Nothing beats a bunch of apocalyptic texts in the middle of a pandemic. The word apocalypse’s meaning is not well known in general public. Most people think it means the end of the world. But of course, what it really means is “uncovering,” because what will be uncovered will be how people really are. There is a reason why, in the midst of tragedy or historic events heroes and villains emerge.
Matthew 25:1-13 speaks of the kingdom as the final wedding. One where we are revealed to be either foolish or wise, because the bridesmaids are human and the groom is God. (I wonder if this makes the Holy Spirit the bride). Some of us will be prepared, and some of us will not. The foolish bridesmaids will expect the groom, the kingdom, to come tomorrow. However, that proves to be untrue.
This is a moment to pause and note that in the already and not yet victory of Christ, we are suspended in a great moment of expectations. The world has become pregnant with the kingdom that is to come, but we are all in labor to bring it forward (Romans 8:22). We are caught in between. The dynamite has been set off to vanquish evil, but the explosion has not yet taken place. In this moment, we are in a time of grace. In music grace notes are extra teeny notes added to the main note as a bonus. In this time of grace, bonus, waiting, God is trying to save every single person God can. The reason why the kingdom hasn’t come yet, is because God wants to save us.
Back to the foolish bridesmaids, all is not lost. Jesus has come to teach us to be patient and ready. Jesus has come to give us the story and the good news of the kingdom so that we know what we are waiting for. And although no one knows when the kingdom will come, we absolutely can prepare as if it is tomorrow!1q aw
How do we prepare? By practicing wisdom between now and then. We prepare by remembering that we are awaiting the kingdom and not investing our whole self in this world’s trappings i.e. power, wealth and institutions, but investing in the kingdom. And by setting up ourselves and the world so that everything works towards the good (Romans 8:28).
If Matthew talks about being ready for the reveal/kingdom/apocalypse to happen, then Amos 15:18-24 does the opposite, encouraging people not to act as if the apocalypse is always around the corner. Amos warns that there will be darkness for some, that even those who proclaim themselves to be pure–who pray out loud for everyone to see–not all of those people will be revealed to be good. You can see some themes developing between the two texts: the uncertainty as to when the kingdom will come, and the uncertainty as to who will be saved and who will be revealed to have not used the grace time wisely.
The truth is, we humans would love to control the apocalypse, the coming of Christ. But it is the very uncertainty as to what is going to take place that spawns Left Behind stories and an entire genre of Post-Apocalyptic genre (which of course is all about what makes a human still humans when all is said and done). The very reason why humanity continues to try to pin down the kingdom, is because we know in our heart of hearts that it is something we cannot control. And if we take Matthew and Amos together, we know that point of the Kingdom is not to control it, but instead to participate in such a way that we are joyful when the kingdom comes and not full of regrets.
This does not mean that we do not plead for God to come, like in Psalm 70, we do. We pray for God to come. And often, before we encounter God, we practice confession. We try to come to know ourselves, and reveal our true self for others, because the truth is every single time one of us meets God it is our own tiny revealing. There is no way to hide true selves from God, doesn’t matter if we forgot the oil to light our lamps–we will be seen. God sees our very true self, with all of its paradoxes and intricacies, God sees us, God loves us, and then God calls us by name. It is up to us to respond. Can we take the apocalypse?
This is why we practice revealing and knowing ourselves. This is why we call God to be with us and seal God’s covenant with us through every single baptism. This is why we practice communion, inviting God to be one with us and practicing being one in our true aspect with one another. This is why we pray for one another–revealing our joys and concerns–presenting our complete and full self. It is this self that that is celebrated in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The church in its fullness will include a full variety of people, none of them perfect, all of them (hopefully us) practicing love and kingdom values in anticipation of when our grace note is up.
How are the texts speaking to you this week (Are you frustrated that this wasn’t the text for All Saints Day?) Let us know where you are in the midst of these complicated apocalyptic texts!
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny Presbyterian church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY since 2010 and blogs prayers & Narrative Lectionary at http://www.katyandtheword.com She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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4 thoughts on “RCL: Apocalypse When?”
Because I tend to be a little “off” I am using next week’s Thessalonians passage with this week’s Matthew passage (then using this week’s Amos with next week’s Matthew on the 15th). It is the idea of being ready. Even when we don’t know the time — be ready. It might be sooner than we expect, it might be later — be ready. And what comes may change our lives completely in ways we did not predict. Still — Be REady.
With a funeral on Wednesday afternoon not much else will happen on the sermon until after our USan friends have their election (but before final results and court challenges are done).
My Early Thoughts:
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ANd I just did some work on liturgy:
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I’m super late to this party, but maybe some of you are running behind, too. In light of the elections here in the US, I heard Matthew’s parable of the bridesmaids a bit differently this time around. https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2020/11/06/light-the-lamps/
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