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Worship resources, prayer and Christian teaching

Ordinary 32 Year A

 


Introduction

The Bible reading this week from Matthew emphasises the importance of wisdom and the folly of foolishness. Ten women are invited to a wedding feast, five of them are wise and take extra oil for their lamps - just in case. Five are said to be foolish because they lacked the foresight and took no reserves of oil. Consequently only the wise ones with oil in their lamps were able to enjoy the wedding feast.

Life is often like that, if we are careful and clever we can make the best of the opportunities which are presented to us. As we grow older we hope that we get wiser and do not repeat the mistakes which have made previously. It is important to try and break free from cycles of behaviour which are destructive and keep us from realising our full potential. Nobody is perfect, but it is a good idea to have role models who are stable and well adjusted, and to avoid being unduly influenced by people who repeat destructive behaviour.

Wisdom is not about being good at exams, it is about being able to cope and make a good life. There are people who are very clever, but they lack wisdom and their lives are a mess. Wisdom is not about being famous either, or being regarded as a great achiever, some achieve high status in politics, sport or in the media, but they know only sorrow in their personal lives.

Wisdom demands that we learn from our mistakes, that we pursue the right goals to happiness. Anybody can be wise, because it does not depend upon wealth, privilege or prestige. Wisdom belongs to those who seek her.....   

Opening Verses of Scripture  1 Peter 1:13

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Eternal God, in whose perfect realm no sword is drawn but the sword of justice, and no strength known but the strength of love: guide and inspire all who seek your kingdom, that peoples and nations may find their security in the love which casts out fear; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen


First Bible Reading  Amos 5:18-24

Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light-- pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
 

Second Reading  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Therefore encourage each other with these words.


Gospel Reading  Matthew 25:1-13

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 
"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' 
"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 
"'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' 
"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 
"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' 
"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' 
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
 

Post Communion Sentence

God of peace, whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom and restored the broken to wholeness of life: look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your healing power make whole both people and nations; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
 

Commentary

Following on from the parable of the wedding banquet, the discussions about paying taxes to Caesar and marriage at the resurrection, debates about the greatest commandment and the Sonship of Christ, Jesus goes on to berate the Pharisees and then turns His attention to the signs of the end of the age. There will be wars and civil unrest, but ultimately only the Father knows the day and the hour when time will be wrapped up and the whole earth renewed. Jesus continues, ‘At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgin who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom…’. Turning once again to the imagery of Jewish custom, Jesus encourages us to be ready for His return.

If we are to be prepared for the future, Matthew’s gospel seems to suggest that we should stock up and lay in provisions to see us through emergencies and difficult times. Save up for a rainy day. With the financial crisis across Europe it would seem for many that the rainy days have now arrived – and our stocks and reserves are severely depleted! For Matthew part of the preparation and provisioning for the future involves familiarising ourselves with what we are looking for so that we will recognise it and it will recognise us. The bridesmaids have not prepared themselves for the party, they are just going through the motions, and when they get to the door they are seen for the gatecrashers that they are. Better preparation would have led to a much different outcome. They, and we, it would seem, are to spend time familiarising ourselves with God and His ways so that we can recognise Him and He us. Spending time looking back over God’s dealings with us so that we can truly be prepared and have that sure and certain hope of the heavenly banquet that ahead despite all the uncertainties that may lie in between. The resources we have in our storerooms reflect only what we have put in them beforehand. Henri Nouwen writes, ‘When our gratitude for the past is only partial, our hope for a new future can never be full… …If we are to be truly ready for a new task in the service of God, our entire past, gathered into the spaciousness of a converted heart, must become the source of energy that moves us toward the future’.

It’s a personal responsibility. Oil is often seen as a sign of repentance and as we look back over the past as we prepare for the coming of Christ it’s important that our own relationship with God is right. Just as the wise virgins could not share their oil with the foolish ones, we cannot ask others to repent on our behalf. It’s something we need to do for ourselves as we turn to Christ on a regular basis as we ask God for forgiveness of our sins and to continually renew and transform us and our lives. For whilst the passage is about being prepared for the coming of Christ, it’s also about what we do, who we live and act while we wait. Our lives need to be lit by the oil of action in addition to being illuminated by the lamps of intention. Whenever it is when Christ returns, it seems one of the factors we do know is that it will be when we least expect it and we are to be ready for that time – before it is too late to put matters right in our lives. Jesus invites us to join with Him in the wedding banquet of His love for the whole world. As a church and as individuals we are to be ready and willing to respond to that invitation. We are called to live in a manner which demonstrates our readiness for the coming of the renewed Kingdom of God, whenever that happens.

