"Fill Your Lamps, Light the Path", Sermon for the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

"Fill Your Lamps, Light the Path", Sermon for the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

Nov 08, 2020

Passage:Matthew 25:1-13

Preacher: The Rev. Jared Houze

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Abundance, encouragement


Jared Houze

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church 

November 8, 2020

Matthew 25:1-13

“Fill Your Lamps, Light the Path” 


Let’s see if we can imaginatively enter into this parable of Jesus, into this first century world, a culture different than our own – yes, but not absolutely and utterly different. There’s still a nervous bride and an anxious pacing groom. Friends from all over have come to celebrate this special moment, to eat on someone else’s dime and drink on someone else’s tab – family gathered all around, weepy mothers, a father of the bride doing calculations in his head – projected cost analysis fill his thoughts, that is – until he sees his daughter before him and suddenly it’s memories that fill his thoughts, memories of a scraped-kneed little girl whose ringlets glowed in the evening sun who seems to have become a young woman over-night. 


And what of these ten bridesmaids that we hear in our parable this morning? Well, they have a crucial role. Because in that day and age, these bridesmaids would carry lamps filled with oil and as the night grew dark they would hold up these lamps, lighting the wedding procession from the bride’s father’s house to what will become her new home. The whole community would dance and sing, zig-zagging through the streets – all of them making their way to the ceremony. The only way this could happen is if these bridesmaids lit the path with their lamps (which by the way, would only stay lit for a while before needing to be restocked with new oil) and once they arrived they would hold up these lamps illuminating the wedding ceremony, followed by a dance – but not a dance with an over-priced DJ who can’t break free from a rotation of Cool & The Gang, The Village People, Garth Brooks, and Lionel Ritchie. No, it was a sacred dance and these bridesmaids would move about the crowd rhythmically lifting their lamps – working the people into a celebratory frenzy until every man, woman, and child danced, laughed, and sang into the night. 


And, like so many of Jesus’ stories, there is this rich symbolism that could take you into different directions (the bridesmaids, the bride and groom, the wedding party, the wedding feast...) but the image I find myself drawn to is…the oil. 


Because throughout the Old and New Testaments, oil is a symbol of mercy and justice and the study of the scriptures. From Numbers, to Deuteronomy, to the Psalms, to Revelation – in Rabbinic literature and Jewish Wisdom literature – oil is an often used image, as one Biblical scholar wrote, to teach us about “…the spiritual substance and strength that comes from God that nourishes and prepares us…” 


…the substance and strength that comes from God…that nourishes and prepares….


Now…there’s a little detail in this story that’s pretty important. 

The groom was running late. People were gathered outside, ready to party, but he hadn’t come out yet. I would have thought to blame it on the groomsmen and the bachelor party the night before – but we don’t have that detail. But we do know he was late…Which tells me something…those bridesmaids that ran out of oil…it’s not that they took an unreasonable amount of oil, it’s that they just took a reasonable amount of oil. You see, those that ran out of oil were being savvy, efficient, cost-effective. On their way to the wedding they were the ones who looked reasonable…But all their shrewdness mattered not when the clock hit midnight, the groom popped out and the party began. From that point forward the unreasonable ones who had been hauling around extra jugs of oil all night led the people down the path and to the feast.  


St. Paul in the first century wrote to the Corinthians, “If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise…”


Bill is going to be talking about G.K. Chesterton in our Saints and Sages formation class after the service and G.K. in the early 20th century said it like this, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” 


And let’s be honest, nothing is more unreasonable than a wedding. I mean the cost, the planning, the head aches, the organizing…I’ve been able to officiate lots of weddings and I used to tell people in premarital counseling…”You don’t have to do this, you know. It can be small, cheap, and short and you can take all the money you’re planning on spending on this and buy furniture. That might be wise. That might be…reasonable.” I said that…until I did a wedding in Marfa, TX. The groom and his family were from Mexico and they wanted a traditional Mexican wedding reception. I officiated the ceremony like most others, but when I walked out of the chapel after the service everyone was crowded in the middle of the street, there was a Mariachi band playing, people were laughing and singing and carrying-on, and in the middle of the crowd was a donkey. The donkey was covered in flowers and on both sides of his body were two baskets filled with bottles of tequila, and around the donkey were all the bridesmaids handing out small ceramic cups attached to a rope that hung around your neck and they would fill your cup with tequila – and you could keep going back. Now it’s not relevant to the story how many times I went back to the tequila donkey – so we don’t need to dwell on that…But what is relevant is we then walked from the chapel to the feast, mariachi band playing, bridesmaids, tequila donkey, people laughing and singing…Absolutely unreasonable. 


Unreasonable the way marriage is unreasonable…

Unreasonable the way God’s love for us is unreasonable…   


And yet…


We are still invited to a feast. 


And maybe it takes unreasonable people to help get us there. 


People whose lives act as lamps filled with those things that draw from the substance and strength of God that nourish and prepare us…


You know, we’re entering the holiday season – and in a normal year, it is a tough time for many people. Beneath all the lights, and the commercialism, and the meals, and the gifts…there can be a sadness, a loneliness, a kind of haunted remembering of what had been or what never was. The nights grow longer – the darkness stretches further. And I think this year….it’s going to be even harder. 


But what if we were to be those unreasonable people carrying around extra jugs of oil? 


How do you draw substance and strength from God? What nourishes and prepares you? 


Because when all the reasonable people’s lamps burn out – we’re going to need all the holy foolishness we can get…


…to light the path


…and get us to the feast.