Sermon: Is There Forgiveness?

November 12, 2017: Loyalty Sunday
Matthew 25:1-13

Is there forgiveness?

That’s the inescapable question for those reading this passage about the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Is there forgiveness?

Because it seems so harsh. So unforgiving. So… final.

Granted, they had missed their chance.

The custom in those days was for the bridesmaids to wait with the bride at her house. The groom would come to invite her to the place where the marriage and the wedding feast would take place. The bridesmaids would light the way with oil lamps. Without oil, they had no light to shine.

With no oil in their lamps, the five foolish bridesmaids could not fulfill their responsibilities. They had missed their chance.

Still. It seems harsh. Because they had not, after all, been all that foolish. They had arrived with filled lamps. They were ready for the groom to arrive. And if he had arrived on time, they could have joined the procession and celebrated the wedding with everyone.

The groom, however, was late. Shouldn’t that be on him?

When I worked for the Connecticut Conference, one of my responsibilities was managing the technical responsibilities for big meetings and events. I prepared slide shows, perhaps set up sound systems, and arranged for video cameras to capture the event. The result was that when I arrived anywhere, my car resembled a clown car from a circus. You know the type: the little car shows up, and suddenly all these people spill out of it who couldn’t possibly have fit.

Well, my car disgorged cameras, and projectors, and laptop computers, and projection screens, and sound equipment, and even small tables.

It could be pretty impressive. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to be ready for contingencies. Not just what was planned to happen: also would could happen. Projector lamps could fail. Somebody might arrive with a slide show and without a projector. One memorable day, the electric service we were using quit, and we had to run an extension cord out of the room and up a stairwell.

My favorite, though, was the school auditorium whose stage lights went out. The speaker could go on, though, because the sound system stilled worked – and because I handed her a flashlight so she could see her notes.

I’ve always aspired to be one of the wise bridesmaids, prepared for the unexpected.

The foolish ones were prepared only for what was supposed to happen: the joyful arrival of the groom. They were not prepared for what actually happened: the sad delay of the groom.

I can hear Jesus saying, “Prepare for what might happen, not what is supposed to happen.”

But still: Isn’t there forgiveness?

And what about sharing? Five wise bridesmaids had brought extra oil? Should that have made the difference?

Unfortunately, as Jesus had constructed the story, the answer is no. If you take an amount of oil that’s adequate for five lamps and share it among ten lamps, all ten lamps will go out at the same time: half-way through. You’ve gone from a situation where there will be half the light for the whole time needed to a situation where you’ll have full light for half the time needed.

So you’ve got to keep the five lamps filled. You need the light for the whole time.

The wise bridesmaids had a resource that they couldn’t share.


Isn’t there forgiveness? Why wouldn’t the groom admit the five foolish bridesmaids once they’d gone to the effort of finding an oil seller, purchasing what they needed, and returning with their lamps trimmed and glowing?


Is there forgiveness in Christ after all?

The answer, my friends, is yes. There is. It’s just not in this passage.

This passage alone is not the entirety of the Scriptures. It’s not the entirety of Jesus’ message. It’s not the entirety of Matthew’s gospel. It’s not even the entirety of this speech which Jesus was giving his friends.

This story isn’t about forgiveness. It’s about being ready.

Jesus’ point is that you can be ready, or you can be not ready. You don’t get to be ready for one event twice. You’re either ready when it comes, or you’re not ready when it comes.

What do we need to be ready for?

Matthew wants us to be ready for the return of Christ. He spent this portion of his gospel – one parable after another – to build a foundation for readiness. Matthew, no doubt, and certainly all of us, know well the situation of these ten bridesmaids: the groom is delayed.

But that’s not the only thing to be ready for in life.

Karoline Lewis writes: “And on another level, how do you fill these times of waiting for inevitable instances of racial oppression? Of another news report of gun violence? Of further #metoo incidents? Of yet one more demonstration that deems LGBTQIA persons less than? Of probable bigotry, of predictable xenophobia, of projected sexism? They are also similar to the waiting for the coming of Christ. Because the coming of Christ means, in the end, knowing that a moment will arrive when how we respond depends on our readiness to give witness to Immanuel in our midst.”

How, as well, will we be ready for the closer, more intimate needs of life? How will we make ourselves ready for the hungry unexpected guest? The grieving friend? The distracted server in the restaurant? The 3 am cry of the hungry newborn? The weeping child with the skinned knee?

How will we be ready for the time somebody says, “You hurt me.” How will we be ready for the time we must say to someone, “You hurt me.” How will we be ready for the times we must say, “I’m sorry.” How will we be ready for the time when somebody says, “I’m sorry,” to us?

The oil for our souls’ lamps is love, and compassion, and caring. It’s aloha. That’s why Jesus used this image of lamps. Because he wants us to be ready to light the way, and that’s what love does.


Is there forgiveness?


Because repentance and forgiveness is part of how we’re ready. When we acknowledge our errors, when we confess our sins, when we apologize for our misdeeds, that’s oil for our lamps.

And when God forgives, that’s oil for our lamps, too: oil to overflowing, oil that’s everlasting, oil to give a bright and loving light to all the world.

There is forgiveness, dear friends, and in Christ’s forgiveness, you can be ready.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

The recorded sermon will vary to some degree from the prepared text. 

The image is of a 15th century Flemish painting on wood of the Last Judgment prepared by an unknown artist. A later (and equally unknown) artist added the wise and foolish bridesmaids at the bottom on an additional piece of wood.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on November 12, 2017

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283