“Enjoying What Cannot Be Given Away”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – November 12, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 78:1-7; Matthew 25:1-13

    Jesus was a master storyteller, and one of his favorite topics was telling stories about what it is like to live The Kingdom of God.  Today we have the story of the ten maidens who were attending a wedding feast.  Five had extra oil for their lamps and the other five did not. 

    What Jesus described in this parable was instantly recognized by his listeners because his story focused on one of the numerous customs surrounding a marriage.  When the bridegroom finally arrived, the five women that had not planned ahead ran out of oil, and they were not admitted to the wedding feast. Initially, the listeners were led to believe that this was a lesson about planning ahead.

    Some of you may be acquainted with the news story several weeks ago of Jennifer Appel, Tasha Fuiaba and their two dogs.  They started their adventure in a fifty-foot sailing vessel leaving Honolulu, Hawaii on their way to the Polynesian island of Tahiti 2,700 miles away.

    They encountered a category-2 cyclone that generated waves that were 37 to 52 feet high.  The storm nearly swamped their boat.  With all the hatches sealed, the boat was saved, but the storm left the engine flooded with water.  The damage was extensive to the mainsail rendering it unusable.

    After the storm, all the boat could do was drift.  They endured several other storms as well as being attacked by a group of sharks.  The sea creatures rammed the boat repeatedly, but the boat's hull maintained its structural integrity until the sharks gave up.  The women drifted for five months.

    Last month on October 23, their vessel was spotted by a Taiwanese fishing boat.  After the crew contacted the U.S. Navy, the USS Ashland was dispatched.  The women were rescued the next day.  They had drifted nine hundred miles southeast of Japan. 

    They survived because they planned ahead for unforeseen circumstances. The women had stashed aboard their boat a year's supply of oatmeal, pasta and rice.  They also had a water purifier. They repeatedly tried to use their radio, but no one was close enough to receive their transmissions.  Their story of survival will probably find its way into a book one day.  All during this episode, the women were living with the thought that they would never be found.

    The stories of survival are quite numerous when people have skills that they learned as an Eagle Scout. Some have survived because they had one of those Swiss Army knives with a dozen attachments. The point is that surviving often depends on planning ahead with mirrors to signal aircraft, whistles and a hand-crank charger for cell phones.    

    When the bride's groom appeared at midnight, the five women who had run out of oil asked the other five if they could borrow some of their oil.  The refusal by the women to share their oil hints that Jesus was no longer talking about oil.  Remember, Jesus was describing what life is like living in The Kingdom of God.  Sharing should have been automatic for these women.

    Once Mother Teresa was responding to an American missionary who was visiting her compound in Calcutta, India.  He was asking her how she coped with such utter poverty all around her and still managed to smile which radiated hope to others.  Mother Teresa said:

India does not have poverty that even approaches that of the United States.  I have seen a man, who had not eaten in days, divide his one banana by giving half of it to another starving person.  In the United States, people have hundreds of bananas and they do not understand the meaning of what it is to really share them. Yes, Americans are very generous, but they give from their abundance.  People here give in the spirit that Jesus taught when he saw the woman who gave two copper coins to the temple treasury, and in so doing, she gave away everything that she had.  (Mark 12:41f)

    Jesus had something else in mind that had nothing to do with the benefits of planning ahead.  The five who chose not to share their oil had nothing to do with their lack of desire.  Jesus was no longer talking about having excess oil.  Jesus was using the excess oil as a metaphor for something that people cannot give away even if they want to.

    If people are living in The Kingdom of God, what is it that a number of them have in abundance and yet cannot give away any of it?  Jesus' story about the ten maidens goes directly to the heart of the quality of life that Jesus was describing during his ministry:

Do not store up riches for yourselves here on earth where moths and rust can destroy them and where robbers can break in and steal them.  Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy and where robbers cannot break in and steal. I am telling you this truth, where your true treasures are, that is where your hearts, minds and spirits will also be.  (Matthew 16:19f)

    The oil that Jesus was talking about had to do with the spiritual energies we have cultivated during our lifetime.  No one can put others in possession of qualities like patience, forgiveness and generosity.  These skills come naturally to those of us who have learned to practice them on a daily basis.

    Jesus could not give away the spirit he used during his ministry.  He could only display the results from having developed the spirit by which he lived.  He was living in The Kingdom of God and those skills showed up in every episode that happened during his ministry.

    As is our custom at Centenary, last week one of the hymns we sang was chosen by Sandra because Jeanette had a birthday.  When we sang that hymn, we may have recalled the story of the man who wrote the words to it and why he wrote them.

    Horatio Spafford had sent his family to England on a steamer ship with the intent of following them a week later.  A business issue that surfaced just before his departure demanded his attention preventing him from accompanying his family.  A British iron sailing ship collided with their steamer.  The vessel carrying Spafford's family sank in just twelve minutes.   Only his wife was pulled to safety from the icy waters.

