Bridesmaids be ready!
2008-11-03 by Jerry Sumney
The three texts for this week share many themes: being prepared to serve God, faithfulness, and reminders of God’s judgment, some of the most prominent among them. Our Matthew 25 passage is one of those that should help us shake the image of Jesus as someone who simply pats the heads of children and sinners without making demands. The parable of the Ten Bridesmaids appears in the last of Matthew’s discourses of Jesus. Each discourse has themes that run through it, and the dominant theme of this discourse is eschatology. Matthew places this discourse after Jesus’ last visit to the temple. It begins with Jesus commenting on the fate of Jerusalem. Matthew takes this beginning material from Mark but then supplements it with a series of parables that emphasize being prepared for the second coming and judgment.
The two most direct messages of this parable and the one before it (the Unfaithful Servant) are that no one knows when the end will come and that because no one knows that, believers must remain in a constant state of readiness.
In difficult times such as these, when there is uncertainty in the political, military, and economic spheres, many people pay more attention the timing of the end time. They begin to look for signs and to identify various people (including presidential candidates) with specific evil signs and beings of the end time. People look for certainty, thinking that knowing the timing provides security. But it never does. Preaching on a passage that intends to illustrate that no one can know when the end will come is a good opportunity to direct a church’s attention to the point that is really important. All the talk about the end in the New Testament intends to assure believers that the difficulties they endure for their faith are not in vain. Apocalyptic eschatology has at its heart the defense of God’s justice, love, and power. The assurance that the end will come, even though we cannot know when, is important for the church to affirm. The most important theological affirmation that comes from this talk about the end and judgment is that God will not let injustice have the final word.
We affirm that God is the most powerful being in the cosmos and that God is loving and just. (Indeed, all our preaching and teaching about justice depend on our belief that God is a God of justice.) But the world we say was made by God does not reflect these characteristics of God. The world is dominated by evil and by values that oppose God’s will. We are more sensitive to this reality in difficult times. A parable like the Ten Bridesmaids offers assurance that even if the timing is not what we might want, God will respond to the injustice of the world. In the meantime, the church must remain patient and vigilant in its living of the values of God’s reign.
It is important to note that such parables assume that the church recognizes that it cannot bring the kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom is always an act of God, not an event that believers can be good enough to initiate. This may sound discouraging at first, but it also brings an important word of encouragement (and not a little realism). This affirmation that God will bring the Kingdom, not us, lets us see what our job is. Like the bridesmaids, we are to remain ready to meet the coming lord. We are to be engaged in the kinds of work and living that honor God. We work for justice and love in God’s world because being one of God’s people simply entails doing those things. We do not engage in such works because we expect to bring God’s kingdom into the world. If we do think we are, or are supposed to, bring the kingdom into existence, we will be discouraged or suffer from burn-out. Besides, seeing ourselves as the ones who will bring the reign of God requires a significant amount of hubris. We serve God and our fellow-humans because we are the children of God, not because we have the power to conquer evil and establish God’s will. This is good news! What God requires of us is that we remain faithful, not that we do the impossible.
This parable also contains a threat. Those who are not prepared for the coming of the groom are permanently excluded from the celebration. We must remember that this parable is not a threat to unbelievers, but to believers. It admonishes those in the church to remain faithful when it is easy and when it is difficult. We can remain faithful because we stand not so much under a threat as under a promise: the faithful will be in God’s presence forever.
This week's guest lectionary preaching blogger is
2008-11-02 by CJ Teets
Jerry L. Sumney:
2008-11-01 by David von Schlichten
In Lectionary Homiletics, Anna Carter Florence points out an instructive lesson in Matthew 23: that Jesus tends to lead us away from criticizing about and harranguing against others and toward reforming ourselves.
I was wondering what could be done to help McCain supporters feel less anxiety about Barack Obama, who will probably win the election. Perhaps the above guidance from Matthew 23 would serve to reduce that anxiety.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Stones, Joshua and Obama as the Anti-Christ
2008-10-30 by David von Schlichten
Thank you to Dave Davis for his solid blog entries. There is much here with which to construct a sermon. Thank you, Dave. Readers, scroll down to read Dave's entries.
Especially compelling is the idea that we Christians are to be stones who proclaim and embody God's faithfulness to the world.
