‘Patiently’ Waiting

Readings for the day (Sunday, November 12, 2017):

Amos 5:18-24

Psalm 70

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25:1-13

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Are you a patient person?  A patient person, someone who is able to accept or tolerate delays.  Patience would not be how I would describe my children or my wife.  This impatience certainly comes out during harvest time.  As we’re going down the road and we come up behind a tractor, combine, or other slow moving vehicles, I’ll hear from the back seat of the car, “Why you slowing down, Daddy?  Go faster!”  Or when I’m sitting at a red light, I’ll hear from the back seat, “Go daddy!”  And then the second the light turns green, I’ll hear from the passenger seat, “It’s green.”

We are not always the most patient people, are we?  I wonder, is our impatience a result of the advancement of technology that keeps getting faster and more connected?  Or is our impatience self-inflicted by how busy we have become?  We can certainly blame technology for making us impatient.  My boys get frustrated when a Netflix show takes a little longer to load because of slow internet.  But what we would consider slow internet today is nothing like what dial up internet was just 15 plus years ago.  So yes, technology can be blamed.  But we also need to look at ourselves.  If we are impatient and unable to accept or tolerate delays because we have too much going on at once, then maybe our busyness has created our impatience.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the ten bridesmaids.  These bridesmaids are eager to meet the bridegroom.  They head out to wait for his arrival.  They all take oil burning lamps with them, but only five of the ten take a flask of extra oil.  And their eagerness begins to dwindle as the bridegroom’s arrival is delayed.  He is delayed so much that all ten became drowsy and fell asleep.  The wise and the foolish fall asleep.  No one is able to stay ready and awake for the bridegroom; especially with the bridegroom’s delay.

This parable is one of the many reasons why I like the lectionary and the flow of the church year; because without this structure, we wouldn’t study this parable much.  Who really wants to hear about the foolish ones who were not properly prepared for when Jesus returned and who inevitably were late to the party and were locked out of the wedding banquet?  But as we near the season of Advent, which is next month, we hear and study places in scripture where Jesus talks about His second coming – His coming in glory to judge the quick and the dead.  This parable being one of those texts.

In many parables, including this one, the main point of the teaching is to show the relationship between the Father, and the Son, and the church.  At the end of all things, when Jesus returns, there is going to be a wedding and more specifically a wedding banquet or what today we call a wedding reception.  And our Heavenly Father is throwing this party because his Son, Jesus, the bridegroom, is getting married.  He is getting married to the church, the whole church, the Body of Christ.

So we have these bridesmaids, or we could call them, the church.  The Body of Christ, some wise, some foolish, went to meet the bridegroom, Jesus.  But Jesus was delayed in coming for the wedding.  So the church must wait for Christ to return.  Waiting takes patience and preparation.  How good are you at waiting?  And what do you do while you wait?  The five foolish bridesmaids went out to meet the bridegroom, but they were not prepared for the delay.  And when Jesus did finally come, they had to run to get oil and ended up being late to the party.  What do you do while you wait?  Do you just wait?  Or do you use this time to prepare yourself for the bridegroom’s delay?

Some ways in which we prepare ourselves for the bridegroom’s delay and eventual arrival, are two simple things: Word and Sacrament.  Hear and study God’s Word and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  The wise bridesmaids were prepared.  With extra oil, they were prepared for the future.  They were looking to the day of the resurrection and judgment when Jesus would return.  The foolish bridesmaids were not prepared.  With no extra oil, they were only prepared and focused on the present.  In order to prepare ourselves for the bridegroom’s arrival, and delay, we must not get caught up in the here and now.  Rather than placing your hope in things of this world (which cannot save you nor can they prepare you for Christ’s return), instead place your hope in God (who can and does save you).  So continue to hear and study the Word of God throughout the week.  For it is through scripture that we fill our flasks with oil and thus preparing us for whenever the bridegroom returns.  And continue to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Through Christ’s Body and Blood, we are given the strength and the stamina to await the unknown arrival of the bridegroom.

The bridegroom might be delayed, but He is still coming.  Many in the church have been too impatient for the bridegroom.  So they have given up on waiting and have returned to living their lives focused on the present, here and now without any hope of the future resurrection and wedding banquet to come.  And they are the ones who will be sorry, for they will be the foolish bridesmaids who troubled themselves only with present matters, and forgot about God.  They are the ones who will scramble at the last minute to get oil, but by the time they return, they will be too late.  The wedding banquet between Christ and His church will have already begun.  And there the wise bridesmaids will be enjoying communion with all of the saints for all of eternity.