Economically the future does look uncertain. The political landscape of the world is changing radically. But as we look back as Matthew encourages us to do, we see can see that we can be prepared and assured of an eternal future. It is God Himself who continues to offer hope and a future despite all the economic turmoil, political change and military conflicts around the world. Sam Cappleman

Meditation

Barry D Blanton writing in his Monday Morning Minute piece discusses what makes a great leader. He comments: Consider these two great quotes regarding humility and why it is a key to quality leadership. "Humility is not about thinking less of yourself; it is about thinking about yourself less." Humility is a great virtue, but it does not mean you have to think less of yourself. Being humble means thinking of others more than yourself. That does not mean that you think less of yourself. As a matter of fact you can feel a whole lot better about yourself by thinking more about others. You may not associate humility with great leadership but truly exceptional leaders understand the importance of humility. Ezra Taft Benson wrote, "Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right." As leaders we should be concerned with what is right, not if we are right. What a great world it would be if we were all more concerned with what is right than who is right. We spend a lot of time defending our position, arguing our viewpoint and building our own individual case. Is our position always what is right? That seems doubtful. There are times we may be arguing for what is right, but often we are just concerned with being right. Sometimes we even know that we are not right, but we just can't bring ourselves to admit that we are wrong. It should not be about being wrong. It should be about what is right. This is a tough one for many leaders. Often leaders think they are supposed to be right and always have the answers. Leadership is not about being focused on oneself and always being right. Leadership is about thinking more about others and what the right answer is for the situation.

Hymns

  1. Blessed Assurance
  2. Give me oil in my lamp
  3. Be Thou my vision
  4. Christ is surely coming
  5. Ye holy angels bright

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Lord help us not to stare into the sky
waiting for your return.
Enable us to see you with us now -
in the cries of the hungry and the thirsty,
the loneliness of the stranger,
the plight of the naked, those left with nothing
the pains of the sick,
the hopelessness of the prisoner.
May our eyes be opened to see you
May our ears be obedient to your voice
May our hearts reveal you to all in need.
Give us the oil of your love, that the lamps of our lives might burn brightly to your praise and glory. Amen


Additional Material

Introduction


The Bible reading this week from Matthew emphasises the importance of wisdom and the folly of foolishness. Ten women are invited to a wedding feast, five of them are wise and take extra oil for their lamps - just in case. Five are said to be foolish because they lacked the foresight and took no reserves of oil. Consequently only the wise ones with oil in their lamps were able to enjoy the wedding feast.

Life is often like that, if we are careful and clever we can make the best of the opportunities which are presented to us. As we grow older we hope that we get wiser and do not repeat the mistakes which have made previously. It is important to try and break free from cycles of behaviour which are destructive and keep us from realising our full potential. Nobody is perfect, but it is a good idea to have role models who are stable and well adjusted, and to avoid being unduly influenced by people who repeat destructive behaviour.

Wisdom is not about being good at exams, it is about being able to cope and make a good life. There are people who are very clever, but they lack wisdom and their lives are a mess. Wisdom is not about being famous either, or being regarded as a great achiever, man achieve high status in politics, sport or in the media, but they know only sorrow in their personal lives.

Wisdom demands that we learn from our mistakes, that we pursue the right goals to happiness. Anybody can be wise, because it does not depend upon wealth, privilege or prestige. Wisdom belongs to those who seek her.....

