"Prepared for Now, Prepared for Then" - Pentecost 23A
download this mp3
Right-click on the link above and choose "Save Link As"
to download this audio.
Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
November 12, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Joshua 24:1-25

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 23A, November 12, 2017

Joshua 24:1-25, Matthew 25:1-13


Prepared For Now, Prepared For Then


            Often I have a dream where I’m back in college. In this dream, I realize that there was a class I forgot about. I have a final for this class coming up in a few hours, and I’ve never gone to any of the classes. I did not study any of the material. I have to somehow try to wing a test on advanced calculus or some such with three hours of study. Impossible.


            Anyone here have a dream like that? There are a number of common dreams that channel our anxieties, like showing up to school and realizing you don’t have any clothes on. But this dream, about forgetting to study for a test, reflects anxieties about preparedness and forgetfulness. Am I prepared for what is expected of me? Have I remembered everything I need to remember? I so often feel like there are so many activities and expectations swimming in my brain that I cannot possibly remember them all. There is also an absence of grace in such dreams. There’s no middle ground. I feel doomed to failure. No extension is possible. It’s all about me and MY ability to perform, or my ability to remember.


            All of our readings can speak to preparedness – both preparedness for now and preparedness for then, for the arrival of the bridegroom and the resurrection from the dead. Fortunately, these readings aren’t all about what WE need to do. They are also about what God has already done.


            Take the Joshua reading. Now, in the lectionary, this reading cut out verses 4-13. I put them back in our reading today. Why? Because they are an excellent summary of the Old Testament up to that point, specifically the ways in which God has acted on behalf of the Israelites and their ancestors. God led the Israelites out of Egypt. He rescued them from the Amorites, from hostile kings and prophets, and led them into the Promised Land – a land overflowing with abundance. God reminds the Israelites, too, that this is a land on which they have not labored, with towns they have not built, with vineyards they have not planted. In other words, everything given has been pure gift.


            So in this farewell speech, Joshua wants to make sure the Israelites are prepared to enter into their inheritance in the Promised Land. He wants to remind them of who gave them the land in the first place and to whom, therefore, worship is due. He wants them to remember their God in all times and in all seasons, and not turn to other gods, or worse, make themselves their gods. This is why he presses the Israelites on their commitment to God. This is why he uses such harsh language. “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” We know, of course, that God is a forgiving, merciful God, but Joshua wants the seriousness of their commitment to God to hit home. Don’t presume on God’s grace, he says. Don’t think you can just do whatever you want and escape the consequences. If you’re going to live in the land as God’s people, you need to act like it, even if you stumble again and again. As Martin Luther said in Thesis 1 of the 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’, he willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” You must be prepared to live as God would have you live.


            When I think of this very difficult parable, then, about the ten bridesmaids, and the oil that apparently cannot be shared, I have to think that the oil represents something that each of us are responsible for. Even though we live the Christian life together as a community, we are each individually responsible for how we live that life. We are responsible for how we respond to God’s grace and call to each one of us. You cannot borrow that commitment and response from someone else. Sure, others can and ought to help us respond well to God’s call, grace, and mercy. In fact, a community is essential for responding well to that grace. But our response cannot be done for us. At some point, we have to say yes or no to grace. Or at least, we have to decide whether or not we will reject the gifts that God has given us. Many of my professors and colleagues despise anything with any hint of what they would call “decision theology”, but I believe that at some point, we are offered a choice. We are given the choice of making this faith, the faith of the church, our own faith – or we can let it fester and decay. We are given the choice of joining our will with the will of the Holy Spirit, without whom faith would be utterly impossible, or going our own way. We are not robots, after all. We are human beings, whom God calls in a relationship of love. And we are invited, through God’s grace, to return that love freely.


            If we could not return God’s love freely, baptismal and confirmation vows would be absolutely meaningless. God would simply choose us – or he wouldn’t. There would be zero human will involved in the process at all. No. God chooses us, but then we are invited, through grace, to choose God. To choose Jesus, who, as he told his disciples, first chose us.


            In the Small Catechism, Luther writes on the third article of the Creed: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.” The Holy Spirit has given us all things necessary to be prepared for his arrival, both today among us now, and when he comes again in the fullness of his glory. How will we live today, then, when the Holy Spirit urges us to come and replenish our oil stocks, so to speak, for his arrival? Replenishing our oil can happen in so many ways. There is coming to worship and hearing the Word, of course. There is receiving the Sacraments, of course. There is giving of one’s self, one’s time, and one’s money, of course. But there are also other things. There is spending time with God by yourself or with your family in prayer or in reading Scripture together. There is an invitation to be attuned to God’s presence in your relationships with others: in your family, in your workplace, in your friends who sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief, in your pool or bingo or bridge friends. There is a constant invitation from God, wherever you are, to remember your relationship and your connection with him, and to be prepared for his arrival in your heart.


            And so, that is my hope for us today, that we can be attuned to his presence among us in all times and places, so that we can be prepared to live, both today and in the life to come. God help us all remember that he has already given us everything we need to be prepared for him now, and prepared for him then. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.