The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 27, 12 November 2017

Track One:
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7

Track Two:
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70

I Thessalonians 4:13-28
St. Matthew 25:1-13

Background: Lamps

Oil lamps were the most common way of lighting household rooms in the ancient near east. Usually circular in shape, the shoulder of the lamp surrounded a pouring hole into which the fuel for the lamp was added. A small discus surrounded the pouring hole, and one or two nozzles protruded from the oil reservoir and provided a place for the wick to be placed. Opposite the nozzle would be a handle for holding the lamp. The oil for the lamp could be one of several types: walnut or almond oil, sesame, olive, castor, or flax seed, or animal fats such as butter, fish oil, shark liver or whale blubber. The most common of lamps were made of clay, but other materials such as silver, bronze, gold, stone, or slip could be used as well.

Track One:

First Reading: 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.

This lesson is a retrospective look at the people of Israel and their history of wandering, and their covenant made with God. The look back exceeds their history in Egypt but goes further back to speak of the history of the Patriarch Abraham and his history beyond the Euphrates. In the course of reviewing and renewing the covenant, all the gods of the lands around them are reviewed, and the people are urged not to follow them. This must have not only been a problem at the time this renewal of covenant took place, but later as well, when the book was redacted. Israel was constantly in the shadow of “foreign gods.” The remembrance of the covenant is not just spiritual, in the heart, but is written down as well. Books are mentioned as well as commemorative stones.

Breaking open Joshua:
1.      What is the history of your faith, of your walk with God?
2.      What wildernesses have you gone through?
3.      What promised lands have you seen?

Psalm 78:1-7 Attendite, popule

     Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2      I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3      That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
4      We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
5      He gave his decrees to Jacob
and established a law for Israel, *
which he commanded them to teach their children;
6      That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn; *
that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
7      So that they might put their trust in God, *
and not forget the deeds of God,
but keep his commandments;

Just as Joshua gathers Israel to teach them the ways of the Lord, and to remind them of their history with God, so the fathers (and mothers) are to gather their sons (and daughters) to teach them the ways of God. One generation is to tell it to another. So in this psalm the national renewal of the covenant is brought into the home as well, the property of families as they continue in relationship with God.

Breaking open Psalm 78:
1.     Who taught you the faith?
2.     How have you taught others about your faith?
3.    How would you describe your relationship with God?


Track Two:

First Reading: Wisdom 6:12–16

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,

and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

It might be helpful for you to review the material in Proverbs 8:1-21, where Wisdom is personified as a wise and sought-after woman. She is the one who brings the way of providence and virtue to daily life. The references to “the gate” call to mind that the gate in ancient cities was often the place where judges and kings sat to hear complaints and to dispense justice. Thus Wisdom is seated there as well.

Breaking open Wisdom:
1.     Where do you find wisdom?
2.     Where do you need wisdom?
3.    How have you given wisdom?


First Reading: Amos 5:18-24

Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

This reading from Amos is from the section of his work that laments the Death of Israel. In his woe, he reminds Israel that the Day of the Lord will bring darkness, and judgment. These are the words of the Lord and not of the prophet. There is a sense that there is hypocrisy present in the worship of the people. God see through to their true intentions. Apparently they do not desire justice – but that is God’s desire.

Breaking open Wisdom:
1.     What is the light in your life?
2.     What is the darkness in your light?
3.    How have you been led into the light?

Response: Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,
and concern for instruction is love of her,
and love of her is the keeping of her laws,
and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,
and immortality brings one near to God;
so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

This poem is a follow on to the verses used in the First Optional Reading. The device in the poem, a chain argument can also bee seen in Romans 5:3-4, or II Peter 1:5-7. The wisdom that Wisdom brings is connected to a keeping of the laws and the attainment of immortality.

Breaking open Wisdom:
1.     What has the world instructed you about life?
2.     What have others instructed you about life?
3.    What wisdom do you have about life?


Psalm 70 Deus, in adjutorium

     Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; *
Lord, make haste to help me.
2      Let those who seek my life be ashamed
and altogether dismayed; *
let those who take pleasure in my misfortune
draw back and be disgraced.
3      Let those who say to me "Aha!" and gloat over me turn back, *
because they are ashamed.
4      Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; *
let those who love your salvation say for ever,
"Great is the Lord!"
5      But as for me, I am poor and needy; *
come to me speedily, O God.
6      You are my helper and my deliverer; *
Lord, do not tarry.

Those who pray the daily office will find the initial verse of the psalm familiar as the opening Preces of the office. The psalm seems to be a replication of Psalm 40:14-18. Some seem to think that this is the original that was amended to be much larger psalm in psalm 40. The central image is one of “turning back”, of retreating from a position that threatened the righteous person. The psalm acknowledges God’s stance with the righteous, “You are my helper and my deliverer.”

Breaking open Psalm 70:
1.     How do you begin your day?
2.     How do you end your day?
3.    Is prayer an element in both?

Second Reading: I Thessalonians 4:13-18

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This reading is a good follow up to the celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in Paul’s comments on those who have “fallen asleep.” He wrestles, along with the Thessalonians about the eschaton, the end of all things. They wonder, “What will happen to us?” Paul’s message is a message of hope borne of the Easter Gospel. It is also a message of relationship, we with God, God with us, and the community of the Saints with one another. Paul sees these as words of encouragement as the people of God live with the questions of their own time.

Breaking open I Thessalonians:
1.     Who has died that you truly grieve?
2.     Are there any blessings that you receive from this remembrance?
3.    What is the Easter hope for you?

The Gospel: St. 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.”

There are a series of parables and sayings that deal with preparation. Both Jesus and the community that surrounds him will need to be ready to deal with the ordeal that will soon overtake them. But it is more than just these days that Jesus focuses on. It is the coming days of the Kingdom that he wishes us to see. In that vein he tells the story of the ten virgins. In this story the Bridegroom is delayed, and we can but wonder of the Christians of Matthew’s time were also perplexed by a Jesus who did not immediately return, as they had hoped. Thus the story extends beyond the events of Holy Week into our own time, where we wait patiently and are urged to be prepared. There is a difficult message her, just as there was in the story of the wedding feast, and the guest who had not prepared himself with a wedding garment. The point is, I think, that there is the Kingdom, and there is the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a separation point. One needs to be ready and anxious to move from the one to the other. Some will not be as anxious or prepared.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How have you prepared to receive Christ again?
2.     In what way has this slipped your mind?
3.    What does it mean to prepare to receive him?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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