Sermon on The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.

Grace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Sometimes I wish Jesus would just keep his mouth shut. I’m going along just fine, I’m fighting on his side as he squabbles with the chief priests and elders in the temple, and then he drops something like this parable today. Really Jesus? You had to go there? I bet you just said that to make it difficult for 21st century vicars to preach. You purposely made up that parable to make sleepless nights for people like me, didn’t you? It is as if he said: “Let’s watch the preachers squirm and wiggle about this one on Sunday.”
In all seriousness, the parable of the ten bridesmaids is a difficult text. Its imagery is obscure and it does not easily translate into modern day understanding. It is written to a very specific audience with concerns that we no longer share. And on top of it all, it simply seems unfair! Why wouldn’t the wise bridesmaids share? Is this really what the kingdom of heaven will be like? Didn’t we hear the last couple of weeks about abundance, and sharing, and living in community with one another?
It seems to me, if this is the kingdom of heaven, someone would have shared their oil! Furthermore, why don’t the foolish bridesmaids get another chance to get into the party? Isn’t God all about second chances, third chances, and seventy times seven forgiveness? What makes the wise ones so great that they get to go to the party? If the moral of the story is to keep awake, then what help is the case that ALL of the bridesmaids fell asleep? It seems unfair that something as arbitrary as remembering extra oil should decide if you get into the party. At first glance, this is nothing like the kingdom I want to hear about. I’ve got plenty enough selfishness and rejection in the human kingdom. How could the Kingdom of Heaven one day be like this? Really Jesus?
I mean, how many of you here have ever been late? How many have forgotten things, or shown up somewhere unprepared? Many of us have had the nightmare where we show up to class having no idea that there was supposed be an exam that day. We all know the terror of being unprepared. To be sure, there are some times when we are the wise ones who packed more than we needed, but there are just as many times that we are the fools who bring simply what we could grab at the time. That is why this parable makes me squirm. Because it is not fair to foolish bridesmaids like me. Good thing you guys are all wise bridesmaids, right? You always come prepared.
But now, all of us have fallen into the trap that this parable has set. We’re caught up in the lamps and whether or not WE are prepared enough. As soon as we start asking if we are a foolish bridesmaids or  wise ones, we have missed the point. You see, even if we think we are in the wise bridesmaids’ camp, we have to pause to worry that we won’t have what it takes. And that’s the heart of it: This very worry that the parable makes us to face is the reason Jesus did not keep his mouth shut. The secret is, ALL the bridesmaids are unworthy of God’s kingdom. All of them fall asleep, not a one of them keeps awake, The foolish ones aren’t prepared, and the wise ones do not share what they had prepared, and worse: all of them are focused on their lamps and if they have enough.
You see, the real difference is not that the wise bridesmaids were more prepared than the foolish ones. If that were the case, maybe they would not ALL have fallen asleep. The wise ones might have taken a nap the day before. If they were truly more prepared, they might have brought enough oil for themselves and to spare so they can share with the foolish bridesmaids. If it was preparation that mattered, you would think that one of them would share so that others around them could also be ready. But preparation is the trap of the parable, not the answer.
No, the real difference is that the wise bridesmaids had a moment where they thought about the bridegroom. The thought about the bridegroom is what gives them the wisdom to bring extra oil in case he is delayed. Let me say again: The difference is not what the wise ones did, but what happened to them: they had a thought about the bridegroom. Think of the bridegroom! There is a wedding feast coming! There is Christ, soon to be here in our midst, and here, we are- all of us- worried about how much oil is in our lamps!
The wise ones worried about it just as much as the foolish ones. That is why they did not share, they were worried because they wanted to make sure they had enough for themselves. The only real fault of the foolish bridesmaids is that they never once looked up from their lamps to see the bridegroom coming! They never once thought of why they were there- to celebrate at a wedding feast! That is why the bridegroom can say to them when they finally get to the door: “Truly, I do not know you.” And when we hear those words, all of us should hang our heads in shame. Because, in that moment, all of us fail- both the wise and the fool.
We cannot get to the feast on our own, and our lamps will never make us worthy. It is the bridegroom that makes us worthy of a party. It is the bridegroom that gets us there. It is the bridegroom that is important, not the lamps, not the oil! The bridegroom, Christ, coming to bring us to the feast.
Imagine how different the story would go if we focused on the bridegroom, instead of how much oil was in the lamps! Why, for one, we might have stayed awake when we went out to wait. Christ is coming! Christ is coming! How can you go to sleep? Then, later when the lamps are burning low, the wise might say to the foolish “there is no time! The bridegroom is coming, here stand with me, and we will hold our lamps together.” Or the foolish might say to the wise: “My lamp has run out! May I walk with you to the party?” Instead, we, all of us,wise and fool alike, make it about the lamps. We make it a competition about who has prepared more. And all of us fall asleep. All of us lose sight of what really matters.
What matters, is the reason we are to keep awake: Christ is coming! The kingdom of God is coming! The good news of this parable is, we are waiting for Christ! We should hear the gospel ring triumphantly in our hearts when Christ tells us to “keep awake for you know neither the day nor the hour!” Because it means that it is not up to us who gets into the kingdom nor when it comes. It means it doesn’t matter how much oil we will need. It is rather, Christ that matters. For in Christ is life, just as in the bridegroom there is the wedding party.
That is why this parable is so harsh and unfair, because all of us feel its burn. We are incapable of relying on Christ. Not a one of us can do it. Wise, foolish, anyone. No matter how good our lamps are, or even if we have electric ones nowadays with everlasting batteries. We cannot do ourselves any good. And we cannot help ourselves but to look over to see whose lights are shining, and whose are dim. We rely on our lamps and ourselves, and so we fall asleep having spent all our energy on worrying.
And so we have nothing left. Nothing left that we can do, but rely on Christ. It is Christ that comes and takes us to the wedding banquet, even though we fell asleep and did not share our oil. Christ comes even though we were rushed and came unprepared without enough oil. So, brothers and sisters, comfort one another with these words: Christ is coming for you! Christ brings us to the feast, and that makes all of the difference.
Do not get wrapped up in who brought how much oil, or if you are wise or foolish. All of this is what this parable warns us against. What really matters is the feast and the Bridegroom that are coming, and isn’t that exciting news? Keep awake therefore, stay alive in Christ, and remember the bridegroom. For Christ is on the way, broken for you in bread and wine.