Oil and Idols (23rd Pentecost, Proper 27A)

November 15, 2017

A Note to the Faithful Readers of this Blog:

Over the last several months, I have been experimenting with different styles of preaching and preparation for preaching. Some of this has been of necessity and some has been intentional. This has meant that my sermon notes often look more like rough outlines or sketches, than full manuscripts or essays. Please forgive the messiness and shorthand. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, especially if you want greater clarity. Thanks for reading!

- GAA+

 

 
 
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “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. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

 

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

 

“Oil and Idols” (Proper 27A)

  • It's a bit ironic that we are reading this story from the Gospel of Matthew on this day. As it so happens, today, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church is almost completely out of candle oil. The altar guild realized we were running low this week as they prepared for services and the office placed an order for new oil right away. But today, it's possible that the candles on the altar just go out because they are so near the end of the line.

    • Some Bridesmaids in Jesus’ parable were also short on oil. In the story, a wedding is happening soon.

    • In this culture, weddings did not begin until the groom came to pick up his bride from her father’s house. After they got betrothed (engaged), the groom would go to his home and build a new room for the two of them to live in. This could happen quickly or take a really long time. So, in an era before cell phones, the bride and her bridesmaids just had to wait.

    • But some bridesmaids weren’t prepared for a long wait. They didn’t have extra oil. So, when the groom finally becomes visible on the horizon, the “foolish bridesmaids” realized they were running out of oil. They asked the wiser, better prepared bridesmaids to lend them oil. The wiser ones said no because they did not want to have to wait in the dark; that would be dangerous. So the “foolish” bridesmaids decide to leave their post and go to the market to buy more oil. Of course, the groom arrives while the “foolish” ones were gone.

    • We call them foolish because they placed their priorities on the wrong thing. They thought it was more important to have oil when the groom arrived than for them to be present when he came. They missed the point entirely!

    • This would be like if I missed our Sunday services today because I drove to a store that sold candle oil. I might come back with oil, and we could light the candles, but Jesus was here the whole time! And while oil and candles are important and beautiful in worship, the Holy Spirit will be with us even if we have no candles at all!

    • The mistake in both stories is focusing on the small things and ignoring the big picture. This is a form of idolatry (or idol-worship).

      • Idolatry is the practice of loving anything more than we love God. It’s usually not explicit. If you asked the bridesmaids who they thought was more important -- groom or lamps -- they would say the groom. But their actions betray their thoughts.

  • Joshua gives us clear commands against idolatry

    • “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

    • Often misunderstood. Not about God being jealous in way we typically use the word. God is not insecure.

    • Idols lead us to death and destruction. God wants us to have life and life to the full (John 10:10). Idols prevent us from living abundant life.

    • Idols seem to fill us but leave us hungry forever. They distract us from the real concerns of the world and the spirit by turning us inward toward ourselves. Idols make us more selfish, all while tricking us into thinking that they are good for us.

      • St. Augustine calls this “incurvatus in se”, to be “curved in on oneself”

      • We cannot love God OR love our neighbor when we are focused on idols.

    • The LORD God is merciful and good to us. God saves us and our ancestors from the throes of death, from famine in Canaan, from slavery in Egypt, and from enemies on every side in the wilderness.

  • Idols are glued to the floor; they strip us of our true freedoms (to love and serve God in holiness and righteousness all our days).

    • They pull us away from what really matters: love for God and love for neighbors.

 

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