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    Nov 12, 2017

    Proper 27A, November 11-12, 2017

    Preacher: The Rev. Joan Mason, Rector

    Series: Rector

    Category: Weekly Sermon


    What does Stewardship have to do with the Wise and Foolish Maidens?


        Since next week is our “Ingathering weekend,” today is the day when it is appropriate to consider the subject of stewardship in our parish.  Our stewardship campaign has begun and you should have received a letter from the Vestry which included your pledge card.  If you haven’t received one, please see me in the line after church.  It is my hope and expectation that every member of the parish will make a pledge to Christ Church in response to God’s work in their lives.

        Today we hear a Gospel lesson that serves the subject of stewardship very well:  It is the story of the “Wise and Foolish Maidens.”  Jesus tells a story of what the Kingdom of God will be like. There are ten maidens who are preparing for the coming of a bridegroom.  Five of the maidens take ordinary precautions and make sure that they have enough oil in their lamps to last through the expected festivities. The other five take extra-ordinary precautions and make sure that they are ready to meet any eventuality.  This is a good thing, because, as it happens, the bridegroom is delayed.  At midnight the moment arrives, the bridegroom has come, but it is only the extra-ordinarily prepared maidens who have enough fuel to light His way and to therefore join in the party.  The unfortunate five could not provide light and could not, as a result, join the festivities.

        On one level, the application of this parable to stewardship is fairly clear:  We need to be extra-ordinarily prepared to help usher in the kingdom of God.  To be truthful however, I do not think the title for the parable does the “foolish” maidens justice. After all, they were reasonably prepared for the coming of the groom. They had enough oil to last through a reasonable party, so long as the party went off as scheduled and no one got too enthusiastic in their celebration. So, I do not think it fair to characterize them as foolish.  In truth, these five maidens were probably even-headed women, the kind you could count on to have things in order… even though they were probably not the life of the party.

        The other five were not all that wise either.  I would prefer to characterize them as wildly enthusiastic.  Whereas the first five prepared for the party by carefully measuring out just enough oil to make it through, (you can almost hear them say, “waste not, want not”).  They were so thrilled at the prospect of this wedding, they tossed aside all caution, and were lavish with their oil, fully expecting the party to go on and on into the wee hours.  The so-called “foolish” maidens were more practical than being foolish; and the so-called “wise” maidens were more exuberant and giddy than being wise.  The difference hinges on their expectations.  The first were expecting a nice, civilized, orderly “expenditure-of-oil” kind of party, while the second group was preparing for a bonfire!

        The way we handle and feel about the stewardship of our money will depend upon our expectations regarding the coming of the kingdom.  Are we people who know Jesus?  You all are, of course, but if we were not, then our giving to this parish may be compared to our giving to any other secular agency or school that has no claim on us.  There is not much to think about.  We see how much discretionary income we have, we divide the number of dollars by the numbers of organizations we want to support, we spin that according to who needs the most perhaps, and the deed is done.  This is not a particularly religious exercise; it is fairly straight-forward budgeting. 

        But I think for most of our members, the claim on our life is so much more than this.  We, like both the wise and foolish maidens, know and expect the coming bridegroom, and we have a relationship with Jesus.  The question for us then is, “What kind of party do you think God is throwing, anyway?”

        Last week I could hardly contain myself at the font when I had the very great privilege of presiding over the baptism of five children.  I got to say these words:

        “We thank you Father for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in His death.  By it we share in His resurrection.  Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” (BCP p.306)

        As those five children stood at the brink of their new lives in Christ, I sensed the power of that moment.  The party that God has and continues to throw for us involves nothing less than His and our death, nothing less than His and our union, and nothing less than His and our resurrection.  That being the case, it is clear that His sacrifice is total, that His gift is lavish, and that His party will indeed require a bonfire!

        Your vestry has been very dutiful in their presentation about stewardship, and we are just like every other Episcopal Church, I suspect.  We provide the rationale for giving; we provide narratives and charts and diagrams which all show that there is a careful, deliberate and responsible way to respond to the gifts of God. But when the truth is communicated that God’s gifts are wild and risky and hair-raising, when the reality at the center of our community involves death, union, and new birth, when we see our church not so much as an organization but as a Body of Christ, and when we see each other as true sacramental signs of the real presence of Jesus, then we can take those exuberant maidens as our foremothers in faith.  In their spirit, we might learn to dream large dreams and to risk having a vision that is vast.  When it comes time to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom, we can leave behind the charts and diagrams of the prudent, we can leave behind the careful doling out of our resources.  Instead, we can get ready for a bonfire befitting the outrageous party God has in store for us!

        Welcome to stewardship!