Posted on Thu, Nov 13, 2014
November 9, 2014 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Sermon Title: “You’re Coming – WHEN?” or “Living IN the Gospel”
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids* took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.* 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids* got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids* came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.*
Old Testament Text: Amos 5:18-24
18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 19as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. 20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
There are many useful phrases that are passed down through the ages, that we might blow off as just clichés or dated catch phrases, but some of them can offer hope when we feel hopeless, give us life when all we see is death, and the Truth that “God IS Faithful” become the only words we can rest all of our existence upon. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us a very poignant parable stressing the importance of always being carried by the truth of the Gospel, AT ALL TIMES, and never separating the Words of Faith, from your daily life, no matter how busy or distracted we may become. The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is not about five who were ready for the bridegroom, and five who weren’t prepared and therefore were cast off into eternal damnation, as I have heard this so often incorrectly preached.
Put the parable into a daily context in the here and now. How often I have been with people who walked each day carried with the God News of God’s unconditional love and commitment to you and I, and then when calamity occurs, when all the foundations of life seem to fall away, their hope is held up by the Promise of their Baptism, and the presence of Jesus’ promise to “be with us to the end of the earth.” Sometimes it takes a lifetime of “living IN the Gospel” for us to be able to trust the Gospel in this way.
And then there are those who have found themselves too busy, and distracted to make the Words of the Gospel part of their worldly perspective by applying it to their lives; that when calamity arises, there is no foundation to their lives… But there is fear, hopelessness, anger at God, anger at themselves, and a strong feeling like being left out in the cold, locked behind shut doors, like the five bridesmaids who had all the same opportunities to prepare themselves, but they were not prepared.
Today’s texts are serious texts. They are profound beyond comprehension. When some people hear the Gospel, they often come to me in great fear and wonder, will I be the one left out in the dark? Will my loved one who may not have been a person of faith be left out in the dark? The Cross is far more powerful than their fears, and Paul reassures us that Jesus will save even those who have died ahead of us.
The prophets and the stories of the Old Testament may be a bit confusing, but the heart of the story is about God’s faithfulness to God’s people at all times. And for the People of God, it is never safe to separate our life of faith, from what some people may call the “secular world.” This is where the five unprepared bridesmaids failed, and what the prophet Amos is ranting and rampaging about on the Old Testament text for today. In fact, I do not believe in a “secular” world, as there is no place imaginable or unimaginable that God “is not.”
We love to talk about receiving God’s unconditional love and mercy, but what does that mean for you and I in order to make our faith real in the world? We are to 1) Do Justice 2) Love kindness 3) Walk humbly with your God. To do otherwise is to just become a loud and annoying cymbal.
Amos was considered a “Minor Prophet.” He may have been a ‘minor’ prophet in the Bible, but he had a MAJOR message! The name “Amos” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to load” or “to carry a load.” Martin Luther associated the prophets name with this, “He can well be called Amos, that is ‘a burden,’ one whom is hard to get along with and irritating…” It states in chapter 1 that Amos lived in the town of Tekoa in the early 8th century BCE and his work was ‘among the shepherds.’ This means he worked with shepherds and was probably a worker in charge of many shepherds, a working person, or a businessperson, as well as a prophet.
But there is something really bugging Amos, and I think he would be a wonderful prophet to have around today, even though he would be a major irritant (pain in the butt) for many. He reminds me of a very loud and angry Pope Francis… There is an image of Israel, the people of Israel probably liked to read, about or for themselves in Psalm 95:6-7:
6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! 7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
What a wonderful text, there are even melodies written to accompany the text. We like the imagery it casts of the kind of people we would like to think of ourselves… Thankfully it does help us understand who we are, and whose we are. The psalmist wants the people of Israel to shape their lives around a message and worship following the protection of the Good Shepherd. But this is not the Israel Amos is living in. He is in the city of Bethel, a bustling city where even the royal family came to worship. It is buzzing with chatter, there is the sound of animals and commerce. Bethel is a city with a rich religious history and “Beth El” means the “The house of El,” El being the old Canaanite name for the deity. The city was considered a holy place long before the Israelites even arrived.
Amos, the ‘big irritant’ would proclaim in total sarcasm, “Come to Bethel, come to worship and rebel against God, come to services and sin!” Or as it is written in the NRSV “4Come to Bethel — and transgress; to Gilgal—and multiply transgression!” What?
What was Amos’s problem? It wasn’t with the worship itself, there were worship services going on all the time, the problem was what was going on between the times of the worship services. There was a whirlwind of worship activity, but out in the neighborhoods, the poor were being cheated and oppressed. Out in the neighborhoods, the activities of the people made a mockery of the messages of the worship services and the offerings they offered to God.
The people were pious in the synagogue, and there was an abundance of offering and sacrifice, people would even eat the meat of the sacrifice, which would have been considered an incredible luxury. But the prophet exposes the truth, in that what they were called to believe, the words in which that they prayed and sang about, were totally incongruent with how they lived. The prophet saw this, God could see this, and it was the prophet who spoke the truth.
The truth is, 1) you have been loved and provided with more than you need for your lives 2) as you have been loved, go and love, go and share with your neighbor AS GOD HAS GIVEN TO YOU! Before Amos’ eyes, he saw a busy religious life but in the streets he saw lives that were totally separate from their faith. By being distracted with the good things around them, they were lost… like the five bridesmaids left outside the doors to the wedding banquet. In Amos 5:14-15 it reads:
14Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
What is this ‘justice at the gate’ mean? The cities in those days were walled, and where the walls came together, there would be a space of about 40 feet, this was for defensive reasons, but it was also a small area for court was held. If a person had a complaint against another person they would gather 10 people to be their impromptu jury, and they would have “court at the gate.”
Many of the poor farmers who were renting land from wealthy landowners, would bring complaints against the landowners for the high price for land rental and unfair prices for the harvest. The words of the poor were often, “hated and abhorred” by the wealthy and the powerful, and therefore Amos writes in 6:8: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his strongholds; and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”
Bribes were offered at these gate courtrooms, and it was clear, according to Amos, that if you had money, it meant the commands of “Doing Justice” that were read about, sang out loud and discussed inside the synagogue had little meaning outside of the synagogue, for instance at the gate of the city, and therefore had not been placed in the hearts or minds of God’s people. Amos had to speak out.
So what did it mean to “Do Justice” prophetic style? What did it mean for justice to roll down like and ever-flowing “stream?” First of all an “ever flowing-stream,” is not a calm pastoral ‘babbling brook.’ Amos is thinking more on the lines of torrential river of water that washes out everything that is not deeply rooted down or built upon a great foundation! A rainstorm that would be constantly carrying away the dirt of lies, the means of oppression, the filth of corruption, and it would be a constant cleansing! The expression is not static; it is full of dynamic action washing all that would distract us from the Good News of God!
And from this cleansing word of God, proclaimed by this minor prophet, the people were to respond! They, or we, are to respond by advocating for the powerless, the ones who were cheated at the gate, the ones forced to work with no hope of getting out of the positions they were forced to live within in the old corrupt system.
It would be to do as the prophet Isaiah had said so long ago in Isaiah 1:16-17: “16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
How true are the words written above our sanctuary doors, “Beyond these doors our service Begins.”
What we do in our worship, cleanses us, it teaches us, it strengthens us and it sends us out to be Christ in our world. You have been loved, beyond your wildest expectations! Now, go and share that love with the oppressed, the orphan and the widows of our world! Don’t wait, and always be prepared! Amen.
“And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
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