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Sermon for November 12, 2023 – Proper 27

Program Transcript


Speaking of Life 5051You Don’t Have to Be a Girl Scout
Michelle Fleming

I was involved in Girl Scouts when I was younger. Maybe you were a Girl Scout or Boy Scout, too. The motto for Scouts is “Be Prepared.” This reminds me of the way Christians have been warned to be prepared for Christ’s return. One example that’s often cited is the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids where Jesus is telling his disciples what the kingdom of heaven is like.

The story goes like this:

Ten young women took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those young women got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet, and the door was shut. Later the other young women came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25:1-13

Passages like this one have often been plucked from scripture without thinking about them in the context of other direct commandments Jesus said or the way he behaved in the world. This story sounds out of character for Jesus who told us to love and serve others and put them first.

We don’t base theological doctrine on a parable because a parable wasn’t meant to be used that way. It’s a story that offers us the opportunity to consider truth from the point of view of different characters. In this parable, we see that the five bridesmaids who had plenty of oil believed that being self-reliant was more important than helping others. The five bridesmaids who didn’t prepare believed they deserved help from the ones who prepared. I mean, they had fallen asleep, waiting. But what if the parable isn’t about what the bridesmaids should have done or shouldn’t have done? What if it isn’t about the bridesmaids at all? Let’s consider a different perspective.

We assume that the five bridesmaids who ran out of oil are called foolish because they ran out of oil. But what if the reason they’re called foolish is because they listened to the other bridesmaids who told them to go buy more and then ended up missing the wedding? Maybe they were foolish because they forgot who the Bridegroom was and what he was capable of. This bridegroom was The Light of the World, and he didn’t need their lamps. They were foolish because they allowed their shame over running out of oil to drive them to try to fix it, and thus they missed the wedding banquet.

When the Bridegroom says, “I don’t know you,” he’s also saying that they didn’t really know him. And this is part of the lesson of this parable. When we focus on Jesus, we know he is the one who makes us enough. He is the light we need when our own lamps run low. He is sufficient.

May we be blessed with the understanding that we are made whole and enough in Christ.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 78:1-7 • Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 • Matthew 25:1-13

The theme for this week is the hope of patient waiting. Psalm 78 talks about the importance of remembering the good and sharing the good works of God from one generation to the next. Joshua 24 offers an example of one of those monumental blessings when the Israelites acknowledged their commitment to a covenant with God because of his deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The parable of the ten young women (or bridesmaids in some translations), found in Matthew 25:1-13, seems to talk about how Christians should wait and be prepared for Christ’s return, but like any parable, it provides an opportunity to think that perhaps the focus should be more on the returning Bridegroom than on us. The sermon text comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and it explores our assumptions about Paul’s role as a pastor vs. a theologian, the way hope informs our lives now, and Christ’s return.

Lessons from the Checkout Line

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NRSVUE)

If you’ve ever shopped for groceries on the weekend or went to an amusement park, you’ve had to wait in line. It’s been reported that Americans spend about 37 billion hours a year waiting in line. Waiting in line has its own system of rules based on the idea of fairness: no cutting in line (unless you’re behind me), and “first come, first served,” which means that those who show up first are served first.

Researchers have studied people’s responses to wait times, and we have a number of unspoken expectations about waiting. For example, we think that the length of the line should be somewhat equal to the item or service we’re buying, and this resulted in the creation of an express lane for those purchasing fewer than 10 items. We also tend to be preoccupied with a line’s length rather than how fast it is moving, choosing to wait in a short line that’s moving slowly rather than a long one that’s moving faster. Why do you think that Disney employs circuitous wait lines for its rides?

Some of the stress of waiting comes from our fear of wasting our time and the question of uncertainty. After all, our lives are simply time, and as older people can attest, the years seem to fly by faster the older we become. As for uncertainty, we like to think we have some control, so we like feedback, such as the amusement park monitors that overestimate the wait time. When the wait is significantly less than expected, we feel good about the time spent waiting. But waiting for a diagnosis or for failing health to improve doesn’t provide feedback like those park monitors. Uncertainty from waiting in these situations can be stressful.

Our sermon text speaks to the uncertainty of waiting. Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica to answer their concerns about loved ones who had died by reminding them about God’s promises. He also helps us understand the foundation of our hope while waiting in grief and uncertainty. Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Read More

Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica talks about community, hopeful waiting, and Christ’s coming. Let’s look at these three themes:

Community

Paul was addressing a church’s concern about their loved ones who had died. They weren’t concerned about the loved ones’ salvation but whether they would ever see them again. We can certainly identify with their concerns. Paul’s focus on community is highlighted in his description of Christ’s return.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with [those who have died] to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:17 NRSVUE)

This verse emphasizes the reconciliation believers experience. Associate Professor of New Testament at the Seminary of the Southwest Jane Lancaster Patterson explains it this way:

The vision of Christ’s triumph that Paul develops in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is one in which heaven and earth are suddenly and beautifully reconciled in an embrace (‘caught up together’) that takes place in a newly opened space between heaven and earth (‘in the air’) and which will never end (‘and so we will be with the Lord forever’). The image gathers together Paul’s deepest beliefs about God’s reconciling purpose in Christ…and paves the way for the ethical counsels to follow (1 Thessalonians 5:4-24).

