SERMON 11/6/11 The Sunday After All Saint’s Day
Weddings, and the subsequent aftermath of the big event, seem to be big news these days. Earlier in the year, most of us watched the royal glamour of the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. The media focus on this couple seems to be on the life they are sharing now. Last week, the media was all buzzing about the $10,000,000 wedding between Kim Kardashian and NBA basketball star Kris Humphries. This union began with exuberant, fairy tale glitz and glamour and abruptly ended after only 72 days. Both of these two couples entered the marital bonds with serious intent and anticipation. Both couples took upon themselves vows and promises to each other in expectant hope of a long life together. For the latter couple whose relationship ended early, the question remains, were they really prepared for the life to which they were committing. We wonder if they anticipated the ups and downs, the uncertainties, the mutuality required to sustain a relationship. Possibly they may have entered into the wedding day festivities, with adolescent expectations thinking this was the culmination of their union. They possibly failed to recognize that it is in the journeying together over time that two people grow into a deep, loving, and mutually satisfying blending of lives. The wedding day is merely the beginning, it is not the arrival or the expected completion of that to which they promise and vow. A wedding day is the setting for today’s gospel parable. Matthew describes the Kingdom of heaven using the metaphor of a wedding banquet and some scholars assert that this imagery points to the church’s future anticipation of Jesus’ return. Preparedness for that return is the heart of today’s gospel.
Being prepared for and living in the anticipation of the future presence of Christ is at the heart of the Christian life for each of us now, and in the days to come. In the Nicene Creed each week we affirm our belief in the promise, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Today’s parable portrays an event in which, ten bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of a delayed groom are representative of the church who is awaiting Christ’s return. Five bridesmaids are described as wise and five are foolish because they brought no oil for their lamps. It is interesting to note that all ten slept as they waited for the groom, so the focus seems to be less on the virtue of vigilance and more on being prepared for a future actuality. At the announcement of the groom’s arrival, only those with oil could light their lamps and thus, see to follow him into the banquet. The foolish ones wanted a share of the other’s oil however, their oil was not transferrable and so, the foolish were left behind. The wise bridesmaids were prepared for the groom’s arrival, the foolish were not. The oil is significant because throughout the Old Testament, oil represented good works of justice and righteousness. Thus, the wise maids failure to share their oil was not an act of non-charity but rather, it was a reality that the good works of the wise could not be transferred to the foolish. The nature of the parable seems to be emblematic of our Christian journey, and Matthew uses the parable to clarify the difference between the disciples who are prepared and follow Jesus now and those who lose sight of the necessity for preparedness. The wise are already participating in the life which is to come, a life of discipleship, as if it were already a present reality.
Discipleship is living a life changed, altered, and forever affected by the love of Christ. Discipleship requires that now, we live as changed beings as if the fulfillment of the Kingdom has already come to pass, because it is a present reality as well as a future hope. We recognize that God is actively working in us now and we are not merely waiting for the day that it will come to pass. A man and woman dreamed of building their retirement home. They perused multiple blue prints, scoped out various properties, and they shopped for furniture with multiple design themes. They did not wait until moving day to begin preparing, they lived into the future hope by actively working toward it now. As the days passed, the ground was broken, the foundation poured, walls were raised, the roof was put in place, and all of the internal workings were completed. On moving day, the furniture arrived and within a few weeks, all was complete. As the couple sat down in their new home and surveyed all for which they had worked, somehow it all seemed so final. They had arrived and the question on both of their minds was, “now what?” The arrival is not the final word. The couple has many years of enjoying the bliss of retirement in their new home, and what is so exciting is that their relationship had not arrived at its pinnacle either. There was much more growing, learning, and passion for them to share. Our Christian journey is like that as well. We are on a journey of expectant hope for the fulfillment of God promises, but we are to live as if that promise has already made itself manifest in our lives today. Discipleship is not merely the arrival, it is the journey; the journey with God. God is active. From the beginning of creation, God was active. Throughout salvation history, God was and is active. In our lives today, God is active, and when the fulfillment of God’s future hope arrives, God will be active even then.
Paul Tillich a well-known 20th century theologian asserts, “The Divine life participates in every life as its ground and aim. God participates in everything that is; he has community with it; he shares in its destiny.” . Tillich eludes to the fact that God and creation’s destiny is found within each other. God’s being is about God’s becoming and likewise, our being is about our becoming; and we are becoming together, as a state of union with God. In other words, our salvation, our living fully into the redeemed life has already begun, but it is an ongoing process that will continue as we share in the divine destiny. Our expectant hope and our active living are inseparable. The future hope is already here, but not yet fulfilled. We see references of the “already but not yet” deeply embedded in our worship. We sometimes hear the prayers and say the words so often, we unfortunately may overlook it. In our Eucharist prayers for instance in Rite I, we ask God to “be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.” (Eucharistic Prayer Rite I BCP) Here we express our desire for the fulfillment of our destined life shared with Christ. In Rite II, we say, “we proclaim his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; as we look for the coming of his kingdom.” (Eucharistic Prayer A BCP) Here we declare that we have hope that the Kingdom of God will arrive, but we declare we will live now in the transformation found through the life, death, resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If we believe this, then we should live in such a way now, not out fear for a future judgment, but because we love God for the healing Christ has brought us, is bringing us now, and the healing for which we await in the age to come.
Waiting and anticipating is a part of the active living and journeying , to which our baptismal vows call us to commit. Through those vows we promise: “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being.” These vows others may have taken for us as infants, we may have affirmed them later on at our confirmation, and in a few moments, today each of us will be given the opportunity to claim them as the way will live today, tomorrow and in the future. In a world where relational promises and vows have in some cases stood the test of time, and in other cases have lasted no more than 72 days, the baptismal promises have brought together the church for 2000 years. For all the saints who have come before us, those whom we commemorate this Sunday after All Saints Day, we join with them and promise that while we wait for Our Lord’s return, but we will live fully now in the redeemed life, for when the hour comes, all will be fulfilled. Be ready my dear sisters and brothers, because, as Our Lord advises, “Keep awake . . . for you know neither the day nor the hour.”