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"RP or PR"
Matthew 25:1-13

Introduction It's getting closer! The count down has already begun! There is less than two months to go. Two months until the new millennium begins -January first 2000! Then we will know for sure whether the predictions are right or wrong. The predictions of how the next thousand years will start. The tension is mounting. What will happen? Will we have power? Will we have heat? If our computers fail, is that the signal that the end is near? Could this be the time that Jesus will come again? Will it be the midnight hour: the hour when the bridegroom comes? Even without the computer problems, it can feel like we are close to the midnight hour. The world can seem to be a dark place. Darkness of hatred. Darkness of falsehood and cruelty. Darkness of irreverence and greed. And as we approach the year 2000 we can wonder what the future holds. Will Christ be returning? 2000 years can be a long time to wait. We can become tired of waiting. It is easy to become either skeptical or impatient. Many have become skeptical of Christ's return. Laughing at the thought of Christ's return as a superstitious belief - one that will fade with reasonable thinking. Then there are those who are impatient for Christ's return: obsessed with predicting when Christ will return. It can seem as though these are the only two options: to believe that Christ is never returning or that he will be here when everyone shouts happy new year in the year 2000.

But this parable confronts both views. We are not called to be skeptical or impatient. The point of the parable is that we are not to be so concerned about when Christ will come: whether he will come tomorrow, January first or not for another thousand years. The scripture says "you know not the day or the hour." Yet, the parable points out that the bridegroom will come and we should be ready. The point is about being ready for Christ's return whenever that may happen. How can we be ready for Christ's return? According to the parable the bridegroom came at the midnight hour - the darkest hour. In the midst of the darkest hour what is needed to be prepared? Many of you may know that I have trouble seeing at night. Having night blindness, I am reminded that I need to be prepared when I go to a place. If I drive somewhere I need to know when it gets dark. If I am outside, I try to prepare with having a flashlight. I need a lot more light to see than others. The reason I have night blindness is because I have Retina Pigmatosis - usually shorted to R.P. Which means that the receptors in my eyes don't pick up the light. Many of us struggle with having spiritual RP. The darkness of the world can cause us to see less clearly. We find it difficult to see the light of Christ shining and to have that light burn brightly within us. But this scripture calls us beyond spiritual RP. And instead of having spiritual RP, we are called to have spiritual PR. No it is not spiritual public relations. What is spiritual PR? 1) prepared rightly Well the first spiritual PR is being Prepared Rightly. The difference between the wise and foolish bridesmaids was that the wise bridesmaids were prepared. They brought oil so that their lamps would burn until the bridegroom came. Now at first this might seem like a small preparation. What is the big deal about having lamps? Yet in a culture where there was no electricity; having prepared lamps was a must. Especially when there was about to be a wedding banquet at midnight. A wedding banquet was a huge deal. Weddings were considered one of the greatest festivities in a Palestinian village. Everyone got to take time off from work. Everyone would be eager to be there. Usually it was a big parade with lots of people escorting the bridegroom and bride with lamps or torches. There would be a lot of singing and dancing. So it was an important task for the bridesmaids to have enough oil for their lamps. This was an important preparation. It was more than surface preparation. Obviously, Jesus is telling us we need to be prepared. But he's not talking about surface kind of preparation. All the maidens were prepared for the wedding.

They all probably had beautiful dresses. No doubt they had all worked hard on their hair. They all had lamps. On the surface all of them were the same. They all even went to sleep when the hour drug on. However, when the call came at midnight, then the difference appeared. Half of them were prepared, half of them were not. The surface stuff was not enough. It was the ones who had been ready with the oil who were the ones who were really prepared. #12; It is similar to the guy who invited his friends to join him on a sailing trip. He had sent out special invitations with a picture of his sailing boat on the front. He waxed his boat up real nice and shiny. There was not a spot on it, everything was perfect. When his guests arrived they were greatly impressed. One of them asked 'Wow what a great boat, I didn't know you were a sailor,' 'You bet I am' He answered. Another friend asked 'I'd love to know how to sail, where you learned to sail?'

The man pulled out a faded photo out of his pocket and said. "You see that sailor standing on the bow of a schooner. That's my great- grandpa. He sailed Cape Horn. Sailing is in my blood. I got saltwater in my veins." The guest said 'So your great-grandpa taught you how to sail?' The man replied "Of course not. he died before I was born." Another guest asked "Then who taught you to sail?" The man showed them the leather- bound book in his hand and boasted, "I read the manual." They all looked stunned and said "You read a book on sailing?" More than that he replied "I also met a real captain before and shook his hand." They all replied - "that doesn't make you a sailor." The man said you want proof I am a sailor "Look, I even got a tatoo." "That's your proof?" they asked. "What else do I need" he said "I have the pedigree. I've got the book. And I've got the tatoo. Now, all aboard. " (idea from Max Lacado's book In the grip of Grace) The man may have looked prepared on the outside. But I'm sure that none of the guest were eager to get on the boat. We too can look prepared on the outside. We can do the surface things that make us look like Christians. We can come to church, learn the Lord's Prayer and even put an envelope in the offering plate. But if our Christianity doesn't go deeper than the surface, it's like trying to sail a boat only looking the part and not really knowing how.. or like going to a wedding parade without any extra oil for our lamps.

