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Preaching Mission for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (November 15, 2023)

Mission is the Preparation
By Bishop Chris Giesler

Preaching Text: Matthew 25:1-13

This has been a head-spinning series of teachings from Jesus in these last few weeks. Since October 1 (the 18th Sunday after Pentecost), the Gospel lessons in the lectionary have had us in the Temple listening as Jesus addresses the crowds, argues with religious leaders, and teaches his disciples.   Matthew’s Chapter 25 gives us the last teachings of Jesus before the Gospel turns in earnest to tell of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. This is the last chance for Jesus to share critical teachings with his disciples, making this vital learning for the Matthean community to whom this document was first meant to inspire.  Last words are always important words, so we best pay attention.

In the first of 3 sections in Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about how the kingdom of heaven is like Bridesmaids waiting for the wedding banquet to begin. What we read and hear certainly does sound strange to us.  When we get a wedding invitation in the mail, it has a precise date and time when the wedding ceremony will begin and a precise time when the reception will begin.  There is no mystery here. We know where and when to show us, and most of the time, everything happens as planned.

Not so in Jesus’ day.  Weddings were larger-than-life occasions for people in that day.  The celebrations would last for more than a week, including a parade around the village, visits to the couple’s new home, ceremony, and banquet.  But any number of things could hold things up. Perhaps the food could not be procured, or it took longer than expected to be prepared.  Maybe there was an illness in the family, and the couple wanted to wait until everybody could attend.  So everybody needed to be ready to hear the announcement that the groom had arrived and that everything was ready.  This was most certainly the case for the bride and her bridesmaids.  And here we thought that “being prepared” was only for Scouts.

We must balance the rather direct message that those who are not prepared will be completely shut off from God’s banquet with the over-arching message of grace given by the entirety of Matthew’s Gospel.  With that in mind, however, it must be noted that out of all of the Gospels, Matthew’s is the most persistent in giving the message that there will come a judgment day, and you best find yourself ready.  Remember the wedding banquet where the invited guest did not wear the right garment?

But the emphasis here is less on the judgment because, as Matthew points out in several places, our actions will judge themselves.  The focus here should be on the preparations and work we should be engaged in while waiting for the bridegroom’s arrival.    To sit idly by and wait for Jesus to appear is folly.  As the latter half of Matthew’s 25th chapter will tell us, we need to be about doing God’s work of justice every day. People need food, clothing, shelter, and spiritual support…are we doing any of that? Are we engaged in mission, or are we just waiting for others to take care of that for us?

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, what are we doing to ensure we are ready as we prepare for the coming winter season?  What will we need when the snow starts to fall? Are we doing anything now to be prepared, or will we be caught with no food in the pantry, no salt for the sidewalk, and no shovel to clear the snow?

As we prepare for eternity, what can we do today to be ready? How can we bring just a taste of heaven here to earth? What is our mission today?