Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 27A

Track 1: Sincerity of Heart

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

Through Joshua, God once again spoke to children of Israel concerning the covenant he made with Abraham:

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.   (Joshua 24:1-3a)

After God speaks, Joshua pleads with the Israelites to live by the covenant by obeying the commandments of God:

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”   (Joshua 24:14-15)

Ao often we make promises to God. We say that we will obey him. God has made promises to us and he keeps his promises. How well do we do at keeping ours? Israel said that they would obey God, but Joshua realized that they did not really grasp the significance of what God was asking nor did they understand the seriousness of failing to keep the covenant.

Thus Joshua challenged them:

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.   (Joshua 24:19-25)

Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with God made possible by the blood of Jesus. A relationship is something that is nurtured. It takes daily commitment. Otherwise, the danger is that the relationship may fade over time and ultimately dry up.

Jesus warned that this could happen by telling the parable of the ten virgins. They were waiting for the bridegroom to show up for the wedding feast. When he delayed the old in their lamps was running out. Five of them had a sufficient supply of oil in the their lamps and five did not. As the parable goes:

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 bridesmaids 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 25:8-13)

How seriously do we take our commitment to God? The ten virgins represent the body of Christ. As members of his body, are we prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are we filled with the Holy Spirit of God? Our attitude towards God has everything to do with our preparedness. Our relationship with him in Christ is what keeps our lamps filled.

Friends, we are living in the end times. Jesus is coming soon to collect his bride, the faithful members of his body. He loves us all. He surrendered himself to the cross so that we might be raised up with him to newness of life. Do we love him in return? And do we fully commit ourselves to him?

We all fail, at times, at keeping our commitment to God. The children of Israel assured Joshua that they would obey God, but they did not follow through, What matters is the sincerity of our heart. Jesus will help us keep our lamps full of oil. All we must do is keep in fellowship with him.

Track 2: Readiness to Meet the Lord

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
or
Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20
or
Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

In today’s Epistle reading the Apostle Paul writes about a special day when Jesus would return for his bride:

 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

In today’s Old Testament reading the Prophet Amos addresses another day:

Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;

or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.

Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?   (Amos 5:18-20)

The Apostle Peter teaches on the day of the lord in his Second Epistle:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.   (2 Peter 3;10-13)

Peter was writing about God’s promiseThe promise to the Church was not about destruction, but about rescuing His people from destruction. The rapture of the Church and the Day of the Lord are two separate events.

Before the destruction by fire which Peter mentions the bride of Christ will be lifted up and out. There are theological debates about the rapture of the Church and when it will take place. Nonetheless, there can be little debate about the readiness of Christian believers to be received into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told a parable illustrate the point of our need to be ready:

Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids 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 bridesmaids 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 bridesmaids 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)

Are all christians ready to meet the Lord? Not according to the parable which Jesus told. We do not know when we will be lifted out of this world. We do not know when we might die. What we can say for sure is that we must have oil in our lamps when these events occur.

The practice of worship is a large part of the Christian life. According to the Prophet the worship would be meaningless to God if it were not backed up by holy living:

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.   (Amos 5:23-24)

If we are to live holy lives then we need divine help. That is why Jesus had given us the Holy Spirit to direct and empower our lives. God has poured out his Holy Spirit upon those who receive Jesus as Savior and Lord. In John’s Gospel the Spirit is called living water.The overflowing stream which Amos talks about surely refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Are we standing in that stream? That is a choice which we have before us. It is a daily choice. It is an hourly choice. Today, once more, or for the first time, let us fill up our lamps and stand ready to meet the Lord Jesus when he comes.

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

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