2) Personal Relationship So how can we go beyond surface preparation to being prepared rightly? Well, this leads us into the second PR and that is having a personal relationship with Christ. When going to a wedding banquet it is always a good idea to know the people in the wedding party. The bridegroom wants us to know him personally: to have a relationship that goes beyond the surface. A relationship that requires a personal commitment. In the scripture, it can seem harsh that the wise bridesmaids were unwilling to share their oil. We can begin to wonder: would it have been better if they had shared? But the point we need to remember is not that we are to supposed to be stingy -stockpiling oil. The point was that each of the bridesmaids were responsible for their lamps. The foolish ones were responsible for having enough oil to keep them burning. They were called to be prepared and were not. They were personally responsible for the task. The single most important part of being prepared for Christ's return is to already know him now. To know his love and grace. In this wedding we are not simply called to know a friend who is invited. Like the man on the sailboat just because he shook the hand of a captain and had a grandpa who sailed did not make him a sailor. We too may be tempted to put off our relationship with Christ, trusting instead in simply knowing someone who knows Christ. While it is true that we can be inspired by others to grow in our faith. Still it needs to be our faith. We are not to rely on someone else's light to be our own. When the foolish bridesmaids came, the door was locked. The bridegroom said to them "I do not know you". Are we known by Christ- do we know him? We need to have relationship with Christ a personal relationship - not a relationship by default. A relationship that burns bright. A relationship that fans the flame. #12; (How can this relationship burn bright? What is the oil that will keep our lamps burning? Let's look at five areas that will keep our oil replenished and our lamps burning bright. And to help us remember each begins with a letter of the word lamps.

The first is love. Realizing God's great love for us. God has shown us love for us when Jesus died upon the cross for our sins. We can know and love God because God first loved us. Which leads us to the second. The second is adoration - Two weeks ago the scripture called us to love of God completely. We were challenged to take a vow of love. It is only when we commit to loving God that the light of Christ will burn brightly in us. Third is mercy - Living daily in the mercy and grace of God; knowing that we have been forgiven, can give us strength to live each day for our Lord. The forth is prayer - In order to grow all relationships need to have communication. We are called to talk with Jesus. To speak and to listen to him. And finally service. We are called to reach out in service to others. Being a servant in fact helps our relationship grow, because we can see Christ in the other. Instead of being overshadowed with the darkness of hatred, falsehood, cruelty, irreverence and greed. We can burn brightly with love, adoration, mercy, prayer and service. As these begin to grow, so too will our relationship with Christ burn brightly. )

3) Partying Righteously As we begin to prepare rightly by growing in our personal relationship with Christ, we can also begin to prepare for the third PR. To party righteously. No, I am not talking about the phrase that was popular with the youth. "Wow dude that was a righteous party." But I am talking about partying righteously - being ready to have a joyous time in a way that glorifies God. Many people see these two words as opposed to one another. Christians aren't suppose to be fun. They are supposed to be boring and dull. We tend to think that being righteous involves being somber - certainly no partying. And having a good party entails when you break loose and do crazy things. Things that are not righteous. In fact the less righteous the party the better it is. But today's scripture challenges us beyond these two views. Partying righteously is what the end of this scripture calls us to. There is a wedding feast - a party - but one done in the light of Christ - a righteous party. We are called by this scripture to be prepared to celebrate. The lamps were used for the celebration of the town. They needed light in order to celebrate into the night. So having oil in our lamps is not so much about preparing for the worst like having a good insurance policy,... it is about preparing to get ready to celebrate. It's more like taking dancing lessons so we know how to have a good time than about taking out a big life insurance policy so the hospital bill will be paid when we hurt ourselves! Are we preparing our heart to enjoy all the great things coming to us? #12;

Often we can get bogged down with all the ins and outs of life, we can tend to forget the joy we have in Christ. It is similar to the story of retired couple I heard about. They had worked hard and prepared for their retirement in the obvious ways. They had a very nice home and plenty of income. However, they had not prepared to ENJOY their retirement. They had both put themselves into their work so much that they realized when they no longer went to work, they were lost. They had worked such long hours that they no longer had a relationship with each other. They felt like strangers. Work had so consumed their life that they had no hobbies, no outside interests, no other concerns except their work. So, while they had prepared financially for retirement, they had not truly prepared for the joy of retirement. Are we preparing for the joy of Christ's return. Because the truth is, the kingdom of God is already at hand. We can begin to prepare for the joy of Christ's return by celebrating Christ's presence with us today. We are invited to party in the light of Christ's presence with us. Because of my night blindness, I always found it difficult to go to parties. It was not that I didn't want to party. It was that everyone always wanted to have the lights turned down. I always felt I had to be careful not to run into people. I wondered why we couldn't just have the lights turned up more. I'd much prefer to party in the light. The world would like to party in the dark. To forget about the lamps and to let the oil run out. But we are called to party in the light. Why should we hide it under the cover of darkness? We have a reason to celebrate - we are known and loved by Christ. So let us prepare rightly - having our personal relationship with Christ burn brightly - celebrating Christ's light today, and looking forward to the righteous party of eternity. Amen.