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Saturday, November 8, 2014

November 9, 2014: Proper 27 Ordinary 22 Pentecost +22

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Our discomfort with the parable of the virgins likely arises from self-awareness. Most of us know ourselves as wise in some contexts and foolish in others."

Commentary, Matthew 25:1-13, Greg Carey, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.
    "...focus on the core issue of waiting and admit, quite frankly, that the kind of waiting Matthew is encouraging through this parable is hard. Waiting for something way over due, waiting for something you're not sure will even come, waiting that involves active preparation when you're not even sure what you should be preparing for. That kind of waiting is challenging."

    "Hope and Help for Foolish Bridesmaids," David Lose, ...in the meantime, 2014.


      General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from Textweek.com

      Prayer

      Lord, give me grace to take my task from you seriously. Let me prepare so that when the crisis comes, the oil will be there on the day of reckoning. In Jesus I pray. Amen.

      by Stephen M. Crotts


      Some Thoughts on Matthew 25:1-13

      Jesus is teaching in parables about the Kingdom of God. We have just heard about a householder who leaves and the servant is blessed who lives a good, ethical life while left in charge. Jesus is telling his followers that they are to live a good life and a life worthy of the Gospel. They will be blessed upon the master's return. This was an important teaching within the Matthean community because they were trying to understand how they were different from their religious neighbors, and they wanted to understand how they could please God.  The image of the followers of God living a good life as opposed to a wayward life brings differentiation to the community struggling for identity in the first century.

      Carrying on this discussion we enter our passage. It is important to note that the Gospel tells us we do not know when the householder will return. Jesus again offers a parable, an allegory, which tells the Matthean community who they are, whose they are, and what business they are to be about in the mean time.

      In today's passage the master is delayed. Everyone is ready, but some are unprepared. Some have not brought enough provisions to make the long journey into the night. They don't have enough oil. Others do not share. The point seems to be that each is responsible for their own and not for the others. The follower of God is to be concerned with what is expected of us alone and not the other. I am to be prepared - I am not responsible for your preparedness.  I am to live a life which is goodly and seeks holiness. The message in this parable is clear. You need to be ready. You need to work on you and you need to make sure that you can make it through the darkness because when the bridegroom comes the door will be shut.

      Our work is to be prepared and we are to stay awake. We are to be ready for the bridegroom, responsible for ourselves, and watching so that the door does not shut without us.

      My first response is: YIKES! John Stott, the great Anglican theologian wrote, “We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” So let us wade into this disturbing parable and reflect a bit.

      I am thinking that there are several important images and thoughts bumping around in my mind after working on this. The first is that we are responsible for us. I am responsible for making sure I am living the life that I believe God has called me to lead. I am not responsible for others - that is their work. That is a good boundary to have. Sometimes I think I get caught in trying to police other people's lives because that is easier than policing my own.

      The second thought is that the master is late! The bridegroom is late. I was thinking that from an evangelism stand point we are the body of Christ, we are the bridegroom let loose in the world. We are late. There are people out in the world who are doing well and they have plenty of oil. There are others who are running low. They are both waiting for the bridegroom. They are waiting and expectant. They are waiting on us to bring good news. They are hoping that the door will be open to them. And, I am wondering shall we wait to go, as Christ's body in the world, as the bridegroom? Shall we wait and let their oil run out and the door be shut. Let us not hesitate to bring them good news.

      I understand that the Matthean community was trying to define itself over and against other religious movements. I get the reality of what it means to not worry about others and not be responsible for them. This edge makes this a very difficult parable. It grates against me. I get that we don't need to be in other people's business. This is a good teaching. However, I would like to think that the Christian community today might offer a bit of oil to our neighbors who are running low. We might offer a bit of encouragement to those who are losing hope. I would like to think that the Christian community today would make sure the door is left open as long as possible - even to the last minute.

      But here is the real twist. What if as (many scholars are now offering) the kingdom of heaven is not about the master or the ones with the oil. What if the parable is about those left out in the cold. What if it is about the reality that many other religions and many other traditions will want to offer the vision of the angry punishing God who is for the wealthy and the prepared. What if instead we saw that God's kingdom is actually made up of the people on the outside of the door? I hope that if we are the bridegroom we might hasten to our friends who wait for Good News.

      Some Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


      Our passage from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians is not unlike the invitation to live a Godly and goodly life as Matthew's Gospel.  The faithful are intended to live a life with God in the future.

      Paul then is confronted with the question: what about those who have died and we see no longer but were faithful and unfortunate enough to have died before Jesus came into the world? Paul says, "Look, don't worry. Don't believe what some say which is that when you die there is nothingness. That is not the way it is."  Paul says that we have a hope. We believe in Jesus who has conquered death and because of this conquering God is able to draw all of those who have already died into his company. The faithful today and the faithful who have died will all find their home in God.

      We might get caught at the end of the passage with Paul's understanding of the world and heaven. But this is a needless concern. What Paul is saying, I believe, is that God will come and connect all things and all worlds. The world of the living and the world of the dead, the world of heaven and the world of earth are all worlds that are connected by the creator of all things. We are connected to God and God to those who have died in a never ending relationship. We believe in God who is love and who brings us all together.

      Amy Peeler, New Testament prof at Wheaton wrote: "Here, at least, Paul does not get into a discussion of what happens to those who are not believers. That is because -- and this is the second assurance -- Paul is writing this in order to encourage his readers. “Therefore, encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18).” Anyone who uses the discussion of the “rapture” to scare people into faith applies eschatology in a way that Paul (and John!) does not. Jesus’ return should be a thing to anticipate and celebrate, not fear if you happen to return home one day and find no one there."

      The Gospel and this lesson from Paul can both spiral into sadness and hopelessness. They both can be used to convict others that behavior is linked to getting into heaven. I believe Paul is clear it is the creator God who connects all things, it is Jesus who does the saving work for all, and it is grace that in the end pours out from the cross and redeems the world reconciling us to God. Our response says Paul is that we are live a hope filled life which reflects our thanksgiving for what God has brought about. So, live with hope and not with fear for yourself. Live with hope and not fear for your neighbors. Live with hope and not fear for those beloved ones of yours who have already died and even now rest with God.



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