Sunday, November 12, 2017

Proper 27, Year A: November 12, 2017

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John Forbis   OHC
Proper 27 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

 Br. John Forbis, OHC
We are in a stage of the Liturgical Year where we begin to look at the end before we begin again. If there is anything this morning’s scripture teaches us is that it is not a time to be smug. As Amos tells us, “Why do you want the day of the Lord?  It is darkness, not light.”  As W.B. Yeats comments in his poem The Second Coming:

The darkness drops again, but now I know. That twenty centuries of stony sleep. Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Why would we want the day of the Lord, indeed?!?! 
Certainly, the threat of Amos, Paul’s strange language and five virgins being barred from entering the wedding banquet are obvious reasons for uneasiness. However, these passages raise other questions for me.

Who is Amos really speaking to and why?  And what is Paul really speaking about?  What about the 10 virgins?  Who are they?  Who are the wise virgins and who are the foolish ones?  They are all bridesmaids, friends of the bride after all.

Perhaps the questions I am asking are beside the point. But something tells me that dismissing them too easily might mean missing an opportunity to meet the bridegroom when he comes.

Amos speaks to a people who are in great expectation for the Lord. And yet, he refutes any and every claim that the coming will be pretty. Those who escape a lion are only then to be surprised by a bear. God takes no interest or even pleasure in their “solemn assemblies”. The Lord will not accept anything they have to offer. What the Israelites think is going to get them right with God ends up being exactly what God despises. Who are God’s people now?

Paul writes to the Thessalonians “ … we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord will be caught up in the clouds together with those who have died to meet the Lord in the air …”  What?

The foolish virgins (or in another translation, the silly virgins) compound mistake after mistake. In their desperation, they say, “Give us some oil.”  It was a demand, not a request and they were demanding the wrong thing. They could have figured out that the light of the wise virgins or even more so the bridegroom was enough to bring them to the banquet. Instead, they went on some wild goose chase in the dark and were left outside the door. Even more so the wise ones could have shared their light if not their oil. It seems strange that no one thought of this.

Sure the foolish made their decisions and showed bad judgment, but perhaps the actions of the wise virgins or refusal to act begs the judgment that Amos brings down upon the Israelites. The bridegroom is delayed. Paul thought he would come during his lifetime, during the lifetime of the Thessalonian church. He was wrong. 10 virgins expected him earlier and only 5 were prepared when he finally does come. And Amos … well, Amos describes his coming as not something to celebrate too readily.

Maybe the key resides in the coming being unexpected, surprising, leaving unanswered questions, even throwing us off balance. And so we are kept on our toes, unsettled, uncomfortable, but awake. We are brought through Christ’s death and resurrection in Baptism itself to be people of God, and as people of God, we can no longer be people who are complacent or asleep. We are to be unsettled people, restless people, people who keep watch with love, people who long for justice and righteousness, people who are truly alive. And thus maybe even be people who unsettle as well.

In his book, The Sacred Voice is Calling, John Neafsey, a clinical psychologist and theology lecturer, who has focused much of his work on vocation and social conscience surmises, "… An uneasy conscience may be one of the best places to listen to the whisper of the Spirit that calls us to a better way."

Just when we think we know when the bridegroom is coming or even what he will look like, he shows us something entirely other. This gives us the capacity to show mercy and compassion. Righteousness is not about piety, but it is about empathy and solidarity with those who may feel they have no access to the bridegroom. When we are living in the truth of love, then, our worship truly expresses the mystery and disruption of God’s loving grace. This is not something that the world around us always wants to see. So many in the world would rather snuff that light out.

Let’s face it. We have been in the dark and have barred our own selves from the banquet. We are in need of guidance. But the call in the middle of the night may not be just to meet the bridegroom but to guide others to meet him as well. Then, the community is whole. Then, 10 virgins get into the banquet. Perhaps for this, we are to be prepared.

The true hope of all this apocalyptic literature is that no matter where we are or think we are, in our inadequacy, in our bad decisions and the consequences that come of those, even if we think we are in the dark and are not recognised, the bridegroom comes at any time, even at midnight, to meet us. Justice rolls and righteousness flow like mighty waters. And we are transformed, transformed as though we were caught up in a strong current right up into the air as Paul tells us. Christ draws us into this conversion. The banquet is still open to us and the guiding lamp in the middle of the night, as well as our own, can bring all of us there.

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