Sunday, November 12, 2023
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

We will serve the Lord

The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77450

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Parable of the ten bridesmaids

This is one of a string of parables in a extended teaching and only exists in Matthew. The next parable is the parable of the 5 talents. All of the teaching is about the end times and the kingdom. Notice that this one starts out with, “The kingdom will be like this.” This is looking into the future of how the kingdom will be. Now there are several bits of this parable which are uncomfortable or don’t sit right, but then again it is a parable and parables are supposed to disturb us.

While this is a parable about the Kingdom, it is also one of judgment. Tied in with the judgment is a theme waiting and of greatest importance, preparation. The judgment is related to how the person is prepared.

There are a couple of points that seem out of place especially with the parables and teachings to come. The big one that seemed a little unfair to me as a child is, why didn’t they share. My mom and dad certainly taught me that I was to share with others. Where in the world were the foolish ones going to find an all night oil store to refill their lamps? This was in the days before 7-11! This refusal to share, which certainly seems to go against everything Jesus has taught is problematic.  That prompts me to ask, is there more to the oil than just fuel for a lamp. Remember that the parable retains and element of mystery, something to be pondered and wondered about and the oil is key.

What if the oil symbolizes something that cannot be shared? I believe that our passage from Joshua contains the answer. Joshua has taken over for Moses and is finally leading the people into the Promised Land. Before they cross the Jordan River he challenges them to make a decision. Are they going to continue to follow the gods and idols of the lands that they have been traveling through or are they going to serve the Lord? He is asking them about what is important in their life.

Joshua then in good leadership style says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the lord.”  Serving the lord in all that we do and in all that we are is the oil that keeps our lamps lit. The challenge is in serving the Lord for the long run. That is what the wise bridesmaids do. They are prepared to serve the Lord for the long term, always ready for his arrival even if they nod of in sleep while waiting.  The moment the call comes out the are awake and ready to go into the banquet. This service to the Lord is what keeps their lamps lit and allows the bridegroom to know them.

Now this is more than just a short term commitment. This is not will you serve the Lord today when maybe it seems easy, but will you serve the Lord all the time, even when life is hard and serving the Lord is risky. Now that’s the real challenge. Like the Beatitudes this is will likely be hard and costly. Costly because it means bucking the system which in many case pretends to follow Jesus, but in reality, on a day to day basis really does not follow his teachings.

So how do we serve the Lord? Another version of this question that I have asked before is “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence for conviction?

The five promises of the Baptismal Covenant are one of the most important parts of the Book of Common Prayer. When someone asked me long ago what the focus of my call was as a priest I answered, “To help people live into the promises made at our baptism.” That is still the primary call for me as your rector, My call is to inspire you, challenge you and give you the tools to live into these promises. We read them last week as part of our All Saints commemoration. However I did not spend any time on them in the sermon. Since they apply to our parable and our Joshua reading I want to take a few minutes this morning to think about them.

This is what it means to serve the Lord.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers? Church is a communal activity; we are the church when we are gathered and working together. That was part of what was so difficult during Covid. We as a parish lost some momentum because we could not gather, but I truly believe we are regaining that. This promise is what is behind several of our core values and our mission statement.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? For me this is where these promises get challenging and where I think many people fall short. Word and deed. Just talking a good game and saying the right thing are not enough. In fact saying one thing and acting in another is what is hurting Christianity in the public sphere right now. Too many people are like the pharisees of Jesus’ time. In last Sunday’s passage if we had read Proper 26 readings instead of All Saints, Jesus says do what the pharisees say, but do not do what they do for they do not do what they say.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? This is why I spent time two weeks ago talking about Outreach and what we are doing to serve the Lord. This is stewardship in a very deep and important sense. This is so important to this parish that it is a central part of our mission and core values.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Respecting the dignity of every human can be hard especially when it is someone who makes loving them, respecting them difficult. However, if we do not respect the other how can we expect them to respect us. I heard an amazing presentation at Fall Clergy Conference. It was by an African American musician who has played piano with many of the famous early Rock and Roll stars. However in recent years, concerned by what he has seen in the rise of white supremacists he has sought out leaders of the Klu Klux Klan. Daryl Davis is now known as the Klan Whisperer. He told us of how he has sat down with over a dozen clan leaders and listened to them, treated them with respect and in turn gained their respect. Attended by invitation Klan rallies. He now has the robes from all of those men as they have renounced their membership in the Klan after meeting with them over a period of months or years. This includes one of the leaders of the violence in Charlottesville VA. He did this by respecting the other even though he vehemently disagreed with him. He then asked them to respect him as they heard his story. That is how he is working for justice and peace.

Notice the words all, every, no exceptions allowed. We believe that all people are created equal by God. We are all God’s children, created in the image and likeness of God. There is no us and them in the eyes of God or Christ. Everyone is a beloved child of God even if they do not know it.

Is this easy, of course not especially when the rest of the world seems to ignore most of these ideas. I do believe Christianity would have a better reputation if more Christians lived into these promises.

Now I want to conclude with a prayer from our Book of Common Prayer.  I encourage you this week to go to your prayer books and pray the prayers for our country the prayers of peace and the prayers for our enemies that are in that section with this prayer. This one is on page 823.

Prayer for Social Order:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.