Commentary

Trimming our Lamps 
In our reading from Matthew today Jesus uses the setting of a wedding to contrast wisdom and foolishness. In chapter 7:24-27 Jesus had already spoken about the wise man building on the rock and the foolish man building on sand. Now Jesus uses another illustration and speaks about wise bridesmaids and foolish ones. 
What makes the bridesmaids wise? It is because, unlike the foolish virgins, they have the foresight to take flasks of oil to replenish their lamps. 
The wise bridesmaids sleep, but first they prepare fully for the bridegroom's arrival. They have lamps and oil, so they are set to greet the bridegroom no matter when he might arrive. They make themselves ready for the coming of the groom and that is a sensible thing to do, that is the point of this parable.  
It is in the self-interest of the bridesmaids to be ready, because the bridegroom's coming will signal the beginning of a great and joyous festival and they would not want to miss it. The theme is to be prepared for a great and wonderful thing, not for the worst but for the best. 
Matthew wrote his Gospel a half-century after the resurrection, and there would have been those who thought that the words of Jesus were a hoax and they might as well give up. You can hear the pessimists ‘he’s not coming, we might as well give up.’ So Matthew recalls these words of Jesus to encourage the church to maintain its vigil, even though they are tiring of maintaining an "alert status."  
So we are the bridesmaids, the Groom is Jesus, the wedding feast is the great and joyous occasion in which Christ comes for his church -- the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). The delay of the bridegroom corresponds to the delay of the Second Coming, the bridegroom's arrival in the dark of night is the Second Coming itself. The closing of the door is the final judgment.
But what is the oil ? If the thrust of this story is that we must be prepared with oil for Christ's coming, what is the oil? 
Luther said that it was faith. John Wesley said that the lamp was faith and the oil in it was love. Others have identified it as piety, good works, a personal relationship with the Lord, or a host of other possibilities. 
In the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Slave (24:45-51), the faithful slave is the one found at work when the master returns. Being prepared -- having oil -- means working faithfully for the Lord. 
In the Parable of the Talents (25:14-30), the faithful slaves use wisely the resources entrusted to their care. Being prepared -- having oil -- means practicing good stewardship, good ecological practices, careful management of our time and money, generosity to those in need, proclamation of the Word, The possibilities go on and on. 
In the Judgment of the Nations (25:31-46), the Son of Man rewards those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit the prisoner, which corresponds nicely with what Jesus identified in this Gospel as the greatest commandment, to love God and neighbour (22:37-40). Being prepared -- having oil -- means generosity to those in need.
In the wider context of this Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) gives us great insight into Christ's expectations. Being prepared - having oil - means obeying Jesus' teachings. 
The point is made that it is not good enough to become a Christian. Just because we become a Christian does not mean that we will be ready to greet Christ when he comes. No more than becoming a bridesmaid meant that those bridesmaids were ready. Becoming a Christian and recognising the importance of making a decision to follow Christ is important, but it requires a corresponding growth in discipleship. We all need to trim our lamps. Charles Royden

Meditation

On the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the throne passed to the son of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. Uniting the two thrones would eventually lead to the joining of Scotland, England and Wales to form “Great Britain”. King James enforced some harsh anti-Catholic laws. A small group of Catholics conspired together in what is now known as the “Gunpowder Plot”. They placed 36 barrels of gunpowder in cellars underneath the House of Lords in the British Parliament. Guy Fawkes was to be the one who would light the fuse. It was intended that the explosion would kill the king and members of the Lords and Commons as they gathered for the State Opening of Parliament. One of the conspirators leaked details of the Plot, and Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars. He was arrested, tortured and executed, along with the other conspirators. Parliament decreed that, from then on, bonfires should be lit each year on the 5th of November to celebrate the deliverance from the “Gunpowder Plot”. Nowadays a “guy” is often still burnt as a reminder of Guy Fawkes. In our own times, on the night before the State Opening of Parliament, there is a symbolic searching of the cellars of Parliament by the ceremonial ‘Yeomen of the Guard’, bearing lanterns.

Let us pray: God our Father, open our eyes to whatever may not be just and right in our own surroundings and in our society. Enable us to be of good influence and work in a non-violent way to promote understanding and better relationships that will lead to justice and peace. Amen.

Hymns

  1. O God our help
  2. Give thanks with a grateful heart
  3. Love divine all loves excelling
  4. O happy Day
  5. God of grace
  6. Thy hand O God
  7. Our eyes have seen

Prayers

Lord help us not to stare into the sky
waiting for your return.
Enable us to see you with us now -
in the cries of the hungry and the thirsty,
the loneliness of the stranger,
the plight of the naked, those left with nothing
the pains of the sick,
the hopelessness of the prisoner.
May our eyes be opened to see you
May our ears be obedient to your voice
May our hearts reveal you to all in need.
Give us the oil of your love, that the lamps of our lives might burn brightly to your praise and glory. Amen