Jesus has reached the point of no return in his brief ministry. After the Pharisees understood what he was saying about himself as the Son of the creating Father, their intentions were clear. They would charge him with insurrection; the evidence against him was that he talked about the coming of the kingdom of God. The last thing they wanted was a home-grown king with fishermen as generals in opposition to the Roman puppet-ruler. His raising Lazarus from the dead showed his power. Would he lead an insurrection? He was a troublemaker.
But Jesus was already on the road leading to Golgotha, the place of the skull, as it was called, or the hill Calvary.
The disciples and other followers were dismayed at the tragedy of his death. But his resurrection proved that God was finally in charge. And his resurrection is the only lens through which we must view all the tragedies of this world. It seems to me that tragedy has become the dominant face of public life in this twenty-first century. Anyone could recite them.
Each of us can name the more inhumane tragedies – the Boston Marathon Massacre, Sandy Hook School, the Bible study group in Charleston, the Orlando night club, Las Vegas, and now a small church in a tiny town just outside San Antonio. Numerous other tragedies are barely mentioned in the nightly news. After being in this pulpit nearly every Sunday for four years, I suspect you’ve noticed that I look for ultimate truth in the Gospel for the Day. Today is no exception. In the midst of frightening events, we believe the Lord is coming not only at the final coming and the beginning of eternal life for us, but also that the Lord is continually coming in every moment of every day?
We may think that waiting is passive, that nothing is happening while we wait. The Psalmist wrote, “My soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who wait for the morning,” Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Patience? Me? I’m aware that all sorts of people think I’m impatient. (Don’t believe it.) But I do try to live by the last words of the New Testament and I merely echo the sentiment of the writer whose last words are these: “Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” The world-wide church from that little congregation in Texas to the greatest cathedral in Europe prays for the coming of the Lord Jesus. He is always in the action of coming forth to support all his people in every tragedy and trouble. Waiting for the Lord means that we believe God is coming to us from the future, when, as Paul told the Thessalonians, “We will be with the Lord forever.”
Therefore, life is not meaningless in spite of all the tragedies reported in the evening news. We are not walking hopelessly into the future. We are not here on earth as though by some mysterious godless cosmic activity. Our first ancestors were created by God to live for his pleasure and glory.
With all its burdens and troubles, life has a purpose, and that purpose is to be God’s people in God’s garden, praising God and glorifying him forever. In the story Jesus told, five bridesmaids knew the point of waiting – because they expected the groom to appear, and five were not prepared for his coming. Five of them knew they could take a nap because they had enough oil to revive their barely burning oil lamps when the announcement came that the wedding party was approaching.
One of the historic giants of faith was quizzed whether he had found time in that particularly busy day for his own personal prayers. He replied, “Oh, yes. I’m all prayed up.” Regardless of other pressing concerns, he was ready and waiting for the Lord’s coming in the moments of daily living. That kind of waiting is certainly unusual in a culture that insists on fast living and instant gratification. Paul knew that if we see what we hope for, then that is not faith. But if we hope for what we do not see, then we are waiting in faith. Our culture focuses on things which only seem urgent at the expense of things that are important. The five wise maids had the same kind of lamps as the others had, They were able to focus on what was important—forming a welcoming party for the groom, going in with him to the wedding banquet. Can we focus on God in a time when that is difficult? How can we live all prayed up, so that as John F. Kennedy said, we are ready for any eventuality?
We can take heart from some of the characters in God’s story. Abraham moved toward the Promised Land but he was never sure what God had in mind for him when he arrived there. Even after almost sacrificing Isaac, his only son, he believed God’s promises about countless descendants. Fulfillment was many a generation away. The children of Israel, slaves in Egypt, spent 40 years wandering northward and didn’t know how to handle the Promised Land when they got there. Later, their descendants were forced to walk to Babylon in exile where they wondered whether God was aware of their agony. He was.
They came back and rebuilt their city walls and their temple. Then Jesus came along and witnessed to the love and power of God as He became the obedient Son. Paul, the new man who emerged from the self-righteous Saul, crossed mountains and deserts and seas to spread the faith he was once determined to destroy.
Now he awaited his death in a cell in Rome as punishment for preaching that Jesus is the Son of an invisible God who is the Creator of the world…
Or look at those heroes of faith in the book of Hebrews, people of great faith they were, but the story of God continues: All of them died in faith without having received the promise but from a distance they saw what awaited them.
They believed they were strangers and foreigners on earth. They understood what was important, and that is how we must live and meet life day by day in spite of bombings and explosions, mass murders, indiscriminate assassinations and now the ultimate sin and tragedy, the murder of people at worship.
Where is God when these events challenge our faith? And how can we live and keep the faith? Just as though we are once again at the burning bush with Moses. When Moses asked God how he should become the leader of the people, the only answer he got was “I will be with you.”
That answer tells how we should live through all the evil — the murders, the terrorists, the assassination of innocent people, the bombings, and all the actions that destroy God’s gift of life.
The message of the waiting bridesmaids for us is this: The Lord is coming to us every day and every night.
Wait, watch, keep the faith. Stay strong in the Lord. He is always coming now and he is always coming soon. All for which we say, thanks be to God.