It’s been a long week this week, hasn’t it?
It’s been a long week amidst a long, seemingly never-ending election cycle, hasn’t it?
It’s been a long week amidst an ever-longer, ever-stretching onward, seemingly never-ending pandemic, hasn’t it?
And all of this challenging, difficult terrain amidst lives and a world that was already full of challenges, full of running from a lion only to find a bear, searching for rest and only finding snake bites, to use phrases from the prophet Amos.
Where’s the comfort, dear prophet Amos? Where is the reminder that all will be well?
If we came looking for rest and quiet in church today, I am afraid that God through our scripture texts had other plans for us in store!
It was even so for the Israelites, who long ago were likely feeling the threat of the Assyrians at the time when the prophet Amos’ words came into being. The Israelites were likely looking for a promise of comfort and eventual vindication for themselves as God’s chosen people, a promise that all would be well, for them at least. And Amos gives them lions and bears and snakes.
Within the socio-historic and scriptural context of its writing, Amos was reminding the Israelites that without justice for the poor and the oppressed; legal systems that protect the rights of all people, and healthy relationships with God at the center; without these actions as the result of their worship, their worship with all of its offerings and prayers and songs was empty and nothing before God.
Thank you, prophet Amos, for the pick me up in this difficult and challenging week! Don’t we have enough on our plates without you reminding us of God’s longing for justice? God’s calling to get prepared and get to work?
And what about the pick me up in our gospel lesson today? Keep ready with metaphorical oil for the lamps of our lives or get left out when the Bridegroom comes, and leaves again shutting the door behind Him, leaving those unprepared on the other side of the door.
But Jesus, it can be hard work to keep enough oil in our lamps to sustain them so as to burn through the long night. Hard work to stay prepared as we wait and watch for you, Jesus because frankly you sometimes seem to be taking your sweet time to get going with your resurrection work in the midst of the sins and brokenness, darkness and difficulties of this world and our lives. Jobs are being lost, mental health is being challenged, national and international leaders are derelict in their duties and we…are waiting on the resurrection story!
Paired together, Jesus’ parable + Amos’ prophetic words = Keep your tanks full for the works of justice, especially for those most in need in this world and don’t take your own salvation for granted.
Right about now, as you hear me talking about justice for those most in need during this sermon, you might be thinking to yourselves, “oh, there goes Pastor Tobias again, talking about justice. We’ve heard that sermon. We know what he says next. Maybe I’ll just tune back in again when it’s time to sing and pray. I love it when we sing and pray.”
My friends, I love it when we sing and pray as well, but we cannot afford to tune out when God in Christ is calling us to sit up, sit forward, listen in, and spring into action. To be ready, and to be at the ready where and when God in Christ needs us. That is just what these lessons are reminding us of today!
I want to share with you a story, a story that has emerged through the book entitled, “The Book Collectors.” It’s the story of a young man named Ahmad Muaddamani and his friends, who, amidst the ongoing brutality and hostilities that continue even today in Syria, founded an underground library amidst the rubble of their suburb Daraya, outside of the city of Damascus.
Yes, amidst the savagery that President Bashar Al Assad’s regime was creating, Ahmad and friends found books in a destroyed house in 2013, and then more books in the basement of a destroyed building. Gathering together these and many other found books, they had turned their harvest of more than 13,000 volumes into a library by 2015; a library free and accessible to all, housed in the basement of an otherwise destroyed building. There readers discovered love poems by Nizar Quabbani, as well as Shakespeare and Moliere. There readers found sustenance for their hearts and minds and souls as the world outside literally burned.
Oil for their lamps amidst a long, ongoing night.
I’m afraid this story that I’m sharing with you today does not have a happy ending. The young men who founded this oasis amidst the storm of war eventually had to flee their town and leave their library behind. And we know that the pain and suffering of the people of Syria continues under the assault of their tyrant president. Not all experiments in democracy go well, even with the most vigilant of efforts.
Our parable from Jesus does have an entirely happy ending either. Though all the bridesmaids in Jesus’ story recognize the Bridegroom, only five of the ten have stayed vigilant and kept their lamps filled with oil, prepared and ready to join the feasting. The other five are left behind. And really, how can any feasting be truly joyful if anyone else has been left behind or left out?
And remember Amos: if you are rejoicing in worship without also getting ready to go out and do the hard, day to day work of bearing God to those most in need, you’re missing the full story. Your worship rings empty.
Now even as Matthew was writing to his fledgling Christian community, that was in the midst of breaking away from the synagogue; a community impatient for the Parousia, that is the second coming of Christ with the fulfillment of God’s resurrection promises; even as Amos was warning the Israelites not to think their worship was in and of itself enough; so now you and I are hearing these stories, witnessing these scripture lessons so that we might see the fullness of God’s invitation to us through the resurrection of Jesus:
Worship. Yes. But also pray and listen for where else you may serve God in the world. And who else you might serve. Can you offer 2 1/2 hours a month to help Redeemer, New Paltz distribute fresh vegetables to those who are hungry? Can you help teach young and old the stories of the gospel of Christ’s never-ending love? Can you help Redeemer get online and in-person ministry going through tech support or financial gifts? Can you help Redeemer listen and pray for where and how we can partner with other organizations that connect with our focus areas of Homelessness/Hunger, Justice/Equality, Earthcare, and Campus Ministry?
Sometimes it can seem that the long weeks seem to stretch into long years amidst challenging lives in a difficult world that does not always know justice. There may not be a happy ending the way fairy tales and Hollywood movies so often portray them. Yet even amidst the rubble and at times seeming upheaval of all that we have known or trusted, we may yet discover a few books that lead us to other books that lead us to the work of justice for all people, and the building of the metaphorical and literal libraries of inspiration that can feed our lives and the lives of all peoples, of this and all nations. Amen.