Today is Offering Sunday. A day in the life of the parish where we offer our financial resources for the coming year. It is a way to honor our relationship with God, and our connection to this community of faith.
Such faithful giving allows the church to be wise in the decisions it makes to sustain all of our members as they live out their ministry in the world and what we do through St. Peter’s Church. The challenge before us for 2018 is to continue to stay on top of our finances & mission and not go further in debt. Using the image of the Gospel we heard this morning, it is to be wise with our oil and to make sure we do not run out.
In the Gospel, the parable of the ten maidens that Jesus gives us today, is a story about living into hope & the encouragement to stick with it even when we have to wait, be patient, and be prepared which is what we are trying to do as a parish.
As Jesus tells it, 10 bridesmaids were given the honor to meet the bridegroom. 5 were wise and prepared (extra oil), 5 were foolish and had only oil in their lamp. The Bridegroom was delayed and all 10 fell asleep. When he finally arrived the foolish ran to get more oil because their lamps grew dim & no one would give them their extra and they were not welcomed back when they returned.
Now Jesus tells us that this parable is how the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, so Keep awake says Jesus, be prepared, for you know neither the day nor the hour when the kingdom will come, for the bridegroom in the story is Jesus. And he is looking at our lives, and seeing how unprepared we are to live, how we don’t have that hope oozing through us, we don’t have that extra oil to be ready for what delays may come, we are not fully living out the faith in us.
“Readiness in the Gospel of Matthew is all about living the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. Many can do this for a short while; but when the kingdom is delayed, the problems arise. Being a peacemaker for a day is not as demanding as being a peacemaker year after year when the hostility breaks out again and again, and the bridegroom is delayed…” (New Interpreters Bible)
I think of the stories Bishop Sengulane shared with us about trying to keep peace before the eyes of the warring parties in Mozambique, year after year after year, until it finally came to fruition.
It is the challenge of living out our faith not just on Sundays, or when its convenient, or when we want to, but at every moment of our lives, to live out those Beatitudes as I talked about last week, climbing the ladder of the Beatitudes, living out of our faith every day of every year.
Recently, I read the words from a hospice nurse, about the valuable lessons she has learned from her care of the dying. In her words:
"Although I struggle, like every other human being, with the daily challenges of overwork, impatience, fear, anger, and disappointment, I know that it is always my choice instead to choose happiness, forgiveness, compassion, and joy, to live each day as if it were my last, and to be grateful for every day that I have.
"Working with the dying has brought light into my own life, illuminating the shadowy corners of negativity that I alone have the choice to relinquish or to transform into something more positive. Even though the work I do is with the dying, it has also been work within myself, and I thank God every day for both of those opportunities.
"So, in the end, what is it that the dying teach others around them? They teach how to love and how to allow ourselves to be loved; how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness; how to find our joy and how to spread that joy around to others. They also teach us how to spend valuable time connecting our earthly self with our spiritual self so that these two separate but vital aspects of our being aren't strangers when they meet as the time of our own death draws near.
"And so it is perhaps meant to be that, with every person's dying, another person is learning to live well. Although I can't know for certain, I suspect from what I have witnessed that, possibly, the very best part of living might actually be the dying." [From Peaceful Passages: A Hospice Nurse's Stories of Dying Well by Janet Wehr.]
The parable of the ten bridesmaids reflects what this dedicated hospice nurse has learned from those entrusted to her care: that we have only so many opportunities to become part of Jesus' work of mercy and reconciliation in our world; that we have only so much oil in our lamps to illuminate the love of God in our lives, and we must be ready for what may come.
There is so much we want to accomplish in our lives - but the many demands on our time to make a living can derail us from making a life, a life that is centered in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God's loving presence in our midst, in a yearning to contribute to the greater good of all, through what we do and what our church can do.
Christ warns us not to fall into the trap of the five foolish bridesmaids who squander their time before the Bridegroom's arrival & are not ready, but to embrace the wisdom of the five wise bridesmaids, trimming our lamps with the oil of faith: that is compassion, generosity and forgiveness in the precious time we have until Christ's coming.
On this offering Sunday, may we offer our support to this parish in a very tangible and meaningful way through our offering cards. May they inspire us in our work in this world, living those lives God would have us live: to be ready each day and live those good works so all may come to see Jesus in our midst. Amen.