2020-11-08 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
You may be seeing a little bit more blaze orange in your travels these days. You’re out and about doing your routine things and all of a sudden a truck with orange occupants inside will catch your eye. The toques, the jackets, the pants even, it’s a lot of bright orange burning a hole in your retinas. It’s the tell tale sign that hunting season has once again come upon us. All the good ol’ boys and girls are out scouring the country side for the big one with grand goals of deer sausage and jerky for the coming year. Later in November, when the deer rut is in full swing, it’s a very exciting time. All the Kings of the Woods who you never see all year long are out in full force, amorous and lusting their way across fields and sloughs and even right into town chasing the chicks and lookin’ for love! It’s quite the thing really. These big, smart, seldom seen reclusive creatures suddenly become, distracted. Their usually very weary judgment goes right out the window! They do stupid things they otherwise wouldn’t do, like walk around in the open in the daylight! They parade themselves as targets for sharp-shooting hunters and, this often leads to their untimely demise. These magnificent mature members of the deer family wind up hanging on the wall and or hanging in the smokehouse! They have come to complete ruination all because of the attraction of distraction!
As you might perceive, there is a huge lesson here for us too folks. Distraction. It’s not only the downfall of Whitetailed deer, but also for us too. Throughout the scriptures, over and over again, our Lord warns us about being distracted by the ways of the world. God warned Cain way back in Genesis 4:7 “sin is crouching at the door.” It’s right there. It’s all around us, all the time. It wants to distract us from our Savior and make us targets for the devil and his sharpshooting demons. This temptation is massive in our society. You may have noticed that before the Corona Virus ground everything to a halt, people were so distracted and so busy with busyness! In fact I often refer to this as “The Cult of Busy” - having kids involved with 6 billion activities each so that there isn’t a spare moment for anything else in the week. And then people would brag about how busy they were, almost like a badge of honour. I have to run here, I have to drive there, we need to be in that town that weekend for that game, and on and on and on. When we are busy and distracted by the ways of the world, we aren’t prioritizing our faith and what God wants us to do. Instead, we become distracted and bamboozled by all the other things in the world and our faith suffers, falters and can even be destroyed!
As we start to wind up the church year, with the season of Advent right around the corner in the coming weeks, we start getting pretty stark warnings about distraction from our Lord in the appointed Scripture readings. We hear about the Kingdom of Heaven and how it requires us to be watchful, awake and prepared for its arrival. We are to be a people on point and waiting for our Lord’s return - this is the total opposite of the distracted, sleepy buffoons of our world. Our Lord brings this message to us through the story of a wedding from 2000 years ago. St. Matthew’s Gospel records it for us.
Back in the day, the Bridegroom was the person everybody waited for. The ladies were all on pins and needles waiting for the man of the hour to show up. This is long before the days of smart-watches and smart-phones of course, time was more “round-about” for them than the precision we are used to today. So the groom would make his way to where the Bride was around a certain time to pick her up and head off to the ceremony and festivities. But they didn’t know exactly when he would show up.
So our Lord’s parable paints the picture of the bridesmaids as the ladies with the lamps. We’re talking old-timey clay lamps that burned olive oil for fuel. They take their lamps, way back in the day before electricity and LED bulbs and they would watch and wait for the groom to arrive in the darkness. The smart girls, they brought extra oil for their lamps just in case the groom was running late for some reason. They didn’t want to get caught in the darkness, unprepared. But the dumb girls, well, they didn’t bring any backup supplies with them. No extra batteries for their flashlights! And lo and behold, the groom was running late. So late, in fact, that the bridesmaids fell asleep until midnight when the cry went out that the groom was here at last! The smart ones restocked their lamps with their extra oil and had their lamps burning brightly. The dunces, on the other hand, well they had no oil left. They began to squirm and panic, asking the smart ones to share but it was too late. They had to go run around in the dark to buy oil for themselves in the middle of the night. Good luck with that one. Last time I checked 7/11 didn’t stock lamp oil!
While the distracted dummies were out scurrying around searching for supplies, the Groom shows up and whisks away everyone else to the grand party! Later on the dummies show up too, but it’s too late! The door is closed, the music is cranked, the merriment is rolling! No fun for the dummies. The groom says “I do not know you” meaning it’s too little, too late for these poor, distracted dolts.
This teaching is an image of heaven and salvation itself. Our Lord’s message is that He is coming soon. His people need to be ready and watching for Him. Distraction takes place when we lead a life of sin and do not heed what our Lord Jesus is teaching us. Distraction. It can take a zillion forms in our lives. Busyness. Skipping church. Not reading the scriptures. Neglecting prayer. Not living our lives the way that God wants us to, following His commandments and serving our neighbours. It can manifest in other ways like addictions to drugs or alchohol or gambling or video games or whatever. This can be “little things”that our distracted society doesn’t even care about anymore like living together before marriage or lust or pride or even “big things” like murdering someone or embezzling thousands of dollars from a company. No matter how you package it, sin is always a distraction. And it always has catastrophic consequences for us, just like the deer in hunting season. We become trophies for the devil and end up in the eternal smokehouse!
And, this is the heart of the warning today - if people don’t wake up to their distractions and sins, it will eventually be too late. Just as the door to the wedding party was shut and sealed to the distracted dummies, so too will heaven’s gates be sealed. All the scoffers who think that Jesus was just a made up hoax Who never existed, to the people who outright hate the church and embrace the pagan ways of the world, they will all find out the hard way. St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” If we knew what time the thief was coming, we would be ready and waiting. But we don’t know the day or the hour! So a faithful focus is what we need, not distraction.
Paul goes on: “While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober" (1Thess 5:3-6) This last word, “sober,” it’s not just “not-drunk” or “not-high” as we would commonly think about being sober. It’s alertness, mindfulness, being self-controlled. It’s being focused on our crucified and risen Savior, waiting for His return with faith and anticipation.
This is our Lord’s parting word in the Gospel reading. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (MT 25:13). This watchfulness is that same focus that St. Paul encourages us to have. It means to do the work and activities of your life that you enjoy but don’t let anything turn you aside from your faith. Don’t let anything distract you or derail you from being who God wants you to be. We watch that we are not deceived by the devil and the world. The best way to watch is actually to read. In a culture where watching our phone screens has become the principal waste of time, we would be much better off reading the scriptures. Turn off the distractions of the world and watch rather the Word of God. St. Paul writes to Timothy, “from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:15). This is how we are ready. This is how we are prepared. This is how we are watchful, waiting for the time. Don’t be a distracted dummy. Be wise in salvation, watching and waiting for our Lord Who has come and Who will come again. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen!