Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 23, 2017
18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
19 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.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 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.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos was prophet to Israel in the 8th century BC, during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. Amos addresses rebellious Israelites who act selfishly, taking advantage of the poor and those living on the edges of society.
In the above passage, Amos scolds those Israelites who long for the “Day of the Lord”. The Day of the Lord for Israel is the equivalent of Judgement Day for Christians. The Israelites Amos addressed believed themselves to be pure and right with God. They longed for the Day of the Lord because they believed God would reward them for their goodness and punish their enemies. But God says just the opposite through Amos. God is disgusted by the very activities that Israelites think make them righteous: worship services, offerings, hymn singing. None of these activities reflect what God demands: justice, and mercy.
1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’
turn back because of their shame.
4 Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, ‘God is great!’
5 But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!
This psalm gives voice to those faithful Israelites who were oppressed and scoffed at by the powerful in Amos’ prophecy.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so 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 died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For 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. 17Then 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 for ever.18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The first generations of Christians believed that Jesus would come to judge “the living and the dead” any day, certainly within their lifetimes. When some of their faith communities started to die before Jesus’ return, they were greatly dismayed, fearing for the eternal fate of their loved ones. In this letter of Paul’s to the church in Thessalonica, Paul does his best to explain what happens to faithful Christians when they die. Paul says that the faithful dead will be raised and then the living will join them and meet Jesus in the air. The “air” is where ancient Israelites believe heaven was, in the clouds, above the dome of sky which holds back the waters that surround the earth. Since none of the biblical writers knew where God “lived”, they spoke of God as being “up” and “coming on the clouds,” which was where the peoples around them believed their gods resided. Paul uses that language here, but uses different language when addressing this same question in other of his letters. I do not interpret his many, sometimes disparate, descriptions as contradictory. Paul was making faithful attempts to put into words his trust in God and the mysteries that make his faith, our faith, necessary.
25‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When 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, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But 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.” 10And 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. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Jesus is speaking to his disciples only when he gives this lengthy sermon about the Kingdom of Heaven and keeping awake, of which the above text is a part. Jesus gave a many versed description of the Day of the Lord in Matthew 24, which ended with a parable of the wise and the foolish slaves. When their master is gone, the wise slave keeps working, while the foolish slave gets drunk and abuses his fellow slaves, thinking “My master is delayed.” Jesus ends this parable with, “The master of that [foolish] slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.” Then comes the above text for this Sunday.
One of the tasks of Israelite bridesmaids was to welcome the new bride to her new home, which was an addition onto the groom’s parents’ house. The bridesmaids would wait for the groom to come to welcome him and his new wife into their newly furnished home, presumably with their wedding gifts. The groom could return home with his bride at any time, so the bridesmaids needed to keep watch. Personal oil lamps were made of clay and fit into the palm of one’s hand. They worked just like the old kerosene lamps our great grandmothers used, only they did not have little knobs to turn the wicks up or down.
Jesus tells this parable to describe what it will be like when he, the bridegroom, returns to earth. It will be the beginning of life together for the bride (the church, the faithful people) and the bridegroom, for which the faithful must be ready. Despite what many Christians predict, no one knows when the Day of the Lord will be, so preparation is a must. But how do we prepare and for what? In this parable, Jesus makes it clear that sleepless hypervigilance does not equal preparation. No, all ten bridesmaids slept in the night while waiting for the bridegroom. Keeping awake, being prepared, in this parable means being present when Jesus appears, and being ready to follow him into the house. The five foolish bridesmaids missed both the bridegroom’s arrival and his leading everyone into the house, after which the gate was shut and locked. Latecomers were assumed to be party crashers and were not admitted.
So how do the faithful prepare for Jesus’ coming? That question is best answered in other parables in this sermon. The parable which I mentioned above, preceding this one, illustrates that preparing for Jesus coming means continuing to serve God. The wise slave kept about his master’s business in his master’s absence. Next week we will study another parable addressing this question.