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Monday, November 10, 2014

In praise of foolish virgins

My sermon for this week is based on Mark 25:1-13.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

This week we observe Remembrance Day, and I can't speak for anyone but myself, but the observance of this day always leaves me in a bit of a quandary.  I had family who service in WWII, some of whom made it home, some of whom did not.  I knew someone in high school who died in the Gulf War.  I respect and honour their courage, but I do not respect and honour war.  I want to hold up the fact that they fought without holding up the fighting.

I have looked deep in the heart of me on a number of occasions, and I have to confess that I do not have what it takes to be a soldier, or to be a police officer or a firefighter.  I do not have what it takes to embrace a vocation where my life is on the line on a regular basis.

The fact of the matter is that it scares me.  Every fiber of my being calls me to keep myself safe, to not risk my life, to stay out of harm's way.  This is our inborn instinct of survival.

Military service is a vocation that seems like folly to me.  Don't misunderstand me, I am not calling our men and women who serve foolish.  I am merely pointing out that to deliberately and knowingly place yourself in harm's way for the good of other people is, by definition, folly, as in the opposite of wisdom.

I would like to speak out in praise of folly.

Today's Gospel passage describes an ancient Jewish wedding custom.  To simplify, the groom was to show up at the bride's house in the middle of the night, but the exact hour of his arrival was always uncertain.  So the bridesmaids were to wait with the bride at her house on the night of the big event.  When the announcement was made that the groom was approaching, they were to light their lamps and accompany the wedding party through the darkness to the feast.

In the Parable for today, five bridesmaids (or virgins in some translations) were wise, in that they had ample oil to keep their lamps lit, while five were foolish in that they did not.

It would have been folly for the wise virgins to give some of their oil to the foolish virgins,  It would have been folly for them to give something for which they had paid, something which they required to discharge their duty.

We are supposed to side with the "Wise Virgins", but I just can't.  I know I am supposed to be impressed and influenced by their wisdom and foresight, but I am not.

The problem is that I actually think they were greedy, stingy and self-serving.  I suspect that if they had shared their oil with the their "foolish" counterparts, all could have enjoyed the wedding feast.

What if, for example, all the members of the armed services sat down and said, "I have what is mine and that is all I need.  Screw you and your need, I am ok"?

What if all the members of the law enforcement services and firefighters said the same?

What if doctors, nurses and EMT said the same?

What if volunteers and people who worked for charities said the same?

What if every Christian said the same?

Well, you get the picture I am trying to paint.

The fact of the matter is that there is something present in the spirit of most human beings.  Something that tells us to give to those who have less that us, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to uplift those who cannot lift themselves up.

But this is, by definition, folly.

If you buy a homeless person a meal, chances are he or she will never buy you a meal in return.  It is a losing proposition from you standpoint.  The transaction only works one way, so from an economic standpoint, the gesture is folly as far as you are concerned.

But as Christians, we are called to live a life of folly.

Perhaps we are not all called to go to war, but we are called to practice the same selflessness that our men and women in the armed services practice on a daily basis.

Today, do something foolish.

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