November 12, 2023 Sermon – Foolish Bridesmaids


Rev. Steve Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
November 12, 2023
Philippians 3:12-14
Matthew 25:1-13

As Anna and Jason will witness, I selected the wrong Gospel reading for this week, and so I fell into our Gospel reading this morning by mistake, and on Thursday I started playing Scripture and sermon catch-up.

I was also frustrated this week because I spent an inordinate amount of time in meetings. And it felt as if, between the opening and closing prayers, Jesus was not mentioned in any of these church meetings. I kept walking away wondering how the 90 minutes or 120 or 200 minutes I just spent lived into Jesus’ message and the opening words in the Gospel of Mark: The Kingdom of God has come near! The Reign of God is now! The Realms of Heaven have come near!

When I finally got around to the parable of the 10 bridesmaids, I was shocked to realize it is truly about that Kingdom of God that I am struggling to find. This parable is not about the poor fictional bridesmaids in their pink taffeta bridesmaid dresses. It is not about them finding an Uber late on a Saturday night or about waking up a store owner to buy oil or about a hard-hearted late running groom. This parable is all about living into the Kingdom of Heaven, and how the foolish fail to see the Kingdom of God right before their eyes and prepare themselves and more importantly do not take up Jesus’ demand that we prepare the world around us.

Which got me asking myself four very uncomfortable questions:
Am I acting like a foolish unprepared bridesmaid?
Is my beloved FF Church acting like a foolish unprepared bridesmaid?
Are my presbytery / Synod / GA of the PCUSA acting like unprepared foolish bridesmaids?
Is our Christian endeavor nationwide and worldwide acting like unprepared foolish bridesmaids?

My answer to all four questions is… I don’t think so. But, we darn well better make sure we are acting like the Kingdom of God is at hand. Right this ship. Right Now! For the Reign of God is at hand.

Let’s begin by putting this Scripture and our Epistle reading from Philippians in context. Philippians is Paul’s final letter. He knows it. He knows this is the end. He is writing from the dungeon of Evil Emperor Nero. This is the most desperate of times. At the end of the road he cries out: I strain forward toward the goal of God’s Heavenly Kingdom. At the bleakest time of his life and his ministry – He has the eye on the prize – Meeting the one rushing the Kingdom of God – even if he has to drag Nero’s chains behind him as he drags us forward.

Our 10 bridesmaids parable is told in Matthew 25. You know that Matthew, chapter 26 begins the Passion of our Lord. This is the dark time of Jesus’ life. Jesus is pushing the Kingdom forward at the worst time of his earthly life and ministry. This is Jesus’ hard time. Jesus does not have the time or inclination for his perfect compassion. He can’t wait for the light bulb to go on over our heads when we finally understand a subtle message. Jesus gives it to us hard and honestly.

We can safely assume that when people hear “bridesmaids” they are thinking of people of privilege. Their job was more than just processing and standing up with the bride. They had an important role in the ceremony. People were depending on them for more than just greeting the groom and having a lamp lit. When they foolishly were not prepared for the groom’s coming – they not only suffered, but the people around them suffered. They let down others. The consequence of their foolishness is more than they miss the party. Their foolishness results in lots going wrong. Others pay the price for their not being prepared.

We are people of privilege. I keep saying being followers of Jesus Christ is a great, great privilege and a great, great responsibility. I don’t have time to hope the light bulb goes on through a nice story or a few subtle connections. The church universal is under attack on many sides. Our PCUSA is shrinking and shrinking. Our beloved F&F Presbyterian Church is in the midst of a stewardship season in which we need – need money, time, talents and commitments.

What happens if we don’t take up the responsibility of discipleship? Who suffers when we disciples and the church, local, regional, national, and world-wide acts foolishly? Or the church wastes its time or its resources on things that are not about bringing the Kingdom of God near.

I have twice talked about the light bulb going on. We have heard over and over about keeping lamps lit. It takes my mind to Jesus proclaiming the Light of the World. John 8:12, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

How will people know the light of the world? How can they see the Light of life through the darkness? Through the reflected light of Jesus Christ that comes through us! In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14) Jesus told us, “You are the light of the world.” You are the reflected light. And if we let the lamps go out, how can they see the light? How can we see the path to the Kingdom of God? How can we see the path to the Kingdom of God, in order to lead others there? We can’t let the light go out.

All-In Stewardship is the realization we can’t let the light go out, no matter what. You are the light of the world What happens when that light doesn’t shine? What are the consequences of those lamps not being lit or not having enough oil for those lamps not being lit? Being light is so important because the Kingdom of Heaven only be can be seen as we keep our light burning. The Kingdom of Heaven is coming in-part because as we keep our lamps burning and lighting up this earthly realm, the people around us get a glimpse of Jesus heavenly – Light of the World, Light.

It is our call / our job to be the light as the Gospel is moving into the dark place of the passion, and the dark places of so much of our current worldly reality. Our congregation’s reality is to do whatever it takes financially, time, talent, work – hard work – focus on the Kingdom, not on our rabbit paths. Be faithful in accepting our responsibility of being the reflected Light of Christ in Mt. Vernon.

We have to let our light shine. With great privilege – the privilege of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our church, comes great responsibility – to those who don’t yet know Jesus. To those who are struggling. Our responsibly to Jesus.

So, I think I am ok with the answer to my questions about possibly being foolish. No, we are not the foolish. We are the wise who do what it takes to take up our responsibilities to do whatever it takes to keep our lamps burning: giving all we got not to chase our stuff or major in the minors, but to live like and live into the very first words of Jesus ministry: The Kingdom of God is at Hand – Shine the Light of Christ – Right Now!

ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.