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Pentecost 23A Sermon
Matthew 25: 1-13
November
8, 2020

 

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Matthew 25:1-13

1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, "Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Before you get too confused about this troubling parable, remember that it tells us that there is only one judge – the bridegroom – and the fate of all of the characters in this story is in his hands. This is what I know; the wise maids might not have given the foolish ones any of their oil, but they did advise them to go to the merchant quickly to get more, since the bridegroom was on his way. But the only judging comes from the one upon whom they waited. Now to be honest with you, I don’t know why some of them didn’t bring extra oil – maybe they never imagined that the groom could possibly be so delayed. I don’t know why the others wouldn’t share either. Maybe they were so caught up in their own anxiety that they found it difficult to be generous. And I certainly don’t know what I think about the clear note of judgement sounded in this text – “Truly I tell you, I do not know you” – but I do know that in the end, I entrust all of the bridesmaids, foolish or wise, as well as all people who will be judged by the bridegroom – no matter how foolish or wise they or we are – to the Lord who has the right and power to judge, only because he was willing to be judged on our behalf.

This is important, because as I said about one or two of the parables from Matthew’s gospel that we heard this summer, we humans are terrible when it comes to judging. The main reason is that by nature, all humans have bias. Bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Just this week I began listening to a podcast featuring a couple of authors that I enjoy – Brian McClaren and Richard Rohr – as well as another theologian, Jacquie Lewis – from McClaren’s new book, “Learning to See.” The basis for this series is the thirteen biases that McClaren has enumerated about inability of humans to judge rightly based on articles that a behavioral psychologist shared with him. Stick with me – here are the thirteen biases:

Confirmation bias – our brains welcome information that confirms what it already thinks, and resists information that contradicts what it already thinks.

Complexity bias – our brains prefer a simple lie to a complex truth.

Community bias – our brains find it very hard to see something that your group doesn’t want you to see. Tribe over truth, also called social confirmation bias.
Social complimentary bias – if people are nice to you, you will be open to what they have to say; if they aren’t then you won’t.

Contact bias – if you lack contact with someone, you won’t see what they see.

Conservative/Liberal bias – our brain likes to see as our party sees, and we flock with those who see as we do.
Consciousness bias – one’s cognitive maturity makes seeing some things possible and seeing other things impossible.

Competency bias – our brains prefer to think of ourselves as above average. As a result, we have a hard time judging how competent or incompetent we are.
Confidence bias – our brains prefer a confident lie to a hesitant truth.

Conspiracy bias – when we feel shame, we are especially vulnerable to stories that cast us as victims of an evil conspiracy by some enemy or other. We like stories where we are either the victim or the hero, but not the villain.

Comfort/complacency bias – our brains welcome data that allows us to relax and be happy and rejects data that demands that we adjust work or inconvenience ourselves.

Catastrophe/normalcy baseline bias – Our brains are wired to set a baseline and assumes that what is normal to us has always been and will always remain normal.

Cash bias – our brains are wired to see within our economy and our ways of making money.
I see these biases at work every day – not only in those around me and not only in those with whom I disagree; but also in myself and those with whom I do agree. It is for this reason that we cannot make the judgements about righteousness and salvation and God’s will or presence in regards to other people fairly. We must leave that up to the one whose coming we await … even though that coming seems long overdue. I think it also means that we prayerfully consider those who think vastly different from us and act vastly different from us with grace and concern for our community and world. Before lashing out with name-calling and judgements of our own, maybe our response could be, at the very least, quiet; or maybe even an attempt to honestly and respectfully share our differences and encourage each other to try to understand where your biases come from.

This is just as difficult to do as letting the bridegroom be the judge. Right now our whole nation – the whole world, even – awaits the results of our presidential election. People are making judgements left and right, lived out of the biases that I mentioned before – if it is rigged, if it is democracy at work, how either candidate will be either in a new term or as he begins his presidency. It is easy to be come judge over all of this, if we dwell in those biases having to do with simplicity over complexity and my tribe over the whole community. There are certain to be more judges involved as well – between recounts and litigation, the legal posturing to judge this election might take a couple more weeks. Breathe … unclench your jaw …relax your shoulders … know this – the bridegroom will come to judge, and that judgement will certainly not be exactly the way YOU want it or I want it or anyone, since we are such terrible judges. But the appearance of Jesus – promised whenever justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever rolling stream – will happen at just the right time, no matter who is the president, prime minister, senator or judge. It is somewhat scary and very uncertain, but as we watch and wait this week, and whatever it is for which we pray for Jesus’ appearance as judge and redeemer, our task is not to judge the wisdom or foolishness of others, but to encourage and proclaim our faith that the one upon whom we wait is coming, and while God’s justice makes us tremble, we also know that it is our only hope for joy and life. Come Lord Jesus! Amen.