The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 27A (11/12/2017)

Lessons:
Amos 5:18-24 or Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 70 or Wisdom 6:17-20
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
St. Matthew 25:1-13

Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7

Prayer of the Day:
O God of justice and love, you illumine our way through life with the words of your Son. Give us the light we need, and awaken us to the needs of others, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lesson:

[Jesus said]  25.1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But 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.’ 10 And 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. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

St. Matthew 25:1-13, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In the Time Remaining…

Parables are strange creatures. They are disturbing; sometimes even shocking. They attempt to shake us out of our own preconceived notions about what God is up to, and bring us to a new more faithful place. This is not always an easy journey to take, and we find ourselves resisting it, sometimes with all of our might. This week’s parable might be described in just such a matter. It is a “Kingdom of Heaven” parable —designed to help us see how Jesus envisions what is important to God, and how it becomes part of our lives.

It makes use of a common biblical theme: the wedding banquet. In rural and small town first century Israel the wedding banquet was the social highlight of the year. The entire village would often participate, and the festivities included a number of twists and turns. One of them is that the banquet would begin when the bridegroom arrived. In a “cat and mouse” game, those intending to participate made themselves ready, and the bridegroom did his best to surprise them. Sometimes he would wait until well into the night before showing up and welcoming the guests in, and then only those who were prepared would be able to participate in a celebration that could last for days.

Jesus isn’t teaching about proper and faithful wedding customs, of course. And St. Matthew didn’t include this story so his readers would know what to do when a couple was ready to tie the knot. It is a story that bears two powerful truths to us. First, God does and will come into our world in ways that are extraordinary, and make a significant difference in our lives. And second, there is no way for us anticipate exactly when or where that will take place.

During Jesus’ ministry, many believed that God only showed up in prescribed locations, and at expected times, to a certain group of insiders. So, for instance, if you were a Pharisee who spent time in the temple at Jerusalem, you were quite likely to encounter God. However, if you were a Canaanite woman with a troubled daughter living near Tyre and Sidon (see Matthew 15:21), that was less likely to happen.

Yet as Jesus would demonstrate over and over again, God is more creative than that. There is no way to force God into a box — to turn sacred presence into a formula. God will show up when and where God shows up, even if it is at an unexpected place or time. And for those who are present with open hearts, it will make all the difference in the world.

The troubling aspect of this parable, of course, is that when the bridegroom shows up there are those who are not ready — not watching — and they find themselves left out. We Lutherans, 500 years into a history that has been shaped in rich ways by the experience of God’s grace, chaff at this notion. Grace always seems more in our wheelhouse than exclusion. But the truth is: when God comes (and God does come!), some will be waiting and watching and experience it as a blessing, while others will unprepared and unaware of what is taking place before their very eyes.

Whether we are envisioning him coming often in a variety of ways, or we have in mind his final, promised return which will usher in the end of time, Jesus teaches us that the faithful way to anticipate is arrival is to be awake — to be watchful — to be alert.

The bad news is that some of us won’t. That we’ll become distracted and miss it when he comes. But the good news is that he still comes, and there is still time to prepare ourselves to experience it. How do we do that? There are so many ways. At Saint Peter we encourage discipleship habits like devotion, study, worship, service, generosity and fellowship. You may have other ways to stay focused on this call from Jesus. But the important thing is that we do. And we trust Jesus’ promise that as we live in a way that is wakeful, watchful and alert, we will be graciously welcomed into God’s presence.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How did first century religious leaders expect God to come into their lives?
  2. Who did Jesus touch during his life on earth, and how did that surprise these religious insiders?
  3. What made for watchful preparation in Jesus’ day?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What Bible stories do I remember that describe surprising appearances of God’s presence?
  2. When have I become aware that God was near to me?
  3. How will I prepare myself to be more aware of the ways God comes to me?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.