Be Ready- Sermon for November 8, 2020 from Pastor John
Sermon for November 8, 2020
In April of 2014 over 200 high school age girls were abducted at night from their boarding school in Nigeria. They were held in captivity for well over two years. Gradually some of the girls were released and a CNN reporter kept a close watch on their recovery from such a trauma. In December the girls were finally headed to their homes to celebrate Christmas with their families. The reporter was allowed to travel with them. The girls were traveling from the Nigerian capital to their hometown some 500 miles distant. They stopped overnight and stayed at a motel. The reporter awoke to the sound of singing. She went into the lobby to discover the recently freed girls singing Christian songs. It was part of their morning devotions together. The reporter watched the girls at worship and wrote: “Being there had opened a window to their faith, and what I glimpsed was transcendent, all-consuming, and resolute. Faith was the never-ending well from which they had drawn courage to reject denial of their faith and unwanted marriage during their time in captivity. It was what kept them going. When separated from their loved ones tested that faith, it not only endured, but grew. That realization kept me in state of awe.” The girls were raised in homes where the Christian faith was not only a Sunday morning ritual. Each day their families gathered together for Scripture reading and prayer preparing them for whatever challenges came. When the unexpected horror of their abduction by terrorists occurred, when they had to live under terrible conditions of mental and physical cruelty their faith did not fail. They were prepared because their faith was in Jesus, their Savior and Lord, whose faithfulness strengthened them. As the CNN reported observed the girls’ faith was a well that would never run dry. Their faith was in Jesus, the light of the world, who guided them in the darkest time of their lives. One may have expected their faith in God to be broken during their time in captivity, but instead their faith in God actually grew.
In the gospel lesson we heard a parable about being prepared. The setting for Jesus’ story was a joyful event: a wedding. Weddings in New Testament times were usually arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. After negotiations and a marriage contract agreement there would be a time of engagement. The couple was considered married but as of yet they did not live together. That would happen after the marriage ceremony and that would be a joyous occasion. The groom would arrive at the home of his bride and escort her to his parent’s home and then let the feasting begin!
Ten bridesmaids were to accompany the procession to the groom’s home. In Jesus’ parable five of the bridesmaids were wise or thoughtful, but five were foolish. This judgment was based on having enough oil in reserve for their lamps. The procession was delayed well into the night. Even today delays with wedding ceremonies are not all that uncommon. But in the parable the delay was somewhat long. The bridesmaids nodded off and finally fell into a deep sleep. They were startled awake by the cry “Here is the Bridegroom. Come out to meet him.” After a long delay the lamps began to sputter out. The wise and thoughtful bridesmaids had extra oil for their lamps, but the foolish ones were just out of luck. They had to run to the all-night oil store and buy a supply. But by the time they got back they missed the wedding procession and were shut out from the party. The foolish ones knocked on the door demanding, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But they received a stern refusal “I do not know you.”
Jesus concluded the parable with a warning, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Jesus had been cranking out parable after parable with that same conclusion. Before the day of home-alarm systems Jesus spoke of a homeowner getting a tip about a thief coming in the night. He would stay awake and stop the crime. So Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an expected hour.” Jesus told a parable about the master of the household leaving for a time with some of his servants in charge in his absence. Jesus said “Blessed be the wise and faithful servant who is found at work when the master returns, working to provide provision for the other servants. But woe to a wicked servant who abuses his authority and beats the other servants. When the master returns unexpectedly and finds the wicked one acting wickedly the parable turned violent: “The master will cut him off and throw him out with the hypocrites where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Again we hear our Lord warn, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
There you have it, warnings about the coming of the Lord or the Son of Man. These texts do not sound very comforting. The texts do not sound at all gracious, especially the one today when the door to the wedding feast was slammed for good against the five bridesmaids, not described as unworthy or sinful, but foolish. These texts can be confusing. We are not sure what is meant by the coming of the Lord, what is popularly known as the Second Coming. Different Christians have their thoughts about this even trying to set a day for this Second Coming in spite of the Bible clearly stating that such a time is privileged information known only by God. Some preachers misunderstand prophecy as meaning predictions, which it does not. Jesus made it clear and simple “Keep awake therefore, be ready for the coming of the Lord.” The term “Second Coming” is misleading as if to say Jesus will not come to us except at that unexpected hour. Jesus’ warnings about being awake, being ready, being prepared are actually gracious. Jesus comes even now to bless his people with grace to help in time of need. Our faith can slumber or be forgotten because of the cares of the world and the temptations of a consumer society. Holidays are approaching and we hear about “Black Friday” specials. Let us be awakened by the sound of nails being pounded into Jesus’ hands and feet, the sounds of Good Friday. The cross must waken us to the faithfulness of Jesus, who gave up his life for our salvation. May we wake up to the voice of the angel at Jesus’ empty tomb, “He is not here, he has been raised”, raised up to be our sure and certain hope of being with us always.
To be ready and awake is not to sit around and make predictions. In the reading today from 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul was addressing a concern about those members of the church who had died. There was a real sense of mourning among the community of Christians. Paul spoke of the powerful hope of Jesus descending from heaven in a visible way to rule the world in much needed righteousness. Paul told the congregation that those who have died will not miss out. They will be raised from the dead because of the foundational truth of the church, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again.” In times of loss and grief the community of faith is to “encourage one another with these words”, the words of Gospel hope reassuring that nothing in all creation will be able to separate one from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus.” In our communities of faith there is mourning and fear because of the spread of the Covid virus. As the church we are to be ready and awake to encourage one another with the gospel, meaning the presence of Jesus who comes to bear all grief and provide hope. Jesus promised that everything else in the world will pass away, but his word will not pass away.
Last week a man came to CARITAS hoping for limited financial assistance. Unfortunately he was told he had reached his limit for the year. He was given a bag of food, which included some paper products. He then began going through his bag taking some things out. Just what was he going? He said he was homeless and did not want to take anything he could not use since he had no place to cook. So he only took things like cereal and peanut butter. And he left with gratitude and the benediction for the volunteers, “God bless you.” In the reading from Amos today we heard that God does not delight in our solemn assemblies. Instead the prophet told us what God is looking for, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” It is easy, and sad, to close our eyes to the poverty around us, in the so-called richest nation of the world. There used to be the old joke that when Jesus comes to set things right in the glory of a renewed creation, ‘look busy.’ Remember that parable of Jesus of the wise and faithful servant busy giving the other servants their allowance of food? So churches today must not be preoccupied with their own survival. If that be the case we hear the same-old, same-old worries of not having enough money or members, and we get tired of being worried. What is exciting is to be disciples wide awake with the coming of Jesus to raise us up to be a faithful and not a fitful church, a servant and not a slumbering church, a courageous and not a casual church, ready for Jesus’ healing love to be known through us.
Think again of those Nigerian school girls, ages just 16 to 18. They were stolen away by a group of terrorists, and traumatized by living in fear each day. There is no way their faith would have been ready for such a tragedy. They did not read the Bible and sing praises thinking I better be ready for being abducted by terrorists. But yet their faith did not fail, but only grew under such a time of terrible testing. They were wise because they built their lives on the foundation of God’s Word, and especially the Word in person, Jesus who never left or abandoned them. Be awake for Jesus says “you are beloved children of God.” Jesus says ‘be ready’ for the church is to be a force of healing in this hurting world God loves.