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November 8, 2020

            Message for November 8, 2020- “Be Prepared!”

(From Matthew 25: 1-13)

     This week, Peter and I made a pilgrimage to Wal-Mart to purchase batteries.  I wish I could share that we did so proactively, but, alas, our TV remote suddenly stopped working.  At first, it would work intermittently, then finally…nothing.  We re-inserted the batteries, attempted to press them into a better connection, banged the remote a few times, and then reluctantly went to the store to purchase new ones.  Why, you ask?  Because we did not have any more AA batteries in the house.  Believe that—with all of the electronics we have and use regularly—no AA batteries.

     If this little scenario I just played out for you has made you smile…gotcha!  You have been there too.  We did not better prepare ourselves because we felt that we were prepared. After all, everyone has batteries laying around in a drawer or cupboard somewhere in the house—right?  Well, we assumed we did, and we paid the price because we had not prepared by actually checking and purchasing the batteries before we needed them. UGH!

     Be prepared—the motto of the Scouts intended to train young men and women to anticipate future circumstances and needs, and to adequately prepare for them beforehand.  As my stepson’s fifth grade teacher reminded his class, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.”  It is a good life lesson for students, Scouts, and also for believers.  We understand that Christ is coming again at a time we do know.  We do not want to allow his coming to take us by surprise. When we fail to plan for our eternal future, as we await his coming, we can miss the mark on the desired outcome.  That is what Jesus wanted his Disciples and followers to learn from the parable he shared in our scripture lesson today.  It is known as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids.”  Let’s look at it more closely to understand its message and meaning for us and for our lives today.    

     The “Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids” is told by Jesus as a means of illustrating a truth about the “kindom” (inclusive word for the term “kingdom”) of heaven.  In the Gospel of Matthew, it is part of a series of Jesus’ parables about his coming again in glory at the end of the age.  The parable, as told by Jesus, shares that there were ten bridesmaids who went out to meet the bridegroom; five brought their lamps and extra oil in case they needed it, and five brought their lamps with only the oil they already contained—they did not consider a need for additional oil.  The bridegroom was delayed in arriving at the banquet, and the bridesmaids had to wait on him.  It was some time, and they all fell asleep waiting.  Hours later, around midnight, the bridegroom arrived.  All of the bridesmaids rose to trim the wicks of their lamps so they would burn clean and brightly.  The foolish bridesmaids were those who brought no extra oil, for their lamps were going out.  The wise bridesmaids who had brought extra oil, simply refilled their lamps with more oil and then went to greet the bridegroom.  The foolish had to go into town to purchase more oil for their lamps, for the wise knew that they would need their extra oil, and they dared not share it.  When the foolish bridesmaids returned to the banquet, the door was shut.  They knocked on the door to be admitted, but they were neither known nor recognized, and so they did not gain entrance into the banquet.  “Keep awake,” Jesus admonishes his listeners, which means be prepared, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

     When we think about being prepared, with respect to our eternal life in the kindom when Christ returns, believers immediately turn to our ongoing growth in holiness in cooperation with the Holy Spirit’s work in and through us.  We turn to Jesus’ great commandments for us to love God with our complete being, and also to love and care for others as we also love and care for ourselves.  Although they are huge undertakings for us as we journey along our path of faith, we understand quite clearly these imperatives—what is needed to keep the oil burning in our lamps as we wait, so to speak. 

     As I was thinking about this parable over the course of this week, I could not help but to draw a comparison to our experience with the onset of COVID-19 earlier this year.  COVID came at us quickly and without any notice or warning.  It was highly destructive, and it has left a wake of illness, death and longer term health and economic impacts I suspect we have not yet fully realized at this time.  We could not possibly have prepared for a viral-born disease that we did not even know existed. Unlike the foolish bridesmaids who could have observed that their cohort bridesmaids brought additional oil for their lamps with them, there were no helpful early clues regarding this disease that we could glean from one another.  We could not plan, and we were not prepared.  Thus, the outcome of this ravaging disease has been dire, not only for our beloved Peninsula community and state, but also for our nation and for our world.  We are just now, more than eight months into COVID-19, understanding more completely its means of transmission as well as the means by which we can maintain those personal and communal practices with the greatest potential to keep us safe.  Yet, even with this knowledge, our numbers are higher than ever before—over 125,000 new cases per day across the nation.  It is not enough for us to know the means of combating COVID-19, we need to practice them each and every day.  We now have the means to “be prepared.”  Just as today’s parable revealed that our journey of faith depends on implementing appropriate means of preparation, overcoming COVID-19 requires that we keep ourselves prepared and vigilant. So, let us not be foolish, Church, but let us be observant and cautious and-safe.  As we are commanded to love one another, let us show that love by sacrificing our personal freedom on behalf of the health and welfare of our brothers and sisters and wearing our masks, keeping a safe distance, and avoid crowded places.  During these days of COVID-19, this is a major way by which we live into Jesus’ commandment to love and care for the needs of our neighbors.  With the Holy Spirit’s help, we will not only be protecting ourselves and others from the spread of COVID-19; but, we will be practicing and growing the faith that prepares us for the coming again of Christ, and for our life in the eternal kindom of God.  Amen—may it be so.

Hymn- United Methodist Hymnal # 395- “Take Time to Be Holy”

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; abide in him always, and feed on his word.  Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak, forgetting in nothing his blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on; spend much time in secret with Jesus alone.  By looking    to Jesus, like him thou shalt be; thy friends in thy conduct his likeness shall see.

Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul, each thought and each motive beneath his control.  Thus led by his spirit to fountains of love, thou soon shall be fitted for service above.

(words- William D. Longstaff; music-George C. Stebbins)