Sermon for Proper 27 A: Matthew 25:1-13

Sermon for Lectionary 32 A
November 12, 2017
Michael Coffey

At certain times we feel it more than others:
            We are waiting for God’s kingdom to arrive in all its fullness,
            and we realize more than ever that it is not here yet.
Our violent world reminds us almost every day
            that a world of peace is far off.
How do we react to such a horrific act
            as another church shooting a week ago in Texas?
            It has become something beyond numbing,
            and it confronts us with the cold reality
                        that the peaceful reign of God is not yet fulfilled.
How do we live today with our society
            getting fractured along more and more dividing lines
            and politicians and power brokers feeding it rather than healing it?
            It is clear that the good news of Christ reconciling all people
                        to God and to each other is something barely begun.
How do we carry on with our personal losses
            and individual struggles that make getting through some days
            feel like a gray fog or a lonely journey to nowhere?
            It feels sometimes like God’s plan is getting fulfilled
                        everywhere else but in our own lives.

As people of faith facing these challenges honestly,
            we find ourselves feeling like we are waiting,
            and waiting, and waiting, and endlessly waiting.
The season of Advent, which we begin today
            in its ancient extended form,
            invites us to enter this sense of waiting more fully,
                        to name it, wrestle with it, and seek Christ in it.
But it sure can seem like our oil lamps have run dry.

Tom Petty song: The Waiting
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

I want to us to listen together to Jesus’ parable about waiting
            but before we do that,
            Amos has something powerful to tell us about this waiting:
Apparently, in the religion of ancient Israel,
            as is true of all religions when they lose site of the truth,
            there was a temptation to create an escapist worship life,
            a praise of God that avoided truth-telling,
            a liturgy of distraction so that the well-off and comfortable
                        didn’t have to pay attention to the voices
                        of the poor, the hungry, the suffering, and the oppressed.
It is clear from Amos: God will have none of it.
            God will not be present in those worship services.
            God will not listen to those songs of privileged praise.
So we are reminded in our extended period of waiting
            for the full reign of God to come in Christ,
            that what we cannot do 
is use our worship and our religion as a means
            of avoiding or denying the truth.
God is not so easily distracted by glittery praise
            and shallow songs.
Amos has one more thing to tell us, but I’ll get to that later.

Jesus tells us a parable about 10 bridesmaids
            who were waiting for the bridegroom to come.
Their role was to escort the bridegroom to the bride’s home
            and escort her in procession to the bridegrooms’ home.
This happened at night, so oil lamps were needed.
            The problem in the parable is,
                        they didn’t know when he would show up.
            What do you do when you have to wait for the marriage celebration?

This is often called the parable of the 10 bridesmaids,
            but I’m calling it the parable of wise waiting.
Jesus introduces the parable like this:
            The kingdom of heaven will be like this:
                        and the parable says: It will be like waiting.
            If the kingdom is something we have to wait for,
                        how do we do that?
            And how do we do that knowing that this world is often
                        a raging machine of anger and violence?
            How do we wait when we hear more and more
                        that men treat women so offensively?
            How do we wait when we often feel like
                        part of the problem instead of part of the solution?

Jesus tells us in the parable, we wait wisely
            by replenishing our oil supply.
What might that mean?
            Well, I’m going to take a big risk and say,
                        it does not mean we stock up on weapons
                        and canned food and hide behind steel doors
                        and live in fear and anxiety that drives us away from each other.
            And I say that, because a lot of what is happening right now
                        is basically saying that’s the right response
                        to a world still waiting for God’s full governance of peace.
            More guns in church, more walls between us and them,
                        more fear of the other.
            I say that because many of us have let fear grip us so deeply
                        we aren’t sure anything else makes sense.

But from everything I know about Jesus and God and the good news
            and the vision of what baptized people are called to be in Christ
            I know it means something else.
We are to stock up on and replenish ourselves
            with the very things we know are the good news of God:
Love, mercy, a vision of justice, reconciliation, grace.
            God gives these things in great measure to us now,
                        especially now when we need them so much.
            God gives without cost. God provides all we need
                        to live in this waiting time without losing our way.
So I would say stock up and replenish on these three things:
            Faith, hope, and love.
If we run out of any of those three chief gifts,
            we find it hard to walk this long road of waiting.

What replenishes you? What helps you stock up on faith, hope, and love?
            Is it weekly worship in a community of people practicing Christ’s love
                        as best they can? It is for me.
            Is it spending time in quiet contemplation of how God is mysteriously
                        present in every moment of waiting? It is for me.
            Is it turning off the voices of negative energy and hateful rhetoric
                        and listening instead to the beautiful voices
of compassion and mercy? It is for me.
            Is it giving something of yourself for someone in need
                        and finding joy in their joy
and losing your own self-concern for a while? It is for me.
            Is it letting yourself be as complex as you are
                        with all your doubt, and fear, and impatience
                        and still trusting God’s love and grace is for you?
                        It is for me.
What replenishes you? What helps you stock up on faith, hope, and love?
            Do that. For God’s sake, do more of that now, not less.
            Take it seriously, like a prescription your doctor just gave you
                        and said take this or you will not be well.
            For your own sake, don’t let yourself run dry,
                        don’t let the light go out,
                        because then the waiting is unbearable
                        and the light of Christ that shines from your face
                                    will not shine on someone who needs it.
            Jesus said earlier on Matthew to his disciples:
                        You are the light of the world! Don’t keep it hid!
                        And now he’s saying, don’t let it go out.

If we do anything well in this congregation,
            I hope it is being a community of such love and grace,
                        faith and courage, patience and hope,
                        that we help each other replenish in faith, hope, and love,
                        and that we help total strangers
unexpectedly find themselves replenished
in faith, hope and love.
            Because if we can do that, keep doing that,
                        through worship, and music, and Scripture,
                        and meals, and prayer, and holding each other
when we are in tears,
                                    I know we can continue on in the waiting.

Then there’s one more thing we do as a community
            full of faith, hope, and love,
            waiting expectedly for God’s full reign of justice and peace.
It comes from Amos’ poetry.
Amos famously said: Let justice roll down like waters,
            righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
It occurred to me that the only way water doesn’t roll down and flow
            is when something is damming it up.
Amos is reminding us that things in human society
            tend to dam up the free flowing of justice and righteousness.
It might be greed, or power hungry leaders, or living in fear,
            or racism, or an out of balance economy.
How do we help justice and righteousness flow freely for all?
            It seems to me we work at removing the dams,
                        we chip away at those things clogging up
                                    God’s reign of goodness for all.
            That’s the kind of active, hopeful, loving, faithful waiting
                        we do that keeps not only our lamps lit,
                        but also the lamps of all those who are in despair
                                    at a world that leaves them on the margins.

The waiting is the hardest part,
            especially when terrible things are happening,
            and the we have no answers and no way to fix them.
We gather before the cross of Christ and in his presence
            in word and meal today.
He comes to replenish us,
            and keep us shining with the light of his love.
Stock up on this goodness. Open your hands and receive it together today,
            and look at all the shining faces of those waiting with you
                        for all the good things to come.
We do not wait alone for the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.
            We wait with him, and he with us,
            until that day when all the world flows freely
with justice and righteousness.


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