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Is it Too Late?

On July 25, 2000, Air France Concorde flight 4590 on July 25, 2000, which crashed on take off in Paris. One hundred passengers, nine crew, and four people on the ground were killed when the Concorde banked, went into a stall, plunged to the ground, and exploded on impact in a fireball.

The cause of the crash was a 16-inch strip of metal found on the runway that burst the aircraft's tire, and the debris from the blowout ruptured a fuel tank in the aircraft's wing. With the plane on fire the pilot could not halt the take off; he planned to make an emergency landing at Le Bourget airport a minute's flying time away.

As investigators sought to discover the reason for the accident, they listened to the tapes of the pilot's conversations with the control tower. His last words as he fought to save his stricken craft were, "Too late."1.

"Our oil is run out", "the door is closed", and "sorry, I don't know you". Words of Jesus in the parable of the wedding attendants. It's too late.

William Barclay says that a casual visitor to Palestine in the early part of the 20th century would have witnessed the scene which Jesus describes in his parable. A wedding celebration was not a matter of . . .

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom

                             Matthew 25:1               

On July 25, 2000, Air France Concorde flight 4590 on July 25, 2000, which crashed on take off in Paris. One hundred passengers, nine crew, and four people on the ground were killed when the Concorde banked, went into a stall, plunged to the ground, and exploded on impact in a fireball.

The cause of the crash was a 16-inch strip of metal found on the runway that burst the aircraft's tire, and the debris from the blowout ruptured a fuel tank in the aircraft's wing. With the plane on fire the pilot could not halt the take off; he planned to make an emergency landing at Le Bourget airport a minute's flying time away.

As investigators sought to discover the reason for the accident, they listened to the tapes of the pilot's conversations with the control tower. His last words as he fought to save his stricken craft were, "Too late."1.

"Our oil is run out", "the door is closed", and "sorry, I don't  know you".  Words of Jesus in the parable of the wedding attendants. It's too late.

William Barclay says that a casual visitor to Palestine in the early part of the 20th century would have witnessed the scene which Jesus describes in his parable. A wedding celebration was not a matter of the clock. The wedding took place when everyone was ready. The party lasted days. The bride would wait for the arrival of the groom and her attendants waited with her. The groom and attendants would arrive with the cry of "the bridegroom is coming!", which would be shouted up and down village streets. Apparently it was considered good sport for the bridegroom's attendants to catch the bride's attendants by surprise, and so they would arrive when least expected, sometimes in the middle of the night. In those Palestinian towns, it was forbidden to go out at night without a lamp, so a fresh supply of lamp oil was needed. Once the bride and groom had gone into the house to begin the ceremony, the doors were shut. Not only did the tardy attendants miss the beginning of the wedding, they would miss the days of festivities which would follow. A wedding was such an important celebration that the community virtually shut down for days. Everyone partied! The bride and groom were called prince and princess and these days would be their happiest memories.

What a shame to hear the words, "Our oil is run out", "the door is shut" and "sorry, I don't know you!"

In some manner, says Jesus, the kingdom of God is like that.

We are used to hearing Jesus words that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, or man plowing in a field who finds treasure, or a pearl of enormous worth. And it is like all of those in certain ways. But He is telling us that it is also something that while it is a free gift, and of immense value, it is not something that should be presumed upon and not something to be ignored.

He says there will be an end to our options, so make hay while the sun shines.
William Shakespeare has Brutus say these memorable words:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. 2.

Our oil is run out.
This is not the plaintiff cry of some arab sheikdom, it is the sudden reality check of people unprepared.
The problem for the attendants is not that they were not ready for the bridegroom to arrive, it is that they were not prepared for him to be late. They had not counted on having to wait. Their expectations had not been met and they were not ready when the time came.

I hear often of people who on initially learning of God's love for them and of eternal life, are ecstatic at the knowledge, but who are not prepared for a life time of shouldering the difficult choices being a disciple requires and who become discouraged, or just plain disenchanted.

We live in an age of instant gratification, and having to work long and hard with hope of a later reward is a hard sell.
But this is part of what the kingdom of God means.
It means that we recognize its value partly by our willingness to wait for it and to work for it while we wait.

Don't be distracted by the latest thing. Keep your mind on the prize.
I have never run a marathon. I have never run anything close to it. I was a sprinter in track and field when I was a teen ager, but that is totally different from the marathon runner. A sprint is over in a heartbeat. A marathon almost ends your heartbeat before it is over. I can imagine that for marathon runners one of the big obstacles is to train yourself to keep running when you desperately want to quit and when your body tells you nothing can be worth that much pain.

Those who succeed know how to keep themselves moving.
Their oil does not run out.

The door is shut
Now this is a tough one.
In Revelation, Jesus says, "behold I stand at the door and knock. If any one opens the door, I will come in."
It is hard for us to imagine the door being shut.
But the kingdom of God is also like a door on a hinge. The hinge has one purpose: It allows the door to pivot so that it can open and so that it can shut.
Any door that can be opened can also be shut.
A simple concept, but a hard one.
Shutting means excluding. This is not a popular concept. We are inclusive.
So is God, but time moves on and our choices here and now come to fruition sooner or later.
There is a finality about a shut door.

The party is going on inside, but some stand on the outside.
I don't want to be on the outside, and neither do you.
So keep faith and don't be sidetracked from the path you are upon.

I don't know you.
How can God say that? ..."I don't know you."
I think its partly about our inner self instead of our outer selves.
There is the self we like others to see and there is the self we are that others do not see.
We have our external self and our inner self.
We can maintain an identity and we can work at it so that people see what we want them to see... for a while anyway.
The thing about life is that the longer you get to know people, you begin to see the whole package, not just the exterior.
This delay on the part of the bridegroom reveals an otherwise unseen flaw in some of the attendants...carelessness.

Time and life reveal character flaws in us all.
The fact that we have them is no surprise.
What is the issue is whether or not we deal with them.
Time and circumstance reveals them.
Opportunity gives us the chance to make changes.
It is the refusal to acknowledge and make the change that is a fatal carelessness.

And so Jesus says, "take care. You do not know the hour. Make sure you are ready."
What to do?
What has life shown you that you need to deal with?
Deal with it.
Don't find yourself out of oil, out of time and out of the kingdom.

Preached  Sunday November 6, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Notes:
1.Owen Bourgaize, Guernsey, United Kingdom
2. William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3

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