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Pastor Chris Paavola:
Hey everybody, my name is Chris Paavola. Good morning. Good morning. Great, great, great to be with you guys. Great to celebrate baptism. I should have mentioned, by the way, if you’re interested in a baptism for yourself or for your child on our website, go to the very bottom and it’s baptism request. You click on that, we’ll make it happen. This is why we do what we do. Everything really comes to this moment. It is a priority.

Anyway, so my name’s Chris Paavola. I’m the senior pastor here at St. Mark and we are in a series called Prosper the City, but really it’s not a series, it’s more of a campaign that we are doing where we are breaking up into actually 16 different teams and we’re taking three weeks to plan a service project on the fourth week that makes an immediate impact in our community.

Good job. So we are absolutely rocking and rolling, doing, and it’s just so exciting. I’m starting to hear from you guys the projects that you’re working on and I’m so proud of you, so proud of this church and I’m glad that you guys are a part of something like this. And each week though, as we lead up to this, we’re talking about concepts that help each of our teams plan their Prosper the City projects, but these are also concepts of service that you can live out in your daily life, not just with the Prosper the City project concepts and principles of service. And in week one we talked about how there is power in small things done with great love and what that means. And then in week two we talked about you can serve where you are while you wait for where you want.

And then here we are in week three and we’re going to be talking about a principle today that really is, it’s for people in the room and so this may or may not be you, but today really applies to people in the room who feel like they are going a hundred miles an hour, break, next speed, and you’re running on fumes and you get the end of the day and you are just absolutely exhausted and worn out, running from deadline to demand and your life is way too busy. I see people nodding along. So if that’s you, today is for you. And on the flip side of that, if you are somebody where you are just like, man, I just kind of am existing right now, I’m just going through motions and it’s kind of like I get to the end of my day and I’m like, eh, was that really impactful or meaningful? And I’m struggling with meaning and significance and purpose. If that’s you, then again today is for you. And this principle that we’re going to be looking at comes from this parable actually that you just heard Pastor Jack read from Matthew 25. And it’s this parable or a metaphor about a Jewish wedding and it’s got a lot of things in the parable that just makes us furrow our eyebrow. Like wait, what? And it’s just a really confusing image going on in this text. And so if we’re going to pull the principle, we’ve got to explain some of these images because every wedding, every wedding or every marriage ceremony is chockfull of symbolism, right? Our own marriage and wedding ceremony is full of symbolism. There’s a reason we hold the bride holds flowers. There’s a reason we have, there’s a symbol behind the wedding rings. There’s a symbol behind a white dress or supposed to be. So some of y’all are, that was a joke just saying, some of y’all don’t know if you should laugh about that in church.

But anyway, just so, but there’s a symbol behind it. And just like if you explain the symbols, if you explain to somebody from first century Palestine that we tie garbage to the back of a vehicle for the bride and groom and throw rice at them, they would be very confused by that. And the same way their customs and practices for their wedding is confusing to us. And really you see these images right away and lemme kind of explain a Jewish wedding. So let’s read the first few verses then I’ll explain some of the symbols going on when the son of man returns. So this is Jesus referring to himself in the third person talking about a wedding and he says, when the Son of Man returns myself after I die and rise again from the dead, I will return and bring you to be with me in paradise forever when I return the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. What? Five of the virgins were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil and jars along with their lamps. It’s a barrage of images that hits us and we’re like, I think I get what he’s saying, but I’m not quite sure.

So in first century Palestine, Jewish weddings, it was somewhat like ours but not at all like ours. But it started with this idea as an arranged marriage between the father of the bride and the father of the groom. And they would look at each other and be like, Hey, we like each other, or hey, this would be politically advantageous or this would be beneficial for our families if our two kids got married, wouldn’t that be a great idea? And so instead of leaving the decision up to hormone emotional teenagers, they leave that decision to their parents, take it for what it’s worth. But that’s what they would do. And then if they agreed upon it, there would be a bride price. And so they would take, the father of the groom would give services or goods or money to the parents of the bride in exchange for her hand and marriage. And so there’s a bride price attached to the ceremony. And then there would be kind of like this, okay, we are going to set a date for the wedding. And the reason they would set a date way off is because the groom then would take the next several months to build an onto his father’s house, a room or build a house for his bride. So imagine this today, if you said you can’t get married until you build with your own hands a home or an addition to a sunroom onto our house where you and your bride will live mean, but it makes a lot of sense if you think about it in just in terms of a survival culture.

