Friday, November 28, 2008

B, Advent 1 - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Psalm 80:17-19, Isaiah 64:5-9 "Pots & Moulds"

It’s an ugly mess. It has no form; it’s a great big pile of brown goo. It’s sticky and damp; good for nothing it seems. It’s dirty; perhaps to some it’s even a bit smelly; and if you get it on yourself it can stain. But someone is looking for exactly this; a useless formless piece to be formed into something that is good and pleasing to the eye.

This someone takes the goo and plonks it on the table. The table begins to spin and his hands descend on the formlessness to mould it into something pleasing to the eye; a thing pleasing to the one who turns the tables on something so seemingly useless.

Clay can be troublesome stuff. It can cause heartache for anyone who comes across it. When it’s dry it’s like rock and jars the arms of those who try to break it. But when it’s wet, it’s so sticky, it seems to latch onto anything that touches it and it won’t let go. Anyone who wants to use it has their work cut out for them; such is clay in its natural environment.

However, to the potter clay has a use; a very good use. He knows just what to do to work the goo into something exquisite. The stickiness is worked with wet hands so the clay moves and grows into something good. Its stickiness actually is a quality that keeps the pot adhering to itself. And when it’s put in the kiln and baked the clay is returned to a state that is rock hard to keep its form so it can be used to hold things; perhaps even water.

But clay being what it is can still be trouble. As the potter caringly tries to mould it the clay can collapse and become misshaped. It has to be returned to the lump in which it was originally found and the potter starts again. When the clay becomes a pot, its hardness also makes it brittle and if the pot is not treated right it can shatter into a myriad of pieces. Even if it gets a fine crack, the owner takes to it with a rod reducing it to pieces of potsherd.

When we consider that God is in fact the potter and we are the clay and the pots that he moulds to hold his holy presence we are encouraged to examine ourselves and see the imperfections that cause us and our Heavenly Potter trouble. Isaiah did exactly that when he lamented over his people Israel.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:5-9)

Perhaps you have noticed the imperfections and cracks in the shell of your being. You worry that you’re in danger of being dashed to pieces and thrown on the scrapheap of life. Maybe like Isaiah you see the reality of your hidden human nature — the content of your fragile fatal life — and tremble because you know God sees the sin within.

So hiding the sin is fruitless; it still oozes out the cracks. And even your most honourable and worthy acts can’t exist without containing just a hint of self centeredness. So you know in the depth and core of your being you can do nothing righteous in God’s all-seeing sight. We look in the pot knowing we were moulded and formed to hold something so much better than the pot of filthy rags we have become.

Like the Psalmist we are reduced to see the reality of who we are before God Almighty as we plead…

Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:19)

The fact of the matter is this: we need to be saved. Without intervention and restoration the potter will return and take to the pots with an iron rod and dash us into pieces of potsherd.

Knowing this the Potter sets to work at the wheel yet again and moulds another pot to contain the core of his being. Just as in the days of old when Solomon used clay moulds to cast precious metals for the temple, Almighty God cast Christ Jesus, his holy and precious Son, into the same fragile clay shell as you and me. And in this mould was veiled the depth and breadth of God’s complete holiness and generosity.

This is very good news for us full of cracks and imperfections who know we need restoration so God will look on us favourably. Our prayer should be the same as that of the Psalmist who also sees he cannot save himself…

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. (Psalm 80:17-18)

So God sent his Son; he cast Christ as one of us. The Son of Man at his right hand, the one on whom God’s hand of blessing rested, was sent and born a baby, a fragile clay pot, capable of the same failures as you and me. Yet he did not crack under the pressure that show us for who we are. He stood the test of time, a fragile pot holding the holiness of God, more precious than any silver or gold.

But then the Potter took his rod of wrath. The rod we know we deserve and having his Son raised up, let him be smashed to pieces. The pot was broken, the mortal mould and holy contents was made to die. Christ was cast; then Christ was crucified! God’s hand fell on Christ so the prayer of the Psalmist, together with your prayer, is answered. You are restored! We are revived! God’s face shines on us and we can call on the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. We can confess our sins; our brokenness to God. And even more, God wants us to see ourselves and seek him in confession, so he can forgive the guilt of our sins.

