Pentecost 23 – November 12, 2017

Rev. Lyle McKenzie         Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

God of grace and faithfulness, could it be true that you may appear at any moment? And when you do, are we awake and ready to share in the wedding banquet that you plan it to be? May it be so. Amen.

– Weddings. Jesus has a thing for weddings; or at least the banquet/party part of a wedding. It’s Jesus’ preferred image for the end of all things, or the beginning of all things in God…

– I am not a fan of every wedding banquet… there was the one where Lori and I were seated at the head table with the wedding party, and I knew only the bride and groom, and Lori knew no one… that was early in my ministry and we established some ground rules about weddings soon after that, to avoid a divorce, …things have gone better since then…

– And there have been some good wedding banquets, even great ones… in our own family with all bias noted… but others too, including some of yours and your children’s…

– “Heavenly,” may not be the word I’d choose, but glimpses of the love and joy that God intends for all and all creation… Yes!

– But we can’t simply say Jesus’ sees heaven as a wedding banquet – he does, but it is also potentially hell for some who don’t get in.

– What do we hear in this story about wise and foolish bridesmaids and a groom who is late, and Jesus’ saying “keep awake” because we do not know the day or hour?

– A few things we can say… in the early New Testament time, there was among the earliest Christian communities, a strongly held view that the world was soon to end with the return of Jesus.

– The reading from Thessalonians expresses this view, and Paul even includes fairly specific images of how the end will happen

– with the Lord’s cry of command, the archangel’s call, God’s trumpet sound, and Jesus descending from heaven, the dead in Christ raised… and the living “caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air…”

– it’s a strange image, and sounds literal… but that does not mean we understand it as a literal description of what is to come… but as a promise, as Paul says, “not to be uninformed about those who have died, so you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  Aren’t these words just as true now…

– and then, “so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

– words of hope, of promise, of our loves ones and others and even ourselves forever with God… these are encouraging words

– Even more so if it will all be like a wedding banquet…

– And even more so if the groom and everything seems delayed

– And we assume it’s always the bride who is late!…

– I can’t think of a time when the groom was… but did I ever tell you about the bride who was 75 minutes late… I made several announcements that she was delayed, but sure and soon to arrive… at 30 minutes past I was told she had gotten in the shower… the young and committed musician played everything he brought as prelude music, then played through as much of the worship book as he thought appropriate, and then started playing music he could remember from his piano lessons as a child… the groom paced, but amazingly did not lose hope and did not give up… and there was great joy when she arrived…

– And that is something else we can say – in Paul’s writing too, but especially in the gospel of Matthew and Jesus’ story of the ten bridesmaids… the groom is delayed…

– In Matthew’s community, the Jerusalem the people knew was destroyed. They lived as long suffering and newcomers to the faith, in the anxiety and tension of uncertainty, and Jesus not returning as anticipated… what were Jesus’ followers to do?

– Interestingly enough in the story they’ll all fall asleep…

– Is it so strange for us to wonder if Jesus/God is delayed in our time? …late to our and other’s lives and this world in tragedy, pain, fear, uncertainty, roadside bombs, church shootings…

– It sounds like that basic human question, “Where is God?”

– And in the waiting, we might want to sleep through it all…

– And sometimes we will be foolish and unprepared… and others wise and prepared… given the chance to join the groom/God in a wedding banquet… or arriving late, asking, but feeling unknown and left out… Are these experiences so strange to us?

– Is the story then a simple warning to be awake and prepared?

– In part, it seems it is. Jesus’ followers are encouraged to be wise, prepared and awake to be able to participate in Jesus’ arrival… even and maybe especially when it seems delayed…

– But this is more than just end time thinking, although they and we wonder sometimes if the end is near… this is also about the hope of God/Jesus present at any time, any moment…

– And how we live faithfully, wise, prepared for those moments…

– Like in the reading from Joshua… where the people are called to recommit themselves to their covenant with the one God, and to put behind them all others God’s… and by example, Joshua’s word, that as for he and his household, they will serve God…

– Like in the Psalm recounting the teachings and deeds of God to be known in every generation so that they and their children and every generation might put their trust in God…

– Like in Paul’s words of hope and promise and encouragement.

– Inviting us to anticipate, be awake and watchful, faithful in our trust and hope in God/Jesus’ presence arriving in any moment, to join in the wedding banquet that has no end…

– On Thursday some of us were at the Tsartlip nation healing house with elder Fraser for a circle of conversation…

– a parade of people were coming and going… but each one was acknowledged with a greeting/welcome… never apologizing for the interruptions, because they weren’t… it was what he and we were there for… to meet together and whoever might arrive… – and with anyone at any moment, the arrival of God…

– We shared a simple lunch and met guys from William Head out to help prepare for a women’s sweat later that evening… it may not have looked like a wedding banquet… but it felt like one

– Later that day at the third CSRS JAH Reformation lecture at UVic by Dr. Phyllis Airhart, from the University of Toronto, speaking on the impact of the Reformation in Canada…

– She referenced the first of the 95 thesis of Luther… “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”

– A whole life of repentance… sounds like trusting, being awake and faithfully waiting in hope for God at any moment…

– And in concluding her lecture she wondered if in our time the words/slogan “Truth and Reconciliation…” described this way…

– There was another wedding… years later and a wiser Lori and I went to the reception knowing a few more people and with no indication we would be sitting at the head table…

– We arrived and there was an easel with images of the tables and names indicating where each guest was to sit…

– We looked carefully through all the tables and names and awkwardly realized our names were not there…

– We had arrived, but we were not invited… maybe I forgot to RSVP, I was sure I had… or maybe we were forgotten…

– But we looked at each other and knew we needed to make a quick and unassuming exit…

– But it was the mothers of the bride and groom who saw us as we were about to slip out… catching us and apologizing for whatever confusion there was and assuring us and going about making sure there was a place for us at the wedding banquet…

– They were so gracious, and we ended up having a wonderful time… with family and friends who made room for us at their table… celebrating with the bride and groom like there was no tomorrow…

Jesus, will the Dominion of heaven be like this?

– And like this gathering, worship/a wedding feast to remember and be awakened to you with us at any moment…

– By your grace help us live trusting, waiting and hoping for this, for you, at any moment… and inviting others to join in… Amen.