The 26th Sunday after Pentecost –- Proper 27A (11/9/2008)

 Passion and God's Kingdom

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

[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. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 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 early years, the Christian community believed that Jesus was coming back soon. They expected his immanent return, and looked for it to happen before they died. This led to an intensity in the way they lived and in the way they practiced their faith. Jesus had given them a great responsibility (make disciples of all the world), the time was short, it depended on them, and so there was nothing more important to them than to do God's will. It was their primary focus in life.

By St. Matthew's time, the church was beginning to reconsider this belief. It had been a long time since Jesus walked among them. Many of the faithful had died. The church began to suspect that it was going to be some time before he returned, and so they relaxed a bit. They lost the intensity that their ancestors had experienced. Other interests and commitments began to vie for their attention.

So Matthew remembered one of the parables of Jesus. It was a story about five wise bridesmaids (Could Matthew have been thinking about the early church here?), and five foolish bridesmaids (Could Matthew have had his own church in mind?). Both groups in this parable are excited about the arrival of the bridegroom. Both groups know that he could come at any time. Both groups nod off, aware that he might well show up in the middle of the night.

The primary difference between the two groups is that one group has done everything they could do to be ready for the bridegroom's arrival, and the other hasn't. One group has prepared their lamps and brought along flasks of extra oil, and the other hasn't. And when the bridegroom arrives, one group is able to join the party, while the other group has to run off in search of more oil, ultimately returning too late to be included in the festivities.

Without a doubt, St. Matthew is calling his readers to live as though Christ might return at any minute. He is calling them to live with more intensity - with more passion for their faith, and for the mission God has entrusted to them. He is calling them to be prepared, because Jesus could return at any time.

We, of course, are living some two thousand years after the events of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. If it was tempting for the people of Matthew's time to suspect that Jesus wasn't coming any time soon, it is even more tempting for us today. If it was tempting for them to place their faith on the back-burner, it is even more tempting for us today.

When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow, he replied, "I'd plant a tree." The mundane nature of this task conceals Luther's passion for his faith. He believed that if Christ was to return on the morrow, he wanted to be found doing exactly what God had called him to do: being a wise and thoughtful steward of the world that surrounded him.

Let us also live out our faith with the same single-minded passion, so that we too might be prepared for our Lord's return. Let us spend time daily in prayer and Bible study, weekly in worship with God's people, and monthly serving the community in Christ's name. Let us practice financial generosity in our support of the church's ministry, and gather regularly with our brothers and sisters. Let us do so as if today might be our very last chance. Because, of course, if we believe the words of Jesus, there is no other way to live. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • How did the belief that Jesus would return soon affect the early church?
  • What are some signs of their passion and commitment?
  • How is this parable a call to return to the faith, commitment and attitude of the early church?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • Do I believe that Jesus might return during my lifetime?
  • How does (or doesn't) that affect the impact my faith has on my life?
  • What would I do if I knew that tomorrow was my very last day?