Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 11/12/2017

Sermon by Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick, supply at Bethany, Ishpeming

Sun., Nov.12, 2017, 10:30 a.m. (Pentecost 23)

“Blessed Warning”

Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25 / Psalm 78:1-7 / 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 / Matthew 25.1-13

An old Billy Joel [sic] song came to my mind as I wrestled with Matthew’s text.  The song tells the story of a little boy and his father.  The little boy is constantly asking to go along with his dad or otherwise have his dad spend time with him, but his dad is always too busy and names another time for togetherness, ... saying “We’ll have a good time then, Son.  We’ll have a real good time.” [sic]  Well, as the song unfolds, one opportunity after another for father and son to grow close is lost.  The son grows to manhood, the father grows old, and the roles are reversed.  Now it is the father, with time on his hands, asking for time with his son.  But the busy son gives the same reply he heard growing up ... not now, Dad, but later ... “We’ll have a good time then, Dad.  We’ll have a real good time.” [sic]

This was absolutely not a “feel good” song!  ... In our Gospel text for today, Jesus … likewise … does not give us a “feel good” story.  Rather, he offers a blessed warning … about relationships and priorities … and the truth that there comes a time … in our finite lives … when ther is no more time … to get them right.   

There is great but loving urgency in his message … as Jesus approaches his death and resurrection.  His triumphal entry into Jerusalem … riding on a donkey rather than a war horse ... is behind him … and the shouts of joy from the crowds … would become the cry “Crucify him!” … less than a week later.  After all … he has made powerful enemies among the leaders of the people ... the scribes and the Pharisees ... by publicly condemning them … for leading the people astray … for empty and loveless shows of piety … for lack of mercy … for greed and self-indulgence … and for hypocrisy.

Matthew brings chapter 23 to a close with Jesus’ grief-stricken lament over the disaster that is coming to the holy city … “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Chapter 24 begins with Jesus’ departure from the temple area … and the attempt of his disciples … to shake off the sense of impending disaster … by pointing out the grandeur of the temple buildings. ... But Jesus will not soften his message and responds with devastating frankness:  “You see all these buildings, do you not?  Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

These shocking words generate a perfectly understandable plea from the disciples … who come to Jesus in their private meeting place on the Mount of Olives:  “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”   Jesus begins his response with warnings about disastrous events that will indeed happen before the coming of the Son of Man ... and he continues that response … with words that take the job of predictingout of human hands.  Jesus says:  “But about that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. ... Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  Jesus then tells stories … including today’s parable … to guide the earthly lives of his followers so that they will always be readywill always be connected to God … no matter when he returns.

 Though the “when?” question asked by a trusting believer would …   ideally … have an eager, joyous tone of anticipation …too often … the question really means … “How much longer can I do what I want … rather than what you want … before I have to face the consequences of my choices?”  With this real question in mind … Jesus tells a story of ten young women who have not only been invited to the biggest party any village ever had—a wedding—but had been called to be bridesmaids … which included the joyful task of carrying lamps … to light the way when the bridegroom called for his bride at her home to bring her to his own … and to the celebration.  After all, the streets would be dark and their lamps would be needed.

The five foolish girls had probably calculated that the bridegroom would come in the evening … so they had only the oil already in their lamps, but no reserves ... having spent the day getting themselves prettied up rather than going to the market.  The wise girls, however, had as much extra oil as they could carry, taking nothing for granted about the arrival time of the bridegroom. 

When at last, after midnight, the bridegroom finally does appear, the foolish girls had run off to buy more oil, and were too late to enter the banquet with the happy procession.  And the bridegroom says to them:  “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”  Note:  the bridegroom does not say ...“I never invited you.”  And he does not say, “I never loved you.” 

No … he says:  “I never knew you.”... You never entered into relationship with me ... never got to know me ... You were too busy with your own priorities and tasks.  You never simply believed me ... never gave any of your time to learning who I am … and how much I love you.  You were too busy comparing your sins and virtues to those of others … and calculating your place at my party.  Yet all I wanted from you …was that you fill your lamps ... your very own selves ... with the oil of repentance and faith ... that you find your way by the light of my Holy Scriptures ... so that you live in the glow of faith and truth ... lighting the path ahead for yourselves … and for others … who would see your light … and be drawn to me.

As no doubt the disciples understood, the “oil” of the story was belief … something that one person cannot have for another … and so could not be “given” by one person to another. 

With this parable and the other warning stories … Jesus gave to his followers the gift of freedom … freedom to stop worrying about calculations … and simply to trust that they were indeed invited to the party.  The only response needed was belief ... faith nourished daily by prayer, by repentance, by worship, and by drawing closer to God … through the divine autobiography … we know as the Holy Bible. 

Imagine a new version of the Billy Joel song … this time about a boy and his father … who did spend time together through the years of their lives ... or of a couple who cared tenderly for their marriage from the very beginning ... or perhaps about friends who took time from their busy schedules to drink coffee and have conversation together.  Imagine a song about bridesmaids who knew the bridegroom well and could not imagine leaving him and his bride to stumble in the dark street … of people who filled their lamps with the oil of relationship ... people who got to know each other, and to treasure one another.  Imagine people so confident in their relationship with God that they were free to care about people lost on the margins of life … free to help in whatever small or large way they could.

Imagine people of our own time and place … witnessing terrible events … natural and man-caused … yet maintaining the trust and hope that God is still close at hand … and in God’s own time will make all things new.  Imagine us … grieving when there is loss … “but not as others do who have no hope.”  Imagine us standing with Joshua … joining him as he says “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” … and meaning it! 

And above all, imagine people who go about the various callings of ordinary earthly life … confidently looking to God to help them balance the demands of work and the nurturing, healing power of relationships ... people who include God among their friends ... people who see that they are already feasting on the hors d’oeuvres … in this life ... and so wait with patient joy for the great feast … the great “welcome home” banquet to begin.  May it be so among us.



Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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