Sunday, November 12, 2017
Lectionary 32

Introduction
Today the prophet Amos calls for justice to roll down like waters. Paul urges us to encourage one another with the promised coming of the Lord. Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. Surrounded by the faithful of every time and place, we celebrate Christ’s coming in our midst in the word of life and the feast of victory—the marriage feast of the lamb.

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.

Readings and Psalms
Amos 5:18-24  Let justice roll down like waters
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18  The promise of the resurrection
Matthew 25:1-13  The story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids

Sermon
Title:  Feeding Our Flame.
Are you thinking maybe those guys in Times Square are right?  Finally got it right?  You know them.  You’ve seen them.  They walk around with the signs that say THE END IS NEAR.  (Although these days those classic prophets of doom have been replaced with fuzzy characters, costumed super heroes, and scantily clad showgirls looking to pose with tourists for a buck.  But then again, perhaps the presence of these makes the threatened end seem even more likely.)  And way beyond those annoying attention seekers, there is a whole lot more going on in the world that suggest that those guys with the signs are finally right.  The threat of severe weather and climate change, saber rattling with North Korea, cyber intrigue affecting politics and finance, who’s to say some hacker won’t start a catastrophic war at some point as if he was playing a video game.  People acting like lemmings with their faces to glued to screens.  Who knows what is being programmed into our brains.  And of course an increase in mass shootings which have double digit victim counts.  Certainly the latest one in Sutherland Springs, Texas, occurring in a church has us all a little more uneasy even in a sanctuary that is supposed to be a place of peace and refuge.  But the people of Mother Emmanuel know that’s false security.

In our house, it is happening more and more that, after watching the evening news, our table grace of “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” turns into “Come, Lord Jesus, come right now.”  The chaos just seems way to out of control, and it might be better for the end to be now.

And if current events aren’t making us think on those sign carrying prophets of the end in Times Square, today’s readings certainly will send our imaginations in that direction.  But then again, it’s always like this at this time of year.  The church always ends the church year (just two more Sundays after today) with stories of Jesus’ coming again.  Before we prepare to celebrate that first coming with the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we are reminded that Jesus promised to come again.

But this year’s chaotic context does add an extra charge to these readings.  And it only contributes to the electricity of the charge that this year our second reading gives the only mention, the only mention of what is popularly known as The Rapture.  (I always want chords to be struck whenever I say that word.)  Oh, the obsession that so many have with this briefly mentioned (by Paul, not mentioned by Jesus) picture of the end times.  And the only reason Paul offers this depiction is that the early Christians all thought when Jesus said he was coming back he was talking a short time – a few years, maybe, a couple of decades at most.  But now that people were dying, the folks got scared that the dead would miss our Lord’s return.  So Paul comforts them with the promise that the dead will rise up first and then everyone else, all being taken to heaven.  Notice in the reading that Paul himself is expecting to be among the living when the rapture was to happen.  Being that it has now been about 1945 years since Paul was martyred, we can say he was a little off with his prediction.  But Jesus says it at the end of today’s gospel, we do not know when it will happen.  So keep awake.

And for this keeping awake and what to do while we are awake in this time of waiting is what these last three gospels from Matthew 25 (that we are hearing read today and these next two Sundays) are all about.  (A little side note, and good news.  Over this three Sunday walk through Matthew 25 – which contains the last three parables that Jesus tells, according to Matthew, before his passion, death, and resurrection – you will be hearing from three different preachers.) For my part to this unofficial sermon series, I would like to borrow from my Boy Scout days and say Be Prepared!

Not be prepared by living in fear that you won’t be taken up in the rapture.
Not be prepared by living in fear of God’s wrath on judgement day.  (That’s Amos’ cry to his people. He was warning them because of the injustices – legal and economic – that they were oppressing the poor and powerless with.  But that’s a discussion for another day.)
The message is not be prepared by living in fear that you are not good enough to get in the front door of the wedding banquet that knows no end.
Jesus is calling us to be prepared by living in faith not fear.

So what can those ten maidens in the parable teach us about living in faith, not fear, whether we are at the end times, or whether the world still has a long way to go before Jesus returns?

I offer a song in response to my question:  (sing with me if you know it)
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning
Keep me burning to the break of day.

 Today, as we strive, struggle, and seek to live by faith and not fear in a cray and chaotic world, I draw your attention to two sources of oil that fills our lamps and that keeps us burning, burning, burning.

The font – the water that washes us clean, that names us children of God.  This water, joined to the word of God, also lights and feeds a fire of faith that will stand up to any fear this world can monger.  The promises that God speaks to us, that God vows to us at our baptism, are our comfort and joy.  It is not about believing enough, or being good enough, or having faith enough.  A flight upward in the rapture is not earned by gathering enough frequent flyer points through good deeds and pure living.  God has made a promise – to you, and to you, and to you.  So, be still and know that God is God, and let that light shine with hope and faith that Jesus called is to show last week as we live as God’s saints.  And let it shine today, rapture or not, end times or just challenging times.  We live today, shining bright, in faith, not fear.

Second source of oil for our lamps – Come to the table and be filled with the presence of Christ in the bread and the wine, so that you might burn with the love and compassion of Jesus, walking as his disciples, serving as his body.  Hear those words we have heard before:  On the night in which he was betrayed…Our Lord did not succumb to the fear that lay ahead.  This would be no glorious rapture, a quick flight to glory.  On that night he would walk the path of the cross for our sake, yet in that night he gathered with his friends, he took bread and broke it and gave it to them, gave it to all, gave it to you, and you, and you.  Gave himself for you, and for you, and for you.

In that night so horrific for him, he promised us to be present whenever we gathered in his name, whenever we broke bread as he commanded, however horrific and fearful it became for us – even the fear of facing death.  The one we follow spoke of love and of peace, as he lived in faith, not fear.

The promise of Amos’ vision is around us, surrounding us, lifting us up, not to float, but to live in faith, not fear.  Justice is rolling down like waters.  It is God’s justice, filled with forgiveness and mercy and love, rolling down on us in the waters of the font.  Righteousness is an ever-flowing stream; the righteousness that is ours in our Lord Jesus, an ever-flowing stream of grace and hope and life that flow from the table of our Lord.

The end might be near.  Okay.  We might float up to heaven one day.  Okay.  No need to hinge our sanctuary roof so that it opens easily in case Jesus just happens to catch us at church.  No need to be fearful of whether or not we will be chosen.  We are wise to see that we are well stocked with all that we need to keep our lights burning bright no matter how dark the times.  We are baptized children of God.  We are continually fed with the presence of our Savior.  By the power of the Spirit, our lights shine with faith.  Let them not be dimmed by fear.  You are the light of the world.  Ignited by God, Renewed in Christ, Sustained through the Holy Spirit.

Keep me burning to the break of day.

 The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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