Ready for the Returns

This past Tuesday millions of Americans participated in our democracy by casting votes in an election that saw engagement and participation levels never seen before in the history of our nation.

Some of us mailed in our ballots, some stood in line, some worked the polls, many posted selfies with “I voted” stickers…

And on Tuesday night many of us stayed up late into the night watching the returns, before finally giving up and going to bed

For me, even with the TV on and my browser open, I found myself texting with friends and people more in-the-know than I am, to find out who the real expert out there was, who I should watch for the most accurate analysis,

and I found myself looking for someone to give a clear picture of what was happening and what that meant.

For days — for literally 5 days we didn’t know who had won — because the race came down to a razor thin margin — but no matter who each of us voted for, I believe we can agree on this:

an election is really about the future. 

The future is famously unknowable, but in an election, we vote for candidates based on what we project the future would look like under their leadership and our vote is an action we take to choose our preferred future.

The heart of Jesus’ message is God’s preferred future, and all throughout his teaching, and in today’s gospel Jesus gives us a clear picture of God’s full and future kingdom…

He says it will be like a banquet of celebration.

It will be like a wedding feast in which we are with God forever and there are no more tears, no more grief, no more despair. 

When there will be no more human leaders falling short and no more political attack adds to sit through before you can watch your YouTube video.

When there will be no more sickness and no more masks and no more death.  

When there will be no more civil wars, bombardments of homes while people sleep, no more natural disasters that destroy communities, 

and where all that hurts will be healed and all that divides will dissolve

And there will be unity with God and one another. 

Jesus’ story in our gospel text about 10 bridesmaids – five foolish and five wise — tells us how we, as his disciples, are to prepare for the fullness of this future Kingdom and what it means to be ready now.  

 It is a story of extreme urgency 

And it’s urgency comes from Jesus’ insistence that there is time now to prepare and make ourselves ready but that the time of preparing will run out.

What separates the bridesmaids who join the celebrations and those who are locked out is the that some are wise and some are foolish.

I think we want to be wise and I think we want to be associated with people who are wise. 

We want to make good decisions and give good advice and we want to know whose analysis to trust on election night and in other situations.

When I go see a doctor, before I’m willing to follow her advice or take any medicine she might prescribe, I check her wall. 

I don’t need to know which school she studied at but I do want to see a diploma with a gold foil sticker on it saying that some institution has tended to her education and calling to practice medicine and certified her as qualified. 

I want to see a sign on her wall that says she is wise in medicine.

But the bridesmaids who are called wise in the parable don’t have a diploma, or credentials, or a degree – they are wise simply because they chose actions based on love of the bridegroom. 

They were thinking about him and wanted to be with him so much that they prepared for multiple scenarios, and used their time of waiting to make arrangements so that even if problems arose, they would be ready to join him when he arrived.

Today, the Spirit has gathered us to pondering the bridegroom together, to think and spending time with him, and God is preparing us to be ready for the full arrival of his kingdom. 

Through this meditating on the word, our lamps and oil reserves are being filled so that we know who Jesus is and Jesus knows who we are –

Just as all the gifts of fellowship, and worship, and Bible reading, and prayer, and service to others, fill us more and more

because these are some of the ways we are with Jesus, who is the most accurate analyst, and gives the clearest picture of what is happening in the world and what is going to happen in the future – namely God will make all things right.

Perhaps Jesus hopes that in the same way some of us felt longing on Tuesday and Wednesday and beyond for the returns to be tabulated,

that we would feel this deep desire and longing for his return when he will call us into the feast of joy and light with our eternal God.

The bridesmaids that are called wise in the story, are the ones who had extra oil for their candles… 

which is to say that they took the long view.  Not just living in the moment, they prepared for a marathon and not a sprint, and they didn’t stop planning for the future.  

Their readiness came from their action based on a longing for the bridegroom.

I have seen some deeply wise saints of God this week.

This week I have seen evidence of the saints of God at Epiphany making themselves ready, preparing for God’s preferred future.

I have seen Timothy ministers zooming to prepare for youth group meetings – planning a Bible study for youth and ways to keep connected.  They are making our community ready. 

I have seen the Wednesday lunch bunch that no lunger lunches together but does bunch together, socially distanced, of course –gathering to check in on one another, share concerns and prayers for members who can’t get out and join them, and study the word. And they are making our community ready.

I have seen confirmation students meeting with Pastor Phillip and Pastor Bosserman to study the Lord’s prayer and divide up the individual petitions of the prayer and paint them into beautiful tiles, that in previous years have hung in Price Hall and this year were made into a video you can check out on our facebook page.  They are making our community ready.

I have seen members persist in collecting and distributing food to those who are hungry –

and I wasn’t the only one to see it because several of them were featured in a write up in Living Lutheran magazines that goes to homes and congregations all over the US, so that hundreds of thousands of people will see the faces of Brenda Barnes, Mike Long, Matt Greenshields, and Stephanie Hamlet and be encouraged and know that while 1 in 8 households across our country are food insecure,

even in a time of pandemic, our congregation will be providing Thanksgiving and Christmas meals to individuals and families in need and God is making our community ready.

Jesus is the center and foundation and inspiration for all these actions, and he is made know to us and we are made known to him through them.

I would bet my life that all these people – all of you I have mentioned and more – are wise bridesmaids, who are already ready and who will be ready when the knock comes at midnight and the bridegroom calls us all into the final feast.

But I don’t have to bet my life.

Because what’s clear about Jesus’ parable is that only the bridegroom judges who is wise and who is foolish. 

The bridesmaids do not judge one another. 

They aren’t asked and they don’t give an opinion. The bridegroom alone is the judge.

There’s an awful lot of judgement going on in our nation. 

We seem to be split, in regard to partisan affiliation, almost like these bridesmaids, 50/50….

and I know that we all understand that candidates and their actions and policies matter, but what would it look like, now that we have voted for our candidate…

for us as people who belong to Jesus, to talk about policy and politics and the future, by beginning with an acknowledgement that we are all made in the image of God. 

We all are loved by God.   

We all are invited by God into a beloved community where all have a place, all are valued, all have been given gifts to share in bringing the Kingdom to fruition and blossoming here and now.

Could we begin each day this coming week, before we scroll the news and Facebook…

Could we begin each day by praying for our nation, for both political parties, and for the people in our lives with whom we agree and with whom we disagree, and could we remember everyone needs a little grace.

 God is the judge and we are not.

And everyone needs a little grace.

Because the long view is that now that the election is over,

we still live together and work together and we are still be citizens with one another,

and our individual health is tied up with our collective health. 

Our individual good is tied up with our collective good.

Our individual future is tied up with our collective future.

In our life now, what we need is wise leadership.

Someone with credentials we can trust.

And when we look to Jesus, we don’t see a diploma with gold embossed signet or calligraphy script hung on a wall,

but the cross,

and in the cross, we see his credentials and his accomplishment –

Jesus met hatred with love, betrayal with fidelity, and abandonment with forgiveness, 

and in his resurrection, God certified him as qualified. 

Now he prescribes us with a life of love and fidelity and forgiveness and is the expert in how to live out this prescription.

Jesus is our wisdom.

And because we belong to Jesus, that makes you and me the real experts out there, 

you are the ones the world can watch for the most accurate analysis, the ones to give a clear picture of what is happening and what is means.

Jesus invites us to the wedding banquet and the church is invited to God’s bridal chamber.

And because God knows us and has made himself known to us we are the ones who get to say and show that the verdict is in…

and we are 100% sure, 

and so rejoice and be glad: the future belongs to God and God is good.

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