Worship Service for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 12, 2023!

The bulletin for this service can be found here. In it, you will find the order and words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the full sermon. All the words that you need to know will also show up on your screen, so you are welcome to follow along just by watching. Also the sermon can be found on this page below the actual worship video.

To enhance your online worship experience, you are invited to have a suitable candle in your space, lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished near the end of the service, when the altar candles are extinguished after the sending hymn. And you are also welcome to participate in communion, by having something small to eat and drink ready to be consumed at the appropriate time. Further instruction will be given during the service when the time is right.

May God’s unfaltering love and grace be apparent to you, this day and always!

O Lord, send your Spirit into this place to fan the flames of our desire for your Word and wisdom that awakens us for the joy of your presence through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Anyone here like math?  I totally didn’t when I was growing up, probably because I wasn’t very good at it.  I’d try, but throughout my elementary school years, it was always a struggle.  And I remember it wasn’t much of a picnic for most of high school either, as I didn’t really care to learn the concepts and the rules, and I continually received poor grades.

I guess I didn’t care because math doesn’t matter all that much, right?  Unless I became an accountant or banker or a mathematician for some strange reason, I don’t really need these math skills, do I?  I know, some of you engineers, scientists, and teachers might be shaking your head at me, as you probably know that math is more about just the numbers.

I learned what you might be thinking about math when I was in around grade 10 or 11, when I was complaining out loud about this exact thing about math, saying that we don’t really need it unless you’re going into a specific occupation that uses math.  And a friend of mine who actually ended up being a teacher said that the point of math isn’t just to teach us how to work with the numbers, but it’s to teach us how to problem solve.  Gives us tools for logic.  Hones our ability to size up the situation and figure out what needs to be done.

And a light bulb went off in my head.

Because while it’s true that I didn’t really like the numbers at that point in my life, mostly because they tormented me with their different rules and properties and operations, but I did enjoy puzzles, riddles, and using logic to figure things out.  Really enjoyed it, in fact.  And I’ll admit that I was, at that point, already pretty good at problem solving, maybe because I just had a lot of problems.  But either case, after my friend said that, I had a whole new outlook on math.  I still didn’t get the best of grades but I did start to enjoy math, the logic of it all, and just trying to figure out its riddle. 

Because math wasn’t about the numbers anymore.  It wasn’t about understanding the terms.  It wasn’t about knowing the difference between a factor and a factorial or if there even is a difference.  But it became about the process.  About the journey.  About the learning how to better problem solve.  And that became the point of math for me.  This point that I missed all along and pushed me in this place of strongly disliking math.

And so I wonder, how often do we miss the point on things throughout our lives?  For us, is life about the destination or the journey?  Is doing things about the accomplishment or the experience?  Or, as we alluded to a bit a couple weeks ago, is our worship about the traditions and customs, or is it about the enriching and betterment of ourselves?

Looking at this parable that we get for today, I wonder if we miss the point of what is going on here in the story.  I mean, this is another difficult to understand parable, because it doesn’t really jive with our grace-centered Lutheran theology.  How the story unfolds seems unfair, unforgiving, unfaltering around rules, regulations, and restrictions.

I mean we have these 5 out of 10 bridemaids that flip because their oil in their lamps ran out while they were asleep, waiting for this super late bridegroom.  We don’t know why it’s so important that their lamps are lit when he gets there, as we have no record of this custom so we don’t even know if ever even existed.  But those 5 oil-less ladies as the other 5 oil-full if they could borrow some, but when they are denied they get so desperate and run out to find some 24-hour oil vendor to stock back up.  And in an almost hilarious rom-com sort of fashion, in their absence they completely miss the arrival of the bridegroom and are now disallowed to enter into the party. 

So, yeah.  We don’t like this parable because it seems pretty unfair for those oil-deprived bridesmaids to not be allowed into the shindig because it’s not their fault their oil ran out.  Really, if the bridegroom showed up when he was supposed to, then all would have been fine.  And it also seems unfair that those that were allowed into the hoopla aren’t the nicest or most helpful kind of folk, rather they seemed to be unkind and almost vindictive.  It doesn’t seem like they should deserve to be there.

And there’s the bridegroom… oh this bridegroom.  Why is he so mean?  Cut them some slack, they went and got oil for your party, sheesh.  So they were a few minutes late, they just waited for your sorry butt for a whole lamp’s worth of burning oil for crying out loud.  It just doesn’t sound right.  It doesn’t sound at all gracious.  And much like the other parables we talked about in the past few weeks, it doesn’t sound like the kingdom.

But maybe… maybe when we read the parable like this, we’re missing the point.  Maybe we’re focussed too much on the careless attitude of the oil-free, the cold demeanor of the oil-some, and the lack of any sense of time of the bridegroom, when really we should be focussing on the story itself, what lesson it could be teaching us, and how it relates to our lives now, their lives then, and throughout this unending journey of faith.

So what could the point be, you ask?  Well, I wonder if the point is… actually missing the point.  Not that the point of the story misses the point, but the point of the story is about us missing the point, just to make that clear as mud.  I wonder if through all the distractions of the story, the different nuances in the conflicting personalities, the discouraging tone of everything that happens, that the point of the story is actually that there is a party.  A joyous occasion that involves bridesmaids and bridegrooms and lamps.  There is a reason to celebrate.

But then that reason was superseded by this need to have oil in their lamps.  The undocumented and probably nonsensical traditions and customs became the focus over the party.  Those 5 ladies were distracted by what they thought was important that they missed the point completely.

See the point isn’t to be prepared to be caught off guard.  The point isn’t to have everything perfect and running smoothly.  The point apparently isn’t even to be nice or on time.  But the point is to show up.  Show up as you are, ready to accept the graciousness of the host.  Show up full of your good and bad and see the true welcome into the kingdom.  Show up, whatever you might be going through, and be ready to party.

You see, we often get caught up in our to-do lists and responsibilities.  We get concerned with our performance in what we do and the grade that we might get.  We worry that we don’t have our affairs in order enough to be welcomed at the party.  So much so that we might forget to show up, be present, and open to seeing God in the world, filling it with a love and peace that surpasses understanding.

I get it though, for many of us, showing up is about keeping the customs and traditions and rules, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But the problem comes when we miss the point of those customs and traditions and rules, thinking that they somehow take place of our reason to celebrate, our reason to worship, our reason to party.  That reason being the love and grace of God shown to us, just as we are, sin and blemishes and all.

My friends, we are welcomed to this party.  We have been invited regardless of our attitude, our demeanor, and the amount of oil in our lamps.  We are welcomed even if we might not be prepared or ready or have kept up with all the rules that we might think we need to keep.  But for us to fully recognise the party that is going on, we need to show up.  We need to be aware of our position as God’s people, our identity as God’s beloved, our regard as God’s redeemed, forgiven, and saved.  That is the point of our community, our church, our very lives.  To be in relationship with God and each other, together living in the wisdom of God that is full of grace and mercy and love and welcome.

So as we look ahead to the coming new church year starting with Advent that leads us to Christmas, let us not miss the reason for the festivities, the wisdom behind the invitation and welcome, the point of the party to which we all belong and only requires us to show up.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.