Matthew 25:1-13; Amos 5:18-24; I Thessalonians 4:13-18
It is interesting how people can look at the same thing or event and see two very different things. Take those pictures that either look like a lamp or two people facing each other, depending on one’s focus point. All of this morning’s lessons give us the same event: The Day of the Lord. We are given two very different ways of looking at it from Amos and Paul. Amos says ‘W-o-e, Woe’. Paul writes, ‘Blessing’.
The prophet Amos cries out “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! ... It is darkness, not light.” He paints quite a word picture of abject hopelessness. “It is… as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear.” It is truly a day of “gloom with no brightness in it.”
On the other side of the ledger the apostle Paul exclaims, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise up first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
What I find amazing time and again is Amos is speaking to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. It had been a long time since Israel had things so good. When he ascended the throne the kingdom had been steadily declining for decades. This dynamic man in short time reversed the nation’s military fortune. Instead of being nibbled away at the edges, their borders expanded. With greater stability business boomed. Most of the people were more materially well off than they had ever been. The people put on great religious festivals. It was good to be the king. It was good to be a priest. For the majority it was good to be an Israelite. In the midst of this Amos has the temerity to ask, “Why do you want the day of the Lord?”
There was a huge shadow side of the security and prosperity. The ‘Good Life’ became more important than honoring God by dealing with one another honestly and fairly. There was great injustice. Judges were easily bribed. False scales were regular tools in the markets. The priests looked the other and blessed it as the record sacrifices were offered. The shepherd Amos was called by God to call the nation into account and warn of God’s wrath if things did not change.
The nation did not change. After Jeroboam II’s death his immediate successors were assassinated in short order by others vying for power. A little over 30 years after Jeroboam’s strong rule the kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians. Most of the people were resettled. The nation ceased to exist. The day of the Lord was a dire event.
Paul is addressing a different group of people, not only in place and time, but in attitude. The new Christians in Thessalonica were excited about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave meaning and value to people who were laborers, slaves, most women and children. Jesus gave richer redirection in life for the important freeman, landowners, merchants, tradesmen, and public officials. All learned they were loved by God through Jesus Christ and their true treasure was in God. They were so excited they were like the people who were moved to Jesus at Pentecost, and the Thessalonians did not experience the wonder of a group of men teaching about Jesus in the various languages of the people who descended on Jerusalem to thank God at the harvest festival.
The issue facing Paul was not a morally indifferent people, but rather a people who were concerned about what was going to happen to members of their body who might die before Jesus return, which they looked forward. One man had already died. They were concerned he and others who might follow might not be eligible for Christ’s kingdom, which they expected would occur within most of their lifetimes. Paul teaches them that those who have died in the Christian faith are received for eternal union with God at Jesus’ return. Rather than fret they should encourage each other with that knowledge and their own places in the kingdom at Jesus’ second coming. The day of the Lord spells is a day of realized HOPE, in capital letters.
Jesus affirms Amos and Paul in the parable of the ten bridesmaids awaiting the bridegroom. For some the day of the Lord is good news. For some the day of the Lord is bad news.
In the parable the bridesmaids have an expectation the bridegroom will arrive at a reasonable hour. They look forward to meeting him with enough oil for their lamps for the symbolic walk to the wedding house. Events don’t meet expectation. The groom is very late. He does not appear until midnight. The walk to the house will require lamp light to arrive without injury. Half prepared and had the needed extra oil for the walk. Half did not. With businesses closed those without enough oil had to seek some more. The bridegroom is escorted by five to house of wedding celebration. The others return and find a closed door and no entry since they were not ready. Jesus concludes with this lesson, “Keep awake therefore, for you neither know the day or the hour” of the day of the Lord. For the prepared it is a great day of joining in the kingdom’s great festivity. For the unprepared it is a day of regret and great sadness.
Jesus teaches us the importance of being like the Christian Thessalonians, embracing the Good News that in Christ God provides a safety net offering forgiveness and divine aid to further lives marked by repentance, turning from sin to God’s direction. Jesus Christ’s followers are like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade. To reach the room containing the Holy Grail he has to get over an immense chasm. He can only see the pit below. He makes himself follow the guidance given in a verse instruction. He steps out over the drop and lands on a clear pathway. He takes sand and tosses it on the path to see it. He makes it to the other side. Jesus is our assurance of that solid base and pathway.
We are given a choice. We can be like the wise virgins and the church in Thessalonica, living in expectation for the day of the Lord. We can be like the foolish bridesmaids and people of Jeroboam II’ kingdom and not see the need for the oil God provides to keep our lamps lit. The day of the Lord need not be a day of dread. It can be a day of great joy. It is an important decision. Perhaps the best advice is given by the knight guarding the room containing the Holy Grail in that Indiana Jones movie, “Choose wisely.” Amen.