Here are my thoughts for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, 9 November 2008. The Scriptures for today are Joshua 24: 1- 3a, 14 – 25, 1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18, and Matthew 25: 1 – 13.
Last week marked the completion of two long-term events. One was local; the other national. The national event was, of course, the Presidential election; the more local event was a completion of a study of the Book of Revelations. The one thing that came out of the study was that it is not the doom and gloom book that is so often the public perception. Nor is it a predictor of things to inevitably come; it may be more a descriptor of things to come if we do not do certain things.
There are those, of course, who are predicting gloom and doom for the coming years because of the election and its outcome. The rhetoric against the new administration has already begun, even though the new administration does not take office for two months. And the rhetoric is not just from one side of the political spectrum but both. While there are those who feel that too much is going to be done, there are also others who feel that not enough is going to be done.
But no where in this dialogue is there any discussion about what the people will do. And I think this is the one thing that was missed. If John the Seer foresaw death and destruction in his vision outlined in Revelations, it was because he saw a group of people unwilling to work for the completion of God’s Plan on earth. He saw a people who would let the world around them fall into decay with people going hungry and sick, homeless and naked. He saw a world where oppression was on the rise and the people willing participants in its ascendancy.
The Old Testament reading for today (Joshua 24: 1 – 3a, 14 – 25) tells us about the people of Israel making a covenant with God, that they will follow God and that they will never forsake God. Yet, we know that is exactly what the people will, time and time again, not do. They will leave God behind; they will forsake God; they will find other gods to worship.
And what are we doing today? We are, as were the people of Israel some three thousand years ago, witnesses to our own actions. We see what is going on but we would rather complain bitterly about what is happening rather than take action. Paul warns the people of Thessalonica that they need to be looking forward, not carrying on as if the world was already over. (1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18)
Now, you may say to me that Paul is writing about the Second Coming and how those who are Christ’s disciples on earth will receive their rewards. I won’t deny that but Paul is also pointing out (as he did in other letters) that we cannot get hung up on that point. Excuse me for pointing out the obvious but if we stop moving forward, we cannot get where we want to go. Those who quit working for the kingdom because they think that the time is at hand will not get to the kingdom or receive its rewards. John the Seer made the same point in Revelations. Just because we say we are believers does not guarantee us salvation if we do nothing but stand aside and let the world destroy itself.
We have become a society of quick fixes, instant gratification, and self-centeredness. We want the benefits of a good society but we are unwilling to pay for the benefits. We want the rights of citizenship without the responsibility. We want it all but we want others to pay for it. We have become a society of the foolish virgins in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 25: 1 – 13); we are unprepared for the problems that we have to face and we expect quick solutions will solve problems that have been developing over the past few years (and I am not talking just about the past eight years or so).
The coming years are going to be a challenge; there is no way that the problems that we have right now are going to be solved immediately or in the next 100 days or perhaps in the next 1000 days. The problems are far too complicated to be easily and quickly solved.
We are faced with an energy crisis and the answer is not going to be drilling for more oil wherever it may be located. The answer lies in seeking other solutions but other solutions also take time and money, factors we seem to generally ignore. World hunger is on the rise, so the answer is to grow more food. But growing more food requires more land and more fertilizer. To get more farm land, we destroy forests; more fertilizer requires more of the resources that we need to solve our energy crisis. Each problem that we are faced with has a solution; but we have to stop and think first, not act and hope that what we do right now is correct. We have to remember that the earth’s resources are finite.
The prophet Jeremiah once told us to stand at the crossroads and look at the paths before us. One of these paths is the true path, the right path; the other looks good but is filled with trouble and turmoil. Choose the path you wish to walk, Jeremiah told the people. Choose the true path, he cried, but the people refused.
That is where we are right now. We are at a crossroads in this journey of life. There are some who would wish to turn back and return to the place from whence they come; turn back into a life of slavery to sin and death.
There are some who will profess faith and loyalty to God, just as the people of Israel did on the plain of Shechem some three thousand years ago. But they will quickly choose another god to follow and the path they walk will lead to death and destruction.
Some will choose an easy path to walk because that is what they think is the path to the Promised Land. They will keep the things they have and tell others in need to get it on their own. Their easy path will quickly become very difficult.
Some will seek to walk the path to the Promised Land but want others to carry them while they are able to walk.
Others will choose the one true Path. It will not be an easy path to walk and it will be filled with many hardships and much turmoil. Along the way, they will find themselves helping others who do not have as much as they do.
So we stand at the crossroads, preparing to take the next step. What will it be?