Bread Queues

November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

We spend a lot of our lives waiting.

Waiting in lines at the grocery store, for amusement park rides, in traffic on the highway, for a doctor’s appointment. Yet we get very impatient when things do not come to us as fast as we would like them to. Waiting is not easy.

There is a song from the recently deceased Tom Petty titled, The Waiting. Here is the refrain, “The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

As we enter into these last few weeks before the beginning of a new church year and Advent, we receive a gospel lesson that tells us we must wait. People two thousand years ago were no better at waiting than we are. They were impatient and were especially concerned with what would happen with their ancestors that died before Jesus had a chance to return.

Matthew’s gospel was written about fifty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the promise of his coming again to a world that was awaiting his return. The purpose of this parable that Matthew has included in his gospel is to reassure people that waiting is a good and necessary thing. There is much pain and suffering that is happening in Israel after Jesus’ resurrection. Pain and suffering that has been experienced in the fall of Jerusalem to Roman soldiers, and the persecution and death that has came to many of the followers of Jesus. By the time that Matthew’s gospel was written, there were not many eye witnesses alive that had seen Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his trial, and his death on the cross. They have been told of his resurrection, and are still waiting for his coming again. Their faith led them to believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Perhaps this may sound a little familiar.

So, what are we to do with the bridesmaids from our lesson?

Where do you see yourself in the story? Are you one of the five that thought ahead and brought along extra oil just in case you were left waiting? Or are you one of the five that had just enough to fill your lamp and realized that it was starting to run low and had nothing to refill it? Thus, going out at the last minute to find a 24 hour oil convenience store.

The waiting is the hardest part. Especially when you are ill prepared for whatever may come your way. As the five foolish bridesmaid are off trying to find that oil store, the bridegroom comes and ushers in those that came with enough oil. The five foolish bridesmaids return to find that the party has started without them and they are left on the outside looking in. Jesus concludes the parable with instruction to, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

We can relate with the bridesmaids. Most likely, we can find ourselves in both those that are considered wise, as well as those that are deemed foolish. We live with pain and suffering all around us, in our country and in our world. We live in fear of what may come to threaten life as we know it. The news reports of trucks running over and killing multiple people in the streets and even on the sidewalks. We have people suffering from mental health issues that have access to guns and can rain bullets down on unsuspecting crowds in Las Vegas injuring over 500 and killing close to 60; and walking into a baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opening fire and killing 27. These are just our most recent examples.

People are quick to jump to conclusions and respond in ways that they may think are helpful. Yet, are we talking with one another and listening, or are we talking at each other? Are we so bound with fear that we are afraid to step foot outside of the house?

I honestly do not have any answers to this. I wish I did. This is the pain and suffering that we are living in our world today. In the midst of it, we are left waiting for answers. We can pray for those that are directly affected by the violence, but is that enough? Will “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream,” as we read in our first lesson from Amos?

In the meantime, we wait. We wait for what has been promised to us in our baptisms. We wait for those words to be fulfilled that we recite during communion, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

We have the same struggle that our ancestors had going all the way back to 1st century Israel. Two thousand years later, we are still waiting. And keep awake we should.

The five wise bridesmaids were prepared. They were prepared to wait. They brought enough oil to last them until the bridegroom came. The waiting is made much easier when you are prepared for what comes your way, or in the wise bridesmaids case, being prepared for a delay.

Are we expected not to get any rest since we are told to keep awake? None of the bridesmaids followed these instructions. They had all been sleeping when the bridegroom had arrived at midnight. In the delay they fell asleep, and when they awoke and trimmed their lamps, it was only the wise that were prepared to go out and greet the bridegroom because they still had oil left.

It is in this preparation that they are called to keep awake. Be ready for the bridegroom, or Jesus Christ, at anytime. It was in these words that those hearing the gospel of Matthew for the first time, fifty years after Jesus death, would find words of hope and encouragement. While Christ may not have returned yet, be prepared as you wait.

How do we prepare as we are left waiting amidst the pain and suffering of our world?

Many of the social justice movements of the present time speak to staying “Woke.” Be aware of those things that are happening in your neighborhoods, communities, states, and country. Be bold enough to speak out against the injustice that you see happening around you. Stay woke to those things and issues that affect the lives of your neighbors and greater humanity. Stay woke to the injustices of racial  and sexual inequality. Stay woke to the injustices that happen to our environment. Stay woke to the legislative issues that are affecting a large number of Americans that do more harm than good. Stay woke and listen to the conversations that are happening among the younger generations as they are the ones that will be caring for the world as we know it in the next twenty, thirty, and forty plus years.

In the midst of all of this, we wait. We must wait in the midst of refugee crisis, mass shootings, and many other injustices of the world. The waiting is the hardest part.

Ed Stetzer, discussing the Sutherland Springs church shooting, wrote in a CNN article:

“Earlier today I asked Kevin Cornelius, pastor of neighboring church First Baptist Church in Karnes City, TX, about the situation as he and others are there, on site, dealing with the pain. He said: The church still works. We don’t have a plan, but we have a community. We don’t have answers but we have grace and peace. We don’t understand, but we’re present. Our hearts are breaking, but we have hope and we’re giving it away as quick as we can.”

We wait, as a community of God. We wait with each other in solidarity in the gospel promise that has been given to us through the grace of God. We wait with each other in community as believers and questioners alike. We wait with each other in fellowship as we break bread together in the hope that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Let us pray, Risen Lord, we give thanks for the hope that you have infused in our lives. In the midst of our waiting, we look towards the promise of salvation and the grace that comes to us abundantly. While waiting is the hardest part, we find that hope and love in our communities and your word have the ability to sustain us. Amen.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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