In doctors’ offices, grocery store lines and on coffee dates I hate waiting. Patience is not an easy gift for me. Being a Christian means to wait on Jesus’s promises. What does that waiting look like when we are waiting on a mystery we don’t entirely understand? Preached @ St. Peter’s Comox Nov. 12, 2017
I remember back when I first said out loud to someone in authority: “I think God is calling me to be a priest.”
“Before you go any further” he said to me, “I want you to go home and read this to yourself every day. Ask yourself if you believe it. Then come back to me and we’ll talk some more about this.”
He opened a book to the words that we just said, the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…etc” This was a great gift, to anchor my discernment in the core of who the church belongs to, the reality of who God is, the core of her trust. That week was powerful for me, beautiful, formative. As I inwardly digested the words I remember my blood pumping with excitement, with joy, with awe. My mind opened up with deeper understanding. But there was this one sentence that hit me like a slap in the face: He shall come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.
These words filled me at first not with excitement or understanding. At first with confusion. Confusion at this proclamation about the end of days, isn’t that what crazy people on the side of the street do, I thought. I couldn’t grab hold of it with my mind and my heart found in it despair because I couldn’t grasp it. It was a long week. And by the end of praying over it I brought myself to the point where I could trust it, I couldn’t understand it, but I trusted the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Holy Church and I could trust it.
We are people of the promise, God’s people called into his Word, to trust him at work in the world and in us. He has promised that he will come again in glory, that he will bring judgment on the last day. It is for us to trust him and lean not on our own understanding.
I used to laugh about the Thessalonians when I was first reading about them. Read the letters Paul writes to them they are full to the brim with questions about Jesus’s coming again. They are extremely anxious for his return. Their question today is about Christians who die. Some who hoped in Jesus’s coming again had died. These are brothers and sisters whom they loved. Does Jesus’s delay in coming back mean that they will not have a share in the kingdom of God’s presence and justice that he will usher in? No Paul says, in fact these witnesses who have gone before us shall enter ahead of us into Jesus’s reign when he comes. The Thessalonians waited in eager expectation for the coming of God’s judgment. Paul invited them to see themselves as children of the light, not falling asleep but preparing their hearts filling them with trust and love.
Samaria also eagerly awaited the coming of God’s judgment. You see after the people of God split into two kingdoms, Samaria/Israel and Judah, Samaria expanded. They conquered new lands and grew in wealth, power and prestige. Like any rising empire they had disputes with their neighbours. God’s judgment meant those neighbours would be destroyed right? And so enters Amos, a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees, with his prophetic word. Amos speaks into this anticipation for God’s judgment of the nations Against Damascus and Gaza, Against Tyre and Edom, Against Ammon and Moab, Amos draws a circle with these words of judgment against Israel’s neighbours, you can almost feel the nationalistic triumph Israel must have felt in these words putting their enemies in their place. Then against Judah. But wait, at the end of this circle of judgment Amos ends at the center, he proclaims the coming of God’s judgment against Israel and Samaria. Amos lists the injustices that they have committed, the signs of calling them to repentance that God has given, and then he continues with the words we hear this morning “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord. Why do you long for the coming of God’s justice? It shall be a day of darkness not light.”
You can see this turning upside down of the relish that the Samaritan reader would have taken in the early chapters of the book. You Samaria, God invited you to be his people, God gave you festivals and you changed their dates after the wishes of your king. God gave you a king and you turned away from him for a ruler of your own choice. God gave you a place to offer sacrifice of fellowship in his presence and you set up your own altars. God invited you to walk with him in his presence and you turned instead to the gods of prosperity, and war and sexual indulgence. God invited you into his holiness and you replaced it with your own which is no holiness at all. God invited you into his justice and you replaced it with your own which is not justice at all. God invited you into his hope and you replaced it with your own. You will see when you flee to it that it is no hope at all. You will run from a lion to a bear, to the home you think is safe to be bitten by a snake. The day of the Lord is darkness to our own hearts and our sense of justice. To enter into the kingdom of God is to enter into his justice, to let it roll out of our lives like a river, to let the reality of his holiness into our being that it might burst forth from within us like a roaring stream. We must turn our hearts to his presence, and to his promise.
And so Jesus speaks this parable of the kingdom of heaven. He talks of ten girls about 11 or 12 years of age who are waiting for a wedding. So many of Jesus’s parable of the kingdom of heaven are about weddings and I think this is to remind us that his coming is a great and gracious marriage that we are invited into. These girls are waiting excitedly for this wedding feast they’re all ready with there lamps. The bridegroom is delayed and the girls fall asleep. So they are scattered and they do not all enter the wedding banquet which was the promise they were waiting for eagerly. This parable is an invitation to keep awake the evangelist says.
“Can’t you just stay awake with me one more hour?” Jesus asks the apostles while he prays in Gethsemane. Stay awake with me and pray for the hour is near. They fall asleep, again and again. Don’t fall asleep. Jesus is asking us to stay awake and watch with him, for he is coming. We are not to escape into slumber. We are not to ignore injustice within our hearts and lives. The coming of the day of the Lord is not a license to rest in complacency. Paul tells the Thessalonians to put on faith and love like a breastplate, to encourage one another. Amos tells Samaria to turn into God’s righteousness and let its generosity pour forth from within them…more than pour, to burst from within them. We are not to escape this world but belong to the light within it, to face injustice with sacrificial justice as Christ did upon the cross. We are to keep awake, just a little longer.
This I do not understand. I have no understanding here, only hope in God’s promise. I offer to you and to him today that trust and encourage you in it brothers and sisters. I encourage you to encounter and meet him here in that trust.