Jesus was poured out like water, he was dried out like potsherd, he was cast as Christ but then he was cast out, the outcast. On the night before he was betrayed and crucified on the cross he said…

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

And so God’s pot was broken like bread and the cup was lifted up for the forgiveness of your sins. God has wet his hands in baptism to mould your mortal clay so you carry what was poured out of the cup of his Son for your salvation. You now contain the life blood of Christ himself in you, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So as we hear from Paul from the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, grace and peace has come to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God can be thanked for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. You can trust that in him you have been enriched in every way.

Therefore, know, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. Also know as you struggle with your fragility, only Christ who continually sends the Holy Spirit through his written word will keep you strong to the end, so you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. He won’t let you down, but he will allow you to be poured out and broken so Christ might flow onto others. But after it is done those who trust his faithfulness will be raised like Christ, to be with Christ, restored and revived, in all the holiness and peace of eternal life, forevermore Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A, Last Sunday of the Church Year - Ezekiel 34:11-16 "Sheep Need a Shepherd"

The picture of a grazier feeding grain to sheep from the back of a Land Cruiser has become a dim picture in the minds of most Queenslanders in the past ten years or so. In fact most kids would not have ever seen or experienced an economy riding on the backs of sheep, unless they live on one of the few properties that still graze sheep. When driving around the Tara-Meandarra area one will notice there aren’t many sheep left. Thousands of sheep grazing in paddocks, a common sight in the 70’s and early 80’s, are not there anymore. The pictures of the caring grazier feeding his sheep grain on drought stricken properties are gone, and, so too, the pictures of sheep grazing on green grassy paddocks are just memories of the past.

So as Australia moves away from being a country dependant on an economy driven by wool and mutton, the picture painted in the texts today of a shepherd caring for his sheep two-thousand years ago in the Middle East gets just a little bit dimmer on the horizon. If we look at what a shepherd does and see the sheep for what they are, these texts can give us a very good picture of what God does for us, how he does it, and who we are. We can put aside the far-fetched picture painted by the movie ‘Babe’, where sheep, a little pig, dogs and a duck seem to be as intelligent as, or even more intelligent than, the old man who farms them.

Anyone who has ever had to work with sheep will know that they are not the brightest animals to ever walk the earth. Left to their own devices they will get into trouble. Some say they are thick or stupid. Sheep easily sulk, flopping down, refusing to be brought back to the herd when they have gone astray. These animals need boundaries and protection. Their wool which once made them so valuable is also the very thing that can harbour their death, if it gets wet and fly blown. When sheep are chased through a gate, if you can get them to the gate, one will jump then the next and the next and so on. Maybe you have heard asked, ‘If someone jumped off a cliff would you?’¬– well a sheep probably would! Graziers have to spend much time and money building and mending fences, to hold the sheep in, and, in some areas, to keep wild dogs out. He might spend a great deal on vehicles, sheepdogs, and pasture improvements to guard and protect these dumb animals. These animals need to be shepherded; the Australian grazier uses these means to do this task of shepherding.

So sheep need pasture or land on which to graze. They need protection from disease and attack from wild animals, and they need someone to watch over them. Farmers have paddocks to protect and keep the sheep together, but when these paddocks run out of feed, the sheep can’t find a new one, and rarely do they find their way back to the paddock if they get out. When their protector approaches them to catch and care for them, they become scared and struggle to get free or go into sulk mode and flop down as if they would give up their life in an instant.

The picture of a shepherd in the Middle East is not really that much different. There are no fences, the shepherd travels with his sheep; he in a sense is the fence for his sheep. He finds the right pastures for them, if he left them to their own devices others would steal them, wild animals would eat them, or they would wander off and get lost from the flock. He calls his sheep with his word and uses his rod to protect, and his staff to save them. Whereas motor bikes, dogs, and Land Cruisers are the identifying sounds and instruments of an Australian shepherd or grazier.

