Pentecost 23 Proper 27 November 12, 2017
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Eschatology: The Ten Bridesmaids – Being Prepared for the Wait
Who was part of a 4-H Club or Scouts or Girl Guides growing up? Do you remember being taught to be prepared? Do you remember what you were being prepared for? I belonged to 4-H Clubs. I remember one particular skit given by another club where they were being prepared for the call for a date. It is very sexist and dated, but I still remember it. It was on good grooming, always bathing, washing our hair, taking care of our nails, and shaving. One of the girls in the skit is asked out on a date, so she gets busy getting ready. The young man arrives, but she is not ready yet. Her sister, who is a good 4-H’er, asks the young man if he would like to take her on the date. When he says yes she whips off her housecoat all ready to go and out they go. The sister who was not prepared missed out on a chance for a date. Moral, be prepared for you never know when an opportunity may present itself.
This morning’s gospel story is also about being prepared, being prepared to wait for the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus is providing a familiar example of what the kingdom of heaven is like, it is like a wedding. In a first century wedding it would be traditional for the groom’s family and friends to be gathered and waiting at his father’s home. The bride’s family and friends would be gathered at the bride’s father’s home waiting for the arrival of the groom to come and take his bride home with him. The bridesmaids could have been waiting for the groom to complete making dowry arrangements with the bride’s father so they could lead the way back to the groom’s home or they could have been waiting at the groom’s home and waiting for his arrival so they could enter the groom’s home for the prepared wedding banquet. The celebration could go on for several days.
We are told five of the girls are foolish and five are wise. They have all come with lit lamps. They all grow weary with the wait for the groom and fall asleep. All their lamps burn down after the long wait and they all have to prepare them when the shout comes that the groom is on his way. The difference is that five of the bridesmaids were prepared for the wait with an extra flask of oil. Five of the bridesmaids did not plan for a delay and did not have sufficient oil when the groom finally arrives.
Matthew and Paul are probably telling their stories in response to the delay in the return of Jesus Christ. The early Christians were expecting Jesus to return within their lifetimes, but people have started to die with no return of Jesus. What does this mean? Do those who have died miss out on the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life? Paul says no, that those who have died in expectation of the Messiah’s return will be called forth at his coming so they can share in his return.
In the gospels Jesus tells many stories of being prepared and of giving examples of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. The story of the ten virgins or ten bridesmaids is unique to Matthew. The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. The ten bridesmaids are the listeners, you and me. Has the Kingdom of Heaven come or is it yet to come? When is Jesus returning? Has he already returned, will he return in our lifetime, will he return at our death or will he return in some distant future? I do not know the answer. Even Jesus did not know the answer and tells his disciples that this is known only to God, but we are to be prepared for their arrival like a thief in the night. We are to live as though the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. We are to do acts of kindness and love for the poor and the marginalized. We are to show mercy and grace and forgiveness as we go about our lives. We are to be the light for the Kingdom of Heaven now, not some distant time in the future.
We could say, “I will live for another 30 years so I will do this ‘Love your neighbor’ thing some other time, but not now.” These stories are saying, “No, you need to love God and love your neighbor as yourself NOW”. We do not know when we will die. Life is unpredictable. We do not know when Jesus Christ will return like the delayed bridegroom. We cannot stay awake and alert our whole lives, but we believe Jesus will return and our lamp needs to be full of the light of mercy when that time comes.
In the church calendar November is the end of the church year. In November we hear stories of the Eschatology, the end times, the end of the age, we are waiting for Advent; we are waiting for the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem, for the incarnation of God’s own son as one of us. Isn’t this the most joyous time of the year when we pray for peace on earth and goodwill among all people! Wishing it could be this way all year round.
We are waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later we are not so concerned about the imminent return of Jesus Christ, but we still hear stories such as the “Left Behind” stories. But we also wait for a third manifestation of God’s self by the Holy Spirit in our brothers and sisters and in God’s creation. Where have you seen the presence of God today? Have you seen God in the laughter of your child? Have you seen God in a beautiful sunrise? Have you seen God in the dying of a loved one?