So the groom would take time to build a house and because his father’s house had to have many rooms, something that will come into play later on when Jesus says in my father’s house, there are many rooms that makes a little bit of sense. So the groom would build this and then they would start party planning and the longer the party planning went, the more elaborate the wedding. And so there is this sense that there would be this kind of mystery of when is this going to happen and this party planning and the longer it took for the groom to come to the bride, the more elaborate the wedding celebration and the more elaborate the home that he was being prepared. Again, something, a metaphor that will come into play a little bit later on in the parable and why Jesus is taking a long time to return.

Very interesting. And then the day of the wedding would come and the bride groom would walk up to the bride’s house where she would be hanging out with her bridesmaids. In this case virgins. These are women who had not yet been pledged in marriage. And so the bridesmaids would then escort the bride and groom from the bride’s house to the house of the father of the groom. And then when they would get there, they would take these lamps and these lamps would not only light their walk but light the room where the celebration was going on. Now these lamps, it’s not a lamp that sits on our end table or in the corner of a room. It was like a ceramic hollow vessel about the size of an iPhone handheld. And the idea would be like a flashlight. You would hold it with one hand and your other hand you would work.

This is what the lamp looks like and the lamp would be filled with oil. So there’d be a wick and the wick would be an oil and the oil. And so it would absorb and it would only hold about three ounces of oil. And so everyone knew we check our battery and we’re like, oh, I got to plug my phone in because the battery bar, right, the gauge up there with the lamps, you just kind of pick it up and slosh it around and be like, oh, I got about an hour and a half left of burning that they did not burn for a long time because they were handheld. Another point that comes into play a little bit later on in our story. So that’s the idea of what’s going on with all these objects and images in this parable. Now let me ask you if the church, well, okay, Jesus is who in the story, the groom, right? Jesus is the bridegroom and God the Father is who? The father with a house. So Jesus is the bridegroom, who’s the bride? The church a metaphor that the Apostle Paul will later pick up on when he talks about how the church is the bride of Christ and the things that we need to be doing as the bride of Christ. Who are the bridesmaids, who are the virgins?

You are, you are escorting the church to and then who is? And this is a lot of scholars, think the image of the oil and fire were fire. Who do you think the fire represents? The Holy Spirit. Okay, so you’ve got all of this. Now, by the way, before the wedding there was this baptism, there was a purification ritual called a mikva where both the bride in the groom would bathe and go through a purification process. What do you think the mikvah is? Baptism. What do you think the bride price is to purchase us? The blood of Jesus shed on a cross bursting with imagery, bursting with symbolism. Alright, so with all of that in place now the scene set, let’s see how the rest of this unfolds in verse five. The bridegroom was a long time in coming. Why was he taking a long time?

Right? The party’s going to be off the chain. It is a party about to happen. And by the way, there’s a lot of scriptures that say to the Lord, today is like a thousand years, a thousand years like the day he’s not slow in keeping his promises. The Lord’s day is coming, don’t grow weary, don’t fall asleep. The Lord is returning. It’s drawing on this metaphor. The bridegroom was a long time and coming and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight someone shouted, the alarm went off, the bridegroom is here, come to meet ’em. And then all the virgins woke up in a panic and got their lamps ready. So the idea is they fell asleep with the lamps burning and they woke up in a panic. What time is it? And they don’t have watches, so they grabbed their lamps. Oh my goodness, it’s been burning for a while.
I barely have any oil. That’s the picture we get here. So they got their lamps ready and the foolish one said to the wise one, give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out and this is the first really harsh truth in this parable, but the wise bridesmaids replied, we can’t do that. There won’t be enough for both of us. Go wake somebody up at midnight, find someone to sell you some oil and I mean they’re rights. If they pour out their oil, then there won’t be enough maybe for the walk, but definitely not the party. And so they leave to go find some and while they were on their way to abide the oil, the bridegroom arrived and the bridesmaid who were ready went with him into the wedding hall and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids arrived and said, Lord, Lord, open the door for us. But he answered them, I don’t know who you are, you could be someone off the street. I can’t. The wedding party is here. And so the father’s like, I don’t know who you are, and the door remains shut. This is the second harsh truth of this parable. Jesus is very, very clearly saying there are some included in the kingdom of heaven and there will be some excluded. There’s people who will be in a celebration and people who will be in eternal separation.

