Lectionary Readings for Nov. 9, 2014. Amos 5:18-24, Psalm 70, 1 Thess. 4:13-18, Matt. 25:1-13
I like to read "fluffy" novels before I sleep. I like fiction, fantasy, and fun in my late night reading because it takes me away from the worries of the day past and the day to come. I've noticed that when I am under stress, I read more of this stuff and I tend to go back to favorite books. It an escape for me, a mini-vacation where I don't have to think before I get back to the reality of daily life. I know, however, that this is not reading that helps me engage life's issues when morning comes. It doesn't help me to deal with my issues, it just postpones them. In the daytime, I have to fill my mind with substance, with reading the real stories, and scriptures, and thoughtful writings that build me as a person and equip me for service to God and my communities. The daytime is for engaging in what is real.
I began the scripture readings today with Amos, with darkness. The NRSV version I read from subtitled this section; "The Day of the Lord a Dark Day." This is definitely not late night material!
Judgement, punishment and darkness are not things a church like ours tends to focus on. We think of ourselves as people of the light. God is love. There is more grace than condemnation. There is good reason for our focus on the positive, however, I think that sometimes we do this almost as an escapism. An excuse to stay away from hard thoughts, from consequences, from having to think too hard about ourselves and changes needed in our lifestyles. We want to stay comfortable.
It's easy to read this Amos passage and think it is for others, for those not in church. We remember the last verse; "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" but forget who Amos was speaking to. This was spoken to Judah-God's people, as well as to the surrounding people of Samaria and to Gentiles.It is all inclusive!
Amos is graphic. We might think that changes we've made and our faith is enough, but he says it is as if we've fled from a lion, and run into a bear! It is good to get away from the lion, but that doesn't end the need to be end vigilance or assume that we've "arrived" at the right place. It's not enough to believe the right things and do the rituals (avoid the lion) Amos calls for right living-to actually work for justice (avoid the bear). It's not good enough to assume that God will come and do the justice thing-we have to do it too (see 5:12)
Truly asking ourselves how our lives oppress others is a humbling business when we are wealthy, comfortable, and living in the suburbs.We live a life of escapism, not having to see much of the degraded environment, hear the beggars, eat beside those who have no food, or shiver with the homeless who get turned away from the full shelters.
Some escapism is necessary-we need a bit of time to relax our bodies and minds, but when and where and how do we engage? How do we keep our "escape" time from taking over?
In Matthew we read the familiar parable of the ten bridesmaids. They are all 'believers' there to support and cheer on the wedding party. But half of them are only half committed. They are there for the wedding, but not for the work it should have taken to get there.
(check out the series of 4 parables contained in Matt. 24:45- Matt. 25:46. All of them end badly for characters that who oppress others, don't prepare, don't bother using their gifts, or ignore the poor.)
It's important to take these scriptures seriously, to not escape from them. They are directed, not at some other evil people in the world, but at God's people, at us. We aren't all the bridesmaids with the extra oil, I wonder if the majority of us might even be the ones who come up short. If we take these warnings seriously, we will continually be looking for places to put our belief into action, we will truly live in this world instead of searching for ways to escape it's realities.