Re-seeing Jesus’s Parables: The 10 Bridesmaids

par17This past Sunday one of the lectionary passages was the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. It’s a troubling passage, that people often boil down to be attentive and be prepared. However, if you read the passage more closely, there are a few things that make a modern day reader uncomfortable. Let’s take a look at the parable and re-familiarize ourselves. I also highly recommend looking at the two following parables in Matthew 25. I am going to be covering a lot of ground in a relatively short post, so stick with me.

The 10 Bridesmaids

 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

One of the first things to pay attention to in this parable is that it is a “kingdom of heaven” parable. There are many parables where Jesus talks about what the kingdom of heaven is like. And this is one of many. Knowing that this is a kindgom of heaven parable gives us a context for the story. Always, always pay attention to context. What comes before the passage? What comes after? Just because it is a parable, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a larger context. And we mis-interpret a passage when don’t look at the context.  The second thing to notice in this parable is that there are two types of bridemaids. There are the wise and the unwise. Many times in Jesus’s parables there are two groups. The wise and unwise. The sheep and the goats. And so on… In this parable the wise are prepared and have extra oil to spare upon the bridegroom’s arrival. While the unwise bridesmaids are close to running out. While the typical interpretation is that we need to be prepared and patient, for the bridegroom can arrive at any time, I would like to posit a different interpretation to this often read and often confusing parable.

Many times Jesus’s parables are not what they seem. And his parables often answered a question, got the listener to think in new ways, and pushed people to look at something in a new way through story. When reading a parable, it is always important to read the parables in context. The Parable of the 10 Bridemaids is in the context of a larger story being told in Matthew 25. Jesus doesn’t not tell one parable here, but three in succession that all seem to tie together. After the Parable of the 10 Bridemaids, Jesus then launches into the telling of the Parable of the Talents, and ends with the telling of separation of the the sheep and the goats. Each of these stories have a common theme woven through them: the economy of the the kingdom of God. There are the haves and the have-nots. There are those who have been given much. And those who have been given little. And the question in all three of these stories is how do we handle this in the kindgom of God. How are we to use our resources? What is the economy of God’s kingdom?

One of the troubling portions of this parable is the focus on having enough oil for the lamp. The bridesmaids seem much more focused on oil for their lamp, rather than the arrival of the bridegroom. This attention seems misplaced. And instead of waiting for the bridegroom, the bridemaids concerned themselves with more futile things, such as having enough oil for their lamp. This lead the 5 “foolish” bridemaids to leave their post to get more oil and miss the arrival of the bridegroom. Could it be that even if they had run out of oil, the bridegroom would have welcomed them in. The oil for the lamps in the parable seems to be a distraction. And leads me to think about what are the things that distract us from what is important? Do we get focused on the minutiae of our lives and miss what God is doing?

Another troubling portion in this parable is that the 5 wise bridemaids had oil leftover. Though we often praise these bridemaids for being prepared. From my perspective, these 5 “wise” bridemaids are complicit in the door being shut on the 5 “unwise” bridemaids. Instead of sharing what they have, they tell the other bridemaids to get their own oil. From the many parables I have read, this isn’t in line with how Jesus taught us to live. And I find it interesting that though these 5 bridemaids are called “wise,” it is followed with the story of the talents, when each man was given talents, from 1 to 2 to 5. And it was the one who hoarded their one talent that is judged harshly.

So the question remains, why are some in and some out of the kingdom of heaven? Are the 5 unwise bridesmaids out because they ran out of oil? Are they out because the other bridemaids didn’t share? Do we get into the kindgom of heaven by just being prepared ourselves, or is their a higher call in the economy of the kingdom of God. In the second parable, the one who multiplied their 5 talents is rewarded. And the one with the single talent who buried it is punished. And the story ends with these words:  For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” These words are troubling when I read them, which leads me to believe that there is more to the story.

In the final story, Jesus tells us of the sheep and the goats and leaves us with these words from Matthew 25:44-46: “Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” In the economy of God it is not ultimately who has the most that enters the kindgom of heaven. It is those who have been given much and share what they have with others. And read in the context of the sheep and the goats, the parables of the 10 Bridesmaids and the Talents have more to say than what originally meets the eye.

