November 8, 2020 Sunday Thoughts

First Reading: Amos 5:18-24

18Alas 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.

Psalm: Psalm 70

1Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;
  O Lord, make haste to help me.
2Let those who seek my life be put to shame and confounded;
  let those who take pleasure in my misfortune draw back and be         disgraced. 
3Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back because of        their shame.
4Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
  let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!”
5But as for me, I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God.
  You are my helper and my deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13

 [Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“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.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  An Aesop tale similar to our text today:

The Shepherd Boy & the Wolf

A Shepherd Boy tended his master’s Sheep near a dark forest not far from the village. Soon he found life in the pasture very dull. One day he thought of a plan to amuse himself.

He ran toward the village shouting at the top of his voice, “Wolf! Wolf!” The Villagers who heard the cry dropped their work and ran in great excitement to the pasture. But when they got there they found the Boy doubled up with laughter at the trick he had played on them.  A few days later the Shepherd Boy again shouted, “Wolf! Wolf!” Again the Villagers ran to help him, only to be laughed at again.

Then one evening as the sun was setting behind the forest and the shadows were creeping out over the pasture, a Wolf really did spring from the underbrush and fall upon the Sheep. The Boy ran toward the village shouting “Wolf! Wolf!” But though the Villagers heard the cry, they did not run to help him as they had before. “He cannot fool us again,” they said. The Wolf killed a great many of the Boy’s sheep.

Prayer:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in your sight.  Amen.


         Today our text continues answering the question the disciples asked at the beginning of chapter 24 of Matthew. Discussing the beauty of the Temple but its eventual ruin, they asked Jesus to explain, “When will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.”  How do we know Jesus is about to return?  Jesus answers with a story, using the image of a bridegroom coming for his wedding. The people invited are gathered and waiting.

         Today we can identify with the disciples’ anxiety as we have now gone through our last week of political elections, all the confusion and overload of media. As I write this, there is still no clear decision.  “Be patient!” is the mantra.  Impending change raises questions and anxieties.  I love the line in Fiddler on the Roof, at the end, when the Jewish community receives news that they must leave their village.  A man asks, “Would this not be a good time for the Messiah to come?”  The answer, “We will have to wait for him elsewhere.”  The disciples and we wonder how will we know the end is coming when Jesus will return.  What will happen between now and January 20th?  Would this not be a good time for the Lord to return? 

         Jesus in this text uses the imagery of a wedding.  “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this…”  We will explore three “W’s” in this text: waiting, wisdom, and welcome. 

         Most agree that the bridegroom is Jesus. Jesus will return to culminate his relationship with the church, believers.  Not just Lutherans.  Not just USA but worldwide.  The ten women represent those anticipating his arrival.  Ten is not a random number and reminds us of the Ten Commandments, perhaps speaking to the many who are seeking to please an unseen god.  At the beginning of the parable, there is no way to differentiate the women waiting except we have a clue that half were foolish and half were wise.  All have lamps but half brought oil for their lamps and half didn’t. The problem does not seem to be that they are women nor that they have various talents.  They are not like the resistant tenants in the previous parables.  These bridesmaids are waiting for the coming of the groom. The problem, the fly in the ointment, is that the bridegroom delays.  “5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.” All the women are waiting and all become drowsy and sleep. 

The end requires WAITING

         So the first thing I see is that we are all waiting.  We do not know when Christ will return, the hour or the day, but we know he is coming.  Persecution, hard times, problems often raise the question – will the end come now?  In the 60s there was a big interest in end times, books about Christ’s return like the Left Behind series, communities preparing, movies and predictions.  Yet today we wait.  For many that has become a cry for us to establish justice on earth with our legal system, with our aid organizations, and with our life styles and resources.  Waiting impacts our way of life and thinking.

         I remember waiting to turn 21 because then I could ….  I remember waiting for Malcolm to propose because then I would …..   I remember waiting for those babies to arrive ….  Perhaps we identify with waiting for the paycheck to be deposited so we can pay our bills.  As Americans we have been waiting for elections and the anticipated social upheaval.  Waiting is not easy.  Waiting raises questions and doubts about our future. 

         Often we tire in waiting and become drowsy. We turn on the TV or call a friend or do whatever.  ALL the bridesmaids become drowsy.  This is not a good-guys, bad-guys criteria.  It is not that some are doing hard work preparing for the wedding while others lazy about.  All the women become drowsy.  Waiting is the name of the game politically and spiritually.

         So how are we waiting?  I would suppose the bridesmaids could have spent their time sharing stories (let’s not call it gossip), playing cell-phone games to entertain themselves, or dodging out to do a task while their friend holds a spot in line.  In other words they focus on the more immediate issues of life.  It is so easy to become sloppy in our spiritual disciplines and perhaps this parable confronts us to ask if we have become drowsy in waiting for Jesus to return.  Is there a spiritual discipline we need to stir up today: prayer, journaling, praise, church going, tithing, or perhaps just calling a friend to encourage.