In this time of waiting for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, we are also waiting for the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God and watching for the in-breaking of the Kingdom and God in our lives today. God is active in history. God acts outside of time and space. How God does this is a mystery. God loves his creation. God loves his creatures. God loves humanity. God loves you and me and desires to be present in our lives. Expect God to show up in your life today. Expect God to show up at the most unlikely times in the most unlikely places. There is no place that you can go or hide where God will not already be there waiting for you. So like the 4H girls, be prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Be prepared for the wait for the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven filling your flask with the light of acts of kindness towards your neighbor, with generosity to the poor, so that you can be a light to the world in the procession to the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
St. James’ Episcopal Church Jocelyn McWhirter
All Saints’ Sunday
November 5, 2017
November 1 = All Saints’ Day; Reformation 500; Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
- take us back to 1517
- you come to your parish church on a Sunday morning
- incense; must; unwashed people
- you are there to observe the Mass and receive the sacrament
- the Mass proceeds much like our Holy Eucharist <order of service>
- the priest says it in Latin, facing the altar
- you don’t understand Latin
- you don’t understand the Scripture readings or the Mass
- the bells let you know that the sacrament is being consecrated
- what you know about the Bible is from the images in your church
- Christ, the saints, the glories of heaven, the terrors of hell, scenes of final judgment
This was the church of Martin Luther (1483-1546)
- Augustinian monk
- professor theology at the University of Wittenberg (eastern Germany)
- and, a little over 500 years ago, was having a spiritual crisis
- you would think that if anyone felt right with God, it would be a monk
- but contrition, confession, penance, and good deeds ≠ good enough
- he deserves “the justice of God”
Around the year 1515, he is lecturing on Romans.
- and he reads <Romans 3:23-25>
- Justified by God’s grace, as a gift? Redemption in Jesus’ death, through faith?
- “I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”
“The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning” → other passages from Paul’s letters.
- <Romans 5:8-9> -- still sinners; God’s love; justified and saved
- meanwhile, here’s what the Christian life is like <Galatians 2:19-21>
- We are not the agents of our salvation. God is. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are saved by God’s grace through faith
Salvation by grace through faith – this was the heartbeat of Luther’s theology.
Treatises and sermons, including “On the Twofold Use of the Law and the Gospel.”
- he considers the predicament of one of the Desert Fathers
- Desert Fathers = 3rd and 4th centuries; Xian monastics in Egyptian desert
- I haven’t been able to discover which one Luther is referring to
- “For over seventy years this hermit had led a life of utmost austerity, and had many followers. When the hour of death came he began to tremble, and for three days was in a state of agony. His disciples came to comfort him, exhorting him to die in peace since he had led so holy a life. But he replied: ‘Alas, I truly have all my life served Christ and lived austerely; but God’s judgment greatly differs from that of men.’”
- prayer and self-denial; admiration of followers; what will God think?
- Luther goes on:
- “Note, this worthy man, despite the holiness of his life, has no acquaintance with any article but that of the divine judgment according to the Law. He knows not the comfort of Christ’s Gospel. After a long life spent in the attempt to keep God’s commandments and secure salvation, the Law now slays him through his own works. He is compelled to exclaim: “Alas, who knows how God will look upon my efforts? Who may stand before him?” . . . The work he has wrought and his holiness of life avail nothing. They merely push him deeper into death, since he is without the solace of the Gospel.”
- that he is saved, not by his own righteousness, but by God’s grace
- Luther contrasts the hermit with two characters from the Gospels
- “The thief on the cross.” <Luke 23:41, 42-43>
- “The publican.” i.e. tax-collector <Luke 18:9-14>
The gospel of salvation by grace through faith was a great comfort to Martin Luther.
- he didn’t have to worry any more about not being good enough
- he now lived by faith in Jesus Christ, who loved him and gave himself for him
The thing is, the gospel of salvation by grace through faith goes against human nature.
