Proper 27A Sermon (2008)

Proper 27 (November 6-12)
Texts: Matthew 25:1-13;
1 Thess. 4:13-18; Amos 5:18-24

THE AUDACITY OF HOPE

“This is our moment. This is our time.” No matter what your politics, I’d like to suggest that these words from Barack Obama Tuesday evening capture the mood and theme of this morning’s parable from Jesus. In this story of ten bridesmaids, Jesus is trying to alert his listeners to the fact that time can run out. ‘The time to repent and move forward with a new agenda, the agenda of God’s kingdom, is now,’ Jesus is trying to tell us. Otherwise, the consequences are dire. In Jesus’ own time, as proud Jews, God’s chosen people, living under the power and domination of the Roman Empire, this especially meant repenting of ways of violence to stop the Romans and take up God’s agenda of suffering the violence in a way that is redeeming for everyone. Ultimately, it meant that he would go that way first on the cross. And then the resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit would open up that way of bringing salvation to the world to disciples of Jesus. As Jesus was about to get things started with his own suffering on the cross, this parable is saying to his disciples, “This is our moment. This is our time. Be ready. Stay Awake. Watch what’s about to happen.”

The question for this morning is: what’s happened to our readiness as Christians to live the agenda and values of God’s kingdom in this world, and for the sake of this world? I propose that the number one thing, which is probably too familiar to you at this point, is that our Christian hope has been waylaid along the way to become an otherworldly hope instead of a this-worldly hope. Here’s an example. In one of the Children’s Sermons I looked at for today, the bottom line ending went like this: “Finally, as we wait for the Lord to return, let us tell others about Jesus and his great love for them. We may not know when Jesus will return, but we do know that when he does return, he will take us to heaven to be with him forever. Won’t that be a wonderful day!” One of the problems for me is that the sense of urgency becomes telling others about Jesus so that they can go to heaven, too, but what about a sense of urgency for our lives now?

Here’s a section of Obama’s speech that I think puts well the urgency of our own time in history:

This is your victory. I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime — two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor’s bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

What I’d like to know is what does the Christian message of hope have to do with any of that if it’s only about our individual souls going to heaven someday? Does our faith have anything to say about pitching in at this time in history with a message about God the Creator and Jesus Christ being true Lords of this world so that we might offer some of their agenda, their values? When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” does it have any bearing on the crucial, urgent problems facing us that Barack Obama outlined on Tuesday night?

Do you see what I’m getting at here? If our hope is only for an otherworldly existence after we die, then what is our urgency as Christians in the face of today’s real world problems? But what if that’s not what our Christian hope is about at all? What if our hope goes far beyond the promise of rest in the Lord when we die to a time of new creation when God’s power of life raises us to new resurrection bodies that we might joyfully be part of a creation free of the powers of sin and death? And what if the power to make that happened already was unleashed on this world and has begun to work two thousand years ago on Easter morning? Would that give us more a sense of urgency as to what to do with this world’s real problems still under the oppression of sin and death? Would we say with Barack Obama, but with our discipleship of Jesus at the forefronts of our minds, ‘Yes! This is our moment. This is our time. This is our chance to repent and get on board with God’s agenda, God’s kingdom, God’s will for this creation. Jesus got it started for us two thousand years ago, and the problems we face now are our opportunity to follow Jesus and be part of God’s finally defeating those powers of sin and death for good. Yes, Lord Jesus, we will get on board with what you started in this world so long ago. We will answer your call. This is our moment. This is our time — to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace around the world; to reclaim God’s Dream of a creation that lives in harmony, grace, peace, and love. Amen.’

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, November 9, 2008

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