This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.
I’d like to tell you today about Robert. Robert was a very active member of a congregation I served. Still is, I’m sure. I remember him as a quiet, thoughtful man. One of the most faithful and respected members of that congregation. I can remember one December when Robert was the chair of the property committee. I saw an awful lot of him for about a week, because it was the week before Christmas that the heating system at the church decided to become unreliable and broken. And in that eighty-year-old building, it got cold quick in the winter when the heat wasn’t working. Robert came out to the church every day, sometimes multiple times a day, for a week or two. Trying to kick the boiler into shape. Working with repairmen. Trying to figure out this strange problem that might have been with the thermostat, or might have been with the boiler itself, or might have just been gremlins. He was always there, trying. Every time he left, he said, “Well, I think that’ll do it, Pastor. But I don’t know. Call me again if it didn’t.” Usually it worked for a few hours, and then died again. I’d come in in the morning, and it was 50 degrees in the building. But Robert always came out, and he finally got it permanently fixed sometime in the morning of December 24. We had heat for Christmas Eve. And throughout all of it, throughout the many hours he spent at the church, he was patient. “We’ll get it working, Pastor. Don’t worry,” he told me dozens of times. And he was right. He had faith that it would work out, more faith than I had; and he had patience, far more than I had.
I had a lot of time to talk with Robert that week, and I started to understand where his patience and faith came from. I think some of it came from his profession. Robert is a bean farmer, growing acres and acres of beans every year. Farming had given him a great respect for the earth, and a great depth to his faith. Robert knew that he had a lot of hard work to do to get his crops ready for sale every year. But he also knew that the most important work was completely out of his control. He could never make the seeds germinate. He could never provide the rain or the sunshine. And he could never control the timing either. The beans grew when they grew, and he had to be ready to harvest them the moment they were ready. God was there, doing the most important work on the farm, and Robert knew he had to work with God, be patient, and wait.
And I remember when Robert inadvertently taught that patience to me, and to the whole congregation. It was another December. The heat was working fine at the church that year, which was good. Because December 12 was the coldest night of the year, and we awoke to a thick layer of frost. For some reason, Robert decided that morning that it was important to get on the roof of his eighteen-foot fertilizer barn to do some repairs. But the roof had the same frost as the ground. And Robert fell. He fell eighteen feet and landed on concrete. Later that morning, my phone kept ringing, as word got around, and people wanted to make sure I knew that Robert was in the ER. When I saw him there, I found that he was lucky; he shattered bones in his arm and leg and punctured a lung, but there was no head trauma, and other than the lung his vital organs looked good. He would have a long recovery ahead, but he would live.
Throughout his recovery, his patience was tested. And so was his wife, who had to ensure that Robert didn’t do things he shouldn’t. Not easy for a hard worker like him. But I said he taught patience to the whole congregation. And here’s how. A day or two after Robert’s accident, everyone in town knew about it, and they wanted to do something. My phone starting ringing again, as people asked me if we could take a collection for Robert and his family, to pay for their hospital bills. I was hesitant. I knew that Robert had good healthcare, and that he made a decent income from the farm. I also didn’t think that he or his wife would appreciate a collection being taken for them without their knowledge. So I asked all these well-meaning parishioners to wait. To be patient. I told them that their hearts were definitely in the right place, but that now isn’t the time to start something like that. We need to wait and see what needs they really have. Some of these people were not happy with my response, but I stood firm, and in the end, I turned out to be right. It turned out that the needs Robert and his wife had over the next few months were more about transportation, and the congregation was able to offer a great deal of help.
Robert’s accident upset so many people, and in their emotional state, they wanted to do something immediately, but they had to wait. And be patient. Robert didn’t mean to teach us all that, but he did.
And I feel like we’re in a similar place right now. We are all very emotional right now after the shooting in the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and after the shooting of a state police trooper just down the road in Stockertown. We are emotional, and we want to do something now. I’ve heard several suggestions throughout this past week of things we could do to prevent these things from happening here. But I believe that we have to have patience right now as well, patience to wait until there’s a little more distance. Patience to wait until God makes it a little more clear what the right solution is. It’s good to remember right now that we are not in a crisis situation. There has not been a rash of shootings at churches. There has been one, and it was over a thousand miles away. Now is not the time to make changes to our security here; now is the time to offer prayers and assistance to our brothers and sisters in Texas. Decisions about our own building can wait. Those are important discussions, but we need to be patient, and wait until the proper time.
And that, friends, is a message we hear in today’s gospel reading. The details of first-century Jewish weddings are quite strange to us, but what is clear is that these ten bridesmaids went out, expecting the bridegroom to arrive. But he was delayed, and did not arrive for some time. Some of the bridesmaids were prepared for that eventuality. Some of them were prepared for a long wait. And they were commended as wise. The others, those called foolish, were not. And what did it mean to be prepared during that wait? It meant investing in those things that you’ll need when the time does come. Investing in those things you’ll need when the time comes. In the case of the bridesmaids, that was lamp oil. In our case, perhaps it means faith. Trust. Hope. Trust and hope that our bridegroom is coming to us, and will bring us what we need, including the discernment to make wise decisions on all the tough questions we face, including questions of security. But the Holy Spirit does not work on our timeline.
In the meantime, we wait, trying to patiently trust and hope in God’s presence with us. Listening for hints and glimpses along the way. Trusting that the seeds of wisdom are being planted and watered. Trusting, like a farmer does, that God is working right now, invisibly, quietly, underground. Waiting like a farmer, getting prepared for the moment when the harvest comes in.
The harvest is coming. The bridegroom is coming. Christ is coming.
For now, we wait.