The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 8, 2020
Special moments of heaven-sent grace – including the ultimate one at Christ’s return – might happen at any time. They bear such potential to bless that we’d be fools not to keep ready to make the most of them. And that is a project that can’t be left to the last second!
Since a moment of visitation might come any second, the best way to take advantage of such a blessing is to stay primed for it every second – as was the family of Robby Robins.
Robins served as an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, his superiors surprised him by ordering him to immediately pull his flight crew together and fly their plane home. It was so sudden that he had no opportunity to call his family (and back then none of them had cell phones). As soon as they landed at the base back in the States, they hopped into a car to drive all night. When just after sunrise his buddies dropped him off at his house, a big banner on the garage greeted Robins with the happy proclamation: “Welcome home, Dad!” How did they know? Robins wondered. No one could have notified them.
When he walked into the house, the kids – half-dressed for school – threw themselves into his arms screaming, “Daddy!”, as his wife Susan ran down the hall looking like a million dollars – hair done, make-up on, and wearing a crisp yellow dress. As he hugged her to his heart, he asked, “How did you know?” “I didn’t,” she replied through tears of joy. “We just knew that you’d be home one of these days, and that you’d try to surprise us. So we were ready every day.”
That’s how Christians are to anticipate Jesus’ return and all the lesser visitations of His grace before that day of days. For there’s no predicting when one of them might arrive – though each is scheduled right on time by God in His perfect, but often mysterious, wisdom, and planned with sensitivity to the exact moment when its blessing might be can be maximized.
Knowing the right moment, something of which we are often unaware, is everything.
A pastor visited a church member at his job. He worked in a steel-tube factory. The pastor watched with fascination as a long stream of molten metal flowed into a giant machine, which chopped off a section, grabbed it at each end and began to spin it. By centrifugal force, that bar of molten metal opened from the inside out, forming a seamless tube of steel. Amazed, the pastor asked the man what was crucial in producing such a result. “Knowing when the metal’s temperature is just right,” he said. “If it’s too hot, it’ll fly apart; if it’s too cold, it won’t open as it ought. Only if you catch the molten moment, can you make a perfect tube.”
The Lord wants to make us perfect. Thus, He waits for the molten moment when our condition is just right for our shaping. Since we usually don’t know when we’ve reached that point, we’d be wise to be ready all the time.
Today’s parable encourages us to do just that.
In the Palestine of Jesus’ day, newlyweds did not go away for a honeymoon, but stayed home to host an open house for an extended wedding reception.
For a variety of reasons, there might be a time lapse between the marriage ceremony and those festivities. The custom was that, if a groom had been gone for long, a wedding party like these bridesmaids would escort him the last leg of his return journey. As a courtesy, he’d send a runner ahead of him to alert the escorts of his impending arrival and the community at large of the imminent start of the big celebration, a red letter affair no sleepy rural village would want to miss.
In the parable, the groom represents Jesus; and the bridesmaids, His followers. Note that all the bridesmaids have lamps and oil in case the groom should show up after dark; and all of them fall asleep when it grows late. But only half of them care enough to double-check to see if they have everything they need to welcome and serve him whenever he comes. Only at his arrival do the foolish bridesmaids note they lack enough oil to do their job. The wise ones have none to spare lest they also become unable to do their job. They can only suggest to the others that they look for a dealer who, woken up like everyone else by the shout of the groom’s advance man, is willing to stay up a little longer to make a sale. At any rate, by the time the foolish ones reach the wedding banquet, their tardiness – a product of their carelessness – reveals a lazy indifference that the Lord of the house sees as a sign that there’s no real relationship of love there. So he tells them he doesn’t know them and refuses to let them in. For their want of proper preparation – an indication of their want of genuine concern – they miss their chance for the gift the Lord had wanted to give them.
On December 1, 1955, God gave Rosa Parks the gift of courage and a willingness to suffer for the sake of righteousness that enabled her to perform heroic service in the cause of civil rights. She received strength from heaven, not just because of her faithfulness in that instant, but as the end product of a long process of faithful preparation. Rosa had trained in non-violent resistance, studied boycotts, undergone arrest in a bus boycott once before in Louisiana, and garnered the support of a like-minded community. By her faithfulness over years, she had readied herself to ride a current of the Spirit’s living water of empowerment that would carry her in that challenging moment.
Only the prepared can welcome and receive the full blessings heaven sends our way! Let us pray.