based on Joshua 24 and Matthew 25:1013
Usually I am a great proponent of people helping each other, team work, group effort etc. There’s too much individualism! But there are times when you alone have to make a decision for it affects the way you live your life.
The reading from Joshua takes place after the tribes of Israel have established a hold on the Promised Land. Joshua, Moses successor, and the military commander of the people is close to dying. He’s led, and worked and advised, but now he is old, and he has one last chance to address the people.
Joshua says, Ok folks, you have an important decision to make. He goes for the `scared straight’ program; the reverse psychology trick. He tells the people of Israel `You don’t have it in you to choose God. You don’t have the strength. God is jealous and vengeful and if you say you will choose God, and then revert to your Egyptian idols, or the idols of your neighbours, God will not let you get away with it.
This tactic is like having a drunk driver stand in front of a group of high school students and tell how they killed their best friend, by drinking and driving. It is the hard hitting, gut-wrenching reality that stops another kid from driving drunk.
Joshua doesn’t wait for the community to decide what to do before he takes his own stand and announces his own choice.
And he doesn’t pull any punches about the effect of their choice this day. What they choose will not only affect themselves, it will affect the future, and the generations who will follow them. It is not ourselves alone we betray when we break covenant, but those who have come before and those who will come after. There is a seriousness to this text that asks us to take ultimate responsibility for our actions.
Choosing the God you serve is not primarily about where you will worship on Sunday morning, but about the choices you make every day of your life. Right now, it feels to me like we are still, as a province and a nations worshiping the god of fossil fuel, and despite the overwhelming evidence of climate change, and the part that human activity plays in bringing about irreversible environmental damage, we have the bizarre situation going on in Burnaby this week with the giant Kinder Morgan company threatening to sue a little group of citizens trying to protect their own city park. On what planet does this make sense? How does serving God, the God of the Exodus, the God of compassion, the God lived out in the person of Jesus, shape our actions and our response to the actions and ideas of others?
Over a thousand years after Joshua’s challenge to the people, a new faith community is facing its own challenge. The people in Matthew’s community notice that the eyewitnesses to the “Jesus event” are dying, (remember the gospel was written about 50 years after Jesus’ death), and still the return of Jesus, which the church anticipated, is not occurring. The church is faced with the challenge of reinterpreting its own expectations in the middle of adverse conditions
The story in Matthew shows the importance the choosing how you live, while you live. My impulse in this parable about the wise and foolish maidens, even before the story is done, is to figure out ways that they can share – even if some were wise and some were foolish. I’m thinking, ‘Surely two women can share one lamp’. I’m thinking, ‘What kind of friend is this who says, “go away, I don’t know you.” when he himself was late, and that’s why the women ran out of oil and had to go to the closest 1st century 7-11 store and get some more.’
But you know this is not a story about sharing what you have. Although that is a major theme in the Bible, that’s not what this particular story is about. So…what is it about?
This is a “be ready” story. This is a `choose how you are going to live in the middle time between memory and hope,’ story. This is a `keep your light shining’ story.
On this Sunday before Remembrance Day, how do we keep our light shining? How do we take responsibility to light our own lamps? For me, there is always an inner turmoil with Remembrance Day – wanting to honour those who died in the war, and those who fought for freedom and peace, and on the other hand not being able to reconcile the tremendous suffering and carnage of war, and increasingly the civilian deaths in the endless cycles of wars.
Last year about this time I was preparing my heart, mind and suitcase to go to Israel and Palestine. The seed had been planted about a decade earlier. I was at learning event at the Vancouver School of Theology when I heard Anita Fast speak. Anita had, in turn, been deeply influenced by Ron Cider, a Mennonite, who said `Unless we are willing to risk the costs of peacemaking we better confess that we didn’t really mean that the cross was an option to the sword. Those who go to war are willing to lay down their life for peace and justice. Why do we think peacemaking would be less costly?
Anita lit her lamp, and took `peace training’ and then lived with a community of Christians for two years in Hebron, in the centre of conflict between Muslims, Jews and Christians, between Palestinians, and Israelis. Their job was simply to be a peaceful presence, working in the community, caring for people on all sides of the conflict. Hebron was one of the cities we went to last fall, where we visited a Muslim kindergarten that had been vandalized just days before.
Anita worked as an ecumenical accompanier with the World Council of Churches. She spoke of the `grandmother effect’ where older women in the group would observe soldiers making an arrest or a search. She said the soldiers treated their `suspects’ much more humanely, when they knew that they were being watched by someone who looked like a grandmother.
Maybe we’re not called to go to Hebron, though perhaps someday I shall return there, but we are called none the less. So think of the light you are called to shine here in this community and beyond.
I am haunted by these words of Martin Luther King Jr. He said, “We shall have to repent, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good.”
I don’t think I’m all that wicked, but I know that I have too often been silent. So, regarding the aforementioned Kinder Morgan pipeline and threat to sue citizens in Burnaby, I made myself write an impassioned letter to our local MLA, with a copy to the BC NDP Environment critic.
Regarding the ongoing conflict in the Israel and Palestine, I will be sending bottles of Palestinian olive oil as Christmas gifts this year, and on December 9th I will be giving my photo presentation on Israel and Palestine to the congregation of Oasis United Church in Penticton – this will be my main Presbytery work for a season.
And we together, this very night, through the Fashion Show, will be supporting our local community with nutritious food to the Resource Centre, and supporting Doctors Without Borders.
It’s up to us to light our own lamp and keep it burning. We have the possibility and the choice of shining brightly – or not. Let’s keep shining. Amen.