A Vision for our Youth: Increasing Youth Involvement in Worship

Big changes have been happening in the youth ministry over the past year. I have been serving at this congregation now for over 4 years. In that time I have graduated a whole class of high school students. I have also seen the great things about ministry at this church, and the areas for growth. Sensing that we needed to grow as a ministry and I need to grow as a leader, last Spring I invited a team of consultants from Ministry Architects to look at the Youth Ministry at the Presbyterian Church in Morristown. Many great things have resulted from that weekend. One of which was spending the summer casting a vision for the youth ministry and working on the foundation of the youth ministry.

Over the next several days I will be sharing some of the behinds the scenes things I have been working on and the vision for the future of the youth ministry. There are many exciting things going on, so stick around and find out what is happening in the life of the Youth Ministry!

Our church is going through several big changes, one of which was a change to our worship schedule. For many years, further back than anyone can seem to remember, this congregation has had two worships services. One at 9:15am and the other at 11:00am. And at 9:15, during our first service, our Sunday School classes met. For some families this was convenient, as parents could drop off their children at Sunday School and then attend worship without disruption. However, this has side effects. Most children and youth in our church did not attend worship from birth to high school graduation. And when they no longer had Sunday School, they didn’t come to church either. As the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, I do pretty well at the Youth portion of my job. However, when it comes to Young Adults it is an uphill battle. We have over 50 young adults who live in the area, who went to this church as children and youth, and yet the vast majority of them rarely attend. Many reasons can be attributed to this, but my suspicion is that lack of church attendance when they were younger and being in a ministry silo is the biggest contributor to their absence.

I am not the first one to see this result nor am I the first one to write about it. Recently a blog post with similar thoughts made the rounds on social media, entitled “Sunday School is Killing the Church.”  As a church staff we spent close to a year talking about this change in our Sunday schedule, formulating a plan, and sharing a vision with the congregation. And finally this fall that plan has been put in place. Obviously we are only a couple weeks into the change, but we hope that this is a change that will affect generations to come.

10682343_754461561267132_3898958707971389426_oIn the few weeks that we have had a new schedule with Sunday School at 8:45 and worship at 10:00am, it has been great to see what a difference it has made already towards inter-generational worship. Along with this change in schedule, we have also made a few changes for youth involvement. We have a long time, well regarded Chancel Choir that has been an adult choir for years. This year the Music Director invited high school youth to join this choir. This affords our youth the opportunity to sing with adults at a higher level musically, as well as being mentored by choir members and forming inter-generational relationships. This year we also added an Acolyte program. It is my desire and the desire of the congregation to have youth involved and visible in the life of the church. It has been a beautiful change to attend worship on Sundays and to see youth singing in the choir, participating as Acolytes, taking notes in the pews for Confirmation, greeting at the front door, and ushering.

My hope, and the hope of our congregation, is that through this involvement in the life of the church, participation in Christian Community will become a habit of their lives both now and in the future. Numerous studies have shown that youth who involved in worship have faith that stick. This is actually a much stronger prediction for future involvement in the church than even their involvement in youth ministry. This is a sobering fact for someone who’s job is leading youth ministry. However, it is also a part of my role to connect youth with the congregation, help them form inter-generational relationships, and break down silos between youth ministry with the rest of the congregation, while still providing age-appropriate community. The best way to have youth adults in a congregation is to start by forming habits in the lives of children and youth. My hope is that these changes will further involve youth in the congregation both now and as younger adults.

Living Simply

IMG_3299 I am probably the least qualified person to talk about the gift of living simply. I have more pants, sweaters, and shirts than I know what to do with. I have a scarf for every outfit. And more necklaces and earring than anyone than I know. Don’t even let me get started on my book or stationary collection. Or the number of bath products and lotions in my bathroom. It’s safe to say that my life is as far from simple as one could get. But maybe that makes me even more qualified?

I have been on a journey the past several years, trying to simplify my life. Sometimes that just consists of reading daily blogs from Unclutterer, Zen Habits, and Becoming Minimalist. When I read their articles about a more simple life, about making space for the things that matter, it resonates with something inside of me. I don’t want to be held captive by my stuff any longer. I don’t want to be held captive by cleaning it, sorting it, and organizing it. I would rather spend my days doing something fun or something that matters, than feeling like I have too much to clean or take care of at home.

