Waiting is hard. It has never been my strong suit. Even acknowledging that all waiting is
not the same, I do not like it, not one little bit. Whether we’re talking about a child waiting for
Christmas morning or an adult awaiting the test results from the doctor; the birth of a child or the
last breath after a well-lived life, waiting is rarely a passive activity. There is vigilance,
preparation, and even anxiety, and all of it can be utterly exhausting. Just look at our bridesmaids
in today’s story from Jesus: they fell asleep.
Matthew’s community had been waiting a long time for Jesus to return, sixty years or
more, and those bridesmaids fell asleep. We’ve been waiting two millennia. I wonder if we’ve
fallen asleep or just grown accustomed to not paying attention. Of not making sure we have
enough oil for our lamps. And what is it, exactly, that we’re supposed to be waiting for?
There are plenty of Christian apocalypticists with cellars full of canned peas and water jugs
who may be ready for something, but I’m not quite sure that it’s for the return of Jesus. I don’t
think that hoarding of any kind is quite what Jesus expects of us.
So rather than focusing on those “unwise” bridesmaids who neglected to bring along
enough oil for their lamps, I want to know why Jesus isn’t directing at least a little bit of his ire
toward those other smug bridesmaids who have plenty of oil but just aren’t willing to share a little
bit of it. Why do they get a pass for selfishness here? Don’t we consistently and unequivocally
proclaim a God of abundance who provides enough for everyone if we will all just open our hearts
and minds and wallets and pantries?
“But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go
to the dealers and buy some for yourselves’” (Matthew 25:9). That just doesn’t sound very much
like Jesus to me. It sounds like a community of people who are under persecution, people who are
afraid, who have been battling against the religious authorities and the Romans and they are tired
of waiting. In Matthew 24 and 25, there is a series of parables about watching and waiting and
what happens when you are not vigilant. He is writing to people who are despairing because
things just are not looking very hopeful toward the end of the 1 st century.
Kind of like now. There are plenty of people who will tell you that the Second Coming is
right around the corner. You’d think that the worst possible thing that might happen is that
someone might get left behind when Jesus comes on those clouds of glory.
I don’t know about you, but I’m much more interested in doing the work God has put
right in front of me rather than worrying about all the unknowns of God’s coming reign. Because,
you see, that is our work – we are partners with God in the establishment of God’s reign of justice
and peace on this earth, and looking into the sky and listening for trumpet blasts is not going to do
a whole lot to make that a reality for those who are out of oil for their lamps.
I know that many of you enjoy this long weekend every year when the Virginia Film
Festival serves up endless offerings of both obscure and much-anticipated films. On Thursday, our
friends at Christ Church hosted a screening of “Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems
from the Murder Capital of the World.” It’s about Little Roses orphanage in Honduras, and it’s
the story of not only of these girls who found their voice through poetry, but it’s also the story of
my friend, Spencer Reece.
Spencer was in his final year of divinity school at Yale when I was in my first. He lived in
the Berkeley House, the community home occupied by the dean and a collection of students
whose mission to the students is one of hospitality. When I met him, Spencer was a 40-something
gay recovering alcoholic poet and one of the gentlest souls I had ever encountered.
During his Clinical Pastoral Education at Hartford Hospital, he recounts the night he was
on-call when a teenage boy was brought to the emergency room with 25 stab wounds, the victim
of gang violence. Spencer tried his best to comfort the boy’s mother, but she spoke only Spanish,
and he spoke only English. Chastened if not traumatized by his inability to offer solace to this
woman, he called his bishop in Southeast Florida for advice. His bishop sent him to Honduras for
a summer internship at Little Roses, an orphanage for abandoned and abused girls in San Pedro
Sula, a town where children wash in a polluted river and feed themselves by scrounging at the city
dump. He was mostly there to do a Spanish-language immersion with limited contact with the
residents of Little Roses, but the night before he left to come back to the States, one of the girls
came to him and said, “‘No nos olvides.’ Don’t forget us.’’ Spencer says, “Those three words
changed the course of everything. I went into my room, closed the door and cried.’’ (1)
Spencer applied for a Fulbright Scholarship and returned to Little Roses to teach the one
thing that he felt he knew – poetry. He taught them Emily Dickinson and W.H. Auden and they,
in turn, wrote poetry of their own which has just been published in an anthology and now, this
film. Shortly before the completion of his work at Little Roses, one of the girls featured in the film
helped him understand not how much he had opened a world for them but how much they had
done for him. He says:
<<Here was the girl with the most unspeakable story, who they found in a well with a
rock around her neck, who met with me at the end of my time. It didn’t matter that I
was this unconventional gay poet who had spent time in a mental hospital with suicidal
thoughts, who was estranged from his parents for 10 years, who had experienced the
ravages of alcoholism. All these things she listened to. After she heard them, she said,
‘It makes sense to me now why God brought you here. It’s because you understand us.’
That was a pivotal moment in my own life. I felt ordained, anointed, and (she) was my
It wasn’t some sense of perfection – of having been fully prepared – that brought my friend
into relationship with these girls. It was his very brokenness, his half-full lamp. Spencer was not
keeping watch for this; he was not being vigilant for this; he was not carrying extra oil; but he was
open to where the Spirit was leading him. And it filled his lamp to the brim.
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (25:13)
Matthew wrote these words in a time far different than ours. Being prepared was how the
fledgling Christian Church would survive. I recognize that it’s a dangerous thing when I question
the text in such a way as to discount what it actually says. Please know that I absolutely affirm
Matthew’s words about the need for vigilance. However, I do wonder if vigilance and
preparedness might look a lot different for us than it did for them. The very survival of
Christianity is not on our shoulders. No, I believe that the reclaiming of Christianity from those
who have perverted it into something other than it is – prosperity gospel, patriotism, security
through guns and weapons of war, lust for power and privilege – reclaiming the Church from that is our challenge.
You know neither the day nor the hour when Jesus might appear: in a hospital room, in a
young orphan, in a homeless person on the street, in a person sitting in a pew next to you, in
someone whose lamp is just about empty. Keep your eyes open. Do not be afraid to share
whatever it is you have to offer. Jesus emptied himself completely on the cross and gained for us
eternal life. All we’re asked is to share a portion of what we have, to be faithful to Jesus’s call to
care for the least and the lost, without counting the cost to either our wallets or our position or our
Being prepared simply means living faithfully the life God has called us to lead. Our being
prepared, being vigilant, may not change a young orphan’s life or cause some earth-shattering
event, but I can guarantee you it will change your life. And if enough of us spend our days in that
kind of preparedness, it could very well change our world into something like what the reign of
God is supposed to look like.
(1)https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/04/03/the- priest-who- brought-the- healing-power- of-poetry-
to-honduran- orphans-in- the-murder- capital-of- the-world/?utm_term=.c6671174a6c9
|8:00 a.m.||Holy Communion|
|10:00 a.m.||Holy Communion|
|5:30 p.m.||Holy Communion|