Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pentecost 25A: Proclamation

here's a version of last Sunday's sermon—"a version" because I ended up ditching my script and notes, but the essence of what I said is there (here?)
Matthew 25:1 13
1 "The Reign of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were silly but the others were wise. 3 The silly ones took their lamps but did not take any oil to light their lamps. 4 However, the wise ones took their lamps and they also carried some oil for the lamps along with them. 5 The bridegroom was taking a long time to arrive, and all ten of the bridesmaids became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 "At midnight the announcement came: 'The bridegroom is here! Come on out to meet him!'
7 "Then all ten of the young girls woke up and trimmed their lamps,8 and the silly ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.'
9 "'No,' the wise ones replied, 'there's not enough for us and for you, as well. You need to go into the marketplace and buy some oil for yourselves.'
10 "But as they went on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived, and the five wise young bridesmaids who already had oil for their lamps went in to the wedding celebration with him and the door was shut.
11 "Later the other five, the silly young bridesmaids, also arrived and called to the bridegroom, 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door to the celebration for us!'
12 "But the groom answered, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
13 "'Therefore, keep looking out for the Reign of Heaven and be prepared for it, because you do not know the day or the hour of the Lord Jesus' arrival right here in our very midst."

Be Wise, Be Ready
Let's pray together:

All living creatures with the same breathe you sustain
And to your Spirit's well nobody comes in vain.
Give that we understand the language of your call,
Uphold us by your hand; write your name on us all! [C. Michael De Vries, alt.]
The story or parable we just heard from Matthew's gospel tells about a bridegroom and a wedding celebration: in the culture of Jesus' world, the about to be married groom would travel from his own house to the home of his intended to conclude the wedding contract. After that, both bride and groom would go back to his house to celebrate the wedding feast; instead of going away on a honeymoon, the wedding couple would hold sort of an open house for their friends and relatives. Just as in this parable, the bridesmaids would wait outside the groom's house. At night they did not allow anyone out in the streets without light, and they didn't have street lights, so you needed to have both lamps and oil to light those lamps with you at all times. No wedding invitations specified a starting time or necessarily a particular day—the groom could arrive whenever, even at midnight or in the middle of the night. Once the wedding festivities began, they locked the door to the groom's house, and no one else could enter the party. In other words, it was not possible to be too early, but it was possible to be too late and miss the opportunity for getting in to the feast and the dancing.

A parable is an allegory—closely related to a metaphor. Many interpreters suggest this passage from Matthew's gospel refers to the marriage, the union in love, between God and the people of God's creation. The parable tells us to prepare and be ready for the "Reign of Heaven" or Rule of God, which, just like the wedding banquet, would arrive at an unspecified time. Throughout history God has given commandments to help people live in ways that begin leading the world into the heavenly reign or rule of God Himself. From the gospel according to Mark, chapter 12:

Mark 12

28 One of the teachers of the law came and…asked Jesus, "Which is the most important of all God's commandments?"
29 Jesus answered, "The most important one is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

It is impossible for me, for any of you, for anyone completely to keep all of the commandments perfectly all of the time. Jesus Christ came into the world showing us how to live; in his death on Good Friday's cross of Calvary and God's raising him to new life on Easter Sunday dawn, Jesus took the offense of sin and its consequences for us, so we have the gift of forgiveness and new beginnings whenever we break the commandments—even that most essential one to love God, self and one another. The cross of Jesus Christ carries the Great News of the Gospel.

The parable we just heard is almost completely about what we are supposed to do in order to be ready for the Reign of God. But regarding the idea of preparing and waiting for the Reign of God to begin…that's just it: the Lord Jesus Christ already has come, and the grace filled Kingdom of God is here! God is here, making new life out of all the deathliness in this world and in each of our lives. But we need to be prepared, awake and alert, because Jesus Christ, the bridegroom comes not just once, but over and over again, opening wide the door to the Reign of Heaven and inviting all of us into its presence. However, the good news of the gospel goes further than warning us to be ready and prepared; it also tells us there is nothing you and I or anyone can do to get ready for the Lord's coming! In chapter 2 of his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul makes clear it is not something I have to do, you need to do, or we have to do, that will cause the love and justice filled Reign of God to begin flowing in our lives and world, because it is by the grace of God we live in the power of the new life granted us in Christ's dying and rising again. As the apostle Paul expresses it:

Galatians 2:16b,20a

16b So we, too, have trusted Christ Jesus, so that we may be made right before God by trust in Christ and not by keeping the law, because by observing the law no one can be righteous. 20a Because of this, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

In Jesus Christ, God's loving justice and righteousness flows from the cross as a cascading stream of reviving water washing us clean from any shortcomings, misgivings or transgressions. Christ Jesus' life is with us, in this community, right here and right now. Jesus Christ, the church's bridegroom, comes into this world and into our lives not just once, but over and over again, with a wide open invitation into his feast of hospitality. When we know God's righteousness in Jesus Christ as a free gift from God and we live in the reality of forgiveness and new beginnings, then we can live each day in love and justice for others, and in love for ourselves, as well! Then we can hear Matthew's parable telling us to be ready with a new ending: when the bridegroom, Christ Jesus comes to us, he brings with him enough oil for everyone, making us ready to be lights in one another's lives and lights in our own city.

Yes, God's Reign is something God establishes right here in our midst, but the Reign of Heaven also is something God charges us to help bring to life, by loving God, neighbor and self, by responding wherever we see anyone in need. As we read about Jesus' life in the Gospels, we observe the Reign of God in love and justice in action. When we are in Christ, alive with loving justice and righteousness, we help bring our community and world closer to the Reign of Heaven.

God is right here in our midst with us! Let us be wise and ready, looking around us and among us to see signs of the Reign of God.

To God alone be glory, forever and ever!


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