So I have begun to take small measures in my life. Going through my clothes every few months, and asking myself if I went shopping again today, would I buy this item? In the past b301417dbc8423117e34dbd1436b794dyear I have donated 10-12 large bags of clothing. And yet I have a long ways to go. Recently I cleared out two shelves on my bookcase. A painful process, no doubt, for a book lover like me. And I have cleaned out several bins of old phone cords and electronics. Then there was the large bin full of old socks, which is peculiar considering I rarely wear socks. As well as the large suitcase packed full of purses from middle and high school. Little spaces here and there, throughout my apartment, acting as holding places for the many things I have accumulated through the years.

The life I live now is different than the life I desire and imagine for myself. So I keep reading stories and posts from others further along on the journey than me. And step by step I move closer to the simple life I desire. Where I am not weighed down by things but am free to enjoy life and love and people.

Spotlight on Volunteers – Youth need YOU!

1238896_10151690919973918_1412994744_nYou might have heard the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. In my years of youth ministry, I have seen this proven time and time again. Youth and children flourish and grow into young adults when they have adults invested in their lives. Numerous studies have shown that ONE youth needs FIVE adults invested in their life. That is just for one youth. We have been entrusted with many more than that as a congregation.

 

581725_10151591594098918_1388062124_nThe youth of this church have been blessed by adults that have invested in them. The work of youth ministry in not just the responsibility of a few; it 530840_10151109921068918_1525170628_ntakes a whole church to raise these amazing youth to adulthood. And one place to invest is through the youth ministry. Throughout the year we meet weekly for youth group, monthly we share in fun events together, and throughout the year we go on mission trips, weekend retreats, and service projects. None of this would be possible without the many, many adults who have invested their time to listen to, hang out, and make lasting memories with our youth.

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There is often the impression that youth only connect with adults who are a certain age, or who are young and hip. But I truly believe and have seen that all is takes is someone with a little bit of time, openness, and a listening ear. There are so many ways to get involved. From confirmation mentors to providing a meal. From event chaperones to weekly advisors. From church school teachers to mission trip advisors.

 

Thank you to the many adults have invested their time and talents!

Lives have been changes because of YOU!

 

One Great Hour of Sharing

A couple months ago a representative from the PCUSA, with Special Offerings visited the area. While he was here he interviewed some of my youth and I. From that this amazing video emerged. It was personally so moving to see my youth in this video and to hear them share their experiences so articulately. Take a look! And be sure to support One Great Hour of Sharing. Part of the money goes to support Presbyterian Distaster Assistance trips, much like this one.

 

The fable of the forgotten furniture

shelfChurches are notorious for collecting items. Between the number of staff and church members, and the donations given to the church, and the longevity of an institution in one place, stuff can accumulate in churches pretty quickly. And my church, like many is always trying to update and to make sure what we have is useful and needed. In addition to the fact that we are in the middle of a captial campaign renovation. So we have to make room for new things and for change.

In the midst of this, there has been this rolling cart with drawers hanging out in one of our main spaces. Unfortunately, this piece of furniture, with its drawers and cupboards really only became a place to store clutter and other long-forgotten items put there by someone years ago for a long-forgotten purpose. Today I was cleaning out this piece of furniture. Admittedly, we had put it next in line of items who had run their course of usefulness and needed to be tossed. While digging through the drawers and dumping markers that probably stopped working early 2000, I found packs of unopened thank you notes. I found a stack of paper pads that I am fond of using. And I found this strange orange pouch.

When I opened the pouch there were some plastic things that weren’t all that interesting. But there was also a white of sheet of instructions. And on that sheet of instructions was a piece of furniture that looked exactly like the one I was cleaning out! Except one extra thing I had never noticed, it had a room divider hidden in it. Now let me tell you, in the four years I have been here the middle school church school class has always met in a rather large room. And we have always used a divider to break up the room. However it wasn’t the divider hidden in this piece of furniture. No. It was something that the church had purchased, probably long after this piece of furniture.

Anyways. That’s a lot about a forgotten piece of furniture. But it got me thinking. What other things are laying around our churches, real or metaphorical, that have been forgotten? And because they have been forgotten, we have just thrown them out? What has someone invested in, in the past, that we have now deemed un-useful? Perhaps not because it isn’t useful, but because we haven’t taken time to understand its real purpose there. And so there it sits, in some forgotten corner. Collecting other forgotten things with it.

What have we cast away due to lack of knowing? What lurks in the forgotten corners of our churches?  And do they have new purpose today?

Can we look at these old, forgotten things in fresh and new ways?

Thistle and weeds

Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.

Genesis 3:17-19