“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. 4 But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.
5 “When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.’
7 “Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 8 But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.’
9 “But the wise bridesmaids replied, ‘No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.
11 “Later the other bridesmaids came and said, ‘Lord, lord, open the door for us.’
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
When I was in seminary, one of the many lessons I was taught about pastoral ministry was that 50% of being a pastor was simply showing up. When I first heard this, I didn’t really buy into it. But a few years into this whole ministry thing, I realized that it is true a lot of the time. When someone simply takes the time to show up, they are saying to you that you matter to them, and their valued time is worth spending with you. A few summers ago when I was living in Terre Haute, I was performing in the musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I was in the women’s chorus of the show, and I had spent the whole summer telling my mom (who lives in TN) over the phone how much fun I was having. I was getting back in touch with my passion for musical theater, singing, dancing, and making new friends. On the last weekend of our performances, I was about to get changed into my costume when I walked past the door to the theater, and did a double take when I saw my parents sitting in the audience! They had decided on a whim to drive all the way up from Knoxville just to see me perform in the show and surprise me. I will never forget how much it meant to me that they just showed up!
But as I have learned throughout my life and my vocation as a pastor, most of the time, simply showing up doesn’t get the job done. We are challenged beyond simply showing up in every aspect of our lives, and especially lives of faith. God asks more of us than simply showing up. And that is what today’s parable of the foolish bridesmaids teaches us. It places us in the position to ask which one are we? The foolish or the wise? Are we simply just going to show up for the wedding party or are we actually going to be prepared to do so? And it also offers us some advice for how we are to live our lives as we anticipate and prepare for the kingdom to come upon us. It offers us eight simple words and ideas to live by: Show Up, Be Present, Be Yourself, Let Go.
Jesus offers this parable as yet another comparison to the kingdom of heaven. It will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Some brought extra oil, while the others did not. When the groom was late in getting to them, they all fell asleep. But when he came, the ones who had oil with them were able to attend the wedding party, while the others were sent out to buy oil and missed their entrance into the party. Both the wise and the foolish fell asleep waiting on the groom, but those who were prepared with their oil were the ones who gained entrance to the wedding.
In ancient Israel, it was custom for the groom to spend about a year preparing a home for his soon to be wife, while the bride would spend that year preparing for married life. After this time, the groom would come to collect his bride to take her to their home. Since this was usually done at night, there was a lamp lit procession of the groom with his wedding party. The bride knew that the groom would come eventually, but did not know the exact time. She was expected to be prepared for any moment. So when the groom and his attendants arrived they would shout joyfully to let the bride and her party know. At that time, the women would accompany the bride and the groom back to the groom’s home for the wedding event where the marriage would be consecrated and a week long celebration, including the entire wedding party, would follow. Presumably, Jesus’ listeners would have known this custom as their own, and would have identified with the need for the bridal party to be prepared and alert for the groom’s coming, and the need to make sure the bride was where she needed to be.
Part of the bridemaids’ job was showing up, and all ten of them did. It’s easy to show up, but it is another thing to be present. In this case, being present meant that they not only had to show up, but they had to be prepared to meet the groom with extra oil for their lamps. What if we took the oil in this story as symbolic of Jesus’ life and teaching? Then we could say that those who simply showed up but did not come prepared to listen and live out Jesus’ teaching were not really present at all. How often do we simply show up to church on Sunday mornings without preparing our lamps with the oil needed to make them burn? How often do we show up to church on Sundays without preparing our hearts for worship? How often do we simply show up and sit in the pew and tune out or refused to engage or participate? We might as well have no showed up at all.
So we are reminded that just showing up does not get the job done. We have to be present, we have to engage, we have to be awake and alert so that we do not miss the coming of the Lord into our lives. We can’t just show up and expect something to happen to us. We have to be a part of making the church a spirit-filled place by being present and preparing our hearts, rich with the oil of the message of Jesus Christ. Because if we show up without it, we don’t have anything to offer. If we show up without being prepared, then we have no fuel for the journey and we cannot join the party. If we cannot join the party, then we cannot lead others to the life of faith. If we cannot lead others to the life of faith, then we have failed at our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
God has called us to show up and be present because God has need of the unique gifts and strengths each one of us has to offer to this place and time. God wants you to be you! God wants you to be yourself, and the most real version of yourself, and to know who you are and what you can offer. Sometimes, being ourselves and using our gifts take courage, but we are called to do just that. On October 10 of this year, the Nobel Peace Prize went to the 17 year old Pakistani woman, Malala Yousafzai. Malala is the youngest recipient of the award, known for standing up for education for women and girls when the Taliban would not allow girls to attend school. Many of you might remember the story from October 9, 2012, when Malala was shot in the head by members of the Taliban as she was boarding her school bus. One bullet hit the left side of her forehead, traveled under the skin through the length of her face, and then went into her shoulder. She remained unconscious for several days after the attack, but miraculously improved and was sent to England for extensive rehabilitation, where she eventually recovered.
