Would if I told you that the most generous characters in all Jesus’s parables were these wise bridesmaids who refused to share their oil with the foolish ones. Would you think I were I looney?
Afterall, didn’t mama teach us that sharing is caring? Those poor foolish ones who are unknown to bridegroom and can’t come to the late-night wedding banquet. Why is our teacher and master Jesus keeping them in darkness this way? What is the point of this story? Aren’t the wise women who refuse to share their oil being stingy?
Of all the parables in scripture, this is, by far my favorite. Darkness. Bridesmaids. Parties at midnight. What could be better? Matthew 25 is by far my favorite chapter of parables in all of scripture in the New Testament and for the next 3 weeks, we are going to be reading these dark and wonderful fairytale-like parables.
I can hardly wait to see where our imaginations and Father Jayan will take us in two weeks on Christ the King Sunday. As we get to the dramatic ending of this chapter and Jesus explains to us how we ultimately know the Christ in all of time.
In the meanwhile, I hope we will play in the deep dark woods of our imagination like children running wild with fairytales and dragons and castles and queens and kings. Because guess what? All those elements of play and archetypes are here in the darkness of these stories.
I invite us in these weeks as the darks grows daily, and our sun light diminishes to watch as these parables grow in darkness too. The way these three parables draw us deeper and deeper into darkness and our imaginations in Chapter 25 of Matthew and then the way this chapter ends is stunning. These are some of my favorite weeks of coming to church--but I am getting ahead of myself. Let us return to our bridegroom and our banquet hall.
“I don’t know you.” The teacher says to the foolish ones. “I don’t know you.” Imagine if our teacher were to tell us this and invite us to sit in darkness. I don’t know you. How did we get here?
I wonder: when does the teacher cease to know us?
When did I fall back asleep? When did I run out of oil? What will I learn in this darkness?
Darkness is not all bad. I can burn up too much oil chasing light. Sometimes to come to the light, we must sit in the deepest dark first. We need to stop chasing the light and allow ourselves to fall into the arms of utter darkness. In our foolishness to avoid the dark, we can chase the sunset into the west thinking the sun will once again come up there, not recognizing it will come instead in the darkest and coldest place in the sky—from the east—from the darkest and coldest place, the bridegroom rises there.
And to know the teacher, to truly know the bridge groom, we have to say no.
And saying No is hard. But if we want to know the bridegroom, we have to say No. This brings us to the generosity of the wise bridesmaids who say No.
I love the wisdom of researcher, Episcopalian and writer Brene Brown . If you don’t know who she is, check out her Ted Talk on Shame. It will blow your mind. Her books and wisdom are worth your time. Brene Brown loves to say the most generous people on the planet are the ones who maintain excellent boundaries.
And excellent boundary keepers say NO to the wrong things so that they can say Yes to the right things. The wisdom that the bridesmaids offer us in the dark is to say no to foolishly expending our resources. All of us know the reality of saying yes too much and spreading ourselves too thin. Boundaries are all about creating something new. And God invite us into covenant over and over again, and creating newness all the time, every day. God creates something new in Christ and in resurrection. God says Yes in a new way to us through Jesus.
The book that’s blowing my mind right now is called Saying No to Say Yes by David Olsen in which he reminds clergy types like me to mind my energy and say no to doing too many things at church so that I can remember why I said the ultimate YES to God.
I said Yes to God in the church because it is the ONLY organization I know of that creates transformation and invites us into being agents of transformation. I thought I could help teach and tell stories about the wisdom of this beautiful and amazing tradition, I said yes to God because I fell in love with Matthew and oh man do I love the Old Testament and the Psalms and doing works of mercy, and did I mention that Eucharist is like oxygen for me—I can’t live without it. And the liturgical year... So I said Yes. And I will have to say No so that I can keep saying Yes. And will you, Beloved ones of Christ as saying not to say yes to God is all aspects of Church life.
We can also name that the expectations are set high for any priest. And every single person in this church has different expectations of its clergy. And we, your priests will say No to somethings so that we can say Yes to God. For if we say to YES to everything, like the foolish bridesmaids, we will not know Christ and Christ will not know us. We will land in dark places too.
The same holds true for you as well. You said Yes. And you will also get to say no. And No is a complete sentence if you want it to be. Recently I invited someone to take up a ministry for the church and they began to apologize to me about saying no. What I want to say church is you never need to apologize about saying no to any ministry. Say no so that you can yes too. Be like the wise bridesmaids so that you can know bridegroom. I promise to do the same.
The most generous characters of all Jesus’s parables were these wise bridesmaids who refused to share their oil with the foolish ones because they said yes to God and no to something that expended their energy in ways they were unwilling to serve. Say no so that you can yes. Amen.