22 Pentecost A—11/09/14
Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Of all the things you could have done this morning you came to worship. There are any number of reasons for showing up on Sunday morning but whatever our personal motivation, weekly Christian worship is a response to a very ancient Jewish teaching. It’s the Eighth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. The Eighth Commandment is a response to an even more basic teaching. In the Genesis story of creation, six days God worked; on the seventh day God rested. Our day of rest imitates the rhythm of life designed by our creator, a rhythm intended to promote refreshment, health, and healing of the whole creation.
Sunday—the Sabbath—is sometimes called “the Lord’s Day.” In the modern world it has become not so much the Lord’s Day as a day of shopping and catching up on chores. Out of sync with the rhythm intended to refresh and energize us, we may find ourselves tired and unprepared for the challenges and opportunities of a new week.
But preparation is essential to the life of faith. In today’s first reading the prophet Amos speaks not of the Lord’s Day but…the “Day of the Lord”: Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord?…Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
When Amos speaks of the day of the Lord he’s not talking about Sunday! When Paul writes to the Thessalonians about the “coming of the Lord” he’s not talking about Sunday, either. And in the story Jesus tells, the coming of the bridegroom is a story about the day of the Lord, but it, too, is not about Sunday. No, the “day of the Lord” in these passages points to what traditionally have been called the “end times.”
What do you think of when you hear of the “end times”? Popular books and movies of the “Left Behind” series? Strange images from the Book of Revelation? Maybe something similar to what Paul imagines in his letter to the Thessalonians when he speaks of being “caught up in the clouds…to meet the Lord in the air.”
But the “day of the Lord” as revealed in Scripture is not primarily about some future time. It is first and foremost about the here and now. It’s about vigilance, readiness to recognize God’s presence among us and to respond faithfully. “Keep awake,” Jesus teaches, “for you know neither the day nor the hour.” We never know when God’s going to show up in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life. We never know when we personally will be called upon to be ambassadors for the “kingdom of heaven.”
The story Jesus tells is about ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the arrival of a bridegroom. Each of the bridesmaids has an oil lamp to light their way but half their number experience what might be called an “oil crisis.” Why do you think they were short on oil? Why were they not prepared? I wonder if our modern world offers a clue. Oil shortages around the world are related to oil prices. Where there are oil shortages, the price of oil goes up. I wonder if the price of oil was higher than what the bridesmaids were willing to pay. They expected the bridegroom to show up at a certain time. Based on their expectations, they thought they had enough. But the bridegroom’s schedule was not their schedule. Since he was delayed, they ran out of oil. They wanted to save money by having just enough oil; their thriftiness didn’t pay off.
There’s a reason it’s called “the day of the Lord.” The Lord’s calendar is not our calendar. The Lord will show up when the Lord will show up, even when it’s not convenient. The day of the Lord was not convenient for the people of Amos’ day. Like many of his fellow prophets, Amos aimed his message at an audience that had lost its way. Amos called for “justice.” When Amos said “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream he wasn’t speaking of justice in a court of law or “getting what’s mine.” He was speaking of economic justice for the poor and the oppressed. It was these who had been left out by a society preoccupied with the accumulation and preservation of wealth. Even the religious people–maybe especially the religious people–were at fault.
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.”
Amos’ message: “So what if you go to church? Yippee for you!” Observing the Lord’s Day on Sunday means little if we fail to see that the “day of the Lord” has arrived and requires a response. Ritual and offerings and good intentions mean little without a heart that is transformed by God’s love for all people, and especially those who are with little means to speak for or provide for themselves.
On this Lord’s Day following an election, where do you think we are as a nation? Are we a nation prepared for the day of the Lord? Or, are we having an oil crisis? Is our priority justice and compassion for the poor, the disabled, the diseased, sexual minorities and immigrants? Or, do we settle for charity, assuaging our consciences by giving money as a substitute for justice? In our land the oil fields of North Dakota are gushing untold wealth. But spiritually, morally, are we as a nation facing an oil crisis–running out of gas? According to the prophet Amos, religious people can be part of the problem.
The trends are clear: the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Will last week’s elections continue and accelerate that trend, or will it be reversed? Time will tell.
In the meantime, we as people of faith are called to be watchful, alert, vigilant, and ready for the day of the Lord. We are called to recognize opportunities to practice the Godly work of justice and to join in where God is already at work, not just through religious organizations but anywhere and with anyone who is clear about their priority for justice.
At the end of Jesus’ story, when those who had run out of gas appeared at the door of the wedding banquet hall the bridegroom says, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”
Where there’s an oil crisis, showing up at the right place isn’t enough. When our lives are short on the Godly fuel of justice, going to church doesn’t really matter so much.
On the other hand, gathering at worship on “the Lord’s day” can make us prepared…for “the day of the Lord.” Here we gather weekly to recalibrate our compasses, to take a break from the yammering of TV and talk shows and Internet. Here we gather to re-fuel with an alternative vision of reality: a world that ensures the health, and dignity, and well-being of not just a few but of all people. This is a vision of the kingdom of heaven, which begins now. It is to this feast that the bridegroom invites us, with lamps lit, to devote our time, our talents, and our treasure.