Year A — The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (November 9, 2014)

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Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
“Third time’s a charm!”

I’ve heard that all my life, though I’ve never thought much about the meaning (or original context) of the phrase. I suppose usually we mean it as either a token of good luck or persistence. Of course, I’ve also always heard that “the harder you work (persist), the luckier you are.”

Whatever the deepest meaning may be, Joshua makes the Israelites commit three times to follow Yahweh. I guess he didn’t want any backing up later…nobody saying, “Well, you didn’t tell us it would be this hard!”

Psalm 78:1-7
Gary McIntosh’s book, One Church: Four Generations was very helpful to me in understanding the challenges of “multi-generational ministry.” 

As we see from this psalm text, that concept has been around for a very long time! We must always be thinking of how we are doing at passing the faith along to the next generations — even “the children yet unborn.”

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
Wisdom is personified in Solomon’s writings — here as in Proverbs — and takes the form of a strong, authoritative woman. Interestingly, there would not be much of a cultural example of this type of character. Women were permitted very little share in the public discourse of the time, much less in teaching roles or roles of authority.

Another key that God’s wisdom is not like our human wisdom — you will most likely find it in places that you are not looking for it!

Amos 5:18-24
Verse 24 is oft-quoted from the prophet Amos; we think we like the idea of “justice and righteousness” rolling down like a river.

But, as faithful Amos reminds us, we also think that we want “the day of the LORD” to come, and that our worship must naturally be pleasing to God. Neither of those is what we seem to think it is, either!

Perhaps we ought to hold the headlong rush toward what we “think” God wants from us long enough to pause, reflect, and reconsider both our longing for God to hurry up, and the worship we offer in the name of Christ.

Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20
For those who use this text as scripture, these words continue the introduction to Wisdom given in the earlier reading. A “path of righteousness” of a different sort is laid out here.

Psalm 70
A classic juxtaposition — God’s greatness and my weakness. Hasten, indeed, O God…you are our help and deliverer!

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Paul gives the young Thessalonian church his interpretation of the “day of the LORD” — taking Amos’ themes of darkness and terror and viewing them through the lens of Christ’s coming again to unite God’s creation in himself.

We need not fear — whether alive or dead — at the ending of all things. Jesus is Lord, and God can be trusted. That’s pretty much that, whatever your personal eschatological interpretation of this passage. 

Matthew 25:1-13
“A day late and a dollar short.”

Since I began with homey colloquialisms today, let’s end with one.  I suppose you could just as well use, “Not much lead in the pencil” or “A few fries short of a Happy Meal.” All would be synonymous with “caught at midnight with no oil for the lamp.”

We are to be on the watch for the kingdom of God, always prepared to do the will of the One who has asked us to be ready.

After all, you don’t want folks to think “your cheese done slid off the cracker!”

 * Just for fun — a collection of colloquial expressions is found here on the “not too bright list” compiled by Dan Hersam

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“Why do you want the day of the LORD?” (Amos 5:18)

The county courthouse is across the street from my church.  Some people park on the street behind my church and cut through the narrow sidewalk that goes between the church and the real estate office next door, passing two feet from my desk, just outside the window.  If it is a couple or a family, I often hear them talking as they walk along.  Sometimes I hear them coming and going; this is the most interesting, for they are usually talking about the case and you can pick up what they think is going to happen.  Many are delighted, anxious to have their day in court – believing in their heart of hearts that they are going to be vindicated and those other people are “going to get what’s coming to ‘em.”  And about half the time I hear the same people walking back to their cars, complaining bitterly that the system is rigged, somebody lied, the judge is an idiot; because somehow, unbelievably, they lost.

Why do you want the day of the LORD?”  In our first lesson, Amos has clearly shown the people their failure to be the people God has called them to be.  He has condemned them for trampling the poor, and afflicting the just, and taking the bride.  He has warned them that such behavior will result in judgment.  And in our text he takes on those who presume upon the Lord, who look to “the day of the LORD” as a time when God will come and do battle and defeat Israel’s enemies.  And so it is.  The only problem is the “enemy” is not who the people think it is.

After Admiral Perry had won the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, he sent a report to General Harrison which became famous for its brevity, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  In the 1960’s, the social commentary cartoon POGO purposely misquoted him by saying, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”  That is the point Amos is making.  We must not be like the people walking past my window and assume a day of judgment will be a good thing for us.  We are called to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s desire for justice and righteousness and to evaluate how much we fall short of God’s hope for us and for the world.

This is also the point of the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. “Delayed” is a key word here. (Matthew 25:5) This is about the “delayed” second coming.  Most of the early church had assumed that Jesus would be back quickly, in a few years at most.  Time went on, and he did not return.  The bridegroom was delayed.  People found themselves wondering how to live in a time of uncertain certainty. They were certain Jesus would return, but they were uncertain as to when.  Some were hyper vigilant, thinking of little else, others had stopped thinking about it and were going about their business as usual, the rest were somewhere in between.  The parable is a reminder to remain ready, to wait expectantly, but not anxiously.  Those with oil were ready – those without were not.

What is it this text is calling us to do? The Christians addressed in Thessalonians and in Matthew were at most a generation removed from the life and death of Jesus; here we sit 2000 years later.

What must we do to be ready, what is the equivalent of having enough “oil in our lamps” for us?

This is where we must go full circle back to Amos and the coming “Day of the LORD.”  Amos says that the LORD desires for us to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream.” (5:24) For Amos, “justice” was about due process and the fair and equitable distribution of resources.  So we are called to involve ourselves in making our society, our culture, our country a “just society.”  People of different political persuasions have different ideas about what justice looks like and how it is to be accomplished; and there can and should be open and free debate about that – but no Christian can deny that participating in the process by which we strive to become a more just and fair nation is both a Christian’s right and duty.

Righteousness, as used here, is about the integrity of one’s personal piety.  When Amos talks about the LORD despising festivals and solemn assemblies and the noise of our songs and musicians; he is not saying that God rejects our acts of public worship in general.  Rather, he is calling for a consistency between our orchestrated displays of love for God and our personal actions in loving our neighbors.  This is a consistent Hebrew Scriptures understanding of what it means to be a person of God.  As Jesus pointed out a couple of weeks ago – to love God with heart, mind, and soul (Deuteronomy) and to love the neighbor (Leviticus) are alike.  They are two sides of the same coin and you cannot truly, honestly and completely have one without the other.

Why do you want the day of the LORD?”

In the end we want the day of the LORD because we want Jesus. We want the day of the LORD because we want to honor the bridegroom.  We want the day of the LORD because we are ready to experience the pure justice and complete righteousness we have struggled with and for our entire lives.  We want the day of the LORD because we have no other hope than the hope of dying and rising with Christ.

Amen.

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