The end requires WISDOM:

         “6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.”  Now the difference in the bridesmaids becomes apparent.  We think of midnight as referring to the last minute.  Perhaps it means that when we think all is lost. In those “midnight” moments, our drowsiness gives way to alertness.  We now see that half the women have come prepared to trim their wicks and light their lamps and half are unprepared.  Half have been wise and half have been foolish.  All were invited to be bridesmaids.  All of them are together.  All have lamps. None want to miss the party.  But…

         In Proverbs 1:20 we read that “wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square.”  Wisdom calls to all, but not everyone listens.  We are all called and salvation is offered to all but human choice is also acknowledged in this parable.  The serious reality of life is that being in church does not save us, getting baptized does not save us, nor does going through confirmation save us.  “By grace we are saved through faith and that not of ourselves.”  Sitting and waiting for the bridegroom is only part of reality.  We are people made in the image of God, invited to the banquet but we have a choice.

         Usually today we think of oil in the New Testament as referring to the Holy Spirit.  If we make that connection, we have a problem.  The Holy Spirit is not something we keep in a flask for special moments.  The Holy Spirit’s presence is not something we can run out of nor something we can buy at the local market.  Jesus is speaking into the world of the disciples, pre-crucifixion and pre-awareness of the presence of the Spirit of God within the believer.  As I pondered this, two thoughts came to mind.

         First I thought about the sower who throws his seeds on four types of soil: the hardened pathway, the rocky soil, the thorny soil, and the good soil. The word does not even phase the hardened path.  Seeds thrown on rocky and thorny ground sprout but are choked by the cares of life.  Not all seed that is sown and that appears to sprout comes to fruition.  This tells me that faith is a journey, not some magical moment when I am overwhelmed with the awareness that Jesus is the Christ, the living God.  Our faith is something we must nurture and tend to and cherish, not a historical marker.  Christ died for all, all are invited to the wedding feast and all are invited but not all can enter.

         Secondly I thought of the Luke parable about a man building a tower who first counts the cost before starting to build or the king who evaluates his enemy to decide if he can win before going into battle.  Many evangelists sell Jesus as “Try it, you’ll like it.”  Jesus is presented as the cure all for life’s problems.  With enough faith, mountains can be moved and when they don’t, the problem is the person’s lack of faith.  A possible explanation of the difference between the bridesmaids is that some are prepared with resources in reserve for rough times and others come to the party. They have counted the cost and come prepared.

         During times of struggle and trials, what resources do we have in reserve?    Are we collapsible or can we persevere?  Our internal resources are not something we can give to another, bottle up and give away to our children, husband or beloved friend.  We can share about our experience but we cannot make someone believe or make their choices for them.  They must read the word for themselves and make choices that grow their faith.  That sounds harsh but the wise dig deep and fill their lamps and the foolish run to town in the middle of the night when shops are closed.

         If this text challenges about how we are waiting, it also challenges us about the resources or reserves in our spiritual life.  When tough times come, do we collapse and fall to pieces or do we have a coping strategy and know verses, songs, friends we can turn to?

The end involves WELCOME:

         The bridegroom does arrive and welcomes the bridesmaids who have trimmed their lamps and stand ready.  The door is closed.  It reminds me of the story of Noah and the Ark.  Noah is told the flood is coming.  He prepares an ark to deliver.  He warns and invites his neighbors.  But the moment comes for the flood and the door is closed.  I reflect on the story of Moses and Pharaoh.  Moses tells Pharaoh he is not god and warns him.  “Let my people go.”  God sends ten plagues and still pharaoh does not prepare.  His confidence remains in himself and not God.  The Red Sea closes the door.  Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Lazarus dies and goes to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man goes to the place of torment and asks for a finger-tip of water.  Lazarus whom he did not recognize in life, cannot cross the chasm to comfort him in death.

         Jesus tells his disciples he will return.  It will seem like he is delaying and we will look around at a world that seems out of God’s control.  Our faith in Christ will be tried and stretched.  We will need to be prepared for those times that drain our lamps.  But Jesus will return. “’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

         When the foolish bridesmaids pound on the door and ask to join the party, they are refused and turned away.  The bridegroom replies ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ “  They are not welcome.  In chapter 7 Matthew tells us, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

So let’s summarize:

All bridesmaids want to go to heaven.  Christ died for all.

All must wait for the arrival of the bridegroom.

All  bridesmaids have lamps.

All grow drowsy.

The difference, the wise are prepared with reserves and the foolish must run to town in the middle of the night.  The shepherd boy in Aesop’s Fable got bored watching and waiting.  When he truly needed help he was not prepared.  His laziness led to his doom.  Let us not tire and be drowsy.

The kingdom of heaven will be a place of welcome and rejoicing.  We are warned to stay awake and be prepared for we do not know when Christ will return.  But return he will.  We can count on the outcome of that event.

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