Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, Year A
November 8, 2020
Lessons: Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people remain awake and aware, pursuing the deep hard work of justice and righteousness.
Key Scripture: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” – Matthew 25:13
One of my absolute favorite stage directions is from A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” I wonder if the Bard was familiar with our lesson from Amos this week, where the prophet says “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” (5:19)? I had to chuckle (albeit a bit nervously) at the image of a bear chasing me out of the pulpit or away from the altar. Let’s face facts; a healthy bear will likely prevail against an almost-sixty-year-old pastor in alb and stole. Yep, when God and Jesus get frustrated with God’s people, it’s usually with the religious leaders of the day.
The prophet goes on to slam the religious practices of Amos’s time, saying “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps” (5:21-23).
Ouch! Of course, scripture is pretty clear throughout that God desires more than just fancy shows of religiosity. God wants 100 percent of us: Our hearts, minds, resources, hands, every last molecule and atom. God wants us not just for a couple of hours on Sunday morning for a weekly dose of religion; rather, God wants to love us so dearly that we’re compelled to love God and neighbor, or as the prophet says, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).
A lot has happened this year, and our congregations and their leaders have responded in heroic ways to keep congregants connected and to provide opportunities to worship, share fellowship, and grow faith. It may have felt like “seat of the pants” work, but there has been a lovely authenticity about such gatherings, almost as if the pandemic has forced us to look afresh at the work of ministry and our discipleship-making.
What would Amos say today if he were to gather us all for a massive Zoom meeting? I wonder if it might be something like “Don’t go back to the way things were! Keep pressing forward into this unexpected new day. Let justice roll down like a mighty river and righteousness flow like sweet honey from the rock.” Before Covid-19 we knew the church around the world was facing shifts and changes, but none of us could have predicted exactly what did happen with the pandemic, resulting economic woes, and the resulting fears and anxieties.
If he was living today, would Amos would have more to say? Instead of lions and bears, perhaps he would remind our beleaguered and exhausted communities and leaders they are being pursued relentlessly by a loving God who will not let them go, even though the divine mind can get pretty frustrated with our choices sometimes. Jesus reminds us in this week’s parable that our job is to stay awake, to pay attention, because we never know what might happen next. Who would have predicted that 2020 would be as it has been? And yet Jesus has shown up in the midst of this year and will always show up.
Love is the most powerful ministry tool we have; in fact, it’s the most potent life tool we have. Whether you are literally leaving the building after worship or clicking out of watching services via Facebook or Zoom, we are called to go out as we can, using all that we have, spreading God’s love and mercy, and being prepared for whatever comes. Maybe we do need a new stage direction, too. How about this one: “Exit, pursued by a loving God.” I think that will do just fine. Blessings on your faithful and prophetic preaching and teaching!
What about our congregation’s worship and practices might draw God’s ire as the Prophet Amos speaks? Is there anything we do just because that’s the way it’s always been done? Anything we do that we really don’t know why we do it? Most importantly, is there anything that’s an impediment to those who might want to learn more about Jesus?
What are the essential elements of our worship practices? How has COVID-19 taught us about what matters and about how we can adapt to new situations?
Why not ask worshipers to share what they value about worship? What is non-essential? What do they not understand? Is there anything missing from worship? Use this liminal time and space to take the pulse of the community as you plan for a future that hopefully will not involve so much hand sanitizer and masks.
Use the parable this week as a springboard to talk about what it means to be prepared as a person of faith living in a secular world. How do we keep our “lamps trimmed” and “enough oil for the journey”? How difficult is it to keep your faith life nourished and tended? Is it easier to fall asleep and forget about Jesus when you’re out in the world?
This week’s focus verse is Matthew 25:13: – Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Do you ever try to stay awake all night? Perhaps on Christmas Eve to try and catch Santa Claus showing up? Or to see if school will be cancelled for snow? How hard is it to stay awake and alert?
I never could make it all night for Santa or snow. But I did know to be prepared in case I had to go to school, so I always did my homework.
This week’s parable is about a group of bridesmaids who were waiting to greet the groom (in this case, Jesus). Five were wise and brought extra oil for their festival lamps. The five who were not wise, left their extra oil flasks at home. All ten of the bridesmaids fell asleep. When the bridegroom finally showed up, the wise bridesmaids trimmed their lamps with the extra oil and were ready to welcome the bridegroom. They didn’t have enough oil to share with the foolish bridesmaids, so they had to go buy more oil. When they came back, the party had already started, and the host would not admit them. The point of the story is to be alert, prepared, and ready for Jesus.
What we can learn from this story is to always be alert for signs of Jesus in the world. Look around, and I can guarantee you’ll evidence of Christ at work all around you. Spend some time this week looking for signs of Jesus. Here’s a hint: Wherever you find love and mercy, you are also likely to find Jesus.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us) and teaching us to pay attention (and teaching us to pay attention). Help us to be wise (Help us to be wise) and to be prepared to greet you. (and to be preared to greet you). Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear.). Keep us hopeful. (Keep us hopeful.). Make us helpful (Make us helpful.). Give us peace (Give us peace.) Amen. (Amen.)
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Even the best stewards sometimes have trouble staying alert and being ready to respond to Jesus and neighbor in the world. Don’t be caught sleeping. Keep your eyes alert and ready to spot Jesus in action any time of day or night.
Stewardship at Home
Gather your family or a group of friends (be sure to practice social distancing) to make pandemic emergency kits. Include a mask, hand sanitizer, an inexpensive thermometer, and a resource list. You may think of other items to include. Make as many of these as you can, and share them with others. We want to be prepared for Jesus, but we also want to be prepared to love our neighbors in time of need. Here’s a comprehensive list for a pandemic readiness kit.
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/11/wide-awake-and-ready/
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