Pentecost 23 – Guest Preacher, Roger Bullard, M. Div. – November 8, 2020

Wisdom is radiant and  unfading,

and she is easily discerned by those who love her,

and is found by those who seek her.[1]

Murphy’s Law

#MurphysLawWe are all acquainted with Murphy’s Law:  Anything that can go wrong…will go wrong.  No wonder why the Scouts’ motto is : Be Prepared.  And why the Coast Guard’s ensign bears the words: Semper Paratus – always prepared.  Facing the hard reality of Murphy’s Law is built into the code of the US Marines: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome,” because no plan of action ever survives first contact with the real world.  No plan survives the real world unless built for uncertainties.  Remember your very first attempt to prepare hollandaise from a recipe?

This morning we witness the value of wisdom, that is, how to emulate the Coast Guard and be ‘always prepared.’  Matthew relates the story of ten young women who go to meet the bridegroom.   Jesus offers this parable as the example of how to prepare to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  The maidens set off joyfully,  to light the way with torches, accompanying the bridegroom to the great wedding feast.

Five of the maidens are prepared to deal with Murphy’s Law. They carry spare oil… just in case.  The wind might come up and blow out their torches.  The journey to the feast may take longer than anticipated. Perhaps the wedding feast will last until dawn. Who knows?  Their oil-soaked torch burns only fifteen minutes. Then the torch must be retrimmed and the oil replenished.

Sure enough, the bridegroom is delayed.  We are not told why. Life just happens.  Robert Capon, commenting on this parable describes ‘life just happening’ as the ‘foolishness of God.’[2]  St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.  God invites us to enter the Kingdom through the wisdom of faith, not through the wisdom of the world.  The wise young women represent the wisdom of faith – the wisdom of trusting in the foolishness of God in Christ crucified.[3] They are prepared for ‘life just happening.’

The Foolish Virgins

#FoolishVirginsIt seems unfair to describe as foolish those five young women who traveled light. They are invited to a late afternoon wedding feast that should end by early evening. They arrive in their gay party dresses, Hermes handbags, their Jimmy Choo pumps.  They are models of the wisdom of the world.  They look great! Why burden themselves with flasks of extra oil?  What could go wrong?

Of course, Murphy’s Law prevails. What could go wrong…does go wrong.  The bridegroom is delayed. He arrives very late, at midnight.  Five of the young women rise quickly, light their torches and prepare to guide the bridal party to the glorious event. The other five, the foolish ones, realize they have come up short. They appeal to the wise ones to share their oil. They are turned away, as the five who came prepared have not enough oil to support the torches of all ten.

Instead, the unprepared ones make tracks to find oil at an open-all-night Wal*Mart.  Upon their return they discover the door to the wedding banquet is bolted shut.  They call out: “Lord, Lord, open to us.”  But the Lord replies, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”  It appears they have lost everything. The Kingdom of heaven is barred to them.

“I do not know you!” These recall the saddest words in Shakespeare, as the aging Falstaff presumes to retain his former relationship with the boy Prince Hal, who has come into his estate as King Henry V.

King Henry retorts: “I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers.  How ill white hairs become a fool and jester! Presume not that I am the thing I was, for God doth know, so shall the world perceive, that I have turn’d away my former self; And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,  we will, according to your strengths and qualities, give you advancement.  Be it your charge, my lord, to see perform’d the tenour of our word.”[4]

In Henry’s charge for Falstaff to reform his ways we hear the message that God does not abandon us.  The bridegroom’s final words to those turned away at the locked door are words of instruction: “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Keep awake.  Be prepared.  A portion of faith borrowed from another at the last minute is not sufficient to unlock the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Live a life of faith.  In his closing words, the bridegroom challenges and offers a message of hope.

Message of Hope

This morning, Paul also delivers a message of hope.  The Thessalonians fear for those who have died before the expected return of Christ.  Having departed the faith community in death, they may be denied entry into the Kingdom.  Paul reminds them that death does not separate us from the love of God.  Nor does death separate them from their faith community in life. Those who have died remain amongst you.  Fear not, they will be the first to rise and will accompany you to the Kingdom of heaven.

Put aside your fears. I encourage you to continue your life of faith. This will prepare you for that time when the day of the Lord arrives like a thief in the night. (1 Thess 5:2) Then you and those who have died before you shall be caught up in the clouds and drawn into the Kingdom of heaven.

The Thessalonians are fearful.  They fear for those who have been members of their community.   Will the faith of those who have died be recognized at the end time?  Will our faith, the faith of us still living be sufficient we arrive at the door to the Kingdom of heaven?  Paul offers words of encouragement to the first century Thessalonians.  His encouragement is equally important to us today.

Today, we live in a world locked in fear.  Fear for our safety.  Fear for our values. Fears for social justice.  Fears for our health and economic well-being, turbocharged by the pandemic.   Fear is so pervasive in our national life, so divisive that those who hold opposing points of view define the other, not as opponents…but as evil.  The national election we have just experienced is seen as the end of times for those on either side of the outcome. The depth of this division is captured in a recent piece in the Washington Post, which I quote in part:

“A minister who believes the United States is God’s chosen nation decides that a Joe Biden presidential victory would mean doom, a crushing of the nation’s essence.  A filmmaker whose work has celebrated the raucous mess of U.S. politics concludes that the reelection of President Trump would be ‘the end of democracy.’ If you are a believer in climate change, reelecting Trump is literally the end of the world. If taxes are your issue, you think a Biden victory will bankrupt you. If your top concern is health care, you think a Biden loss will kill you.”  Our trust in our institutions has collapsed. [5]

Love is the Way

#BishopCurryFear has become corrosive to our national life. Fear blinds us to the divine nature in each of God’s people.  Fear blinds us to Jesus’ call to love one another.  Where do we turn?  How shall we find the way to the gate that leads to the Kingdom?  Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, in his recent book shows us: Love is the Way.

In these words, Bishop Michael reminds us to follow the way of Jesus, to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul and mind.  And to love our neighbor as ourselves. “That’s why we are here,” the Bishop says. “Love the neighbor you like and love the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and love the neighbor you disagree with. Love your Democrat neighbor. Love your Republican neighbor. Love your Independent neighbor. Love your Black neighbor, your White neighbor. Love your Asian neighbor, your Latino neighbor, and your Indigenous neighbor. Love your South American neighbor. Love your LGBTQ neighbor, love your Jewish neighbor, love your Muslim neighbor. Love, love, love, love your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” [6]

It is not a choice. The Bishop reminds us, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”[7]  It is through a life of loving our neighbor as ourselves that we may receive the wisdom, the key that unlocks the door to join the bridegroom at the great wedding feast.




Works Referenced:

This is a homily delivered to a congregation at Emmanuel Church, Newport RI on Sunday, November 8, 2020. I am indebted to the following for their insights into the lectionary for the day: R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 2007; Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, Eerdmans, 2002; Bishop Michael Curry, Love is the Way, Penguin Random House, 2020



Roger C. Bullard, November 8, 2020


[1] Wisdom 6:12

[2] Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, Eerdmans (2002), p. 496

[3] ibid, 1 Cor 1:18,25  18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

[4] William Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 2, Act 5, Scene 5. 2

[5] Marc Fisher, The end of democracy? To many Americans, the future looks dark if the other side wins.

The Washington Post, October 25, 2020, excerpts

[6] Michael B. Curry, Love is the Way Penguin Publishing. Kindle Edition, p.240

[7] op.cit, Curry, p.5