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Sermon for Sunday 12 Nov 2017

FIRST READING Amos 5:18-24

18“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, 19as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”


PSALM Psalm 70

1Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. 2Let those who seek my life be ashamed and altogether dismayed; let those who take pleasure in my misfortune draw back and be disgraced. 3Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back, because they are ashamed.
4Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” 5But as for me, I am poor and needy; come to me speedily, O God. 6You are my helper and my deliverer; O Lord, do not tarry.


SECOND READING 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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


GOSPEL Matthew 25:1-13

1{Jesus said,} “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”




A young woman busied herself getting ready for a blind date. For a change, she was excited. She was to have dinner at an exclusive restaurant with live music and dancing. She went and had her hair done, got a manicure, spent extra time getting her makeup just right, put on her best dress and was ready with time to spare for her date’s arrival. However, his expected arrival time came and went. After waiting an hour, she decided she had been stood up. Disheartened, she took off her dress, let down her hair, put on her pajamas, grabbed a box of chocolates and a glass of wine and sat down to watch TV.
About an hour later the doorbell rang. It was her date. He looked at her with a surprised expression and said, “What? I gave you an extra two hours and you’re still not ready?” By the way, her trial starts next Tuesday. Now, I bet some of the ladies here are probably thinking, “Justifiable homicide?”
As a child, everything seemed to be a competition. No matter if it was skipping rocks across a mud puddle, running a foot race or racing our bikes, we always seemed to be in a competition. The most interesting thing I can remember about these impromptu competitions is they all seemed to start the same way. A line was drawn to indicate where to begin and then someone would always say, “ready, set, go.” Not sure where we learned this, but all our races seemed to start this way; ready, set, go! Interestingly enough, this same theme carried into other areas of life.
At nine years of age I was able to join a boy’s camping group called Royal Rangers. Now if I haven’t explained what Royal Rangers is, think of Boy Scouts sponsored by the Assemblies of God church. Royal Rangers was a mirror of the Boy Scouts, including a top award; in this case, the Gold Medal of Achievement. As I said, I joined at age 9 and by the time I graduated High school, I was fortunate enough to have completed all the requirements to receive this top award. Part of earning my awards and badges was the requirement of memorizing things like the pledge, the moto and the meaning of the emblem. These memorization requirements were very important, because it established the foundation for all the other learning and earning that was to come.
Even today, I can recite the motto of the Royal Rangers: Ready. Ready for anything. Ready to work, play, serve, worship, live and obey God’s Word. These teachings were an important part of being a member of the Royal Ranges and an even more important part of preparing me to function as an adult in society. And the lessons I learned from this organization helped me greatly as I entered the military.
When you stop and think about it, life in the military is simply one big exercise in getting and in being ready. From the day I entered the Air Force, to the day I retired, my whole life was spent preparing for one thing, war. In basic, I learned followership and the basics of leadership. I learned to work and communicate as a team, in order to achieve the learning objectives. In Tech school, I learned how to prepare, operate and repair the equipment needed to maintain the Optical, Infrared and Laser Target Designating systems used on Tactical and Strategic aircraft. As I went from assignment to assignment and gained rank, my responsibilities increased, but the focus and goal was always the same. Everything I did was focused on being ready; ready at a moment’s notice, to engage the enemy anywhere, anytime. As the Air Force’s mantra stated, “Ready to fly, fight and win.” But it went beyond just keeping the equipment and jets flying; readiness included personal preparedness.
In the 80’s, the cold war was uppermost in the mind of military leaders. Each year we would sit through day long briefings teaching and reminding us about the hazards of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. We would spend time learning and practicing how to quickly don our protective equipment and in the proper decontamination of personnel and equipment. And at the end of the training day, we would be put through the gas chamber. They did this, not only to teach us what it was like to be in a hazardous environment, but to reinforce the need to be ready for such an event. Now one would think that would be enough, but the Air Force required more.
In addition to all our training, we also had to go through wing evaluations. Each year the Air Force inspectors would come and surprise the wing with one of three required inspections. During the Operational Readiness Inspections, we would go through simulated operations and even enemy attacks which evaluated our response times and procedures to ensure we were following the training we received. And if someone was caught not meeting the standard, they were given a “injured” or “killed card” which meant they had to go sit for hours in the simulated medical facility or morgue. As you can guess, since there was an annual requirement for an inspection, there also had to be practices, which we did often. This got to be very disruptive and very repetitive and at times, it was easy to think it was nothing more than a huge waste of time. However, all that changed in August of 1990.
Most of you can remember the events in the Middle East. Sudam Hussain had invaded Kuwait and the US decided it needed to respond. The week started with a three-day weekend that included Monday. I worked day shift and on Tuesday at 3:30 PM, my boss came in clearly agitated about something. All he said to me was I want everyone from day and swing shifts in this hallway at 4:00 PM.
At 4:00 PM on the dot, he walked out of the office and said what you are about to hear is classified; we’re being deployed to the Middle East: Start packing. At midnight Wednesday night, I processed and boarded a C-5 cargo aircraft and was on my way to a base in Oman called Thumbrait. Suddenly, with “real world” chemical gear in a bag, sitting on a plane bound for a war-torn region, all the long tedious hours of training and exercises didn’t seem like useless information. Things got very real, very fast. And as you know, all the long hours of getting ready paid off.