- because we’re wired to be good people
- most of us try very hard to please others
- and by extension, we try very hard to please God
- also we’re not used to receiving free gifts
- we like to even the score and not be in debt to anyone
- it makes more sense to us to earn our salvation than to receive it for free
But the hermit is right when he says, “Who may stand before God?”
- How can we ever be good enough for God?
- How can we expect to even the score with God?
The thief on the cross and the tax-collector realize this.
- “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
- “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”
And Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Pentecost 21 Proper 25 October 29, 2017
Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Joining in the deeper conversation
If we were to try to summarize what it will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven how would you answer?
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What does it mean to love God? How does one love God? Why do we love God?
We love God because God first loved us. God is our creator, our king, our heavenly Father.
We love God with our whole being, with our whole lives, in our prayers, in our family life, in our work and school life, in our personal, private lives. We worship God; we give God our praise and thanksgiving. We talk to God and we listen to God.
How do we love God when we cannot see him or feel him or hear him? We need to be careful not to love God as someone who is undemanding, as someone who is just waiting for our attention. We turn to God in times of crisis, stress and distress, but we need to remember to turn to God in our times of great joy and celebration and also in the ordinary times when life is, well, just normal.
What does it mean to love our neighbor as our self?
If we do not want to be bullied, or lied to or ignored or lied about then we need to remember to do the same for our neighbor. When we love someone we care about what is going on in their lives; we care how their day is going; we care about their greatest fears and their greatest joys; we talk to them, we talk with them; we listen to them; we show interest in their lives; we ask questions; we give them our full attention, not thinking about something else, not fidgeting, but being truly present to our neighbor.
Do you love Renee? What does it mean to love Renee?
Do you love Melaina? How do you love Melaina Magnusson? Why do you love Melaina?
As we learn to love our neighbors, we grow in our ability to love; we grow in our ability to love the unseen, to love our neighbor across the country or across the ocean, to love our neighbors in Africa or South America or Russia or Iraq; we learn what it means to love God.
Do you love Malith Kur? What does it mean to love a stranger? How do we love a stranger?
We care about their lives, their wellbeing. We care about their physical safety, whether they have food, clean water and shelter. We show interest in them, we ask questions, we listen to their story.
Over the past few weeks the gospel has people coming to Jesus and asking him questions, tough questions. In return Jesus asks them tough questions. Today’s gospel is no different. The lawyer asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is and then Jesus asks the Pharisees who the Messiah is. Through these questions we learn that the Messiah is the Son of David and the Son of God. We learn that Jesus is the Messiah and that he receives his authority from God.
The questioners were not sincere in trying to learn about Jesus. Matthew tells us that they were trying to trick Jesus, to trip Jesus up so they could use it against him. Image what they could have learned if they had really wanted to learn from Jesus, if they were genuinely interested in who Jesus was and where he came from, if they truly wanted to know what Jesus cared about, if they were interested in what made Jesus tick.
One thing we can learn from these readings is the importance of dialog, of asking questions and listening for the answers non-judgmentally; of asking questions to clarify what we are hearing and for deeper understanding; of being willing for others to ask us questions and for us to give sincere, heart felt answers; of going beyond the casual good morning, how is your family, and comments on the weather. It is in the deeper conversation that we come to know someone, to really know them and they come to know us. We may fear people getting to know us. What if they find us wanting? What if they don’t like the real me? I tell you the real you is beautiful. You are worth getting to know. I am worth getting to know. The stranger is worth getting to know. We are beloved children of God. God created each of as a unique, intriguing individual. In getting to know our neighbor and the world around us we come to know our creator God, the God who creates the beautiful monarch butterfly and a new born baby. God sees his creation and calls it good, very good in fact. God loves his creation; God loves you and me and wants to have an intimate relationship with us. God wants us to love God, to love our neighbor and to love our self. We can spend a lifetime getting to know God, our neighbor and our self and coming to love them deeply. Know that God knows you inside and out, the good and the bad, and God loves you! Amen.