Message: Joshua 24:1-3a; 14-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

This weekend, as we recognize our veterans, we learn that The Small Business Administration reports that a veteran is forty-five percent more likely to start his or her own business than a non-veteran. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau recently shared that 2.52 million of the some twenty-eight million businesses in the United States are majority owned by veterans, nearly one tenth of all U.S. owned businesses!

Veterans are team players, well trained, well prepared, flexible, able to duck, reload and stand ready should the course of action shift along the way. They learn quickly and thoroughly what is necessary for protecting folks, and providing for folks the safety they need. When confronted with a challenge, veterans meet the risk with confidence as they are trained in preparedness. Veterans have a mental fortitude and a physical stamina that enables them to hang in for the long haul. Veterans have Staying Power.

It’s Staying Power that Jesus is talking about with his disciples as he sits atop the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem. A revolutionary new kind of business is birthing in an era of bad government and unrest that is going to require some Staying Power. A new age is hidden in among the discord. An age of God’s triumph and universal victory through Jesus’ death upon the cross and his rising from the dead ushering in eternal, everlasting hope. Jesus prepares his followers with Staying Power through the parable of ten bridesmaids.

The story of bridesmaids in preparation for a wedding is not a bit unusual. It’s not a secret that wedding planning is occupied by careful preparation and timing. What makes the story odd is the timing. A large wedding party is assembled: ten bridesmaids. Oddly, though, only half the attendants are prepared.

Now, it’s the custom in Jesus’ time, and apparently it’s the wedding custom of today in Palestine. Bridesmaids typically, festively, dance and party, keeping the bride company until the bridegroom arrives. While that seems normal, here’s the curve ball and where the Staying Power is so valuable. The bridal party needs to be prepared for whatever is to come along, and especially the long haul. Because, it seems, according to custom, there is no time or date as to when the bridegroom is to arrive. The groom may arrive today, or tomorrow, or next week. What’s important in the waiting, is to be ready. Be prepared.

When we fall asleep and are awakened by the cries in the village calling out, “he’s here; he’s arriving”, will we have enough oil in our lamps to light our way in the dark of the night? Oil-less lamps, one wise preacher says, are: (1.) church practices without a right relationship with God, (2.) goodness without godliness, and (3.) enthusiasm without Staying Power. The streets are dark and no one wants to be out without a lit lamp.

Five bridesmaids are wise. They’ve got the Staying Power; having filled their lamps and trimmed their wicks, prepared, they await the bridegroom. Five are foolish. They have neglected to weigh the benefits of Staying Power. Neglected to invest in the gift of a relationship with God in Christ, whether we are fully aware of his presence or not. Jesus, however, does not neglect; nor does Jesus ever slight us or distance himself from us through lack of Staying Power.

Rather Jesus, knowing the Passover Feast is just two days away and he is certain to be handed over to be crucified, he assures all of Staying Power in his love through his death and resurrection. Because, Jesus knows all too well, that there’s a price to be paid in a life with Christ. Jesus teaches the parable of the ten bridesmaids to remind us that with the Staying Power Christ has in God and in us, there is light in the darkness, life in death, revelation in hiddenness, love in the hate, and forgiveness in the hurt.

Where is our staying power?

Staying Power is a challenge for us in our world today. Studies show that (1.) 74% of the country’s employed are actually seeking new jobs and/or are actively open to new opportunities. (2.) The average length of a marriage before ending in divorce is eight years. (3.) We’re good for about one to five seconds before we abandon what we would call a slow website. (4.) The average Christian engaged in and practicing the faith today attends worship just twice a month.

Jesus teaches, there is merit in Staying Power. There is wisdom in hanging in there. In our hurried, instant gratification world Staying Power builds resilience in times of turmoil. Staying Power exhibits discipline and focus when the choices are many. Staying Power means we’re motivated for the long haul, especially when the going gets rough.

Staying Power means we live in expectation with faithful readiness. We expect God to make all things new. With Staying Power we engage in faithful readiness with healthy dialogue among ourselves and our neighboring faith communities striving for healing strength from racism and bigotry. Staying Power in faithful readiness means we will not stay hidden and complicit in societal norms of misconduct, harassment and abuse. Instead, wedded in the grace, love and mercy of Jesus Christ, we will speak truth, and say and do what is necessary in freeing women, men and children to be beloved children of God. Staying Power means we’re all in 100%, even when it looks as though the door is shut from our Lord’s redemptive powers.

Because, sometimes we may question Jesus’ presence in our lives. So, if we’re going to be intentional about truly being in a relationship with Jesus, we don’t want to be asleep on the job. What do we do? We put skin in the game and equip ourselves and keep going when we notice that the oil is running low on our spiritual lamps of God’s grace. Staying Power is what holds us up when we do not know what the day or the hour will be when Jesus will lavish us with God’s grace love and mercy. We build Staying Power with the wisdom of knowing that a relationship with God in Christ is not something we can borrow from another. Another’s Staying Power does not oil our lamps of faith. Rather, we build Staying Power secure that we, our very selves, are clothed in Christ. Build Staying Power.

Showing up is 95% of the deal. By showing up we teach others that we’re all in. Take steps to be active in God’s world. Stay today and (help get the food ready) (to) pack 200 meals for Fairfax County School kids. Attend a class or two; teach a class; sing in the choir now and then; help with Fellowship hour: bring food; serve: help with Thanksgiving Hot Meals. We need eight twenty pound turkeys cooked. Sign up to help with Hypothermia Shelter during Christmas week. Be a worship leader: read; pass the chalice; usher; be a teller and count the money. Invite a neighbor, a friend, a family member to worship with Epiphany. Invest in getting to know someone with Epiphany not so familiar to you.

This is Sharing Sunday. Over these past weeks we’ve talked about the importance of giving a portion of who we are and what we have, returning it to God. Our giving sustains us in Staying Power. Our pledge commitments are about investing in a relationship with God in Christ through Epiphany. We’re all in, 100%. Recently, you’ve received a pledge commitment envelope. If you don’t have one, simply raise your hand and Keola and others are happy to provide you with an envelope just in case you forgot yours.

In a bit, we’ll say our prayers and make our offerings. Today we’ll have two offerings. Ushers will pass the plates for our typical weekly offertory. Thank you for making your generous weekly contribution. Your gifts actually pay the bills, turn on the lights, open the doors, enable us to invite others in. Next, the ushers will pass the plates again for each of us to offer up our annual pledge commitments for the budget of 2018. All are invited to pledge. Thank you. Your pledge commitments not only strengthen the Staying Power of Epiphany; as your pledge commitments are the roots of our annual operating budget, your pledge commitment to God in Christ through the life of Epiphany assures that we continue to GROW. We give thanks to God for generous hearts and minds. Amen.