Until the day of Resurrection and of judgment, we gather around our Lord’s Table and feast on the Body and Blood of Christ.  For it is this simple meal of bread and wine that gives us a foretaste of that heavenly feast to come.  Can you patiently wait for that?  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

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Shaped by Saints

Readings for the day (Sunday, November 5, 2017):

Micah 3:5-12

Psalm 43

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Matthew 23:1-12

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Throughout our lives, various people influence and shape who we are today.  Most of the time these influences have positively shaped our values and our faith.  Sometimes though we are negatively shaped by people around us.  And no matter what your age, whether you’re 90, 50, 20, 10, or even 5, you are constantly being shaped by the people around you.  Think of some of those people who have helped shape you.  Your parents, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles.  Maybe a teacher, coach, or co-worker.  Or how about a neighbor, either when you were younger, or even now.

And each person contributes differently to how we are shaped.  I’ve learned many things from my parents and grandparents.  They have especially been great role models for marriage and parenting.  But from a basketball coach, I received great wisdom, not only about the game of basketball, but also life.  And I learned what being a neighbor to someone else really means and looks like from one of my childhood neighbors.

So you see, we have many different people that impact our lives.  And for Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, he is reminding them to rely on those people who have positively impacted and shaped their lives; not the negative ones.  Specifically he is talking about himself, Timothy and the other apostles.  Paul is not saying this in an arrogant sort of way, saying, “Look at how awesome I am.”  Rather, in matters of faith, we need people who encourage us, who model faithful living, and who will hold us accountable.  And Paul tells the Thessalonians, I can be that for you.  Paul knows all too well how difficult it is to continually live our lives for God, putting Him first and trusting in His saving grace.  So Paul tells them, I have been and will continue to help you through your walk with Christ by urging, encouraging, and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God.

You know, we all need these at different times in our lives.  When things are going well, we aren’t necessarily thinking about God and how to use our day to glorify Him.  These are the times when we think we’ve got a pretty good control of things.  So we end up not thinking about God as often.  It is times like these that we need some urging, some reminding, to stay the course.  Then there are times when we are doing it – we’re living our lives for God, faithfully walking with Him, putting our trust in Him.  Those are the times when we need that encouraging word to keep it up – you’re doing a great job.  And then there are times when we turn away, when we hit a patch of ice and go sliding off course.  And that’s when we need the saints to plead to have us come back.

Who has been that faithful saint in your life?  Who has positively shaped your faith formation?  Who has urged you at times, encouraged you at other times, and even pleaded with you that you would continue to lead a life worthy of God?  Today is All-Saints Sunday.  Every day, every week, we give thanks for these faithful saints who are no longer with us.  But today, on All-Saints Sunday, we especially give thanks for those saints in our lives who helped shape who we have become.  We lit candles to remember them, and we give thanks and praise to God for the life that they lived.

And at least for me, in thinking about these saints that have shaped and helped form my faith in God, Paul’s words describe their faith well.  Paul writes, “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.”[1]  For Paul, faith is not just an idea or set of beliefs.  Faith is a practice.  Faith is a way of life.  Faith guides us.  Faith leads us.  Faith defines us.  For Paul, this faith in God is not just a badge that he wears or a card that he carries.  No, this faith fully defines who he is and how he lives his life.  And the saints that I lit my candle for this morning, lived their lives like the gospel mattered.  For them, faith wasn’t just an idea, the creed wasn’t just a set of beliefs.  Rather, it was a way of life.  For them, God was their ultimate influencer and shaper.

And in the gospel reading today, this is exactly what Jesus was getting at when He told the crowd and His disciples to be careful of modeling after the scribes and the Pharisees.  Jesus said, “Do whatever they teach you and follow it, but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”[2]  Jesus didn’t have a problem with their teachings because they were teaching the Old Testament.  He had nothing wrong with that.  What Jesus did have a problem with was that they would teach the crowds one way and then act in a completely different way.  Certainly not someone who you want to be following and learning good faith practices from.  This is why I strongly encourage parents to pick not their best friends to be God-parents of their child.  Instead I suggest picking people who model good faith practices that their child will be able to learn from.

So as we remember those saints who urged us, encouraged us, and sometimes even pleaded with us, we give thanks to God for the life they had, for the memories that we have of them, and the faith in God that they modeled for us in their daily living.  May our faith in Jesus be ever strengthened by their witness and service to God.  And may your witness and service to God for His kingdom be an example to others of what faithful living looks like.  For one day we all will be remembered by others.  How do you want to be remembered?

Praise God we have been blessed with the saints in our lives and we look forward to the day when we will gather together with those saints around God’s wedding banquet for all of eternity.  Amen.

 

© 2017 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 2:13, NRSV

[2] Matthew 23:3, NRSV