Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
November 8, 2020
“‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” It’s easy to miss that little line in the middle of this parable for today. But consider it. Are there any more joyous words in all the gospels? “‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” This eternal call is the essence of the holy scriptures. The Lord God Almighty revealed to us in Jesus Christ is coming to meet us, to be with us, to dwell within us. Hear the joy in that voice. The anticipation. The wonder. The love. “‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”
The question we have to ask next, I think, is the simplest one. Why? Why? Why should I come out to meet the bridegroom that is Jesus Christ? Why should I wake up from my sleep, as the bridesmaids do, to see this groom? Why should I worship this God and not that god? Why should I bring along extra oil? Why should I go to church, give my life to Jesus, when it would be a whole lot more fun to go plenty of other places and give my life to other things?
Over the last few decades, Christians have offered some pretty lame answer to that most basic question. We say, “come out to meet Jesus!” The world asks, “why?” And we resort to all the worst tropes – “because if you don’t you’ll go to hell.” Like we’re selling fire insurance. Or we’ll say, “because it’s what you’re supposed to do, it’s the right thing to do.” Well, we all know that we’re supposed to wash our hands but how come we sold out of soap back in March? The world asks, “why?” And we say, “because you can meet people and everybody is really nice.” And then they do show up at church, and we give them the cold shoulder for wearing the wrong shoes or sitting in “my pew.” We can say, “Look! Here comes the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” till we go hoarse, but we’ve just got to have a better reason why.
So here’s why I keep on preaching, here’s why we keep pointing out the Lord Jesus. Because of grace. Grace. Grace is why we come out to meet the bridegroom. Grace is why we give our lives to the Lord Jesus. Grace is the gift of Holy Communion, the taste and smell of it, even if we don’t deserve it. Grace is when a parishioner in a chat box shares they have cancer, and a whole congregation pledges their prayers. Grace is when a small group rallies around someone who is increasingly fragile, giving their support, their help, and yes, their grace. Grace is when an old friend comes back again after a long argument. Grace is when the Lord Jesus opens wide his arms upon the cross for me and you. When we cry out for the world to meet the risen Lord Christ, and they ask “why,” we must answer, “grace.”
Because grace is one thing the world will not offer. You know this all too well. A young boy needs some special attention at school, but the system says there’s no help available. You make a mistake, because you’re young or immature or stressed out, and that mark stays on you. The internet keeps everything forever. In seminary, I was running out of insulin and the insurance company said I couldn’t have anymore because I’d hit my limit. The reverse is also true, I have refused to give grace. I know that I benefit from people who are paid low wages, the people who make my clothes and grow my food. I have refused to give grace. We live in a brutal, callous, ungracious world. And what makes the Church distinct, what makes the Lord God Almighty different, is grace. Why should anybody come out to meet the bridegroom? Because here we will find grace.
By now I’m sure some of you are scratching your head because you just heard a gospel lesson that seems rather ungracious. The wise bridesmaids won’t share their oil with the foolish. The bridegroom won’t let the bridesmaids in, despite their insistence. Where is grace in all that?
This is where we Christians have to say that while eternally gracious, God is not a pushover. Just because God is gracious doesn’t mean God has no standards. Rather, God has very high standards, and the fact that we do not meet them and yet we are loved by God is the very essence of grace. I bet that each of you could name a time that you were not prepared, that you did not bring enough oil with you on your spiritual journey. You were complacent in your prayers. You had slipped away from your disciplines. You were worshiping some others gods – work, money, titles. You had failed the high standard of discipleship. And yet, here you are. That is grace. And I bet there were times that you banged on God’s door, desperate for an answer, hearing only silence, and yet here you are. I bet you have shorted your neighbor, you could have borrowed or given but you didn’t. And yet again, here you are. The only possible explanation is grace. Somehow, some way, we keep coming out to meet the bridegroom. And somehow, some way, the bridegroom keeps coming out to meet us. This parable is not so much about the End, or our end, but it is about every day of our Christian lives. Every day the Spirit says in our hearts, “‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”
And it’s grace that the world so desperately needs. We have become a bitter people because we have failed to give grace to one another. In the midst of this ungracious time in the life of our society, I beg you to join me in that great call, “‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” With so much rancor and animosity, you have the opportunity to show the world a better way. A more gracious way. The way of Jesus. We wish the world to meet Jesus for the same reason that we keep coming back – an unearned, undeserved, gift of grace from God.