    On the way to meet his wife on another, steamer, Spafford sat down at a table in his stateroom near the spot where the collision had taken place.  He wrote the words to the hymn that begins: When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

    People who can write words like this after losing four daughters in a catastrophic event at sea are those who have a lot of oil in their lamps.  Their light shines exactly as Jesus' light shown from a cross while he was dying.  Spafford's storyline of faith lifted him above the loss of his four daughters.

    People who are committed and deeply attached to the things and personalities of this world, feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under them when a tragedy of this magnitude strikes. It may take a considerable time for them to work through such a loss and move forward. Some people never recover and spend their lives angry at God as they mourn almost inconsolably.

    There are automatic consequences that are a part of life when our world presents us with a major upset.  They come like a judge and jury that can easily destroy our perspective.  However, to those who are paying attention, they are open to understanding their circumstances as a warning that their lamps are running out of oil. Jesus taught:

To people who have developed skills of spirit, even more will be given to them. For those who have not taken the time to develop many skills of spirit, even the little that they have will be taken away from them.  (Matthew 25:29)

    As cruel as these words sound, this reality is true elsewhere in life -- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  This is just the way life is.  Spirit is the only quality of life that lasts forever, long after all the mirages of this world will no longer exist.

    For most people, the physical world is the only environment they try to understand. The world of our five senses is constantly changing and there are no guarantees that come with all the beautiful decisions that we make.

    Jesus spent a considerable amount of time telling his listeners about another world.  Many people listened to him, but they did not hear nor did they understand.  Jesus knew this was happening and said so in Matthew's Gospel:

The insight into understanding the meaning and purpose of life is among the most challenging lessons for people to learn. Only a very few people that make this discovery are able to use their findings as they live in this world.  (Matthew 7:14)

    Many of the great seers seem to have understood the meaning of this life and how people's experiences and decisions here cannot change their authentic identities as God's sons and daughters.  

     In Kahlil Gibran's book, The Prophet, he explains this in a most unique manner:

It was a dream that none of you remember dreaming that built your cities and fashioned all that is in them. If you could see the eons contained in that dream, you would cease to see all else.  And, if you could hear the whispering of that dream, you would hear no other sound.


But, you do not see, nor do you hear, and it is well.  The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hands that wove it, and the clay that fills your ears shall be pierced by the fingers that put it there.  And you shall see.  And you shall hear.


Yet you shall not deplore having known blindness, nor regret having been deaf.  For on that glorious day when you leave this world, you shall know the hidden purposes of all things.  And you will bless darkness as you would bless light.

    Gibran's words read as though he was referencing Psalm 139:11-12.  If nothing we do while living in this world ultimately matters, what is the purpose of our living here in the first place?  Jesus answered this question during his discussion with Nicodemus:

If you do not believe me when I tell you how to live purposefully in this world, why would I expect that you would believe me if I were to teach you about how you will live in Heaven? (John 3:12)

    In other words, we enter life in our world with limited powers of creation to see how and what our spirits do with them.  Life here in our limited, physical forms is a simulator that tests the direction our powers will take us. 

    Some of us have done very well.  Others have not done so well. With the discovery of their power, some assert their personal agenda.  They do not use their powers of creation to serve others.  They delight in using their power to exert control and their authority by evoking fear in others.  These traits as well as others are often void of loving energy.  God does not judge us. During our days in the material world, we are busy judging ourselves through the spirit we choose to live.     

    We mortals, however, have the opportunity to use our intuition, our imaginations, our fantasies and our loving energy to create our dreams.  The rest of our destiny we must leave up to the genius of our Creator. By trusting this understanding of life, our lamps will never be without oil.  Wherever we go, we will be producers of light and understanding.



Loving God, as we gather for worship, we are aware of how often our lives reflect our culture rather than our faith.  There are times when we remain blind to the consequences of what we do.  We confess that often our best judgments can become flavored by the spice of self-interest.  Help us to learn, O God, that we cannot live courageously by character-strengths we do not have.  We cannot trust in your daily presence by borrowing such an awareness from those who have spent their lives cultivating it.  Lead us toward what will heal the areas in our lives that separate us from allowing your powers to shine through us. Amen.      



How wonderful it is, O God, to be together in our sanctuary, an environment that helps us to focus our attention on matters of spirit.  So many times, we allow our world to fill our minds with the need to complain when our world is not the way we want it.  All of us know that we live in a golden age that our ancestors could only hope would come some day.  We have so much for which to be thankful, particularly your presence during some of the rough patches we experience as well as those moments that bring us much joy.  Thank you.

Today we pause in respect and gratitude for the men and women who have fallen in battle defending what too many of us take for granted – our freedom.  We also celebrate the lives of those who continue in their vigilance to protect our freedoms. The enemies of freedom have forgotten that you created us to experience the consequences of living by our own choices.  Today we ask for blessings on all of us that live the value that freedom brings to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  May we be encouraged by the words of Jesus, There is no greater love than this – that a person is willing to give up his life for others.

Encourage the world’s people, O God, to learn that we are one, and only by serving one another on a global scale will we truly be free from the fears that fuel passionate hatred toward neighbors that some people never took the time to meet or understand.  Help us to remember that the problems found in the external world will only be remedied when we learn to make visible the three words of Jesus’ message – Love one another. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .