Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sermon for Sunday, November 12, 2017 Holy Comforter RVA 1 Thess 4:13-18 Matt 25:1-13 “Ready”

The email was circulated around Mayo House on a Monday. Its message was cryptic: “Expect a very special guest on Thursday morning.” I read it and promptly forgot it. I should, of course, have noted it on my calendar. My life is inscribed on my calendar. If I cannot find my IPhone, I am lost, because everything goes onto that calendar. But this time, I didn’t write it on the calendar. Perhaps a more pressing problem distracted me, perhaps I had a meeting to go to, perhaps I thought I’d remember this on my own – HAH! – but I made no note of it. Thursday morning came. I had no meetings scheduled either in the office or outside of the office so I dressed casually. Jeans, an open-collared blouse, sneakers. Neat, of course, and not sloppy, but certainly not what I would have chosen to be wearing when, later that day, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby showed up at Mayo House with his family. Our special guest, and I looked like a soccer mom on the way to Costco.
Ah, well, I wasn’t prepared. All my desires to stay on top of the five thousand things on my plate were for naught. All of my obsessive desire for control failed me. It’s my pathology, this need for control, but I suspect I am not alone.
How many of us here are willing to claim the fact that we are control freaks? How many of us make lists? Some of us even add things to our lists simply so we can check them off…hmmm, got up and washed my face: CHECK! We have our schedules, our calendars…I’ve now gotten in the habit of checking my calendar on my phone first thing every morning simply so that I can be sure I don’t inadvertently miss something, and so I’m dressed appropriately. Thank you, Archbishop Welby! So anyway, because I like to be in control, I now check that calendar, just in case.
But for all our desire to be in control, things happen that thwart our desire. Labor starts two months early. You’re asked to participate in a meeting you hadn’t been told about in advance. The doctor isn’t there at the time of your appointment because she is attending to another patient’s emergency. The big contract for your employer isn’t signed so you lose your job.
And then there is the truly heartbreaking stuff, like this: you go to church on Sunday looking forward to hearing God’s Word and a man comes in and kills or wounds many of the parishioners.
Things happen, and it’s out of our control. What’s a follower of Jesus Christ to do?
It certainly doesn’t help when we’ve got a Gospel reading like today’s, where the whole message is about being prepared. The thrust of the text is that we are to be prepared for the second coming of Christ, because in those early days of the church, the belief was that Jesus would be making his return trip pretty darned soon. You get the drift: Jesus is the bridegroom, the church is the bridesmaids, and the church had better be ready.
But here’s the interesting thing about this parable, the thing that might provide comfort to us control freaks who think “how can we possibly be ready for ANYTHING?”
All of the bridesmaids fall asleep waiting. They don’t need to be awake nonstop until the bridegroom shows up. They rest. The smart ones have prepared, but not by putting together a list. They simply have attended to the one thing that is necessary – to have enough lamp oil to light the way when the groom arrives. There is one thing that they need to do – be able to shine a light for the groom – and they’ve prepared for that.
That’s a whole lot more possible than the list with a thousand check boxes on it to cover every single thing that can go awry.
Imagine your list: Cipro antibiotics, a shield that a gunshot couldn’t penetrate, spare batteries for the cellphone, reading material, a down sleeping bag, extra socks, dried meals, first aid supplies…we could go on with the list for hours, couldn’t we? There’s a whole industry built around the possibility of doomsday and the need to be prepared to survive – adherents are called “preppers” and stockpile massive quantities of things in bunkers or storehouses, just in case.
But what is truly necessary? What do we really need to prepare ourselves for  any contingency?
One word: Jesus. One faith: Jesus. One hope: Jesus.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Epistle today: the message is clear. Stuff will still happen. We cannot prevent it. But we know that when it happens, Jesus is with us. And if the ultimate thing we fear happens – that we are going to die (and believe me, we will all die at some point, no getting around it) – if that happens, who is with us through it and on the other side of it? Jesus.
What does Paul write to the Thessalonians? “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”
We cannot prepare for every eventuality, but we are assured that the one thing we most need no matter what happens will always be there: Jesus. He does not abandon us. He promises those who believe in him eternal life. It’s hard to imagine what eternal life will be like, but in my heart I believe that it will be infinitely amazing, infinitely joyous, infinitely filled with love. And it’s my belief in Jesus and in that promise that I try to carry me with me every day, even when I shake my head over the insanity of the world, even when I grieve the loss of 26 people in a church in Texas, half of whom were children and babies shot at point-blank range, even when I pray for a friend whose cancer has returned. I cannot prepare for everything, but I can prepare for the one thing I need and the world needs: Jesus, the savior and the promise.
But if you still want to prepare for any contingency, for a mere $269 dollars, go online. A company called Stealth Angel will provide you with a 72 hour emergency kit for two persons. Pretty fancy, complete with a backpack and a bucket.
Me? I’m relying on Jesus. He’s around for a whole lot longer than 72 hours, and all he asks is our faith and love.


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