Paul was acting as a pastor in this passage, not as a theologian. He took their concerns and explained Christ’s second coming in their context. While this scripture has been used to justify modern doctrine such as “The Rapture,” if we look closely at the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, which immediately precedes this passage, we’ll notice that Paul is encouraging the church to continue to live faithfully, as they were already doing, but they “should do so more and more” (4:1). He is ministering to a congregation’s need for assurance and comfort rather than establishing a doctrinal order of who is to be resurrected first, second, and so on. This means he uses imagery and metaphors that they would be familiar with to illustrate that God will be faithful to the promises made.

Hopeful Waiting

Paul is best known for the phrase “faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love,” found in his first letter to the Corinthians 13:13 (NRSVUE). However, in 1 Thessalonians, he changes the order to faith, love, and hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Notice how he emphasizes the need for hope, especially during times of grieving:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NRSVUE)

Paul points out that this hope is not wishful thinking, but something that informs the way believers live now. This is hope founded on Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in the next verse the Greek used in the phrase “for since we believe” is best translated as a “condition of fact or reality:”

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NRSVUE)

It’s important to note that Paul didn’t criticize the Thessalonians for grieving the deaths of their loved ones. Instead, he pointed out that as believers, their grief was deeply interconnected with their hope in Christ.

As mentioned in the introduction, waiting is part of life. And as we wait for Christ’s return, we must understand that God is in our waiting. Lutheran Seminary Professor Karoline Lewis says this about waiting:

Not that we should say, “This is how it is, get over it.” But that what we choose to utter or how we choose to be in the waiting matters. Not necessarily for God, but for ourselves. ‘Lord, do not delay’ is simultaneously a claim of urgency but also a witness to promise. That is, yes, we want the wait to be over. But, at the same time, we trust that God will show up. God will show up in the midst of any manifestation of our waiting. God will show up to be what we need God to be depending on how we experience the waiting. If our waiting is experienced in fear? God comes with peace. If our waiting is experienced in longing? God arrives with deep and abiding satisfaction. If our waiting is experienced in anticipation? God accompanies us in the joy that should be our present… To keep awake does not mean the absence of God. It means to recognize our absolute dependence on the presence of God.

Christ’s Coming

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 NRSVUE)

Because two thousand years have passed since Christ ascended and he has not yet returned in all his glory, some Christians see their hope in parousia [pronounced PAR-oo-SEE-ah], which means “appearance or presence,” as almost a dream or a silly wish. In addition, while Paul offers apocalyptic language in the description of Christ’s return, we need to remember that apocalyptic language was used to remind those who were upset or even persecuted that God was in charge and he would bring about change. Paul’s audience would have been less interested in the when of the Lord’s coming and more interested in meaning – the “why” of their suffering in light of loved ones’ deaths.

Maybe our interpretation of “the coming of the Lord” is too narrow and confined to our material existence. Patterson defines it as the transformation of believers due to the workings of the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit:

But the full appearance, or full presence of Christ that the earliest Gentile Christians were awaiting was grounded in their lively experiences of the power of Christ and the Spirit to bring them into right relationship with the one true God and their neighbor in righteousness and justice, in holiness and love. In other words, their partnership with Christ in their day-to-day moral decision-making was the first edge of the presence making its way into human life. They could see it, touch it, believe it, because it wasn’t solely in an imagined future; it could be seen in the transformation of themselves and their communities.

Thus, the coming of the Lord was already happening, the “first edge” of the appearing. The church could trust and hope in the fullness of spiritual fruit and transformation that would be theirs at the coming of the Lord by living with the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-13), expressing love toward each other as Paul detailed in 1 Corinthians 8.

As human beings, we don’t like to wait. But waiting is part of our reality, whether it is in the grocery store checkout or for Christ’s coming.  In the context of the coming of the Lord, we can understand that our waiting is not in vain and certainly not a void. We wait within a community that has hope and with a tangible expression of the Lord’s coming as spiritual fruit birthed in us. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are at work in us and through us, the first edge of parousia reconciling us to each other, to creation, and to God.

Call to Action: When you have to wait this week, pause and think about how you are feeling and what you need. Remember that God meets our need while we wait and notice how this shows up in your experience. Observe another’s need while waiting and ask God to meet that need. Give thanks for God’s presence in your daily life.

For Reference:

https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/how-to-wait
https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-32/commentary-on-1-thessalonians-413-18-3
https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-32/commentary-on-1-thessalonians-413-18-4
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/opinion/sunday/why-waiting-in-line-is-torture.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Reign of Christ w/ Dr. Michael Morrison W2

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November 12 — Proper 27 of Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, “Resurrection Reality”

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Program Transcript


Reign of Christ w/ Dr. Michael Morrison W2

Anthony: Let’s move on to the second pericope that we have for this month from the lectionary. It’s 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 27 and Ordinary Time, which is on November the 12. Mike, would you read it for us, please?

