As we come to the end of the church year we have several parables about watchfulness. Today’s passage comes from Matthews gospel and is the parable of the ten bridesmaids. The reminder at the end of the passage is to ‘keep awake, for we know neither the day nor the hour.’ The parable can be a bit of a head scratcher and we may even find an element of it that is unfair. However, I believe there is an underlying message that calls us to be awake, alert and watchful in our present time to issues of justice. It is also a suitable theme to bear in mind as we commemorate Remembrance Sunday.
Food Drive Reminder
MONDAY, NOV. 16 9AM-12 NOON
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a difficult one for folks in our community who experience homelessness and food insecurity, but COVID-19 has turned a difficult time into a dangerous one for many in Cobourg and the surrounding area.
Fortunately, you can help—and we’re making it easier than ever to do so!
Drop off your non-perishable items on the front doorstep (no need to go inside) of St. Andrew’s church on MONDAY, NOV. 16 BETWEEN 9AM-12 NOON.
All food donations will go directly to our local Northumberland Fare Share Food Bank (http://www.fareshare.ca/) to be distributed directly to those in need in our community.
Donating couldn’t be safer or easier—just drop your items on the step and go! We’ll take care of the rest.
What does it mean to be watchful? It’s an interesting question to ask ourselves on Remembrance Sunday. A Sunday when we give thanks to those who served in armed conflict, individuals who held watch against those who desired less that freedom and justice for all people.
Our passage this morning from Matthew is known as the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and it is a part of a series of parables about ‘watchfulness’. It is also a parable that doesn’t have what we might describe as a fairy tale or happy ending. The five bridesmaids who forgot their oil don’t get let into the banquet. There is actually much in this parable that might have us scratching our heads and it perhaps leaves us with as many questions as it does answer.
We might ask why the bridegroom doesn’t recognize the bridesmaids. Is it not reasonable that he would know them? Even if he doesn’t know them personally, he would know that the wedding party is missing some of its bridesmaids. Then there is the issue of value that we assign to the bridesmaids themselves. The wise ones with oil have faith or have done good works. Those who don’t have the oil are seen as lacking in faith or some other moral quality.
In his commentary on this passage Dirk Lange writes, “The cry “Lord, Lord,” takes us back to the earlier chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). And, of course, the lamps (or torches) recall other words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16).” (Dirk Lange).
This should tell us something important. That living out the values found in the beatitudes which we looked at last week are central to who is recognized. The correlation is that God has a strong concern for justice and righteousness. When we read the Beatitudes, the sense we get is that God desires to right some things that we often get wrong. We ourselves are challenged to see the world in powerful new ways. What Matthew is saying today is that God sees and recognizes that change within us. We need to remember that the community Matthew was writing to had split from the temple in Jerusalem and was facing a host of problems. One of which was an eroding of faith and vigilance as they believed that Christ would come again and soon! Thus, the admonition in the passage to “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Today I would argue that rather than waiting for a specific time and event, we are always working to bring the kingdom of God into a realized state in the world we inhabit. That our every act that resonates with justice and the heart of God is an act of watchfulness. To me this seems to be what Amos is saying in our passage from the Old Testament. Amos is a minor prophet, which is a comment only in relation to the word count of this book in the Old Testament. If you look at what Amos does and says, you realize he provides a sharp rebuke on the state of things.
Speaking on behalf of God, Amos says, “I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” To put it in our terms, that’s Amos saying, again on behalf of God, that I dislike Christmas and that your worship is offensive to me. Why does Amos say this? Because the people have strayed so far away from what God had hoped for them. It’s not just that they offer lip service to God, it’s that they treat others within their own communities terribly. Instead, Amos tells us to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
God is interested in justice and righteousness. In equality for all peoples. In the Old Testament a powerful command to the people is to care for the orphan, the widow and the alien or immigrant among you. These are the people who under the laws of the land had no rights, they were easily pushed to the margins of society. However, God says you must care for these groups of people: The marginalized.
Throughout scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, we see this thread of compassion and care being woven throughout the story. Take care of people, ensure that justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. It often sounds like a conflict, of those who need justice versus those who withhold it. And perhaps in times and places this is true. However, if we simplify it all down to a nutshell what God is asking of us is, that we ensure that justice and righteousness happen. It doesn’t mean we have to take something away from someone else, only that everyone receives their fair share. Creating an equitable society doesn’t require that the rich become poor, only that we take permanent steps to ensure everyone is able to survive and thrive at a certain level.
What does it look like? In our own times we might say that everyone has enough to eat. That everyone has somewhere safe to sleep. That everyone has access to the health care and supports they need to thrive in life. Think about who Jesus ministered to, think about the things he offered them or that were offered to him. Jesus fed the 5000. Mary and Martha offered a safe roof.
We might remember the story of the Good Samaritan, do unto neighbours as you would have done to you. And who is my neighbour, the one who showed mercy. Each week we pray, ‘thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ and then we promptly forget to live that out and work for a society based on fairness.
What does it mean to be watchful? It means you are looking for those opportunities to balance the scales. To ensure that justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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