Thankful #9: Being prepared

I will be lazy today. I am posting my message as the thankful for the day. I am thankful for scripture passages that make me question what they mean enough to do the research necessary to figure out at least one interpretation of them. I realize that there are many different ways to speak on these passages. This is just what I saw, and I realize it is no where near what I get when I look at the ponderings of those far more educated. I need to get on that educated part real soon.

In another note, we had a bit of snow this morning when we woke. It has almost all melted already, so no pictures. The geese are starting to move and fairly rapidly. Not sure how good the hunting will be of geese in these parts. I am guessing it will be much better farther south. I just took a picture to add to this as it has started snowing again. Hopefully Paulina makes Bismarck before dark and with good roads.

Snow forming around the fountain pond.

Snow forming around the fountain pond.

Snow under the willow tree.

Snow under the willow tree.

Oh yes, the other thankful is children who come to visit parents. We had three sons in church today. They were there to visit their mother, who turned 89. One was from Arizona, one from Colorado and the youngest from right across the state in our capital, Pierre. For those who don’t know it is pronounced pier, not as the French name that it is spelled like. They have been here a couple of times this year, and so nice for her. They all lined up for a family picture with the stained glass window in the background. It was really nice for her. All she could say was, “they just don’t want to leave here, those kids, they just keep talking and talking.”

So here is the message they all heard. It was one of those think all week and write on Saturday night after a bit of a nap. I actually woke at 3 a.m. and finished the final two pages. I guess that is how I think. Hmmmm!

The scriptures used today were: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 25:1-13. The title is as above, “Being Prepared.”

Watching the weather forecasts for this weekend and hearing about the possibility of snow coming in this morning or sometime this afternoon, it became apparent that we had better get a few things accomplished at our house on Saturday. I had been planning to do more work inside on Saturday, maybe finish shredding up the ratty looking zucchini on the counter, or rearrange a cupboard to better fit some of the items I bought at the auction earlier this year, but it didn’t happen.

We were outside moving flower plants from the car shed to the basement, getting the grill into the shop, tucking lawn chairs under cover, dumping the sand box to store it away, and even planting irises into a new bed. We did all those sorts of things that you do around here to get ready for winter. We were trying to be prepared for the storm to come.

Getting ready for winter seems to be something we do around her quite naturally. Farmers are working to get the final harvest into the bins or hauled to town. Hay is being moved closer to the farmsteads for feeding later this winter. Gardens have been cleared out, even some cattle are being sold. From the sounds we heard most of Thursday night, it must have been a large sale in Herreid with lots of cowless calves and vice versa. We are in days of preparation, and we don’t have time to dawdle. We know that certain things left undone in the days and weeks ahead will be costly in finances or time or possibly even animal life.

The church is also nearing a time of preparation. We are only a few Sundays away from the beginning of Advent. The last Sunday of this month is the beginning of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. I bet if we were to venture to one of the big shopping centers in the area, we would find lots of Christmas trees, decorations, cards and wrapping paper and even those specialty gifts that are only on shelves during Christmas. Commercially it seems that Halloween is barely over and the preparing for Christmas begins.

In the church, the beginning of Advent brings us to the beginning of another calendar, at least another cycle of scriptures. The church year doesn’t follow our actual calendar and it doesn’t follow the “school” calendar as we sometimes think it does. The church year begins with Advent, and so we have things to make ready in the church building and in our church mindset.

The Old Testament passage that we read today hardly seems like a scripture of readiness. Yet we should look at it in that way. Joshua had picked up where Moses left off. He brought the people over to the Promised Land, and they were taking claim of what God had promised to them. They have fought some of the battles with the people who had been living in the land, and they are ready to settle down and make a great nation of people and dwelling places. This is the end of the writing of Joshua, and in this ending we find a renewal of the covenant the people have with God.

Even if the passage doesn’t give us details about the importance of this covenantal agreement or how elaborately it may have been organized, we must know that this is some major event. In the opening line it says, Joshua gathered all the tribes, the elders, the heads, the judges, the officers before God. Naming all these people of importance tells me this was a big deal. It was likely a major celebration and accompanied by a meal or other forms of entertainment.

Joshua knows what sort of people the Israelites are and he says they are to choose which God to follow. He doesn’t demand they choose the God of Abraham. He simply reminds them of their ancestry and lets them decide. He does tell them how difficult it might be, but they don’t care. The Israelites are determined to follow the one true God. They are given a choice, and they choose to follow God.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus is relating another of the many parables he told. This time, he is telling the story of 10 young women who are getting ready to attend a wedding. They are not just guests at the wedding, but bridesmaids. Interestingly there seems to be no bride at this wedding, just a bridegroom. Jesus makes his point that the bridesmaids wait outside the feast for the bridegroom to show up and invite them inside. The fact is weddings as Jesus knew them were a bit different than they are carried on today. There was no elaborate ceremony as we have in our modern weddings.

Weddings in Biblical times have three parts. And perhaps it is worth looking at considering we will be talking about the wedding of Mary and Joseph sometime in the near future. The first part of a wedding was the signing of the contract. When this was done the marriage was legal, but it did not mean that the couple immediately came together as husband and wife. In fact the contract might have been signed by the parents when they were young, but when it was signed, it was a legal contract, a covenant between the two pledged for marriage.

The second part of the wedding would be the consummation, which took place at the home of the bride. When that was completed, the couple and all the guests would go to the home of the groom for the wedding feast, and this is the focus of the wedding in the parable we hear today. The groom is heading to his home to begin the wedding feast. It is the big day, and time for the guests to enter his home to celebrate his wedding. It is the time that he has been anticipating ever since that contract was signed and he wants all his friends there, but he isn’t about to stand at the door waiting for everyone who is dawdling about to get inside.

It sort of reminds me of the school music or play contests. You don’t have time to mess around at those places. Get in and get your seat or you will miss the show. It isn’t like that at big concerts, or movie theaters, but maybe if it were people would be more likely to follow a stricter time schedule to show up, but that is another story.

Today’s parable always bothered when I heard it growing up. I could never understand how the “wise” bridesmaids were glorified and lifted up when they appeared to me to be selfish. I could never get why they didn’t share. It didn’t seem to me that the wait was so long that they would run out of oil, and would they need their lamps when they got inside? It just didn’t seem to make sense.

Now as I read the parable again with the mindset of what it really means, I understand a little better the truth of wise verses foolish. It wasn’t just the oil; it was being prepared in general. It was being ready to enter the celebration. It was having all things prepared for what was to come. Getting the oil for the lamp was a detail, it was a conscious effort, it was a choice of the wedding guest. The wise maids made the choice; the foolish maids were just hanging around helter-skelter hoping that they would make it inside.

We are the wedding guests and Jesus is the bridegroom. We have to decide if we want to be one of the wise maids or a foolish one. Do we want to have all the details in order or do we just hope to make it inside for the celebration? Do we risk getting there after the event has started and we are locked out?

Just as we prepare ourselves for the coming winter months, just as we gather in the harvest and put away the toys of summer, so too we need to gather our selves spiritually for a time when we will be part of the grand celebration where we will be present with the Lord. Just as this parable says the bridegroom was delayed, we have no idea when that time will be—for us. We need to be like the wise maids who were ready. We need to be like the people with Joshua who renewed their covenant with God. They knew what they wanted, a life with the one true God. May we know our choice and be prepared. Amen!

Paulina just called to say that there is no snow north of town, but as soon as she hit the state line there were birds every where. The geese are on the wing!

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