And this is hard for us when we read this parable, it gets uncomfortable, but Jesus reiterates this point again and again and parable after parable, he talks about fruitless trees being cut down and thrown into the fire. He talks about wheat and chaff being separated. He talks about separating good fish from bad fish. He talks about separating the sheep and the goats. He’s very, very clear on this point and when we hear something like this, especially as pastors or as a church, we have three options. We have three choices. I could do some verbal gymnastics. Well loving God would never and semantically dance around this and twist myself and contort myself to try to make it make sense where God is all love all the time never tells bad news, but my job is to be faithful. I’m a messenger. You can shoot me if you don’t like the message, you can throw tomatoes at me.

But my job is to faithfully tell you what Jesus says. I never, I say this in our connect lunch all the time. I never want you to walk out of here on a Sunday morning going, I wonder what Jesus thinks about that. I want to be fair to what the whole council, everything that Jesus says, and this is what Jesus said. So to me, option one is not an option of this verbal dance to try to get around it. The second option is what we just sweep it under the rug. Just don’t pay attention to that part. Like here, look at this part of scripture that’s all about love, that’s all dessert, that’s all good news all the time. Look at this part. Isn’t this great? And that’s a therapeutic deism that I don’t think is very helpful either because that’s frankly not loving if it’s true and scripture calls Jesus full of grace and truth.

There is a third option though, and a third option is to tell you it because the very same person, listen. Listen, the very same person who said this was a picture of eternity and what’s at risk for you, the very same person who said this is the same person who came to do something about it and we can be angry at him saying there’s a death penalty until we realized that he came to take on that death penalty. In which case this is the greatest news ever. And if it’s true, I mean so much is at stake. This should wake us up to what’s at risk and really establish a priority for our days, which is the point he makes In the next verse. He makes this image in this illustration, this parable about the end times and then he wraps it up and he says, so stay alert and say it, be prepared. Get ready for you. Do not know the day or time the son of man will return. And there’s so many ways that we can be prepared and so many ways that we can be ready, but the point is there are wise servants and foolish servants and what makes them wise or foolish is their level of preparation. But dig further, what makes them wise or foolish is the choices that they made dig further. What makes them wise or foolish is their understanding and remembering of what their assignment was.

A wise servants. This is the takeaway from this parable. After we get the idea of end times Christ return, the takeaway is simple. A wise servant understands who they’re called to serve. A wise servant understands who they are called to serve. It is not that the foolish bridesmaids didn’t enjoy the bride, love him and love their friends who was getting married. It’s not they loved him, it’s just that they prioritized their time elsewhere. They were thinking about the dress that they were wearing or what kind of wine was going to be at the banquet and what the party would look like or would there be any eligible bachelors there or whatever. They were distracted by other things. What made the other servants wise, the other bridesmaids wise is they understood what their role was, who they were there to serve, and it informed their decision of how they would spend their time. There’s only so much oil to go around and as you think about your Prosper the City project, as you think about living your life with the people that you know and love the principle that we pull away, this idea really forces and begs a question for you to ask, who am I called to serve?

This is where this stuff gets really good because when you start to think about, okay, well who am I called to serve and what is my assignment? You start thinking about all the people in your life and this brings you to all the demands on your life and the deadlines on your life, your work, your kids, your employers, your spouse, your parent and all these other things, all these other responsibilities. And so if you are running a hundred miles an hour at a breakneck speed from demand to deadline, you get to the end of your day and you’ve got no oil left. Or if you’re sitting there and you’re just coasting through your days and you’re just like, I don’t know. I’m just going from thing to thing and watching TV and my life is scheduled around sitcoms and TV dramas and it’s just kind of meaningless and purposeless. Might I suggest that it is time for you to ask this question?

Who am I called to serve right now? And here’s why this question matters, because the question of who you are called to serve starts to make you think about this list of people. And there’s some people who are more important than other people. There is a priority. There’s a priority we see in the story with the virgins and the oil and they’re like, Nope, the priority right now is the bridegroom and the bride and this party that’s my priority. And all these other things are just kind of distractions and they chose one thing over another. And when it comes to your life and the people in your life and the places that you serve, one of them takes precedent over the other. There is a first, a second in your life, there is a third and a fourth. And understanding the order, the hierarchy, the rank helps you say yes to the right things and no to the thousand wrong things, yes to the great things and no to the good things.

