Saturday, October 8, 2011

Proper 27 Year A

Proper 27 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78: 1-7


Amos 5: 18-24; Wisdom 6: 17-20
OR Psalm 70

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

Joshua gathers the tribes of Israel to discover the limits of their loyalty to the God of their origins through Abraham and Sarah. The first test is between their loyalty to God and the gods of their neighboring nations. They all promise their allegiance to God. Joshua turns the screw. But this God to whom you have just pledged your loyalty can be quite unpredictable. God's holiness can include jealousy and even harm after having done good. They repeat their allegiance. Joshua tells them they will be witnesses
against themselves if they fail to keep their promise. Then he proceeds with the details of their covenant.

In these introductory verses to a lengthy psalm that reviews the long
relationship between God and the chosen, the poet relies on the recitation of that history to continue and renew the covenant with this and future generations.


In a rare time of peace and prosperity, religious practices had become elaborate re-enforcements of the status quo. Without credentials and coming our of nowhere, Amos speaks in a brash, new way. He warns against "calling" on the Lord when the results may not be what you expected or wanted. He derides routine liturgical offerings, rituals and singing. Rather
"let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Justice and righteousness are the specific demands of the Lord.

Drawing on ideas and even verbatim excerpts from Proverbs and
Ecclesiasticus, the writer of this book dedicated to Wisdom composes a paean: "the one who loves her/ will keep her laws." And, find immortality and nearness to God.

compact psalm that calls upon the Lord to confront one's enemies and even spin them around on their heels. (This psalm is repeated in Psalm 40: 14-18)

Paul addresses two big questions among early believers: death and the return of Christ. Paul teaches that when Christ returns, those who have died trusting will be raised up from the dead to join current believers and go to the Lord forever. This is not an argument, but a "hope" which believers can have because of the resurrection of Jesus. "Encourage one another with these words."


Although the narratives of Mark and Luke include similar sayings, only Matthew's places it at the conclusion of a story about ten people, five who were prepared and five who were not and the consequences.  Ten bridesmaids took with them their lamps as they went out to greet the arrival of the "bridegroom."  While five only took their lamps,the other five took their lamps and an extra supply of oil.  "Five were foolish and five were wise."  By the time the "bridegroom" arrived at "midnight," the five "wise" were prepared for his arrival, but the five "foolish" had to ask the others for some oil.  But the "wise" said they might not have enough and the five others should go and buy some more.  While they were gone, the "bridegroom" arrived!  The five who were prepared eagerly greeted him, went into the "marriage feast," and the door was shut.  When the five "foolish" arrived late, they asked to be admitted. but were told by the "bridegroom" that he "did not know" them.  "Watch, therefore, for you know not neither the day nor the hour."

How does one prepare for the unexpected? Just exactly how are we to live without final answers? These passages are about the mood, tactics, stance, and attitude for the meantime, the time between today and God's fulfillment, (which, by the way, may not be what we expected after all!).

The parable of the wise and foolish, unique to Matthew, serves a specific function in his narrative. It is not about the content of faith, but learning the steps in the dance of believing; not belief as an exercise of right-thinking but about behavior and priorities while we wait; not about concepts but actions. Even if we lack details about when, where and how Jesus will return, we are to learn the right habits engendered by eager expectation.

Even didactic Paul, who seems compelled to explain everything in detail, recognizes that this faith to which we respond is closer to "hope" than proof.

Joshua emphasizes that when one pledges loyalty to this God, one makes that promise not really knowing what specific demands that promise might require in the future; it is an open-ended promise.

Amos recognizes that the most carefully observed religious life in all its liturgical and pietistic details has at its center a volcanic eruption of justice which is always unpredictable because it is God's justice.

Marin Heidegger turned his laser-like attention to an aspect of our lives that we already know but just have not thought about as clearly as he did. In
Being and Time he examined this experience using the German word " Befindlichkeit." It was traditionally translated as "state-of-mind." But subsequently others have proposed other possibilities, such as mood or stance or attitude or predisposition. Our primary mood "simmers" in us until a specific event reveals it to us. This stance or attitude, therefore, influences how we interpret and respond to any specific event. Heidegger assumes we "cultivate" our primary attitude or predisposition through sefl-reflectionrespond that makes the event what it actually becomes. Ultimately, the stance or attitude we cultivate affects our potentiality for being.

People expect
biblical insights and sermons about appropriate belief, but these narratives with which we are dealing here point us in the direction of mood/stance/attitude/predisposition. And they insist that the stance we cultivate as the primary mode in which we live life determines if we are foolish or wise, prepared or unprepared for whatever God has in store because we have pledged our allegiance not knowing where that pledge will take us.

Explicating Heidegger (in particular his reflections of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians)  and Derrida, John Caputo concludes:  "The 'second coming of Christ' is not a 'when' to be calculated but a 'how' to be lived, not a matter of reckoning a definite time in the future, but of being ready, existentially transformed and radically open to an indefinite possibility that must be preserved in its indefiniteness."  (The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion, pp 139-140)   This "radical openness," Derrida insists, inflames "passion,"  a "passion to let justice flow."  (p. 338)

know the expression, "fear of the unknown." These biblical readings offer an alternative: "hope for the unknown" based on trust in the God of those who have gone before us and have found their salvation as we can, too.