Sermon delivered on the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, the 12th November 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban’s Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: Amos 5:18-24     1 Thessalonians 4:13-18     S. Matthew 25: 1-13

S. Matthew 25:6 At midnight there was a cry, "Behold the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him!"

It’s not a good experience to miss some necessary deadline. In a world of utilities, subscriptions and payment deadlines I am sure we all know the need either to deal with those bits of paper that keep coming in or to give the necessary authority for them to be dealt with automatically. Otherwise something unpleasant begins to happen: some subscription item stops appearing in our inbox or P.O. Box, or our newest project doesn't get finished, a good worker goes away aggrieved or something important gets disconnected.

Today’s Scripture lessons include the theme of having a necessary readiness for what is described as "The Day of the Lord". Perhaps the worshippers in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in Amos’ time considered that their solemn assemblies, their burnt offerings and peace offerings were extremely significant and important. On the other hand the humdrum matters such as paying their debts to the traders and craftsmen who had supplied them with goods and services could wait for a more convenient time, they considered. They procrastinated and delayed in those necessary obligations that witness to the health or otherwise of our sense of justice. There may be some employers of work permit holders in the Cayman Islands who go to church on a Saturday or a Sunday but yet do not pay their workers the full amount agreed upon when they obtained the permit. In spite of the demands of the law, there are some employers who require the worker to pay the cost of the permit from their own wages. There are some also who having obtained a permit, allow the worker to obtain his wages wherever he can do so, contrary to the law, and then demand of him a fixed fraction of his wage to compensate them for the arrangement. The prophet Amos pointed out to the Israelites that their failure to observe matters of justice and righteousness, which ought to have been rolling down from them like a mighty stream, left them, rather than their neighbours, “on the wrong side of the tracks” on the Day of the Lord. Their positive expectation it appears, was of some “Day of the Lord” that would permanently seal their prosperity and leave their neighbours subject to them. Christian worshippers too are bound to be obliged by the moral demand of justice, and not merely by anything that someone may hold over us legally. Both in our individual affairs and as the church, we who have an eternal hope in Christ should be quick to fulfil the obligations which we incur from time to time to any of our neighbours or financial partners, and our acts of worship should always avoid any condemnations on account of injustice or unfair dealing perceived in us even by man, let alone by God.

In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches about readiness being necessary for the kingdom of heaven, by His parable of the wise and foolish maidens. Like the Israelites of Amos’ time they expected a joyful happening, in this case the arrival of the bridegroom. Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of heaven in terms of the social custom of His time of the bridegroom fetching his bride from her parents’ house and bringing her home to his own. The ten maidens were all expecting him to come, and their role was to accompany the beloved bride to the banquet that was in the finishing stages of preparation at her new home. Yet although they were all expecting the event, only half of them actually took the trouble to be fully prepared. I have often felt there was something missing in my understanding of this parable, but I understand now that there was a reason why the prudent maidens did not and indeed should not have shared with the others their oil. For the ten virgins had the specific task of providing light for the bride and bridegroom as he walked her in the darkness of night from her parental home to his. And those paths were known to be unsafe. A group left in the dark was liable to be attacked and robbed. The task of providing light is what they all ought to have been prepared for. Now if the wiser maidens had given half of their oil to the others, it could have imperilled the bride, the groom and the whole party, because all of their lamps might have gone out before they reached their destination. Five lamps alight for the whole journey was obviously better than ten lamps that might all have gone out before journey’s end. Might we too, desire and expect the joyful kingdom of God to appear, but be found to be unready to complete the specific task that had been assigned to us in the course of the appearance of the Kingdom? Indeed, might our moral lassitude be seen to have endangered the whole enterprise?

In other parables too, Jesus teaches that the very kindness and forbearance of God induces a spirit of lethargy and procrastination in some, and potentially in all of us. We should understand from His teaching, in a somewhat similar way to what is learned from Amos’ teaching, that there is a delay, a procrastination, a lack of moral compass, that carries with it eternal danger. We can be sure that it is Satan that desires to lead us into an unreadiness with eternal consequences. There are many forms of such unreadiness in our life. We may become convinced that we should offer forgiveness or express respect in a situation of estrangement, but we don’t take action on our conviction, and then it fades, and sadly the potential reconciliation never occurs. We do not act with a moral resolution upon the requirement of the moment that God Himself lays upon us. We allow those moments to pass through which we could have helped to build up a culture of charity both in ourselves and in our community. We get caught up by the television perhaps or some other entertainment, and that letter or telephone call or visit that has been on our mind and heart to make does not get made. Or that time of prayer or study of the Scriptures or of Christian authors gets left out. And should things be left in that sort of way, eternal consequences will follow. Christ enjoins upon all of us in His Body a culture of readiness, of moral principle and alertness and action. Let us heed His call.