Today, Malala is known world-wide for her courage and gifts of passion and communication to stand up for education for women and girls around the world. She is someone who is the most authentic version of herself and uses her gifts to transform the world. We, too are called to be ourselves and not be afraid to be who we are and to use our gifts, talents, and passions to make a difference, no matter how large or small. Sometimes, simply being yourself is all the gift that this world needs. God calls us to be ourselves and to use our gifts to further God’s love in this world. If we are afraid to offer the most real version of ourselves, then what are we really offering to the world? To the church? It is time for us as disciples of Jesus to boldly claim our unique gifts and accept ourselves and each other for who we are. Only then will we enter into the wedding party fully prepared to enter into the full life of discipleship to which we are called.
And then we are to Let Go. In the parable this morning, the whole point of the ten bridesmaids anxiously awaiting the bridegroom is so that they may process with him to the wedding party. But the tragedy of the story comes when the foolish bridesmaids miss out on the party. They miss out on the joy and the life of the party that comes with being in the presence of the bridegroom. The same thing happens for us when we don’t prepare ourselves enough to attend the event to which we have been invited. The same thing happens to us when we don’t let go of whatever is holding us back from responding to the invitation from God to enter into a life of faith- to meet the one who gives us life and who is the life of the party.
We are invited to let go and see what God will do. We are invited to let go and let the Spirit take hold of our lives. For many of us, letting go is scary or uncomfortable, and very difficult to do, because we want to hold on to what we know. But letting go can also be very freeing. I believe there is a reason why so many young women and girls are obsessed with the song from the Disney film, “Frozen,” called “Let it Go.” Elsa is the new queen who has the power to turn things into ice, and she has been told to cover up her powers throughout her life. When she sings the song, “Let it Go,” her powers have been discovered and she runs away, thinking that being alone is the only way she can live. The song is one where she is empowering herself to be who she really is, and to let go of what has been holding her back throughout her entire life. It is only then she discovers her role as a powerful young woman with the capacity to love and lead. But this begins by letting go and taking that step into the unknown and allowing love to lead her through.
When we let go and let God lead us, we may find ourselves in amazing places. We may find ourselves stepping out and being led to do great things for God in our church and our community. We may find that God is leading us to reach out in new ways to new people. We may feel God calling us into deeper relationship with him, and sometimes this can only happen when we humble ourselves to the point of letting go of whatever is keeping us from it. Like the wise bridesmaids who prepared their lamps and entered into the party, we are to prepare our hearts for a life of following Jesus, filling our lamps to the brim, entering the party, and letting go to see what God will do with us.
I believe that these eight words: Show Up, Be Present, Be Yourself, Let Go, can change your life. They are instructions on how to live out your faith, and they work together to show the way of following Jesus and transforming lives. When I was in college, I was a chaplain intern at Wishard Hospital. One day, the head chaplain got a call that a nine year old boy had been brought into the emergency room and died upon arrival. Apparently, his mom had been taking him to see the doctor when he had a medical episode in the car and didn’t make it. When we received this call, I was so thankful that I was not the chaplain in charge at that moment because obviously I had a lot to learn about how to handle myself in that kind of situation. But looking back on that day, I realize now that these instructions: show up, be present, be yourself, let go, really are words that guide us through just about anything we may face. The chaplain and I showed up to see the family and the deceased little boy was lying there on the bed. It was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. But to show up wasn’t enough. I learned how to be present with the grieving parents, to let them know that they are not alone, to sit with them, to listen to them, to pray with them, to grieve with them. To be present is to be the face of God to them.
I also learned that we each bring our own gifts to any situation. To be yourself is a vital part of life, but also a very important piece of following Jesus and transforming lives. The chaplain that day ministered to that family in his own way. Later on in my training when I faced similar situations, I had to remind myself that I bring my own gifts and skills, and that I had to be myself. Imitating someone else and their practices is not what I am called to do. I am called to be myself and follow Jesus and his example as I minister to people. And finally, I learned that day about the importance of letting go and letting the Spirit of God guide our presence, our words, our actions, our thoughts. We may not always be as prepared as we should be. We may stand outside the door with not enough oil to sustain our lamps, without enough faith to get us through, but when we let go, we learn that God opens the door for us and invites us in where we stand in the presence of the bridegroom who gives us the words to say, the tools to use, and the guidance we need.
Over the past few weeks, I have been challenging our congregation to commit, pray, and discern together about how we can ensure the best possible future for this church. I hope you are thinking about how you can contribute to the task that is in front of us and that you will help us reach the goal of filling up that bulletin board! What if we took a lesson from the ten bridesmaids this morning as we set out on the journey to meet the groom? We would need to make sure we have enough oil to sustain the lamps throughout the night, not knowing of the time of the Lord’s arrival. We would have to prepare our hearts, our lives, our congregation for the future, not knowing for sure what is ahead of us. We prepare ourselves to reach the door of the wedding feast, knowing who or what is on the other side ready to welcome us with open arms. The foolish bridesmaids learned their lesson the hard way. Not being prepared, the door was not opened to them and they heard the voice say, “I do not know you.”
So may we not be the ones who show up and are told at the door, “I do not know you.” Let us begin the journey with each one of us making the commitment to first show up, but also knowing that it is not enough to just show up. We have to show up, be present, be ourselves, and let go. That is the key. Where do you stand today? With the wise or the foolish? On the outside or inside of the door? May God give us the courage to show up, be present, be yourself, and let go. And may we discover our call to move forward to transform lives in the name of Jesus and join the party on the other side of the door. Amen.