âLet justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.â Written around 750BC, these words from the book of Amos are still powerful today. They convey an ideal that is a constant hope for the good of all humankind, and also an elusiveness that is true of all those dreams that, in our humanity, we think are beyond our reach.
Amos was not a prophet by profession. In his own words, he was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, a native of Judah. But he was also a man who experienced the touch of Godâs hand upon him, and in response was willing to speak out with courage against the injustices of his day. He could see the direction in which Israel was heading. He saw wealthy merchants trampling over the poor and defenseless. He saw public leaders living in luxury and unconcerned over the plight of their people. Their religious ceremonies were meaningless, born of hearts that were trying to appease God rather than please God. In their new-found prosperity they had forgotten their past, forgotten how God had brought them out of Egypt, how God had guided them in the wilderness, how God had brought them to the Promised Land. But, Amos reminded them, called to be Godâs chosen people, they were also called to greater responsibility, not special privilege. Amosâ main purpose as a prophet was to call these people back to God, to urge their repentance and restoration as a people of God, so that on the day of Yahweh, that day when Israel was to be crowned with glory and honor, it would truly be a day of light and not a day of darkness and gloom, a day of Godâs wrath, such as Amos predicted would happen if they persisted in their current ways. God was not interested in their empty rituals and offerings; the only offering he sought was the offering of themselves. Then, truly, justice and righteousness would rain down upon them. With a real sense of urgency, he called his people to change. Tomorrow might be too late.
As we approach the end of the Pentecost season, our readings have taken a turn. For many weeks now, we have focused on discipleship, on learning from Christâs teaching to his own disciples how we can pattern our own lives according his teachings. Now the emphasis has shifted to the end-time, that day when we will all be called to account.
This is not something we like to think about. There are many things in our lives that fall into such a category, things that we would rather put off until tomorrow, or even indefinitely. Things like giving up smoking, perhaps, or going on a diet, maybe going to the doctor for that long delayed checkup, or making out a will. After all, we are very busy. And so weâll write that letter to our good friend next week, and weâll call our sick aunt tomorrow when we have more time. Some day weâll remember to say, âI love you,â to our family as we fly out the door to yet another meeting, and to thank God for the many ways God graces our lives as we move through each day. Like the Israelites we may get away with this for a time, but what these readings have to teach us, and what we already know from our own experience, is that there is not always that next time available to us, and tomorrow may indeed by too late.
Our Gospel reading today brings us a similar message. In the words from Matthew we encounter ten bridesmaids, all dressed and ready with their lamps to accompany the bridal procession. In those days the groom went to the brideâs house first and then, after some time, the procession accompanied the couple to the groomâs house where the ceremony took place. To anyone who has ever been involved with a wedding, it should come as no surprise that there was a delay at the brideâs house, and so these ten bridesmaids, growing weary in the late part of the day, fell asleep. When the call finally came for the procession to begin, they hastily assembled but five bridesmaids found that their lamps were low, they had little oil left to burn. In their haste, they tried to borrow from the others who had brought extra oil with them, but fearing they would be the next ones to run out, they said no, you go buy some for yourselves. While they were gone, the bridegroom appeared and the procession took place, and when they were all inside his house for the celebration, the door was closed. When the other bridesmaids came back, they were turned away with the words, âI tell you the truth, I donât know youâ.
These words sound so harsh to our ears, and yet we do know from living out our everyday life, each of us, that no opportunity lasts forever. How many times have we heard it said of someone who was awarded a wonderful and promising job, âThey were certainly at the right place at the right time.â And sometimes, in our quickness to say that, we tend to forget that this person had probably been very diligent in preparing their resume, in checking on openings, and in making themselves available when the time was right. Even if they were sleeping when the call came, their lamps were filled and they were ready to go.
So it must be with each of us. The message of this parable is that whenever Christ calls, we must be ready. Just as happened to the bridesmaids there will be no time to run to the nearest gas station, or supermarket, or even here to church, to find the oil that has been lacking in our spiritual lives. We canât borrow it from a neighbor because it has to come from within ourselves. It has only to do with each one of us, and our own relationship with God. In the Jewish tradition, oil has long been a symbol of a faith that resulted in good deeds, all in preparation for the return of the Lord. For us the same is true. We are not to sit idly by, to be found sleeping, but to live out the Gospel in our daily lives each day in the hope of the glory that will be revealed to us. In other words, we have to be ready.
As we move quickly toward the close of the church year, we need to consider and reconsider the kinds of choices we make in our lives that drain this oil from us and leave us unprepared to meet Christ. Do the choices we make leave us too busy to give God the time God deserves? Do these things take precedence over our spiritual lives? Is there some group in our church that weâve thought about joining but have never gotten around to it? Is there someone in our family we need to make peace with, or perhaps an elderly neighbor who would be cheered by a phone call or a plate of supper? All these things that we should do that we donât do, or that we simply put off doing, can drain our oil so that we are not only ineffective and unprepared to do Godâs work and Godâs will, but we also lose the joy that comes from being in a right relationship with God. Jesusâ challenge to us is that we demonstrate by the way we live that we are part of his celebration at every moment. We are ready.
Of course there are things in this life that we have to do and things we want to doâand thatâs just fine. The point is to go on loving all that is a legitimate part of life and to have fun doing it, but at the same time to always keep in mind where you are going, what is your final destination, and this will effect how you live each moment of your journey. We need to live each moment as if the next step would lead us through the door to be with Jesus forever. Paul puts it this way in his message to the Thessalonians, âYou yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You are all children of light and children of the day. So then let us not fall asleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober, for God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christâ. Amen.