Preach, Pray, or Die

November 8, 2020

Pastor Joel Plisek

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

Our former Bishop Scott Jones loved to make this statement on the Annual Conference floor when the business was winding down; he would turn to one of his senior staff members, wanting them to do a closing prayer, and he would say, “Jack Preach, Pray or Die…it’s your choice.”

The idea was that as pastors we needed to be ready at seconds notice to do one of those three things: Preach, Pray or Die. 

I bring that up because pastor Charles called me Friday evening to let me know that I would be preaching on Saturday and Sunday.  Pastor Charles was at a pastor’s gathering and it turned out that one of the other pastors there came down with COVID-19.  As a precaution Charles is taking a test, but he can’t take it until Tuesday.  So, he and his family are isolating themselves, please keep them in your prayers. At this time, he does not feel like he has any of the symptoms.

When Charles told me that I would have to preach, panic struck me as I had nothing prepared.  Then Bishop Jones’s words came to my mind, “Preach, Pray or Die.”  One of those things will be happening today.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids was chosen as the scripture for this week.  In this parable Jesus is talking about a wedding feast. He describes a scene from a very typical Jewish wedding at the time of Jesus.

Now, here are a few things that you need to know about a Jewish wedding in those times.  First off, the father of the groom is the one who sets the date for the wedding.  He sets the day and the time and then he tells no one – not even his son and not even his wife.  For all of type A personalities that would drive us nuts, but that’s what the culture was.  When the time arrives, the father goes to his son and says, “Go and get your bride, we are going to have a wedding.”  Everyone is told to be ready.  Everyone can guess about when the wedding will happen because of certain signs, but no one knows for sure.

The second coming of Jesus is often described in terms of wedding imagery.  The church is the bride, Jesus, the son of God is the groom, God the father is the father of the groom, who sets the time and the date of the wedding and then tells no one – not even the son. Not even Jesus knows when He will return. And in the case of Mathew 25 the attendants of the bride, in other words the ten virgins, represent us, the church and the lamp oil represent our faith.  Half of them were wise – they kept an eye on their oil and made provisions for it. In other words, they minded their faith. The five who were foolish did not keep track of their oil, did not mind their faith and they lost out.

Now this parable speaks to Christians of all generations and it says this – the son of God is coming.  Mind your faith because you do not know the hour He will come. Only the Father knows the time, so be ready. From this we learn these lessons.

First there are some things in life that we cannot borrow, and faith is one of them. Faith is the most intensely personal experience of our life. Other people can help us to walk toward faith, they can pray for us, they can encourage us; but in the end, faith is something that we have to embrace for ourselves. It cannot be borrowed.

The five foolish virgins in this story represent those who think that they can rely on someone else’s faith. It’s kind of like the man in one church who told me one time, “My wife handles the religion in this family.” In other words, he thought he could borrow his wife’s faith whenever he needed it. Not true, faith cannot be borrowed.

When we stand before Jesus, He is not going to ask you to tell me about anyone else’s faith. Jesus will ask about your personal faith.  What did you personally believe?

It sounds rude of the five virgins to not give some of the oil to help out their friends.  But God was trying to lay down a truth that you cannot live by someone else’s faith.  Each person must have their own.

The second faith lesson is that sometimes some things cannot be put off until the last moment.  I have a book called “Procrastination,” and would you believe it, I still haven’t gotten around to read it?   The old proverb goes “Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.  It’s not that the foolish virgins did not want to be part of the wedding; they genuinely wanted to be part of the celebration, they just had not given it any forethought or planning. When I encounter someone who is spiritually apathetic, it’s not because they don’t want heaven, they just don’t want the preparation and the forethought that’s required.

And that brings us to the third and final faith lesson; it’s the issue of readiness. When Christ returns and God holds His grand celebration, will you be ready? When the foolish virgins arrive, we’re told that the door is shut and it is not to be opened again, and the parable ends with this advice, “Therefore, keep watch.” What does it mean to be watchful?  As human beings, it is a challenge to watch, stay awake and be ready for Christ’s return.

These challenges stem from a variety of things. The delay and unknown time of Christ’s coming complicates things. He obviously hasn’t come yet, and we have lived every day of our lives without this event happening.

This influences our thoughts and behaviors, whether we realize it or not. We always think and assume that there will be a tomorrow.

In our lives, there has always been one. As a result, we can be spiritually lax. We might think, “tomorrow I can prepare, repent, or be active in my faith.” The return of Jesus might not even be on our thoughts or radar. When was the last time that you thought about it? Did you consider that He could have returned this weekend? Have you even given thought He might return today? The honest answer is “no.” 

The fact is, we can get distracted from His Second Coming. We have so many things in our lives that grab our attention. Even our work can come home with us through computers, cell phones, and email. We might have other responsibilities that take up our time like volunteering on a board or being part of a group. As human beings, we can even put a premium on the physical things of this world and neglect, or even forget, the spiritual needs we might have. Perhaps the idea of judgment might scare us or make us feel uncomfortable or worried.  Adding to this is the fact that the world lives not just if Christ won’t return, but as if He doesn’t exist.

It can be a challenge to see others live their lives with little regard or care about Christ’s return. Despite these challenges, our Lord encourages us, “to watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  By faith, we see the blessings of watching, waiting, and staying awake for Christ’s return.

The uncertainty of His return is not a bad thing.  The unknown day and hour encourage us to always live and stay in His grace that covers all of our sin. It encourages us to always cling to Him and to what God gives us through Christ. This uncertainty encourages us to live in our vocations as fathers, mothers, grandparents, employees, bosses, and siblings as we wait for His return.  This reminds me of a story of a girl, who went on a swimming trip with her father and siblings in the Atlantic. Her father realized that the tide was pulling them out to sea, and knowing his limitations, he told his daughter, “Honey, I’ve got to get your brother to shore. When I do, I’ll come back for you. I want you to float on your back until I return. You don’t have to swim. Just float on your back.”

With that the father swam away, brought his son to shore, and in a state of near exhaustion, with some lifeguards, went back out to find his daughter. She wasn’t where they expected her to be.

Further out to sea they searched. After two hours, they spotted a little body floating in the water. She was alive! They brought her aboard and one of the lifeguards asked, “Were you frightened being out in the ocean all by yourself?”

She answered, “I wasn’t afraid, my father told me to float on my back, and he promised that he would come back. I trusted him. He loves me, and never lies” (from a sermon by Rev. Ken Klaas).

This is the attitude Jesus expects of us. He expects us to remember that He loves us. He has not forgotten about us. He expects us to live our lives, serving our families, telling our neighbors about God’s love, and practicing Christian values and characteristics until He comes. 2 Peter 3:9 reads “The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. We have a job to do, to tell people about Jesus while there is still time.” 

Well I just took my pulse and I am still alive. I guess the third choice didn’t happen.  But we all have a choice of what to do with this message. AMEN.