t give up, don’t leave, because you don’t want to miss this party.

Now what about the oil?  What is it meant to represent? It doesn’t have to be just one thing. Today let’s say that it represents the things you need in order to stay at the door.  Do you have enough? Do you have extra? Are you running low and need more?

I can’t answer that question for you, and the last thing I ever want to do is turn a sermon into a lecture, but I would encourage you to think carefully about how much oil you have.

I, for one, keep having a difficult time judging how much oil I even need – the amount has changed since the pandemic begin. Things that used to be easy and took only a little bit of oil, now take a lot.  I need more than I used to and that change has been really hard to adjust to.

It’s been good to have people in my life that I can go to and say, “I’m running low, can you please help me?”

If you have enough oil. I’d encourage you to take a moment to express gratitude that that is the case.   If you’re running low, I hope that when you ask for help you encounter a much more generous response than the women in today’s story.  I hope you have people in your life that when you say “I’m running low, can you please help,” that the answer will be “yes.” I hope we can be those kinds of people for each other.

And if you have more than you need, share. As with so many stories in the Bible, and in our world, there was enough oil for everyone in this story if only those who had too much, who had more than they needed, had chosen to share it instead of hoarding it.

May we all seek to be people who look out for each other, who share what we have, and who can support each other as we continue to wait for the bridegroom to arrive and the door to the party to open.

And that’s not a party I want any of us to miss.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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