But the fact is without a shepherd, of some sort, sheep are not going to survive. In their temporary existence away from their shepherd or the things put in place to shepherd them, their quality of life will be next to nothing. We are God’s sheep, and he is our shepherd. Are we thick, dumb, or stupid like sheep? Well no, we are not! But our actions are similar to that of a sheep’s because of sin. So we too, need a Shepherd.

The pastures in which God originally placed us, was the lushest garden ever. The Garden of Eden was a paradise of infinite gifts to us from God, with one boundary, and that was not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But like sheep left to their own device, the grass seemed greener on the other side of the fence, outside the boundary, and humanity shepherded themselves into death and separation from God and his garden of gifts, by crossing that boundary. They turned their backs away from the Shepherd and his green pastures, to the fruit which has made us all rotten to the core. Now there is no way that you or I, can get back into the garden that is eternal life, or paradise, no matter how much we try to look like good sheep outside the fence.

So what does God have to say about weak stray sheep outside the fence of paradise and eternal life? He says: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

God has placed a hole back in the fence, so we can enter back into paradise. But guilty as we are, we flee further from God, seeking to be fed outside the fence. The opening he gave us only exposes the boundaries we ignored and crossed. Such is the Law of God which shows us how we sin; the Ten Commandments expose our desire to turn away from God, his will, and the bountiful gifts he wants us to have in our lives. God gives us an entrance back in, but the same craving which led us to break the boundaries and be thrown out of the Garden in the first place, only causes us to run further away.

So to bring us back to his garden of paradise, the Shepherd, in an act of brilliance, sent his Son to shepherd us. He came to make us content to dwell in his garden, or his paddock of perfection, and to heal us and cleanse us of our stricken state. We once again have value as his sheep because he came to seek us and lead us home to our Father’s property, named, Heaven. The Shepherd came to us not as the Shepherd but as a sheep; he came as the Lamb of God. Just as the economy of our country once rode on the sheep’s back, God put his household in order by placing the burden of obedience on Christ’s back. Jesus came as a sheep to heal our waywardness, protect and cleanse us from evil, and to carry us home on his back.

Jesus bore the punishment for our corruption of paradise and subsequent expulsion; he makes us acceptable and gives us access back into the Father’s presence. The Shepherd gave up his position as Shepherd and came as the humble Lamb who bears your sin and mine. And now having been raised, the Lamb of God leads his flock back into God’s eternal paddock of paradise. The economy of God’s church is carried on the back of the Lamb of God. The head servant, Jesus Christ, shepherds us back into God’s presence where he causes us to live forever on his green pastures of paradise.

You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:31).

[So] come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care (Psalm 95:6-7a). Amen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A, Pentecost 27 Proper 28 - Judges 4:1-24 "The Queen Bee"

Joshua led the people of Israel out of the Sinai wilderness across the Jordan into the land of Milk and Honey. He finished what God had commanded Moses to do and led the Israelites into Canaan.

However, once the land was conquered and Joshua sent the tribes off to possess the land, Joshua died and he was not replaced. So there was no single leader to direct the twelve tribes in the ways of the Lord as they went about their business in the land they had acquired.

It was during this time that God raised up judges. These judges didn’t hand down sentences in the way a judge might today. They were called by God to put right what had gone wrong. Therefore, these judges were more like a sheriff from a wild-west town, who was given authority to right wrongs between individuals for the sake of the community.

Just like a wild-west society lawlessness was also at a premium in the days of Israel’s inhabitation as God’s people became an authority to themselves. A phrase in the Book of Judges is repeated over and over again, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The authority of God, which had earlier come from God in his word, spoken by Moses and Joshua, was now being forgotten.

