Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Life of Vigilance and Walking in God's Light

Proper XXVII+A  9 November 2014 
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
All Saints' Hampton SC
Amos 5: 18:24     Psalm 70    I Thessalonians 4:13-18    Matthew 25:1-13

A Life of Vigilance and Walking in God's Light

 We will soon enter the season of Advent, the season when we will sing hymns about watchfulness. when we sing hymns like "Sleepers Wake, A voice astounds us" which specifically refers to our texts today. "Prepare ye virgins wise, Rise up with willing feet, Go forth the Bridegroom meet; Bear through the night Your well trimmed light, Speed forth to join the marriage rite."

Preparedness!   We live in a society urging us onward to be a constant readinessCin this world. Buy U.S. Savings Bonds, get mortgage insurance, get insurance on your insurance!  Why do we buy health insurance, fire insurance?  Is it just in case? I think it is wisdom. How many of us know how dramatically our lives can be changed in an unexpected instant!  Then what about buying ahead?  Playing on our fears, insecurities, and weaknesses.  But how many in this world ever worry about, Aliving in such a state that we may never be afraid to die@ as a prayer in the Prayerbook admonishes us? 

Is it because we know that in encountering the Living God face to face, will bring a decisive change in our lives, a turning from what we are to what we can be!  The readings address the Aready@ in contrast to the Aunready@, the Awise@ in contrast to the Afoolish@, the Apresumptuous@ in contrast to the Ahumble@. 

In all cases, the Awise@ are those who are engaged in action appropriate to their professed status.  What are our appropriate actions?  What are we called to in the hour, the period of waiting?     Are we wise? Are we foolish?  

In the first reading we are almost offended that God speaks to his people in the way he does.  After all, aren't we doing the socially and religiously expected things?  AI hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never‑ failing stream!@ What was going on here? Outward show without inward conviction or conversion.  How many think they can buy off God, if he really exists.  Just in case theology, but it does not honor God. The wealthy were exploiting the poor.  God had commanded his people to be compassionate to their blood brothers and sisters of the nation, but greed had become their God and their presumption was that God was ok in his place but certainly it had nothing to do with them and their business. Their fellow Israelites were becoming bond slaves indentured by debt.

On the other hand, in the religious world, it was business as usual.  They came. They did their religious obligation  The feasts were celebrated.  The wealthy gave what they gave to the religious establishment, presumably a Atithe@ of their wealthBthe rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  And these folks thought they were Agood people@.  We could translate, Agood Christians@.  I mean, they went to church, they tithed, they probably even prayed.  But what does God say?  I HATE IT!  We would call them "hypocrites" something we hate in others but tolerate in ourselves.

 They waited for the day of the Lord, thinking it would bring more of a good thing to them ! Unfortunately, their injustice and indifference toward God and others was going to come around their way and it would be a day of great darkness. God sent Amos to preach this message to these fat cats of the business world.  . They were comfortable in their ease. Nothing was going to happen to them! ABut all too soon the Assyrian armies would devastate their land of plenty. Justice would pour down.  God's justice is to be worshipped truthfully and not presumptively. How many of us do not like to be taken for granted?

The message of this reading is Awatch for yourselves and watch yourselves!@ that what you do on the outside toward God and your fellow human beings is consistent with who you claim to be on the inside, you know like Sunday in Church In a book I read ages ago called "How to be a Bishop without being Religious", tongue in cheek, the neophyte clergy are counseled in preaching to " make them laugh, make them cry, make them feel religious." Religion is about doing, faith is about being.  But is that what God desires? From this text we must conclude a resounding "NO".

 The sense of the gospel reading today is again watch! But this watching is done in anticipation of the coming of the Bride GroomBthat is Jesus the Messiah. This coming is an occasion of joy, expectation like we used to have for Christmas and Halloween as children. The is the occasion of a Jewish wedding and the groom would go to the bride=s house and abscond with her to his residence where there would be a great wedding celebration. These virgins were waiting hoping that if they should light the way to the groom=s house, they would be invited into the banquet, but once the groom and the guests had gone in, the doors would be shut and anyone not already inside, would be left out.

Again, these people were not "bad people," but they were counting on the Bridegroom being "on time". They "hoped" he would be on time.This challenge to always be ready has a silver lining.  If we live in such a state, that means we are in constant awareness of living in the "kingdom of God" which began when we believed and will culminate at earthly death.  It is to live in that "holy hope" that the scriptures speak of; "in Him we live and move and have our being." Paul writes. (Acts 17:28)

Hope after all, is at the very heart of the Christian gospel. Our collect says that Jesus "came into the world to destroy the works of the Devil" We must ask the scriptures to further enlighten us on those works.  Over the years I have found that many of us have all kinds of definitions of what those works of the Devil.  "Devil" by the way means to "slander" by basic word meaning, "to take apart." I would like to suggest that the greatest work of the Devil is "death." That is "to take apart life."  In I Corinthians 15 we read: "Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death."  These Christians in Thessolinika were beginning to die and Jesus had not returned yet.  Paul writes them to tell them what is going on in God's unfolding revelation. God has not forgotten us.  He's got it all under control. As a priest and full time Hospice Chaplain, I have preached a lot of funerals and ministered to many grieving families grasping at hope.  The scripture tends to refer to a believers' deaths as "dying" and believers' deaths as "falling asleep." The Eastern Orthodox Easter Vigil sings: "He has trampled death, by His death"  Christ's resurrection took the kingdom of hell by complete surprise.  Scripture promises that as Jesus is we will be, for "we will see him as he is." (I Jn 3:2)  Yet we hide from death.  "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die" I have heard it said. As Jesus was born to die for our salvation, we must die to enter into the fullness of salvation.  We are being redeemed, a lifelong process of become more the child of God.

In Mark=s gospel we read:  ATherefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back ‑ whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: `Watch!=@ (Mark 13:35-37)

Sleeping on the earth is not living in awareness of what is going on around you, sub consciousness. Life is about preparing for eternity, whether by earthly death, or by being caught up to heaven to be with the Lord. Life is about preparing for eternity.

Jesus said "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  This is true of us as well.  So let us live in the Light of Christ until we see him face to face.

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