On January 17, 1991, the US began the bombing campaign that ended the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and drove the Iraqi forces back to within a few miles of Bagdad. All the hours of practice, all the hours flown by the aircrews paid off in spades. Not only were the forces of Sudam Hussain defeated, but the cost of American lives was kept to a minimum. To say that the US military was ready, was an understatement. And because of that experience, I’ve never looked at what it means to be ready ever the same.
Now the reason I shared all this with you isn’t to glorify what the military or I can or have accomplished. I brought this up to illustrate a point. Success in life is about being prepared, or of being ready; this includes our spiritual lives.
In both our epistle and gospel readings we’re urged to be prepared. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, is telling the people that Jesus promised that He would come again (John 14:3.) And when He comes, there won’t be advanced notice. When Jesus comes it will be suddenly, “as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2,) “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (4:16.) Those who are ready will meet Jesus together with those who have died in Christ. It’s a message that can cause some to fear, those who want to do their own thing hoping that just before Jesus’ return they will get the chance to change the way they live.
But as this congregation knows, things don’t always happen as planned, life can end suddenly. But if we spend our lives preparing and living our lives as God instructs, the words of Paul are nothing to fear, rather, they are indeed encouraging. But how can we do this? How can we live our lives as if we were to meet Jesus at any moment? The parable Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson can give us insight. First, Jesus uses 10 virgins as a key part of the parable. The virgins represent purity.
Being pure is more than just keeping ourselves sexually pure, abstaining of sex outside of marriage, it has to do with living faithfully as a follower of Jesus. As Paul instructs us in Galatians, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to one another, so that you do not do what you want” (5:16-17.) Second, the 10 virgins were carrying lamps to light the way.
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus instructs us that we’re to be a light in this world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (5:14-16.) Our lives are to be a constant example of God’s love and mercy toward those around us. But it goes beyond simply showing God’s love, we’re also called to illuminate the darkness.
Consider this. Darkness isn’t a thing, but the absence of something. In the case of light, darkness is the absence of light. The Bible, in many passages, tells us that darkness is the sin and evil that’s in the world. If darkness and evil represent satan and his work, then satan and evil are the absence of God and His goodness. As examples of Jesus in this world, the light of God, we’re called to expose the works of the devil and show or be an example of what God intends for His creation. Now I know that speaking out against certain subjects is often considered to be politically incorrect, but as people of God, we’re called to speak up about the sin and injustice of this world. We cannot hide our light under a basket, we cannot keep our call to expose the darkness of this world under wraps for fear of offending someone else. Jesus commanded us to Go, baptize, make disciples and teach not sit, condone and keep silent. We’re called to share God’s love and Word to all around us. Another key component of this parable is the oil for the lamps.
The oil for the lamps represent all the things we need to keep the light of Christ shining in our lives. Like any light, we need a constant source of energy. This energy needs to be constantly refreshed. For us to keep our light shining we need to “walk by the Spirit.” Walking by the Spirit means we need to fuel ourselves through regular prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship and gathering around Word and Sacrament.
In Jesus’ parable, the 5 foolish virgins thought they could get a small amount of oil and that would last them the entire time. They thought that the occasional attendance at church, only hearing the Bible read a few times a month, or even a couple of times a year, was good enough to last them for their entire lives. As they found out, it wasn’t enough. They weren’t ready. They weren’t prepared for an extended wait and when the time came they didn’t have what they needed. They hadn’t spent time in God’s word, they had not developed a consistent prayer life, nor had they gathered with God’s people regularly. In other words, they didn’t walk by the Spirit. The fuel they needed was lacking and when the darkness came, when satan and the evil of this world came to them, they didn’t have what they needed to shine God’s light and illumine the darkness. They weren’t ready for the Bridegroom when He came.
Of course, the Bridegroom in this parable is Jesus Himself and the church is the bride. Jesus is the One for whom the church waits, but the Bridegroom is delayed. Most of the time our impatient nature hates delays, but in this case, the delay is a blessing. God tells us through St. Peter that “The LORD is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9.) God’s delay in allowing Jesus to come and gather His people is so that as many people as possible are added to the church. But we cannot be foolish. We must be prepared whether Jesus returns today, suddenly, or whether God allows the delay to be many more years.
One day, we don’t know the “day or hour, we all will meet Jesus. For some of us that will be sooner rather than later: we simply do not know when our day will come, and we must be ready; ready for anything. The question is, are we ready? If that shout were to come this afternoon, if our time on this earth were to end tomorrow, will we be found with oil in our pots and will we have our lamps trimmed?
These are not meant to be questions that cause fear and discomfort, but are words of encouragement. For all who spend their lives in spiritual preparation, the return of Jesus is something to look forward to. It’s up to us to get ready. God’s promise is sure. Jesus will come again. But during this delay, it’s up to us to share the good news, to be a light in this world so that as many as possible come to repentance and with the church, hear the shout of Jesus’ return.

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