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  • Pastor Jim Gronbeck

“Oil for Our Lamps”

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Something bothers me about this Gospel parable of the wedding feast. Why didn’t the 5 young women share their lamp oil with the others who ran out of oil?

It might be helpful to explain the wedding customs of Jesus’ time. Weddings then were big celebrations that lasted a whole week! The high point involved the bridegroom’s coming to the bride’s parents’ home to take her to their new home that he had prepared for them. The bride chose 10 of her best friends as bridesmaids. They were to wait for the groom to arrive at the bride’s parents’ home. Then, when the groom arrived the bridesmaids would lead the procession with their lamps lighting the way to the couple’s new home. Here is an example of an oil lamp used in Jesus’ time I purchased in Israel. I’m not sure how long it would burn, but you can see it’s small. Extra oil needed to be taken along to refill the lamp.

The time of the bridegroom’s arrival was kept a secret; it was to be a surprise for the waiting bride and her attendants. When they all entered the new home, the door was then shut and barred and the wedding festivities began. Latecomers were not admitted; those who arrived with the procession were treated to a great banquet feast. There was no honeymoon in those days; the entire first week was spent in the new home enjoying the wedding feast.

The ‘rub’ in the parable Jesus tells is that 5 of the bridesmaids had enough oil for only a short time. The bridegroom’s arrival was delayed, and they all fell asleep waiting. When the bridegroom arrived, they woke and got ready for the procession. Those who didn’t bring extra, ran out of oil for their lamps, so they went out to purchase more oil. They arrived at the couple’s new home late and were not admitted to the wedding feast. Why didn’t the others share with those who ran out of oil?

Jesus is saying here that it is of ultimate importance for those who follow Him to be ready at all times for His Coming. We do not know, we cannot predict when it will be, but we must be ready. Sometimes, it is just not possible to fill someone else’s lamp.

As a young pastor in my first parish, there were quite a few times when I had to rush out to meet with a grieving family. Some of them were people with a strong, active faith. Others were not involved with the church and a church member or neighbor had called me to come out. One of the most difficult questions to answer was “Why? Why did God do this to me? Why did my loved one have to die and leave me to carry on alone?”

Those times of raw grief were not the time to start making theological points and describe the nature of sin in a broken world. It was not the time to try to fill someone else’s lamp with our oil. It would not have been heard or understood as helpful. That was just the time for comfort and reassurance—to let them know you cared, and you would help them through this time. Those who are regular in worship may find that their time in church can help prepare them for tragedies and difficult life events. We can find that having an active faith and growing in faith gives us a firm foundation to weather the storms of life. It’s like putting oil in our lamps.

Our congregation has lost a dear member and many of us have lost a friend in Carol Willey. Some of you I have talked with say you just can’t stop thinking about her sudden death and how that is affecting Dave. Carol was so active in worship, in women’s activities such as WELCA Bible Studies, and fellowship activities. Maybe Carol (and David) were filling their proverbial lamps for the unknown future.

An article in a ministry journal I was reading said, “Preparation for marriage begins in infancy and continues throughout life, in all the ways that we learn to be faithful people.” Maybe we learn things along the way in life that fill our lamps with the oil we need to light our way through life. It is hard to find strength and hope in difficult situations if we do not have the background of faith to build on. We need to be filling our lamps of faith regularly to be able to respond to the tragedies and struggles of life. It is difficult to put oil into your lamps in the midnight hour of life.

And that’s where this text really speaks to us. It is a hard thing to always be alert and ready. Two thousand years is a long time to wait. Who can possibly keep alert and on their toes, so-to-speak, for that long? It’s one thing to prepare for something we know is right around the bend—such as winter. When fall arrives and the leaves start turning, the days get shorter, the weather starts turning colder, we know it is time to get ready for winter. We reluctantly take our boats, docks, and lifts out of the lakes; we put away our picnic tables, lawn chairs, and such; we pick up the leaves and get our snowblowers ready for snow removal.

Yet, as we go forward in faith and as we step into the unknown each day, we find ways to fill our lamps with oil as we go. We grow in faith which gives us courage and hope for times of despair and loss. We find comfort in Christ’s death and resurrection, knowing that the Promise of New Life awaits us. We keep refilling our lamps and moving forward with Jesus leading the way. I have heard so many people who face tragedy or deep sorrow say that if it were not for a strong faith in Jesus they would not have any hope for the future.

I am always amazed when I hear of people surviving for long periods of time stranded on a mountain, or in a car following an accident, or other such calamity. I think of the story of the young man who was on a day hike in the mountains and slipped on a sheet of ice, breaking his ankle. He survived for days by drinking from a mountain stream, eating bugs and berries because of his earlier survival training. He was prepared to meet the challenges he faced and made the best of them.

Prayer, worship, and Scripture reading give these survivors a strong base upon which they can rebuild their lives. Their faith helps sustain them and prepares them to face the challenges that lie ahead of them. This has also been my experience in ministering with people who have a serious illness or have lost a loved one in death. Their faith gives them the hope and strength to meet the challenges they face.

Being prepared for the Return of our Lord Jesus Christ is deeply rooted in living with the Presence of Christ in our lives. It is living each day with our Lord, spending time with Him in prayer, in reading His Word, and then living our lives to the fullest as His servants in the here and now. Being prepared for Christ is knowing deep in our hearts that He has first come to us, saved us with His precious body and blood, and renews us in our baptisms through worship, repentance, and in the fellowship of other Christians. Being prepared is letting the Holy Spirit guide us each day, opening ourselves up to the ways that Christ calls us to serve and love His people. It’s filling our lamps with oil for the great feast in the Kingdom of God. We’re not waiting for ‘tomorrow’ to come; we are His children now and we are in His care and keeping until the glorious Day He returns to bring us all to our heavenly home whenever that day shall come for us.

AMEN

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