But you’ve got to have your life prioritized. Who are you called to serve you uniquely you? Who are you called to serve? And so this is my list. Your list looks different than mine. You’re in a different stage of life, a different calling in life. But I’m going to show you my list to help you parse through and sort truly rank your list. So here’s my list. God, God, he’s very clear. Make me first seek first the kingdom of God. This is why we worship together on the first day of the week. It’s the first thing we do. This is why when we give an offering, it’s the first fruit. It’s the first thing we collect. This is why when I spend time with the Lord in prayer and his word, it’s the first thing I do when I wake up. It’s the first thing, God is first.

And then what that does is that informs how I respond to everything else, every other responsibility, every calling because God has spoken very clear instructions about how I am supposed to deal with and prioritize everyone else and everything else on that list. But it starts with him. He gives me order of conduct. He gives me a modus operandi. He tells me how to conduct myself as a husband, as a parent, as a, all of those.


But it all starts with him having preeminence in my life and then as my spouse, she is my first calling. My wife is my first calling. When I took that vow and I said, I do, and she said, I do. I pledge you my love and my faithfulness forsaking all others. It’s because they take priority forsaking all others. Her scripture tells me to lay down my life, die for my wife as Christ died for the church, lay down my life for my wife in the same way it gives her instructions. Wives, we don’t like this word. Submit to your husbands, follow their leadership. It’s not this authoritative thing. I think that’s a misreading. It’s this idea of I lead my family as I lay down my life and follow me. And that’s good.

I say often and maybe this phrase would be helpful, but I say often I lead the family. My wife leads the home. You can deal with that what you want, run that through your own context. But that’s how I describe our marriage. I lead the family, she leads the home. So you better believe when she’s got a list of errands to do in the house, she’s thought through what needs to happen right now. Then after that comes to my kids, but my kids are third, they don’t take priority over my wife. Some of you’re thinking, well, kids are more needy, they’re more dependent on us. They have more needs. Yes, the quantity of time is different than quality of time. But my wife comes first because in fact, I would say when my wife and I are healthy in our relationship, we’re better to our kids.

Any parents in the room agree with me. Yeah, absolutely. And so my kids though they are very, very important. They come after my spouse and then my kids because of the stage of life I’m in are or take priority over my parents. They’re pretty self-sufficient. I was talking with candy in the lobby and we were wrestling with this concept and there’s actually a season of life where those two might flip. And just know that when your parents get to a certain age and they need your help, your kids are probably self-sufficient. But just show you, I’m showing you my list. You have to think about your own list. So my parents come after my children, then my neighbor, my friends, literally the person who lives down the street from me. This is why prosper the city Right now we are carving time out of our day.
We know we’re busy, we know we’re running from soccer practice to lacrosse or whatever it might be, but we’ve got to serve our community and so we serve our neighbor. Yesterday I was getting my lawnmower ready and I needed to replace the spark plug. It’s the spring and I didn’t have the right ratchet and my neighbor saw me and he comes running over and I’m like, oh, here’s my neighbor living it out. He’s serving me. Let me borrow a ratchet to replace a spark plug. Then after that, this one’s going to be controversial to some of you. After all of that is work. Now let me be very clear here. You should absolutely have responsibility with your employer, but who are you working for? I would make an argument that every job in this room that you guys do is a service to your community.

There’s no job that I can think of that is not in some way providing a good or a service that benefits the community. Therefore your job is subservient to your neighbor, parents, children’s spouse. And this is for me, and I think some of you are like, we want the church to be higher on that list. Chris, this is your job. And no, this is why I schedule so many meetings after bedtime. I love a flexible church schedule where you guys are like, yeah, we can meet seven 30. That sounds good because you’ve had about a dozen pastors in the history of St. Mark. There will be pastors after me and Pastor Jack, but my kids only got one daddy and my wife only has one husband. And so of course I’m going to schedule things around and move things around in my work schedule so that it doesn’t compromise or make me neglect my other relationships. And this is why on Mondays it’s my day off. It’s Ashley’s day off too. And we don’t answer the phone. We try not to. We don’t answer email and please text me on Mondays for all you. Please don’t text me on Mondays. We’re on a date, we’re hanging out so we can have a proper relationship. And then after work is self, and I guarantee you some of you’re disagreeing with this, you got to take care of yourself first. Look out for number one.

