Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Two weeks ago, I saw a sign on a mountain highway in Idaho that repeated a message I saw last summer in the Smokey Mountains: “Prepare To Meet Your God!” I remember one in Colorado that was professionally painted and constructed. The message was similar: “Prepare To Meet Your Maker.” In those settings, such a sign has a sobering, if not frightening effect. For many people, it is always a doomsday sort of message.
In the setting of steep, winding roads, with hairpin curves, people may need a little jolt of a sense of danger. I know I will never forget the way a boat and trailer seemed to push our van down the Little Bighorn Mountains one time. Hot brakes are not on my list of fun things! But is preparing to meet God synonymous with preparing for danger?
Old Testament prophets were often upset that the people of Israel had a smug and self-satisfied concept of their relationship with God. Many Israelites looked forward to what they called “the Day of the Lord.” They anticipated God coming with judgment against their unrighteous, hostile neighbors. Prophets often pointed out that Israel was itself a long way from righteous. Those prophets called Israel’s religion a pretense — form without meaning, words without intentions, entertainment instead of worship. They accused the people of ignoring justice for the poor and substance for the needy. Some prophets warned that the Day of the Lord would mean judgment against Israel — a day of darkness and not of light!
In Old and New Testaments, the Day of the Lord is mixed with judgment and salvation. Naturally, our perspective of the event will be colored by our expectations. In the image of last week’s lesson, if God is coming with blessings for those on the right and curses for those on the left, you will anticipate the event quite differently depending on your location. The problem is that we may think we are in one place when we are actually in the other. Where are you?
In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus tells a story that emphasizes the need to be prepared at all times to meet our God. His story puts a slightly different slant on the results of God’s coming. Here is an updated version of the story from Feddersen’s Fables. One Saturday a wedding was held in one town, but the reception was 60 miles away at another town. After the wedding, professional photographers held sway, so everyone except the wedding party went ahead to the hall. There were five bridesmaids and five groomsmen, counting the best man and maid of honor. When the photography was finished, the bride and groom rode with the best man and maid of honor, two groomsmen and two bridesmaids rode in another car and the other four followed in a third car.
The people in the third car had not thought ahead about the distance, and they ran out of gas on the way. The engine stalled when they were between towns, so it took quite a while to get gasoline and finally arrive at the reception. When they arrived, the hotel doorman asked for their invitations. They said they didn’t have any because they were in the wedding party. He laughed and said, “Right, and I’m the groom! The wedding party arrived over an hour ago.” With that, he shut the door and walked away. The four of them missed out on the party because they had not prepared by filling the gas tank in advance.
If you haven’t guessed it, the parable is about the foolish and wise bridesmaids, who either did or did not bring enough oil for their lamps. Th e reason to be prepared is that, if you are not, you miss out on the party!
I am reminded of another story; it concerns a couple of fellows named Wilbur and Orville Wright. One day, a friend stopped at their bicycle shop and they took him to a special shed where very few others had ever been. They showed him a biplane with a homemade, twelve horsepower engine, and they even showed him where the pilot could lay prone between the wings to fly the thing. They told him that they had just finished putting the final touches on it. Filled with enthusiasm, he suggested that they go out to Kitty Hawk and fly it. Wilbur said, “Are you kidding? Do you know how much money we’ve got tied up in this thing?” Orville added, “We’re not about to take a chance on wrecking it by trying to fly it!”
The story is obviously not true, but the truth is just as many prophets and Jesus said it — some people miss out on the party even when it looks on the surface like they are prepared. Can you imagine the Wright Brothers taking their plane out to Kitty Hawk and forgetting to bring gasoline? You see the Wright boys didn’t just want an airplane — they wanted to fly!
Too many Christians just want an airplane or, with reference to the other story, they are satisfied to have a car on the parking lot. The fact that it doesn’t have any fuel doesn’t concern them. After all, the party won’t be till later. But the Christian life is not a possession. It is not something you have, but something you live.
In Jesus’ parable, the bridegroom came at an unexpected time. The lesson concludes: “You know neither the day nor the hour.” We are never prepared for the unexpected. If we expect something, we get prepared! Five bridesmaids thought the groom might come late, so they brought extra oil. They expected him. They just didn’t know when! If he came early, they were prepared. If he came late, they were still prepared. Jesus is coming.
While on an expedition to the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton left some men to explore Elephant Island while he and the rest went on. By the time he returned to pick them up, the sea had frozen over. Three attempts to reach them ended in failure. When he finally found a narrow channel through the ice and made it to the island, he was delighted to find that they were not only alive and well but all prepared to get aboard. After they were all safely on their way home, Shackleton asked about their being entirely ready to board when he arrived. They told him that every morning their leader rolled up his sleeping bag and said, “Get your things ready, boys, the boss may come today.” Jesus is coming.
Using the technique of a certain earthquake prognosticator, I am compelled to warn you that there is a 50 percent chance that Jesus will come on the day you read this devotion. That means there is a 50- 50 chance He will come on that particular day. In other words, either He will or He won’t. Since we know He is coming, but we don’t know when, the odds are the same every day!
Here are some thoughts on preparedness. If He comes this Sunday morning, where do you suppose He will head to look for His people? There is a 50-50 chance He will come on the day our nation has set aside to give Him thanks. Where will you be and what do you plan to do that day?
It is interesting how Jesus tried to prepare His disciples for His death. Yet, when it happened, it was unexpected. In the last days of His life on earth, Jesus confused two of the surest things everybody knows: (1) God can’t die, and (2) dead men can’t rise up again. Along with those, He also did a number on these: Some things can’t be forgiven. No one can love that much. All murderers go to Hell. The only sure things are death and taxes.
For those who believe in Christ, eternal life is a sure thing, so is a party that has been described as the wedding feast of the Kingdom of God. Other sure things include the peace beyond human understanding and the joy of Christ’s presence now … at least for those who have fuel for their lamps or in their tanks. Are you ready? Will you be at the party?