Sermon for Pentecost 23

Year A – November 8, 2020

Joshua 24:1-25*; Matthew 25:1-13

(*Note: Our official lectionary skips verses 4-13 of the Joshua reading. I think they are an important part of the covenant story, so I  included them in this link.)

In today’s passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear the covenant Joshua presents to the people at ancient Shechem. Joshua asks them, repeatedly, which God they want to serve. Not uncommon to contracts of that time, Joshua recalls the history of the relationship. Those verses, which are skipped in our lectionary, recall the powerful protection and almighty grace and love shown and provided to the people by the Divine Hand. Joshua asks, repeatedly, “Are you sure you want to do this?….But are you sure?…Are you really sure?” He understood the people did not fully understand what they were signing up for.

The young women in Jesus’ parable knew what was needed. Yet not all of them came prepared. In my first reading of the text, I pictured a “lamp” as being like the kerosene lamps my grandparents grew up with on the farm. Scholars think the lamps of this parable were much simpler. An oil-soaked rag was tied to a stick. Periodically, the charred portions of cloth were cut away (as described in the parable) and the rag re-soaked so there was fuel to keep the flame alive. Unlike a kerosene lamp, there was nowhere on or in the lamp to store extra oil. Each woman knew she would need to bring her own if she wanted her lamp to last the night.

So…what about us? We’ve signed up for this Christianity “thing.” Do we really know what we’ve gotten ourselves into? Are we prepared for what is to come, and what we will be called to do? Though we often respond in the affirmative with confidence, I’m not certain we do…

Source: Wikipedia

This past week, our country experienced an election. As I write this sermon on Friday, not all results are known. Regardless of the outcome, I think the election makes one thing clear: regardless of political persuasion or party, we are alienated from each other. Racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia and ageism are so woven into our society’s fabric that we hardly recognize them any more — nor do those with the privilege of power adequately recognize the pain and problems they cause. The gap is so deep and so wide it’s hard to imagine how the distance can be bridged and the wounds healed, or if such healing is even possible.

The easiest answer would be to give up. But that’s not what we signed up for. The Baptismal Covenant in our prayer book asks, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” (BCP 305) Our Christian calling is to strive to love, even when the differences are stark and the pain deep and the way forward is daunting. Our Christian calling is to move forward, however imperfectly, and love to the best of our ability.

I don’t have a single answer to fix our divisions. I would however, like to suggest a starting point: talk. Talk about our history and the pain it’s caused and continues to cause. (You can do this by joining Father Mike’s discussion group, Dialogues on Race, at noon on Thursdays, or by re-watching the recording.) Talk about and reflect on the privileges you have that members of other communities do not. Above all, talk to one another. This week, I challenge you to talk with someone of a different perspective (political or otherwise) than you. Talk with them about their hopes and dreams and loves.

Even more than talk, truly listen. Listen for what’s on their heart. In so listening, you will love the other as Christ Loves you. In so loving, the light of Christ will shine through you, fully, as a lamp freshly filled. Through Christ, there is hope our darkness and separation can be transformed into true community, bound not by uniformity but by acceptance and love.