Mike: Sure.

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Anthony: Verse 13 says, “so that you may not grieve as others do, who have no hope.” For me, it’s just such a paradox to grieve and yet to do so in hope. And I’ve heard it said that lament gives voice to what hurts while hope gives voice to what heals.

How is this even possible that we can grieve, but do so in hope? What is the apostle leading us to?

Mike: The passage is about death, and it’s about resurrection and eternal life with the Lord. The Bible tells us that death is an enemy. But it is an enemy that Jesus Christ defeated on our behalf, and we will share in that victory when we rise to meet him in the air. But even though death has been defeated, it still happens, and it is still an enemy. It takes loved ones away and that hurts. It breaks relationships and that hurts.

It is reasonable for people to mourn the loss of something good. It is reasonable to mourn the breaking of something that God created to be good, to break the relationships that are actually supposed to be reflections of the relationships that the Father, Son, and Spirit have always had, the relationships that they want us to share in.

It’s appropriate to grieve these things. Even when we know that the loss is not permanent. We have hope, or the better word is faith, that these good things will be restored through the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We live in a time between the first and second coming of Christ. The last days have begun, but they have not yet been brought to completion. There are lots of things in this world that aren’t going the way they’re supposed to. And there are lots of things to grieve, not just death, and for all of them, we have hope in Jesus Christ. Everything will be set right.

We do not need to despair, no matter whether we are concerned about the death of a loved one, or the destruction of the environment, or politics, or the economy, or the threat of war. We can grieve that such things may happen, lament, but we also know that this is not the end of the story. The story does have a happy ending, and it comes at the hand of someone who was crucified and killed for our salvation. He lives again, and he will cause us to live again, too, in a much better world. We have sorrow, yes, but we also have confidence in Christ.

We see that many of the world’s problems have selfishness at their root, and we see that the only path toward world peace is that people will consider others as more important than themselves. And we see that the one person who actually lived that way consistently was killed for it and yet raised back to life. And it’s the person who’s been there and done that, who also promises to do it again.

He will return and make it right, and we can have confidence in that.

Anthony: Amen and amen. The scripture exhorts us to encourage one another with the words found in the pericope, but maybe a better way of saying that, to encourage one another with the reality that’s being revealed in this passage. And you’ve already done so, Mike. But is there anything else? Any meat left on the bone, so to speak, of ways you can encourage our audience based on what you find here?

Mike: Yeah, good wins in the end. Yeah. What could be better than that?

Yes, there is something better than that. It is mentioned in the text. We will be with the Lord forever. The more we realize how good God is, how much Jesus loves us, the more we will rejoice that we will be with him.

We can rest in complete safety, security, comfort—everything we need. That’s the good life, not just in physical circumstances, but in the relationships that we’ll have. There’ll be no more death, no more disruptions, no more doubts, no more disappointments.

Karl Barth said that God does not want to be God without us. He chooses to be with us. He wants to live with us, and that is incredibly astonishing, if we know what we’re really like. Why would God want to live with feeble, infallible creatures, such as ourselves? Just to know that he is the Creator, and he has created beings like ourselves to be his eternal companions—that’s just astounding. We are eagerly desired. We are the love of his life, the apple of his eye, the pearl of great price for which he sold everything he had so he can have us too.

When we know that we are loved that much, we will eagerly look forward to his coming. We will know that all our sacrifices are not in vain. We will know that the sufferings are not worth being compared with the good things that God will give us in Christ. The one who did not spare his own son, will he not give us all good things that we will ever need? Will he not share his Spirit with us without limits? Will we not be loved without end?

Nothing can separate us from his love. That’s what I see especially encouraging in this text: “we will be with the Lord forever.”

Anthony: I can remember several years ago, Mike, reading a book from Skye Jethani called With. And it really did flip the script in my own mind about my perspective of what I do in partnership with God.

Because often we think about doing things for God, which we do. But I had this mindset that I was a servant for the lord, which I am, but it’s not just that. I’m his friend, and the Lord wants to be with me. And it’s like you said, how is that so Lord? I know me. Who wants to be with me for eternity? And yet that tells us more about a God who chooses rather than our chosen-ness.

He’s a choosing God who loves to be with us and that was really good encouragement. Thank you for that.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • The parable of the ten bridesmaids is often interpreted as a warning to Christians to “be prepared.” How does shifting the focus from the bridesmaids to the Bridegroom change your perspective?
  • The typical interpretation of the parable of the ten bridesmaids highlights our tendency to think the Bible is about us and what we need to do, rather than viewing scripture as a revelation about God and God’s love for creation. How does changing the focus from us to God change our mindset from legalism and harsh judgment to one of grace, love, and gratitude?

From the sermon

  • The sermon points out that God is active and present in our waiting. How does that change your attitude toward waiting?
  • The common usage of “second coming” implies that Christ is not at work in today’s world. How does the idea of experiencing “the coming of the Lord” as a “partnership with Christ in…day-to-day moral decision-making” change that?

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