LEAVES ARE FALLING: WINTER IS COMING
The text for this sermon is Matthew 25:1-13. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on November 9, the 26th Sunday after Pentecost.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I am intrigued by the obvious signs in nature that we are changing from one season to another. I grew up in California where the signs weren’t so obvious. Many trees in southern California are green throughout the year, lawns are watered all year long and the grass becomes greener in the winter. Often we wore shorts on Christmas Day.
Here in Virginia the leaves have peaked in color and the leaves are really falling right now. By now we should have winterized our irrigation systems and outdoor fountains. The squirrels in our yard at home are working overtime in storing their acorns. There is no question in my mind that Winter is coming.
The scripture lessons today all have to do with something that’s coming too, the Day of the Lord and our preparations. The prophet Amos was preaching to people in 8th century Israel. He said the Day of the Lord will be one of gloom and darkness. It will be a day of judgment. If you want it to turn out to be a positive day for you, you have time now to start now living and acting in a just and merciful way toward others. (You might guess that he was speaking to people who lived for themselves and didn’t show compassion and generosity to those who were in need).
In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul is very positive in his expectation of the coming Day of the Lord. Writing to first century Christians in Thessalonica, he brings reassurance to their fear that those who have already died will not be able to participate in this great event. Paul teaches that all believers, whether still living or now dead, will be raised to see Jesus.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus uses his Parable of the Ten Maidens to teach about the Day of the Lord. Five were prepared because they had made sure to have extra oil in case the bridegroom was delayed (and he was). Five did not get extra oil and so were not ready when the day finally came.
Today I urge you to stay with me as I speak about preparation for the future and changes that must be made ahead of time in order to be ready. I’m not just speaking about our ultimate death and our ultimate resurrection. Our presidential vote and the election of Barack Obama is a mark of change in our nation that is remarkable. I’d like to think this change points to a future that God has in mind for us. I suspect that some folks weren’t prepared ahead of time for the outcome of that election and didn’t recognize the signs of change in our country.
I know someone who had real problems with the presidential candidates, even before the choice came down to just John McCain and Barack Obama. These were this person’s personal criteria for selecting a president: never a woman; never a man of color; never a man over the age of 70; never a Republican. I am left wondering how my acquaintance voted when they entered the polling booth.
A number of us participated in the Prayer Vigil here at Resurrection the day before the national election. Our prayers were very personal. I hope the prayer of all of us, whether here at the Prayer Vigil or at home, was that God would direct the outcome so that the person elected would be the one He wanted. I hope our prayer is that our new president Barack Obama, will be blessed and guided in his work and decision-making.
When times become perilous, when people become anxious and afraid, a natural way of reacting is to enter a world of denial of reality. “If I just ignore the problem, it will go away…I will just take care of myself and everyone else will just have to fend for themselves…I want everything to stay the same…By God, I won’t change!”
Today in our Adult Forum we are going to be discussing an article in the latest issue of The Lutheran magazine. The article is entitled, “To Go Where We’ve Never Gone Before; Pruning and Death in Congregations Can Bring Life.” Dan Gibson, Lutheran Campus Pastor at the University of Southern California, believes that in congregations as well as in society that God is constantly at work pruning us; snipping off this branch and burning off that field in order that new life can emerge. We don’t have to think of death and resurrection as just relating to the end of our earthly life and the beginning of our heavenly life. Those concepts of God’s work take place here and now, and have since the beginning of Creation.
It’s easy to trust God’s promises when life seems peaceful (remember a short while ago when our house prices were going up and up, our 401-K plans were looking sweet, our jobs were secure). Its easy to trust God when the economy is on the upswing, and relationships are going well. It’s easy to trust that God is ushering in a new world when you see a hungry child given a full meal, a once declining church on the upswing, a sick family member healing with successful care. It’s easy to trust that Jesus will show up when you first hear the promise that he has made to come and make all things new. But when it’s midnight (like in Jesus’ Parable) and you’ve been waiting for peace that never seems to come, waiting for a few extra dollars to get you out of a hole that never seems to shrink, waiting for something to change in a relationship that seems beyond repair…when you see hungry children go on suffering, when you are watching your church dying off, when the doctors tell you reluctantly that there’s nothing more to do…that’s when you draw on the fuel that we hoped we would never need, fuel that enables us to live into God’s promises long before they are fulfilled. Some of us here are really re-evaluating what is most precious in life, where we should focus our attention, how to again place our faith and trust in God as a first priority rather than an afterthought.
We received a letter from Bishop Mauney last week. He was writing his impression of his experience at Resurrection on October 26. I am glad he used the metaphor of leaves. It seems especially appropriate today.
Dear Pastors Carol and Jim, wondrous staff, and the saints of Resurrection Lutheran!
I was just soaring down the interstate on Sunday afternoon!! No, I wasn’t speeding: I was thinking about being at Resurrection alive in worship, music, building, fellowship Reformation Fair, and many many plans for the future in the name of the Lord! I saw sooooooo many young children and youthful faces.
Driving down the interstate I looked at the beautiful colors of fall, but they didn’t come close to the wondrous array of colors and cultures at Resurrection! How wonderful to see a congregation of red and yellow, black, and white! Your hospitality declares, “ALL are precious in His sight!”
I want to thank you all once again for your zeal in the Lord, your joy in the Lord, and your partnership in the Lord! You are leaders in our synod, and you are poised for even greater mission and growth in faith in the coming years!
May our Lord continue to bless and guide you in your plans and especially to fill you through the waters of baptism, the meal of Holy Communion, and the proclamation and teaching of the Word.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. James F. Mauney, Bishop
I’d like to think that Bishop Mauney captured well the essence of Resurrection. I pray that God is guiding us into His future and that we are providing oil for the lamps of more and more people of all colors who are sent our way.