Sermon Pentecost 23 November 12, 2017

Wisdom 6:12-16  Canticle Wisdom 6:17-20 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18    Matthew 25:1-13

May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Wisdom.  Today we have had two readings from the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon.  If any time in history needed Wisdom it is now.  The book is addressed to the rulers of the world, it says  “Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord in goodness and seek him with sincerity of heart;  because he is found by those who do not put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.  For perverse thoughts separate people from God, and when his power is tested, it exposes the foolish;  because Wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to Sin”.  (1:1-3)

How many of the leaders of the nations that we pray for pay heed to that ?  Not many if any !  But Wisdom is available to all who seek her, the trouble is not many people do.  Most are driven by pragmatic subjective ends.  We have gone through a couple of centuries of being guided by those seeking advantage over others, which leads to oppression, which brings about the logical response of defence, which brings about War.  We have suffered the War of 1812, the Boer War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Afghanistan and however you characterise the fight against ISIS, it is War.  That’s only us, other nations have had their own catastrophes, all in the name of Logic but Logic is not Wisdom, it is a poor substitute for Wisdom.  Wisdom looks beyond the immediate circumstances and has the long view of seeking overall good.  Logic dictates that if you throw a punch at me I will put up my guard to deflect it and minimise the damage.  Wisdom on the other hand looks for the cause of the punch, because without solving the cause, you are likely to send another haymaker in my direction, and I won’t always be so lucky.

This world lacks Wisdom, because people don’t seek it, if they did would we have millions of refugees worldwide, victims of brutal regimes, war, death, destruction, starvation, genocide, homelessness, an international drug problem, poor sanitation, impure water, global warming, health deficiencies, criminal behaviour ?  We wouldn’t if we globally could make the wise choice of redirecting the money consumed in armaments into peaceful purposes and solving those problems.  Money alone doesn’t do it but money and Wisdom do.  Beating swords into ploughshares is the wise course of action – wake up world !

Wisdom does not change to suit the occasion, Wisdom is constant, it is one of the greatest gifts given to us, a blessing, one of the nonmaterial elements of Creation.  Wisdom is akin to the principles of mathematics;  two and two will always equal four even for atheist Stephen Hawking.  Wisdom always adds up too.  There is Wisdom in the Ten Commandments when they are applied to lives they lead to immortality.

In this season we honour those soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, members of the Resistance and the Merchant Marine, who have given their lives in an effort to retain and restore, and make room for, Wisdom in our lives.  It was not Wisdom that forced them to fight but they fought to preserve whatever Wisdom was left in their time, and they are honoured for that.

It is a sin that we allow the same causes to exist and hold sway today.  Greed, ego, pride, fear in many cases cost honest men and women, and children their lives, that is a Sin humanity answers for in all the hardship, upheaval and terror that we pour on each other and put up with.  I am sure that as with the death of Lazarus Jesus weeps over the death of everyone who succumbs to violence and untimely death.  Yes we all die but as with Abraham we are supposed to die gently in old age, full of years, and be gathered to our ancestors, not torn apart by bomb or bullet or bayonet.  Where oh where have we gone wrong !  In a nutshell by rejecting Wisdom for our own advantage.

Then we come to the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, this is a most difficult parable.  Half of the bridesmaids lacked Wisdom, they didn’t bring oil for their lamps, nor did they buy oil earlier in the day before the bridegroom got there.  I don’t know what they were thinking.  The wise ones however when they hear the dilemma of the other five refuse to share, coveting what they had.  That doesn’t sound like a model of Christian behaviour does it ?  Remember the other teaching, if someone needs a coat, share it with them, if they need help give them what they need and more, go the extra mile  (Matthew 5:40-42).

This parable follows a whole load of teachings about the unknown time of Jesus’ return to triumph over Evil and the separation of the Good from the Bad.  But here Jesus is also making the point that we are all to be responsible for our own Salvation.  There is a lingering belief in the Church that prayers for others will save them, that the  ‘oil’  of believers can be spread among others who don’t believe.  How often does the family rely upon mother or grandmother  (usually)  going to Church to pray for her family, that by so doing they will be saved.  You know a prayer like  “Lord he is a good man, he loves his wife and children, takes them to sports, makes sure they are safe, have good clothes and presents at Christmas.  Surely he will be saved at the Last Judgement”.  It is better to pray that Faith will come to all members of our families because they have to do the work themselves.  Being a good citizen is not enough to become a citizen of Heaven and no one else can make up the deficiency for those who don’t believe.  We are to share our  ‘coat’  and  ‘go the extra mile’  now.

The task given to all believers is to spread the Gospel, we want no one to be shut out of Heaven.  John McCrea said it best in Flanders’ Fields, he says, we are to be the torch bearers of the faith given to us, and we are to pass it on to others.  If we are to honour the military we still have to fight Evil and if we are to honour the saints who have lived their faiths before us, we too are to pass on the torch of Faith to others.  Amen.

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