Two things I would say to that, sure, there’s time to go ahead and get a mani-pedi. Those are important, but you come after all of these other things. This is why Jesus scripture so adamantly says over and over, look to the needs of others ahead of your own. Honor one another above yourself. It is honestly making it priority list right there. They matter more than you do. And the other thing I would say to this, if that sounds just like complete like self punishment or something like that, the other thing I would say is don’t forget that you are blessed and fulfilled in every one of those things when you do them. Man, I am blessed when I spend time with God. When I wake up and I spend time His word, it nourishes me and I am blessed. I am filled and fulfilled when I spend time with my spouse and when I play with my kids and I try to learn color guard routines and I play hide and seek or I coach hockey, I am blessed by that.

I enjoy that it fills me. And the same thing and Prosper the City when we’re doing these projects, you’ll prosper. When you Prosper the City. That’s the command of scripture. You also are blessed. It’s not a zero sum game. It’s not one or the other. And so you will be blessed when you serve your community and blessed when the church is kicking butt and taking names. We are so busy right now. We’re in the middle of budget season. We’re planning goals and doing annual evaluations. We’re getting ready for VBS and Autofest. We’ve got a capital campaign coming up. It is long, hard hours, but it’s fulfilling. It’s significant and meaningful because I’ve got it in the proper priority. And then there’s myself, and I’ll even say this, you guys listen, I am at my worst and I bet you are too. I am at my worst when I take this list, watch, watch, and I flip it and I put myself ahead of everyone else and then my accomplishments, my goals, and then I hang out with my buddies and we go play golf and I neglect time with my parents and my kids and with all the leftover, then I find time for my spouse and then, oh yeah, I guess I’ll give God whatever is leftover from my weak, my bank account, my wallet.
That’s when I’m at my worst. And I bet same is true for you. At least that’s the challenge scripture lays out for us. This is so, so powerful when you just take a simple concept from this parable of priority and understanding who you are called to serve. So who are you called to serve? The word vocation comes from this Latin word: vocare. What do you think vocare means? Okay, try to think of other words that sound like vocare. Vocals. And our vocation comes from this word vocal or calling. What you do is a calling from God.

If you are a teacher, that’s your calling from the most high God, do this thing. If you are a husband, that is your calling from God, do this thing. Lay down your life for her. He’s summoning you to a high position of incredible responsibility and authority. This is your calling. Live it out. If you want to live a life of significance, if you want to live a life of meaning and purpose, if you want to be full filled, that means you are fulfilling a calling. Your life is fulfilling only when you fulfill a calling. So who are you called to serve right now in this season? Get it straight. Get it in order. Because when it’s out of balance, that’s when we’re exhausted. At the end of the day when we’re out of balance, that’s where we just kind of have this lethargic coasting through life feeling. And I don’t want that for you. God doesn’t want that for you. So who are you called to serve? Please, please take the time. I’m begging you that message notes in the back. Write it down. Who is it for you? Who’s ahead of who? And then look at the choices that you’re making and see if they line up. It might just rescue you from the despair that you’re in. This is huge, guys, a lot for you to think about, a lot to take in. So let me pray for you and we’ll get on with the rest of our day.

Heavenly Father, first of all, we thank you for sending your son to call us. The groom is here and to bring us into relationship with you that he would die our death in our place, that we might live life with him and his place. And we thank you God that he’s returning. Don’t let us become weary. Don’t let us become drowsy and looking for us to return. Help us to live with that expectation that you are bringing us to our father’s house where there are many rooms. And then God, this concept, we want to be wise servants. We don’t want to be foolish servants. And so God, for each one of us, come by your Holy Spirit right now and I pray that you administer to them in this time. Press on their hearts where they have got things out of order, where they’re out of whack, where things are just they’ve got wrong priorities. God help them rearrange their life and with an absolute clarity, who am I called to serve? First, second, third, fourth, and so on to help them deal with, wrestle with and embrace this truth that they may find fulfillment by fulfilling your calling on their life. We thank you, God for your forgiveness when we’ve got it out of order that you pardon us and invite us once again to try again summarizing this when we don’t really know what to say or how to summarize everything, it’s we’re so grateful that your son taught us words to say that somehow speak to this theme. And so we pray now the prayer he taught us to pray, saying, our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.