Lent in the Ordinary: Oil

The Sunday Sermon: March 21, 2021 – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

Lent in the Ordinary:  Oil

Bread … a cross … coins … shoes.  “Lent,” our annual journey to the cross intended to make us more aware of the presence of God in our lives and what that presence means for us – namely, abundant and eternal life – (Lent) is all around us in plain sight.  In the bread we eat, in the crosses we display, in the money we spend and in the shoes we walk through life in.  We’re not substituting one object for another in these week, we’re adding them together.  I hope you are paying attention to all of them as you eat, watch, spend and walk through these weeks:  God is near.  Heaven is right in front of us.  And, all these thing are reminders to us to stay awake and pay attention.

This morning we add to our list of ordinary objects … oil.  We’ve been reading smaller scripture passages week to week so far on the Sundays of Lent.  This morning’s we hear a whole story, a parable in fact.  Listen for the Word of God …

Read Matthew 25:1-13.  The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

And let us pray …

A very familiar parable at the end of Matthew’s gospel.  Few human events are more weighted emotionally than weddings.  No less so in Jesus’ time, so it is significant that near the end of his life, at the time of summing up, Jesus chose a wedding as the context for a teaching about the Kingdom.

The message here is almost certainly “stay alert, wait with purpose, be prepared.”  And the focus is surely on the ten bridesmaids, and more specifically the five foolish bridesmaids who did not “stay alert, wait with purpose, or prepare appropriately.”  I’ve always found this parable difficult to listen to.  I mean surely I would be one of the five wise bridesmaids that had brought extra oil, and surely I would have offered some to one of my sisters who was at risk of being shut out of heaven, in whatever metaphorical way that may be imagined in this teaching.   

Well, this year, we don’t have to concern ourselves with most of our usual questions about this reading or concerns for the foolish ones on the wrong side of the door.  This year, this morning, we turn our focus to … (can you guess?) … the oil in the lesson.  The oil in the lamps, our lamps, and the extra oil in the flasks, our flasks.  What does the oil of this parable represent for you?  For us?  What does God seek of us that we must acquire, keep, and maintain, and have “extra of”? 

In her book that is guiding us, Jill Duffield notes that “this seems to be the only instance in the Bible where keeping extra of something is praised!”  Other passages tell us that if we have two coats we should give one away; we should give our shirt too, if asked.  We’re instructed not to build barns and silos to store grain, not to have any one place to lay our head, and not even to bury our dead … let the dead themselves bury them!  I know, I know, but still … less is more.  Everywhere but here it seems.  Here we’re told to hold “something back, in reserve, just in case.”

So, what is this “thing” we need to be ready to meet the Christ at any moment?  Are you beginning to answer that question for yourself?  Let me give you a little more time and maybe a little help.

Because here’s the thing, at the heart of our faith is the certainty that human history is moving toward fulfillment and completion.  When we’re most faithful we don’t imagine that completion coming violently in ways that encourage us to ignore our present time.  And that’s not the focus of this parable, though some would choose it.  The point of this parable is to live expectantly and hopefully.

In every congregation, our included, there are faithful people who are genuinely frightened about where human history is headed.  This past year has certainly increased those numbers.  Justice, compassion, and our day to day health has seemed more fragile than ever.  In every congregation, ours included, there are people who are genuinely afraid of their own personal future, facing loss of work, illness, and death itself.  This past month three of our own beloved congregation have died.  All of us need to hear the good news that the Love of God will continue to appear in our lives in surprising and unexpected ways.   All of us are told to be ready to meet God at any moment, in every  moment.  In ordinary objects like bread, crosses, coins, and shoes, and by keeping our lamps full of the oil we turn our attention to this morning. 

What does the oil of this parable, and the oil of this week, represent for you?   What does God seek of us that we must acquire, keep, and maintain, and have “extra of”? 

Is it Faith?  In the face of our questions about the world and our own human history, about the oppression, injustice, and violence we most often read about, but may experience ourselves, too, do you need to maintain and even get a little extra faith?  A deep and abiding trust in and fidelity to the Way of Christ, that is the only way to true peace?  Yes, fill your lantern and a flask beside, with Faith.

Is it Hope?  In the face of our own losses, like income, homes, or friends; in the face of our own illnesses or those of our loved ones; in the face of those we love dying to this life, do you need to maintain and procure a little extra Hope?  That “thing with feathers that perches in your soul … and never stops at all?”  Yes, fill you lantern and a flask beside, with Hope.

Is it Love?  In the face of every face in your life – your family, your friends, your church family, your co-workers, the faces you may never meet but see every day, and even the face you may only look upon once, do you need to maintain and have an abundance of Love?  Yes, fill you lantern and a flask beside, with Love.

Faith, Hope, and Love abide.  What else?

Keeping asking and answering that question this week.  What does the oil of this week’s scripture lesson represent for you.  Ask it and answer it every time you turn on a light (the modern “lamp”), every time you cook with oil, every time you moisturize, drive you car, or style your hair.

Oil … live expectantly and hopefully filled and fulfilled by that which prepares you for the Lord.

Let us pray …

Lord, send your Spirit this week to quell the noise within and without so that we might know what oil we need to keep our lamps burning brightly with your light.  May we hear your call to us, whispered soft and low, to come, to see, and to touch, Christ’s love.  Amen.

And amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 21, 2021