Matthew 25:13-14 and What We Need is Here by Wendell Berry
November 12th, 2023
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Welcome again on and welcome those who are joining on the livestream. Thank you, Jackie, for convening and preaching last week. We remembered the saints who have crossed over and also the ones who are still with us here on this plain. So welcome saints!
I invite you as you are moved to take some deeper breathes, tuning into whatever word God has for us today and aiming to hear beyond the surface whatever message there is for each of us.
God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
The Kingdom of Heaven Will Be Like This… that phrase, the Kingdom of Heaven is one we read 32 times in the Gospel of Matthew. That’s in addition to the phrase that scholars view as comparable or maybe even interchangeable, the Kingdom of God, which we get 4 more times in that same Gospel. That’s the more popular one in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. But it’s all basically, referring to the same thing…
The kin-dom, the royal realm, the place that is sacred, where it’s God’s laws and not ours that rule, that’s what we call heaven.
And as you might already know, many within Christendom have interpreted this concept and this phrase to refer to someplace else, somewhere beyond here, a realm only available to us upon death. And in that framework, parables like this have been interpreted to be about remaining alert, keeping awake before the return of the Savior, keep vigilant and to be prepared for the time when Jesus comes back- that’s what they thought.
And in this way of thinking as Michael Austin writes, this version of interpretation goes something like this, “the wedding represents the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Bridegroom represents Christ—so the ten (virgins) young women are waiting for the coming of Christ. The oil in their lamps, then, represents the things that they will need when Christ comes: a testimony, a righteous life, a store of scriptural knowledge, and so on. The wise virgins represent those who will be prepared when Christ comes. The foolish virgins are those who will be unprepared. And the overall message we are told to draw from this parable is something like, “you never know when the Second Coming is going to happen, so you had better be prepared at all times.”
I will offer you a different view today. Would lamp oil even have been something that the bridesmaids were expected to provide? Some argue that would have been the duty of the groom. And was the oil about the feast or the journey to the feast? Or does the oil represent something other than oil? Like Spirit or light? John Wesley made notes on this scripture and he thought that the oil represents faith. He wrote” . The foolish took no oil with them – No more than kept them burning just for the present. None to supply their future want, to recruit their lamp’s decay. The lamp is faith. A lamp and oil with it, is faith working by love.”
But Nadia Bolz Weber argues that “The foolish bridesmaids weren’t foolish because they didn’t bring back up oil, they were foolish because instead of trusting that the light of Christ was enough to shine the way, they wasted all that time and energy and money trying to get their own because someone shamed them into thinking” they weren’t enough.
What if this is story is another one of Jesus attempts to get to us and we missed it? What if it’s about the fact, this ancient truth with us from the beginning: we don’t need to have all of the light on our own.
And second, it’s foolish to let our ego or other voices tell us that we can’t go to the party because we aren’t bright enough or we don’t have enough light.
Here’s another thing, what if this teaching invites us to let go of the idea that we are never supposed to need the light of others? Does anyone else feel that way, like you are supposed to just have it all together? I so relate to those that go off and try to get it all together before they go to the party. But here’s the problem with that, they missed the entire thing.
Nadia goes on to say, “Rather than just trusting that the light of those around them and the light of the groom was enough (they) the bridesmaids assumed they had to provide their own– and then they were” confused and “consumed by the shame of not being enough, they busied themselves trying to fix it – so much so that they missed the wedding banquet.”
“They missed everything….”
They were listening to the voices that told them they didn’t have enough light and they couldn’t come to the party.
The story ends dramatically with Jesus shutting the door. And again beyond being hooked by a literal interpretation of Jesus being a jerk. We can choose what we let into our lives. We can close the door on some of those voices telling us that we don’t have enough light to come to the party. Because what is needed is here.
Sometimes I really do feel like many of us are scurrying around living as if what we need is somewhere else, out there. And we don’t have enough here to come. Our culture can make us feel like we are supposed to do this life thing alone, at least if we are good at it we can do it alone, without ever truly needing the light of others.
So what if part of the big takeaway of this parable is this: The Kin-dom of Heaven Will Be when the group shares the light. This is heaven when we all realize that we aren’t meant to do this thing alone, that together, there is enough already as we are. Or put another way, a great poet’s way, what we need is here. As you heard from Wendell Berry, “we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.”
I believe that is true for our spiritual journeys and also for what we care about and are committed to here as a community of faith and I am thinking about that especially on this Stewardship Sunday, where our theme is Because of YOU our church changes lives and that is so true.
It is because of you, each of you and all of you, all of us and part of what I think that means, part of what I think this story means is that sometimes we are the one with no oil and still there is a place for you at this party.
And on other days we are the ones with so much oil that there is light overflowing and we can’t way tot come here to share it and you are welcome here too. And on other days we are among with those with just enough, and all we can do is come, with not much to give, but what if that is part of the point? What if that’s part of why the church exists in the first place? The Kin-dom of Heaven is you sharing light and sharing light, helping to light the way for those without any, bringing the whole party along and so the light grows…
That’s often how I feel about us, we are lamps in the darkness in a time that so desperately needs light. When we gather here weekly for worship, or when 5 of us gather to help move the family from Afghanistan into their new home or when Kevin delivers flowers to those in the hospital or when 11 of us who up to collect seeds in our open space or when 5 of us gather to build a home for our neighbors with Habitat, when Beth brings AK dinner, when Carol and Kathy bring food to the homeless, when our garden produces 1,000 pounds of food for the hungry, we are light, we are lamps for a world that needs us so much.
I am not sure that I have ever been a part of a church that was bridging so many chasms, like we do. We are spread across a huge geography of land, including people in Golden, Arvada, Westminster, Thornton, Lyons, Broomfield, Longmont, Lafayette, Boulder, what am I missing? Littleton.
We span the chasm of America’s economic realities, including people with multiple homes and extra lamp oil and those who haven’t had enough light for the lamp for a while. We are spread across wide chasms of educational background and professional experience and we are spread across a large range of age demographics.
What binds us together isn’t that we started from the same place or that we think the same way or that we might all choose one another on our own or that we all have the same amount of oil in our lamps, but rather what binds us together is our shared commitment to be light! And to share light!
I understand that some are uncomfortable with this annual occasion where we take some time to reflect on what this place and this people means to us and we dare to talk about money and giving back to our spiritual home. I understand that discomfort as I feel it in my own household. Like many of you, our household is interfaith and my spouse doesn’t have the same commitments about the Christian Church that I do. This is the time of year where he jokes about my pledge being a pay cut since you all are both my employer and my spiritual home. Our household situation feels as uncertain as many in our age group. The pause on student loan repayment is done and my husband’s monthly payment is significant. The economy is uncertain. We wonder if we will have enough to retire while we are still young enough to enjoy it. Will we have enough for our kid’s higher education? Still with all of that, our family gives to CUCC every month.
I see offering a sacrificial gift, as a sacrament that is part of our covenant. And I see it as quite literally a chance to be a part of heaven here on earth; it’s the chance to put our lamp oil together, to bring out the light in one another and to share it and amplify it for the whole world.
Beloved of God, we know that churches like ours cannot die, the world needs our light, whatever we have… because we don’t need to have all of the light on our own, but together, we will glow and grow deeper and wider and all who need that light will join our procession and it will grow, because of the light, because we are lamps in the darkness in a time that so desperately needs a way out into the light. The Kin-dom of Heaven Will Be Like… This… May it be so. Amen.