I have some parishioners who think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. They haven't used that term, but I can hear the implication in their words and tone. They talk aout him being scary. They dislike him being called a Messiah (I do, too, actually), and one parishioner said to me, "People need to read Revelations" (why do people tend to pluralize that word?). Another parishioner said that Obama is playing God.
I do not think that Obama is the anti-Christ or the Messiah; I simply think he is an intelligent, articulate, talented person of integrity who will make a strong, albeit flawed, president. I thank God for him.
Can the stone-imagery from the first lesson help to reduce anxiety that some people have about Barack Obama? What other imagery and language can help to mitigate that anxiety?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
2008-10-30 by Dave Davis
How much of the text do you read? How much more of the story do you tell? When it comes to preaching Old Testament narratives, all of us wrestle with the questions. The practical questions of time and how much the listeners can absorb are real. If we’re honest, most of us can’t retell an Old Testament story with the skill of Walter Brueggemann. But there is so much more to this story of crossing over the Jordan. My hunch is that on any given Sunday, especially on a communion Sunday, the role of the ark bearers provides more than enough grist for one sermon. We all have to save something for next week, or the next sermon, or the next sermon on crossing the Jordan.
But this Sunday I will keep going into Joshua chapter 4. The twelve stone gathers are tugging at my imagination. More to the point, it is the role of remembering and telling the next generation of God’s faithfulness. The Sunday closest to All Saints’ Day and a celebration of the Lord’s Supper both point to such remembering. I have also been thinking all week about the role of the community of faith in this volatile election/economic cycle.
After the entire nation had crossed over the Jordan, Joshua appointed twelve men, one from each of the tribes of Israel. They were instructed to go back into the middle of the Jordon, as the waters were still all heaped up, and each take a stone. They were to take the stones from right from below the feet of the ark bearers and they were to carry the stones over to their respective camps. Each was to pass before the ark, take a stone, and then carry the stone up on the shoulders back to camp. Each was carry a stone like the priests where “shouldering” the ark. Each was to bring the stone right into the center of camp, the center of community, the center of life. Each stone was to be a sign. And in good liturgical fashion (like Passover and the Shema), the stone carriers were to tell their children about the time the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark and the whole nation crossed over on dry land. They were to tell their children about what God had done.
V.9 tells of Joshua setting up a memorial of stones right in the middle of the Jordan. In my NRSV that verse is parenthetical. It doesn’t seem like a comment to be set a part or considered as an aside. In fact, the faithful probably remember Joshua’s twelve stones more. It would seem that the memorial there in the Jordan would be more important than one stone sitting around each camp. But it’s those “scattered stones” I think about.
The preacher can do a whole lot with the stone signs. From rocks and stones starting to cry out in the gospels to stones stacked up along the way for fellow pilgrims to children having a favorite rock sitting on the shelf, there is no shortage of stone imagery upon which the preacher can build. But not to be lost in the Jordan’s crossing, is the stone sign being carried back to each camp, to each tribe, to each community. Just as the ark bearers carried the presence of God knee deep into the waters of life, the stone bearers went right into the center of camp life and dropped the sign that tells of God’s faithfulness and points to God’s leading, God’s protection, God’s plan. In every community, to every generation, there will be sign.
My guess is that every pastor/preacher is worried about budgets and stewardship and families in the congregation who are struggling right now. But if there is one place where we should gather and there would be no fear no panic, it is when the church gathers for worship. Maybe we are called to be stone gathers of sorts, proclaimers of the Gospel who carry the sign of God’s faithfulness right into the vortex of life, amid the tumult of the waters. We drop the sign, we point to God with us, we remember God’s faithfulness.
As with the economy, so it is with the election. As with every Presidential election, there will be much to remember, much that our children will study for years to come. But what do we want our children to remember about these days and the church’s role and the faithfulness of God. There is so much about the election that demands our attention, including the role of faith and the faith community. When our children ask in time to come, what will we say about this part of the journey?
If the church is the body of Christ, if the community of faith is the hands and the face of Christ in the world, if the church in its witness points and embodies the very presence of God, then, it would seem, that we become the stones. Through our collective discipleship, our words and our actions, we remember the faithfulness of God. In every camp, in every community, in every generation.
This will be my last post…..blessings on your sermon writing and our shared call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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