The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s065g14  Sunday 32  9/11/2014

‘go to the dealers and buy some’   Matthew 25.9

In my recent sermons I have been reflecting how Matthew 21-23 is mostly about the condemnation of the devout in their holy huddles.   We now come to the three parables of judgement in Matthew 25.   And I find it interesting that each of these three parables of judgement force us to be involved with the world.

The first, today, in the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids; the foolish are those who have not frequented the dealers regularly enough to keep up their supplies of oil.   The second parable (1) has the one condemned being told that at the very least he should have deposited the money he had received with the bankers, so that it could be returned with interest.   The laws of the old covenant forbad usury (2), so there is a logical disconnect here.   These words of Jesus would have been tantamount to questioning the veracity of the bible to the devout.   Then the third parable (3) commends those who have been charitable in the world.

Each of three chips away at any thought that our religion is something that can be exercised in worship of the divine apart from others in the world.  

But what about chapter 24?  Only 8 verses are ever read on Sunday morning (4) - the parallel with the ‘days of Noah’ in terms of the suddenness and unexpectedness of the kingdom.   But the other verses speak of the destruction of the Temple (5), ‘the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place’ (6), the time of the ‘false messiahs and false prophets’ (7), the reference to the fig tree (8) which echoes the earlier cursing of the fig tree (9) and the wicked slave who ‘begins to beat his fellow-slaves’ (10) rather than feeding them (11).  Each of these criticises a religion focussing on worship and a personal relationship with the divine.

It just so happened that for All Saints I preached to a real congregation at Hororata, the epicentre of the first in the series of 4370 (magnitude 3+) earthquakes in the Canterbury region.   The gospel was, of course, the beatitudes in Matthew 5 and (an addition to the original text of the sermon) for the first time I saw the words ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’, relating to the situation the church in Christchurch faces today.   Here we continue to mourn the loss of so many churches.   It was those which were most ‘kosher’ - those built of stone and brick - which have been most damaged by the earthquakes.   Those built of wood and long-run iron have survived.   Indeed the church where I preached was the original wooden one which became the parish hall when the stone one was built.   When the stone one was damaged in September 2010 it became the parish church again. (12)   While we mourn the loss of the familiar; we have found comfort in our neighbours of other religions and none.   In many ways our buildings have constrained us - our focus has been on preserving the monuments of the past - and that has not been unworthy.  

But there is joy and freedom in not having to maintain what has been all by ourselves, and the prospect of thinking what might be is linked with the realisation that we might actually work across denominations and across faiths when we re-build.

To repeat my words: ‘Are we in the Anglican Communion happy?   The answer is to be found not in defining who we are and who isn’t one of us, but in our relationships with other faiths, and in our relationship with others of no faith.   Our happiness as a Communion will come when we are poor in Spirit, when we cease to try to manipulate others, when we are gentle with people of other faiths.   We might mourn the loss of our Anglican identity, yet we will be blessed in the new relationships that follow.   We will find purpose when we hunger and thirst for justice towards (for instance) gay and lesbian persons.  We will be merciful toward those who call God by a different name.   We will be blessed when others see the pureness of our hearts, that we are not concerned with the perpetuation of our own personal monument or ministry.   We are blessed when we are seen to be peacemakers and not just another cause of continuing division in society.   And we are blessed when others, most often religious people, revile us for putting God last.’ (12)  The disastrous series of earthquakes has afforded us a unique opportunity to reach out and be a part of our community in a much more personal way, a way which is closer to the central tenets of our faith.

Being a part of our community and society as a whole is the oil we need to light up the marriage feast of the bridegroom.   The bridegroom disowns those who have separated themselves off from society,

Oil reduces friction, is a medium of healing, and a celebration without light and warmth is gloomy indeed.

And it is the friction in our lives that need the oil as much as in anyone else’s, it is the healing that is needed in our lives as much as in anyone else’s, it is our gloomy celebrations which need enlivening.

To turn again to the situation in Christchurch and the Canterbury region - names loaded with the presumption of superior British colonialism and the preeminent place of the Church of England here - now following the earthquakes - do we have the wherewithal - both in terms of people as well as money - to restore things to as they were, without the help of others?   If the church constrains us to accept help only from those who assent to the fundamental declarations of our church - and especially the one about us being straight - have we a hope in hell of succeeding - and even if we did would it not be a pyrrhic victory?  And those words of St Paul come to me: ‘If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.’  (14)

The wise virgins always have friends close at hand, friends regardless of the intricacies of a divisive religion; they cannot be shared as the foolish virgins suggest.  It is this characteristic of friendship - of incarnation - which makes them acceptable at the feast.   And therefore by contrast it is exclusivism and superiority which leads the bridegroom to deny knowing the foolish ones.

Which brings me back to wonder why the Church hides those important verses in chapters 23 and 24 of Matthew’s gospel from people?   So the question is to the church: will we allow others to help us in the rebuild, or will we not learn the lesson from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when the help of the people of the land, people not of the Jewish race relocated there and who had been worshipping and sacrificing to the Lord was spurned?   ‘But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, ‘You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.’  (15)  Is orthodoxy more precious to us than the neighbours we have come to know?   If it is the former then I believe that we cannot expect neither the help of God nor the respect of our neighbours we claim to love.

1.  Matthew 25.14-30
2.  Exodus 22.25
3.  Matthew 25:31-46
4.  36-44 Advent 1 year A
5.  24:1-2
6.  24:15
7.  24:24
8.  24:32-35
9.  Matthew 21:18-19
10.  24:49
11.  John 21:15,16,17
14.  1 Corinthians 13.3 ESV
15.  Ezra 4.3