Why was God’s Word, and his statutes, being forgotten? It was basically a failure of vocation! People were no longer doing what they were supposed to be doing. The roles in society needed for orderliness were crumbling. Those stationed in positions of authority were avoiding their responsibilities and those called to remain under the authority of others were not doing so.

God had commanded the Israelites to teach, speak, bear, and live all his decrees and statutes before their children. His command was that they made his word alive by speaking it to the following generations, but this wasn’t happening. Therefore, people were deliberately sinning against God’s law, and there were also those who sinned in ignorance because they had not been taught.

In this time God raised up judges. However, one he raised up was a judge different from all others. God raised up a woman to sheriff the community of Israel, and her name was Deborah. This is peculiar and it shows just how bad things had become. Disobedience of vocational responsibilities had become so great God had to work outside the box to bring orderliness back to Israel.

We do well to hear the whole story, and as we listen take note of Deborah and Jael, the other woman in the story, and see how they act in relation to the men around them.

1 After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. 2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help.

4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” 9 “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honour will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, 10 where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. 15 At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.

17 Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him. (Judges 4:1-24)

Notice it is Deborah who was taking court under the palm tree. This woman was settling the disputes of the Israelites. One has to wonder, where were the elders and the leading men of the villages? It was custom for the men to sit at the town gates and take court, to settle matters people had with each other.

But it is Deborah who was bringing order when it should have been the leading tribesmen. In fact, Deborah is the Hebrew name for a bee, and comes from a word which means to subdue, command, speak, or arrange. And so we can see the orderliness of a bee hive and see how the bees work as one under the queen bee for the benefit of the hive. Similarly God used Deborah to bring order once again to the hive in the land of honey, the land of Canaan.

Where it might be normal for the commanding bee to be a queen, it is not customary for a woman to lead in Israel. So what might seem to us today as a sign of equality and political correctness is, in fact, a marker that something was completely out of wack with the orderly society of Israel, as God had originally intended for them in the land of milk and honey!

The evil done in the sight of the Lord, had reached a new depth. The dominion and subduing was left to Deborah while those entrusted with God’s leadership — within individual families, groups of families, and the twelve tribes — did evil in the eyes of the Lord, appearing more as drones in the hive than leaders leading the nation out of sin.

Deborah was the wife to Lappidoth, and his name means wormwood, with connotations of being cursed or poisonous. Not surprisingly due to the evil of the Israelites, they had become cursed and poisonous to God. So God called Deborah to lead Israel, and she called Barak to go in the name of the Lord and take on Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army.

The Israelites in their evil brought continual oppression on themselves as Jabin reigned down terror on them, but Jabin was no slouch. His name gives testimony to this, as Jabin means to be cunning, to be a perceiver, and one who is intelligent. He must have thought, “If a woman was leading the Israelite, then there has to be problems on the home front!”

Added to this was Barak’s whimpish response when Deborah commanded him to rally men to fight. He wouldn’t go unless Deborah went. Barak wasn’t even bold enough to fulfil his vocation of leading God’s army into battle, even though the attack had been commanded by God. The ways of the Lord had surely been forgotten as they placed their fear in a force other than God. Therefore, Deborah promised Barak, on behalf of God that Sisera would be handed over to a woman and honour would not fall to him.

God clearly worked through Deborah, Jabin’s army was defeated and slain. Jabin’s general, Sisera, fled to the home of Heber the Kentite. Heber welcomed him and Sisera commands Heber’s wife, Jael, to hide him. He tells her to stand at the door and lie for him, telling Sisera’s pursuers that he is not there.

Ironically we’ve heard how Deborah took the place of men in court, which was usually done at the gate of the town, and now another woman is called to stand at the entrance of her home protecting a man cowering from his enemy. But Jael whose name means to do good, or ascend (like that of a wild goat up a mountain), rises to the occasion and kills Sisera as he hides. Just as Deborah had forecast, the honour went to a woman, when Sisera was handed over to Jael.

At this time of rebellion, God restored stability through Deborah. The queen bee had ordered the hive, and it remained that way for another forty years.

