AMOS 5: 18-24, PSALM 78:1-7,
1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18, MATTHEW 25:1-13
Rev. Dr. David Breeden, Minister
Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 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.” 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. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Sometimes the Good News is bad news. Not spiritually, of course, but certainly the flesh is weak. No, we just don’t quite get around to buying that extra oil. Besides, who expects the unexpected? And we can always count on being saved from our bad moves, right?—“Rah, rah, Day of the Lord!”
Long before Jesus came along to say otherwise, the great prophets knew that spiritual laws are topsy-turvy. The Psalmist told it straight: “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.” Isaiah pointed it out: "For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high" (2:12). Better buy that oil and trim those wicks. Yet we never do; we think we want it, but we don’t:
Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
It isn’t that what we’ve done isn’t good enough: we have our lamps; we have our oil; we celebrate and gather at the correct times; we think we want the day of the Lord. Our preparations and pieties are sufficient to the day, but not sufficient to the reversal of all our pet and petty assumptions. After all, it is a wise choice to be fleeing from a lion; but who put that bear in the way? Oh, there’s refuge—a nice house to rest in. Oops, we rest against the wall and get bitten by a snake. Common sense just doesn’t cut it when it comes to spiritual laws. We think this kingdom of God is going a particular direction, but it’s not.
And that odd passage from Thessalonians, when our fellow—who we call saint—Paul feels compelled to explain why it is that so many have died before this end of the world he has been preaching. No, not even the son of Man knew the time (Mark 13:32), but Paul, it would appear, tried to tell the time. And got it wrong. Oh, that day of the Lord! It isn’t what we expect. But it is something. This much is clear—buy that extra oil, because, in the spiritual calculus, yes, the day of Lord is something.
Those of us of a certain age cannot read those words of Amos without hearing the great American prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. saying them:
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
We felt bathed, if only for a moment, in Truth. It is still there, though our prophet’s lips are stilled; MLK and Amos still remind us: Hush your songs; stop your harping. The Day of the Lord is not what you think it is.
May we learn the hard spiritual lesson that running from the lion means running toward the bear.
Reflection for November 1, 2011
All Saints Day