The Anti-Stewardship Sermon

Matthew 25:1-13

Back in the day, I was a stewardship preacher—congregations would have me come and preach their Commitment Sundays. I took up the challenge of using the lectionary, the three-year cycle of assigned readings. It meant that instead of picking texts for the day, I had to connect the assigned bible passage to faith and money.

One time the lectionary text was where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his only son Isaac. I was stumped at the stewardship connection at first, but then I realized that in ancient times, children were considered a form of wealth. Abraham’s leap of faith to let go of his own son made a provocative connection the leap of faith we take every time we let go some of our wealth. “Lay it on the altar with Abraham!” I said.

So, I came to the text assigned for today with a certain anticipation…what would I get? What I got was Jesus’ parable about the 10 bridesmaids awaiting the start of the wedding feast. Five are wise; five are foolish. The wise ones take extra oil with them, just in case.

Turns out that the groom is really late—probably stuck taking pictures—and all the bridesmaids fall asleep. But at midnight the cry goes out—the groom is coming! The bridesmaids all wake up and trim their lamps, except that the ones who had no extra oil realize that they won’t have enough to get through the night. “Give us some of your oil,” they say—but the wise ones refuse. The foolish bridesmaids are forced go to town to buy oil and miss the banquet.

I don’t know about you, but this parable seems a bit off. Aren’t we supposed to share? Yet not only are the bridesmaids who don’t share their oil welcomed into the banquet, they are also commended for being wise. While the others are left out in the cold, we get the message: it’s ok NOT to share. In fact in some situations, you shouldn’t share, lest you lose out.

I don’t know about you, but this seems like an anti-stewardship text to me!  I have always been taught that Christian stewardship is based on abundance: that God is the giver, that there is more than enough for everyone’s need, and our job is to spread it around. But this parable seems to put forth scarcity thinking—the belief that there isn’t enough and that you have to hold onto to what you have to survive.

What could Jesus have meant by this parable? Did he really mean for us not to share?

Perhaps the answer is that it’s not actually a stewardship parable. It is in fact addressing a different question. You see, the wedding feast in scripture is often a metaphor for God’s loving rule. In this case, Jesus is the bridegroom, and his believers the bridesmaids. Already Matthew’s community, for whom this gospel was written, wondered when Jesus would return to inaugurate the kingdom on earth. He said he would return in their lifetimes, but he wasn’t back yet. And so Matthew includes this parable in which the focus is not on the merits of sharing, but on one’s readiness for Jesus’ reign despite the delay. The bridesmaids who have come prepared enter the wedding feast are the ones Jesus wants his followers to emulate—they are the wise ones who are prepared for the unexpected and therefore enter into the joys of his kingdom. This is a parable about readiness.

But Jesus perhaps meant something more than simple readiness. The metaphor of the lamps reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says to the crowd: “You are the light of the world. No one puts a lamp under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Given that these are unique stories to the gospel of Matthew, it seems to me there’s a connection. The lamps that the bridesmaids are carrying are Jesus’ light. Through their works of God’s mercy and justice that shine for all to see. Having their lamps ready for use means that these women have prioritized the things in their lives that give glory to God.

For the past three weeks we have been hearing stories about how the ministries here at Epiphany are building up the body of Christ. People have been stepping forward to make financial commitments for 2024, knowing that in funding these ministries generously, they enable these ministries and become part of that life-changing work. You could think of these stories as ways we shine Jesus’ light.

As I was preparing for this sermon, I thought of examples of Jesus’ light shining, right here at the Austin campus over the past month. Jesus’ healing light shone as people gathered to share stories of loss and recovery in the Service of Silent Loss. Jesus welcoming lighting greeted over 100 kids and their families at the Harvest Party—an event that was a wonderful mix of all generations including church members, preschool families, and families from the broader community who saw our social media posts. Jesus’ light of blessing shines each week we support the healthy development of young people through the scouts and sports teams and build young leaders in High School Ministry and in worship ministry.


And each of you in your personal lives shine Jesus’ light as you care for family; serve as volunteers, public servants, teachers, health professionals; as you make ethical decisions at work and care for their employees. Each day is an opportunity to focus on Jesus’ light, for doing the work of the kingdom that Jesus will bring in its fullness. It’s how we keep oil in our lamps and our light shining as we await the great celebration when Jesus is in charge, and everything is made new.

As I review the way Jesus’ light has touched so many lives this past month here at Austin, I think again about that metaphor of the lamp. When you hold up a lamp, its light is not diminished by sharing it with others. It is just as bright for you when you hold up your lamp to show another, and now both of you can see. Likewise, when you give your time, talent, and treasure as a way of shining Jesus’ light, you aren’t actually losing anything. When you let Jesus’ light shine, abundance is created. You have more than you started with.

Read in this light, the parable of the bridesmaids makes more sense. The oil in their lamps is a symbol of their priorities: They value the bridegroom and the wedding feast—Jesus and his kingdom. They are people who want to live in his kingdom now. They lift their lamps high and let Jesus’ light shine! They end up joining the party of their lives! It is a celebration of God’s abundance for all, and they are a part of it. Perhaps it’s a stewardship parable after all.

So let us hold on to that image: of lifting our lamps and letting Jesus’ light shine. Let us get our priorities straight and live in God’s kingdom: a life of meaning, of life generosity and service and connection, a life of abundance and joy.

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