Ten young people ready for a wedding party. Waiting for the bus to arrive to get them there. They are excited. They are ready. All dressed up. They all want the bus to hurry up. All ten are eager. But the bus takes longer and longer. They are getting tired. So all ten decide to take a nap so they’ll be fresh when the time comes.
When the bus does eventually arrive, all ten shake themselves awake. Five of them had been careful before they napped and kept their clothes neat and ready but the other five hadn’t bothered too, figuring there’d be plenty of time. But when the bus finally turned up it was late and in a hurry. The first five were able to fix their hair, smooth our their wrinkled clothes and get on board. But the others were running around begging for combs and hair-gel and steam irons. And by the time they were ready to go the bus had gone.
We spend quite a lot of our time in the Month of November praying for our dead—the family and friends who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith to be with God. We have the confidence that they have found a home in heaven. But it wasn’t always so. The second reading today comes from the earliest bit of Christian scripture we have and you can see that the dead were an embarrassment to the early community. They believed the promises that Jesus would come again. Would come again soon. In fact would come again before the present generation had passed away. So when that coming in glory was delayed, and delayed, and delayed, people began to worry: what was going to happen to those who had died when Jesus did come? Was his salvation only for the living? Well St. Paul tells them No. All those who have faith in Jesus will find a home in heaven.
The gospel story we have today was written maybe decades after Paul’s letter. And by then the Christian community was getting used to the fact that Jesus hadn’t come back yet and wasn’t coming back anytime soon. So how should they live in the meantime?
What’s the difference between the wise and the foolish in the story? They’re all waiting eagerly. They all take a nap because of the delay. The difference is just this: five have common sense and five don’t. Five are practical and five aren’t. It’s important to spend the time waiting wisely.
All the Christian people who have ever lived, lived their lives out without Jesus second coming. There are some groups of Christians living now who are so sure the end is coming in their lifetime that they’ve stop caring about the world and just look after themselves. They couldn’t care less about the future because they don’t think they’ll have one. Why bother about global warming if the world ends next year? Why care about pollution if your children won’t be around to be poisoned? Why resist war if you think that a final battle is needed to bring on the end?
The parable today says simply: don’t be stupid. Be practical. Live as if the future really mattered. Live as if the world really mattered. Take care of your children. Live honourably. Have some common sense.
Today, as a community, we do one of those practical things—we welcome two new Christians to be part of our body through baptism. Two children who can’t yet understand what’s involved, can’t yet feel eager themselves, can’t yet take care of themselves let alone others. What they do best is sleep. We this afternoon offer to do some things for them until they can do them themselves. To understand for them what’s involved in being a Christian. To feel the eager desire for the kingdom on their behalf. And to take care of them and of each other for them. So that as they grow up to make their own minds up about their faith they can see our common sense, our care for each other and the world, and our own longing for God.
Now there’s no doubt we’ll fall asleep on the job. But that doesn’t matter if we’ve had the common sense to take care of what’s necessary. If we’ve built a good foundation for them, then their faith will survive when we get sleepy. In a moment we all renew our own baptismal promises—let’s make sure when we do that we mean what we say and intend our promises to have some practical effect.
November 7th, 1999