In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Greetings to you once again on the Sunday after a momentous national election, in the midst of our stewardship season, and here amid a string of balmy early November days. We are certainly living in interesting times and for better or for worse, they are our times to live. I think Jesus would have us embrace them and use them for good.
You may have noticed that as our church year winds down and we approach the changing of liturgical seasons, the beginning of Advent at the end of this month, our lessons increasingly take on an urgency, and not a little bit of darkness and foreboding. The chosen scriptures for today contemplate the future, what is coming, what can be. For myself, I have had enough darkness and foreboding during 2020 to last a lifetime, and maybe you have, too, so I want us to look at the other side, what we have to look forward to, what is our hope.
Many years ago I attended my sister’s wedding in Dallas, Texas. At the reception I had the good fortune to sit with one of my slster’s friends and as often happens to me, the subject of religion came up. My sister’s friend was about 27 at the time, single and working a job she really loved. She had met many interesting people and got to travel a lot. At the same time, she was also aware that doing as much driving as she did, she was putting herself at some risk for an accident. But she was upbeat and philosophical. She said, “Well, whatever happens to me, I’m ready. God has blessed me. I have already lived a good life. If I get more time, that’ll be great, and if this is all there is, I’m so grateful for what it has been. Either way, I win.” Such was her faith, such was her determination, to put each day in God’s hands and give thanks for it all. Age 27, living with God’s hope and promise in her life made it a happy one.
Yes, that young woman was an inspiration, and if I recall correctly, she was pretty conversant with scripture. Maybe she was aware of Jesus’ parable about the so-called wise and foolish bridesmaids and the wedding that they anticipated. On the one hand, it is another lesson about being prepared for a big event that is coming, about standing readyfor the bridegroom to arrive and if we have half a brain, we will have those lamps filled and lit and not be caught short like those silly, distracted other girls. That’s definitely one way to look at it. On the other hand, since the time of Jesus the overlay of allegory has been applied to the story and some have seen it to be about the second coming of Christ. This is the time Paul talks to the Thessalonians about, when Jesus (the bridegroom in the story) will return. In this interpretation some of the faithful have done their part and are ready to meet the Lord wherever and whenever he appears (as the song goes, it is right with their souls), and some are falling asleep-slackers and will get what is coming to them. I guess you could look at the story that way, too.
For a moment let’s go back to the wedding guest in Texas. I don’t remember whether she was making calls on her clients nearby, or she drove further and had to sleep over somewhere, but I would guess that, like her, all of us have done a little traveling on our own. Think about how you travel. Do you plan and prepare and pack absolutely everything you could possibly need, leaving nothing to chance or oversight? Or do you pack and pretty much know what you need to get by and figure, hey, if I forget anything (except perhaps my prescription medication) I can get it along the way?
Well, the reason we pray, the reason we study the Bible, the reason we interact thoughtfully with our fellow human beings, the reason we trust God with our life and our future and every thing we have, the reason we take the risk of giving when we don’t know what might happen next week, is that when times get tough, which they have and they will in this life, we will be ready. We will have a foundation of knowledge, faith, generosity, commitment, communion with others that will support us when we are down, when things look dark or disappointing or even menacing. Our lessons today are getting at the question, to whom is our allegiance directed? Who or what is central for us? Who or what are we following into each new day?
Long ago, Joshua, the inheritor of the work of Moses before him, had to do some pretty serious redirecting of the People of God on their faith journey. They had a problem with false gods, idols, statues thought to embody the essence of a god of the sun or the river or a totem animal. Those statues were just that, blocks of stone or wood or metal that had no life to them at all. That is the core of our faith, that God is so much bigger than any thing we can make to attempt to contain him. But the truth goes further. Idols don’t have to be just little statues on a shelf, but can take on even larger proportions when they are attitudes, choices, ideas that we hold as important and come to worship. Political party, national origin, denominational or religious affiliation, me and my family first above all (pardon my grammar), protect what is yours at all costs and it’s every man for himself after that; white people are innately superior, science is baloney, I’m on my own – I can do this. These ideas can take on idol-proportions.
The question of our parable is, in this world of distraction and multiple challenges, are we prepared to follow Jesus with light into the darkness? Does his light shine for us, so that we can see it and be led by it? Does our light shine for ourselves, so that we may use it to illumine our own path? Does our light shine for others, so that it may brighten their lives and show them the way? Maybe our lessons from scripture today are really saying, for your travels you don’t have to take everything but the kitchen sink, but by all means, take a light. That light is God, that light is God, and let that light shine.
As we’ve been going through the last months we’ve heard a lot about our common values, what they have been and what we hope they can be again. Now, even after this election decision when we recognize some of us are pleased and some are not so pleased, and especially as we move forward together, we live under a mantle of both judgment and hope. Hope since we have a future, judgment that we make that future one that lives up to our promises, of liberty and justice for all. We must be prepared to face our future with both repentance and decision. There will have to be some changes, and like the people who sojourned with Joshua, we will have to choose which way we will go.
As it is with any wedding of two people, ancient or modern, the celebration we enjoy is about coming together, making a choice and commitment to one another, rejoicing in what can be when people give of themselves and respect each other, sharing the promise of new life among us. In our present moment we will be looking back perhaps, in judgment and evaluation of what has been, and also hoping for what is to come with the help of a merciful, living God who is coming and who is also with us even now. Let us follow our better angels into the future, trusting that with Jesus Christ as our savior and Lord, we have already won, and the journey that lies ahead may very well be one of discovery and joy. Amen.