Sermons from St Faith's
'Let all your lamps be bright'
November 6th, 2011
Jesus told his followers many memorable stories about the Kingdom of
Heaven. In several he compared God’s reign to a party, and in
particular to a wedding feast where there is good food and drink,
and good company. In these stories the hospitality and welcome
extended to the wedding guests serve as both a picture and a promise
of our heavenly Father’s infinite love and mercy. But the parables
also contain a warning to anyone who has preconceptions about who
should be on the guest list!
In one story Jesus tells of a king whose chosen guests turned his
invitation down: they all seemed to think that their own lives and
pre-occupations were far more important. And so the king tore up the
original list and instead opened his door to a motley collection of
odd characters, the good and the bad alike, They didn’t seem to have
any particular qualification to be at the party at all! But of
course the point of the parable is that the only thing that our
heavenly Father requires of his guests, requires of us, is that we
have a change of heart. We must have the humility to turn away from
our own self-sufficiency and trust only in God’s mercy and love; to
have the humility to realise that he accepts us unconditionally for
what we are, despite all our weaknesses and imperfections.
But of course there is another side to this coin. Just because there
is such a wideness in God’s mercy that it includes even us, then we
mustn’t be surprised if our fellow guests at the wedding include
several odd characters we would rather not know at all. In fact
there is a requirement, on all of us who are invited, to ‘sing for
our supper’ so to speak – so that we make each and every one of
God’s guests feel at home, however strange they may seem to us. At
the heavenly wedding reception we must learn not only to get to know
our fellow guests but to help our host to entertain them and make
them welcome, and yes, for heaven’s sake, even to join them on the
Jesus didn’t just preach about this great truth, he actually lived
it out - by opening his door and entertaining at his table the
sort of people the Pharisees referred to disdainfully as ‘tax
gatherers and sinners’. It is easy to see why the Pharisees
themselves would never have accepted Jesus’ invitation to join the
party and to sit down with all these undesirables! Some people, it
seems, will always include themselves out of God’s love and mercy.
Our Lord’s uncompromising ‘open door’ policy has always caused some
degree of difficulty and embarrassment for his church, in other
words, for us. We’ve recently seen this challenge being played out
in a modern-day parable, set in St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard.
I’ve no wish to be overly critical of the Cathedral authorities:
they were faced with an unavoidable dilemma when protestors against
our capitalist system set up camp on their very doorstep. And yet,
when the doors of the cathedral were closed and the protestors
became threatened by the possibility of eviction, the church sent
out a message which runs against the grain of the gospel. When the
press and the public ask the church who’s side it is on, then
perhaps we should do the same.
Of course the activists are no angels. When they couldn’t stage a
sit-in at the Stock Exchange they may have seen the Cathedral
precinct as a soft target. Perhaps their protest is coloured by a
tinge of envy: but then who amongst us is ready to cast the first
stone? We cannot escape the irony: that their protest against
corporate greed, and economic injustice and inequality, is one which
many Christians would be happy to support. We ought to be able to
sit next to them, at the same table, without too much embarrassment.
This morning’s gospel reading gives a further warning. We don’t know
the circumstances in which Jesus first told the parable of the ten
bridesmaids, but we can be pretty certain that it was aimed at his
followers, in other words at us. The bottom line of the story is
straightforward and uncomfortable: far from being in a position to
criticise the other guests, we cannot assume that our own place at
the table is guaranteed.
The five careless bridesmaids were confident that they would be
among the guests of honour at the wedding feast, but they had
forgotten that they had responsibilities as well as privileges. The
light from their torches was needed to illuminate the feasting and
dancing at the bridegroom’s house, but they didn’t really take this
seriously. They just couldn’t be bothered to bring any oil for their
lamps, hoping that the good nature of the other bridesmaids would
see them through. When they finally got to the wedding, extremely
late and probably empty handed, they found that the door was shut
against them. When we realise that, to the Jews, oil was a symbol of
repentance, we get the message! We have to take our Christian
discipleship seriously, both our Christian living and our Christian
giving. We have to tend the flame of truth and love that Christ has
given us, and to keep it alight in his service and the service of
The Lord’s wedding feast is truly a party, but a party like no
other. As we have seen, it can be an occasion for judgement on
anyone who is not prepared to accept what God has on offer for us.
But for those with a generous heart and a desire for equity and
justice, it is a feast where God’s kindness and mercy runs over. It
is a feast where God’s love and acceptance are freely available to
all, and where everyone is treated equally as one of his children.
Happy are those who are called to his supper.
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