Monday, November 10, 2014

Sermon from Sunday, Nov 9, 2014

Scripture:  Matthew 25:1-3
Sermon:  Is this marriage ever going to happen?

Is this marriage ever going to happen?

It’s easy for us to imagine this question in the mind of the bridesmaids as they tire of waiting for the bridegroom to appear, and they lay down – all 10 of them, to sleep for a bit.

We imagine the question in their minds because it’s a question in our minds: is this marriage – the marriage promised of heaven and Earth, ever going to happen?

For as long as, and longer than we can remember God has been promising the marriage of heaven and Earth, the coming of the kingdom, the birth of a new world in which wrongs are all righted and right is upheld, and the world is a place of justice and peace, reconciliation and shalom, where none are poor, none die prematurely, all is shared, where the weak are protected and blessed, where the strong are merciful and compassionate.

Is it ever going to happen?

Remembrance Day – especially this year in Hamilton, is a reminder of how far-off that promise is from being true.  One hundred years ago young men left home and hearth to give their lives in war.  Terrible losses were suffered – so horrific that people called it The Great War and really believed it would be the war to end all wars.  Only twenty years later, in what would be called the Second World War, young men again went off – many of them also to die.  

And how many wars since?  Has there been a year without war in our time?

In 1956 we thought we had stumbled – or been led into a new and better way, the way of international peacekeeping crafted by Lester Pearson.  Surely sign of a new day dawning.

But since then, even though we resisted the call to full participation in the war in Iraq, we found ourselves in armed conflict again in Afghanistan for more years than we counted on.  And then last Tuesday, Canada once again found itself at war, this time against ISIS, with bombing raids against some of their construction sites and materials and personnel.

Is it ever going to happen – the promised marriage of heaven and Earth, the appearance of the kingdom of God among us?  Is it any wonder that even those who believe in the promise, decide for now just to lay down and go to sleep – to wait it out, and pray it won’t be too long until Christ the Bridegroom returns and the promise of a new world is finally consummated?

I wonder, though, if we’ve got it right.  If we’ve understood the promise accurately, if that’s the way we picture it.

For us, a wedding is a singular event – a big, one-day splash that takes a lot of time to plan and prepare, but that happens in one fell swoop – ceremony at 3, dinner at 5, first dance at 6:30, speeches to follow and then party and departure at midnight or maybe 1 or 2 in the morning to end the wedding.  It’s finely tuned single-day extravaganza with a set time to begin and to end, and we constantly worry about anyone or anything being late or delayed, and ruining everything.

And that’s largely how we view the second coming, and the marriage of heaven and Earth.

For Jesus, though, a wedding was a very different kind of thing.  A first-century Middle Eastern wedding was an event of several days length.  It began – not at a single time, with festivities in the separate houses of the families involved.  It moved through a number of stages, only one of which was the arrival of the bridegroom at the bride’s family’s house, to begin the procession of bride and groom together back to his house or the new home the couple might have for themselves.  And even that was not the end of it.  Beyond that there were more stages yet – different kinds of festivities and rites that would unfold.

And in all of this delays were not uncommon.  People would get held up.  Dowry negotiations might hit a snag for an hour or a day.  There was a natural rhythm of festivity and rest, festivity and rest, and people would even come and go as they needed.

So what would happen when the bridegroom was delayed?  Rather than fretting about whether the marriage would happen, people – the guests, the bridesmaids and even the bride, would simply wait for some sign of it once again continuing, so they could once again get caught up in its progress, and commit themselves to it.  And they’d want to be prepared to do that – to have ready what they’d need to be part of the on-going wedding, the on-going creation of one new life and a new world for all involved.

“So keep awake,” Jesus says; “for you know not the day nor the hour.  Because the wedding is happening and it is on-going, and I’d love you to be among those who are ready to do what most needs to be done.”

Around this year’s Remembrance Day I have been struck by two voices in the midst of all others in the media and in our local and global community.  Both are voices of women.

One is that of Andrea Polko, a girl friend of Nathan Cirillo who says in a Facebook posting that she wishes the media and the government would stop worrying about whether Nathan was a hero or not, and how we can better defend ourselves against terrorists, and focus instead on the question of what needs to be done to strengthen Canada’s network of criminal justice and mental health care – that Nathan Cirillo’s murder is a wake-up call to what she calls “the dismal state of mental health care in our country.”  I wonder if she’s right.

The other is that of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman shot and nearly killed by the Taliban because of her advocacy for the education of young women in Muslim society.  In response to the crisis with ISIS and the formation of military alliances against them, her reply has been that instead of sending bombers and fighter jets, she wishes we would send more teachers.  And I wonder if there’s anything to what she says.

In the context of Remembrance Day each woman in their own way raises questions about what it means for us to remember the horror of past wars and to honour rightly the lives that have been lost.  What does it mean for us today “take up the Torch and hold it high”  (to use John MacCrae’s words) , or to “let our light shine” (to use Jesus’ words)?

No doubt it means lots of things – sometimes even still going to war in defence of things like freedom, justice, compassion, openness and inclusiveness, protection of the poor and of minorities. 

But surely it also means working for these things in other ways as well.  Because it is happening – the marriage of heaven and Earth is an on-going affair.  Maybe not everyone thinks so.  Maybe not all who think so, are really prepared for what needs to be done.

But in the parable Jesus tells, he figures that five out of ten, one out of every two is a good guess as to how many at any time are prepared to be part of what needs to be done.  And he encourages us to do what we can to be part of that half of humanity that is ready to help the marriage of heaven and Earth to keep happening.

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