We do well to reflect and meditate on this piece of Israel’s history in these days as God is forgotten more and more, as fathers fail to foster the faith in their families, as family authority is undermined time and time again. Isn’t it time men in our society stood up once again in the vocations into which God has called them? That women be encouraged to take hold of the extraordinary vocations God has created for them! That men and woman be subject to one and other out of reverence to Jesus Christ, while fulfilling the necessary and critical functions that benefit our whole society!

Shouldn’t we once again encourage those in authority to be students of God’s word, so we might fulfil our vocations to teach, speak, bear, and live the word of God, in our homes, in our communities, and in our country?

Even greater than the statutes and laws of Deborah’s time is the greater gift of the Gospel we bear today.

Surely our vocation as Christians is to teach, speak, bear, and live the daily forgiveness that comes to us from Jesus’ death on the cross. If we as pastors and parents don’t teach, speak, bear, and live Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins, who will?

Let every one of us stand under the authority God places over us, so he can put us right. So we might be judged right in his sight! And in doing so may he use us in his kingdom, to work through us, to teach and lead others to where true forgiveness and eternal peace can be found. Amen.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A, Pentecost 26 Proper 27 - Matthew 25:1-13 "Rest Ready"

What are you waiting for? Waiting is one of the hardest things to do. Waiting for something to finish; waiting for it to start. Waiting for Christmas; waiting for work to finish, waiting for the weekend. Waiting for first love; fiancées waiting for their wedding day. Waiting for morning, for sickness to end, waiting for it all to be over. Waiting to become pregnant, waiting nine months to see who your child is, and kids always waiting for mum or dad so they can get going! What are you waiting for?

Ten girls were waiting. They were bridesmaids, they were virgins. As their excitement built while they waited it took its toll and they fell asleep. There was no way they could maintain this enthusiasm without exhaustion setting in.

These ten girls had come to honour the bride and groom at the wedding breakfast. Perhaps to entertain and dance for them and their guests! And accompanying them were their torches; poles with rag bound to one end and soaked in olive oil. These torches would burn for about fifteen minutes before going out, and the girls would then have to trim off the burnt rage before re-soaking in olive oil and relighting the torches once again. They knew they needed to be ready with more oil as they waited for the groom to arrive.

We know that five of these girls were not prepared as they waited. As the night wore on their excitement turned to slumber, so when the bridegroom arrived and they were called into service, a startling jolt raised them from sleep as they dashed to soak their torches to be ready.

The ill-equipped girls’ actions were inexcusable. Their lack of preparedness showed them to be quite naïve. One wonders what they must have been thinking; this was an important occasion. They were quite disrespectful if they thought the event would be over in fifteen minutes. They demonstrated they hadn’t thought about what was going to happen, nor did they think about what they needed. Their insolence revealed their immaturity and ignorance and when the groom finally arrived they had no one else to blame but themselves. Whatever was going on within their hearts and minds, they grossly misread the importance of the event and their negligence caused them to be excluded at the end.

However, the ten girls waiting for the bridegroom is a parable. It’s a story Jesus told to illustrate what’s going to happen when he returns at the end for the resurrection and judgement of all people. This parable of the five prepared and the five unprepared girls is about you, me, and all people as we dwell here in the times before Jesus returns.

It’s a sobering thought for us all. We’re in the last days and Christ’s return could happen at any moment. The seriousness of our situation also confronts us as we ask ourselves: What am I waiting for? Am I prepared? How should I prepare myself? And which of the five girls am I in this parable?

If we are quick to judge ourselves by what we do, we need to do so with caution. The ten girls essentially all did the same thing. They all had their torches and they all fell asleep. They were the same, their appearances didn’t negate them from entry into the wedding banquet, but rather it was their unpreparedness. Five of the girls were resting ready, and five were resting on their own laurels, waiting in naïve ignorance.

So what should we do? Should we give up working, sit on top of a hill and wait for the rapture? No! I guarantee that like the bridesmaids our enthusiasm would quickly wear off and we would end up of use to nobody, not even ourselves. After all, all ten girls were sleeping —not watching out for the groom to arrive — yet five were still taken into the banquet.

