Monday, August 29, 2011

Homily: Friday, August 26, 2011 “The End of the World as He Knows It” (Matthew 25:1-13)

Homily: Friday, August 26, 2011
“The End of the World as He Knows It”
Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But 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.’ 10 And 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. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1–13 (NRSVCE)

We continue our study in the parables…parabolein, a throwing alongside. Jesus takes a commonplace experience and uses it to illustrate some principle about the Kingdom of God. Here, it was the typical post-wedding celebration, when the bridesmaids came out to light the way for the procession to the wedding banquet. Some were prepared, others weren’t, and hence we have the first gulf Oil Crisis in History. Whenever we hear a parable, we should be looking for the main image, the main point, usually spoken by Jesus at the end of the parable, sometimes not, but avoid trying to parse these things even tighter and into more detail—they are flashes of trust, not an extended examination of doctrine.

And in this parable, we have a wonderful illustration of how NOT to understand a parable. Of course, Jesus is talking about the coming of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes some of these teachings in the gospel get confused or conflated  with Jesus’ predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred under general Tutus in 70AD. It is interesting to note that many in the Christian community did what was recorded in the gospels and fled the city as the roman armies began the siege.

But there are other texts, in the gospels and other places in the New Testament, that speak about the end times. The study is called Eschatology, from the Greek work Eschaton, meaning end, and if I had the rest of the day I would be able to outline the major themes and teachings here. But I have a golf game with one of my fellow deacons, Dave Ross—and aren’t all of you glad!

But here we can see how the main point of the parable, which we see in v. 13, can get lost in all the end-times excitement. “Stay away, for you know neither the day not the hour.” That’s it, that’s the point. How do you know? Because there’s a lots of other didactic scripture—in other words, not other parables—that clearly teaches this to us.

I remember in the early 80’s, as a minister in Tucson, there was a group who predicted the rapture, and that it would happen right on Mt. Lemon, outside of Tucson during the month of September. In retrospect, I should have been suspicious right off the bat, since Jesus would have chosen one of the beautiful 14-ers in Colorado instead of something in Arizona…but I had to meet with a young family, who were making plans to give their two children, ages 3 and 5, up for adoption because of the pending rapture. I met and studied with them; I remember bringing up this parable, and said, you don’t know the day or the hour, and the guy said, “oh yes, but you CAN know the year and the month!”

And this is what we are dealing with here. We recently saw a group in NYC that was preparing for the rapture, and what do you know, the leaders got it wrong, again. But take heart, they have rescheduled for October. And what usually happens is that leaders sell books, get on TV, create a stir, and followers make unwise decisions about handing over their savings or putting their children up for adoption, and when things don’t turn out as predicted, people lose faith. You may be able to cover it up with “corrections”—the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, had about 5 predictions about the end of the world in the 1920’s and 30’s. When it didn’t happen, he said that Jesus was just moving from mansion to mansion in the heavens, and that “the next one” would be the real one.

The clear teaching of the scripture is that we do not know the time.

Matthew 24:36 (NRSVCE)
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Even Christ, during his time on earth, deliberately stepped out of knowledge of this event, and had entrusted it to the Father.

Sometime when we have a few days we’ll do a complete study here, but there are a few verses to keep in mind:

1 Thessalonians 5:1–9 (NRSVCE)
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 Peter 3:3–13 (NRSVCE)
3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” 5 They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, 6 through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. 8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

So we can know several things, that completely sync with the parable we read this morning
  1. We can be sure that Day is coming…more sure than I know I am going golfing
  2. We cannot know it specifically—we are on a different plane than a being who is not bound by time and space—a day is a 1000, and 1000 are a day (and THAT’s not a formula, either)
  3. The emphasis on the scriptures is on living lives of holiness and goodness—we can actually hasten his coming (the NIV says “speed his coming”)

Not real exciting, not going to sell many books, not going to get me on the evening news, but that’s the end of the world as the Father knows it, and you know what? I feel fine.