Therefore, thinking the act of sitting in wait for Christ’s return will earn us the reward of eternal life is just plain wrong. Rather, patiently waiting, resting ready, being prepared everyday, is much more beneficial than being completely unprepared when it comes.

So the question is this: How do I become prepared so when Christ returns he might take me into the wedding breakfast of eternal glory forever?

Imagine the ten girls standing around waiting for the groom to arrive looking each other up and down. After all they all look the same, they all act the same, and they all fall asleep as they wait. But as they wait those with reserves of oil would have continued to wait patiently while those without spare oil would have been secretly convincing themselves, thinking, “We’re alright we’ll get in, we’ve got plenty of time yet!” Or perhaps they thought, “If he lets the others in, he’ll let us in too!” And when the bridegroom comes and they get caught out, even still they thought their efforts would get them in the door, “She’ll be right, we’ll talk our way in!” But as we know it’s not to be as they come to work their ways at they door the bridegroom replies, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you!

Therefore, what should surely grieve all Christians is when we hear of others who call themselves Christian, yet do not think it necessary to go to church! They rest on their own laurels thinking they have done enough to be welcomed by the bridegroom at the end of the age. Or they’re too ashamed to come and receive the essentials to cleanse and prepare them for the bridegroom.

But even more dreadful are those who think going to church is some kind of justifying work that earns them the right of entry. However, in all the time they spend working their glory, churching themselves, they never stop long enough to obediently receive the one thing that prepares them for eternity. As a Christian and a minister of Jesus Christ, it distresses me to see brothers and sisters too busy to really hear and receive the message of Christ!

The one thing we all need is forgiveness, this is what prepares us. It is essential for our preparation for the bridegroom’s return. Forgiveness cleanses us of all our sins before God the Father. Forgiveness gives us peace with God the Father. And forgiveness from God gives us the victory Christ won on the cross. Forgiveness is the good oil, you need his forgiveness! This good oil makes you holy; be anointed with the Anointed One, the Messiah, God’s Son. To be prepared, rest ready having heard and believed the good oil of forgiveness given for you!

However, this good oil is not cheap. For God to forgive us our sins against him, it cost Jesus his life! Although we can forgive each other we can’t give God’s forgiveness to each other, nor can we produce it ourselves, it comes from God himself, through his Son, Jesus Christ. And this good oil makes us candles of Christ burning with the Holy Spirit until Christ returns. We get the good oil through the essential things Jesus gives us so we might bear the forgiveness of sins.

These essentials are the forgiveness of sins given in Baptism, and the burning of the Holy Spirit in us making us yearn, to return time and time again, to be forgiven by God himself through the words of absolution spoken by the pastor. This forgiveness also comes when we take the bread and drink the wine, which is the good oil of Christ’s body and blood. And through the preaching and hearing of God’s Word where the Holy Spirit is given, we are fed the good oil so we might rest ready, alive in Christ. Just like the five girls prepared with reserves of oil for when the bridegroom made his surprise return!

So we return to the first question: What are you waiting for? Perhaps a better question is this: What are you waiting with? Jesus calls us to be ready — to keep watch — yet all the girls fell asleep. So we have the peculiar occurrence that five of the girls slept but in fact were keeping watch, or were being kept in their watch as they rested in Christ. But the other five slept and were not ready. In fact they were sleeping in the slumber that leads to eternal death.

To keep watch is keeping watch over ourselves, to remain vigilant, resting in Christ and remaining immersed in the means he gives us, supplying us with the good oil of his grace.

Therefore, encourage one and other to return and receive the forgiveness and the refining fires of the Holy Spirit that God so dearly desires all to have. Allow the continual cleansing and preparation of yourselves with the good oil of God’s grace. Rest ready in Christ; trim your torches!

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire… Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen. (1 Thessalonians 5:19,21-24)