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"On Being Ready" Sermon from November 12, 2017

posted Nov 13, 2017, 1:09 PM by Lee Church   [ updated Nov 23, 2020, 10:44 AM ]
Several folks asked for a copy of Pastor Gail's sermon from 11/12/17. We are happy to provide it below in it's entirety. 

“On Being Ready”   a reflection on Matthew 25.1-13


This has been a sad and painful week – the latest in a long, long succession of painful weeks, as we have witnessed yet another episode of unspeakable violence and inconceivable disregard for the sanctity and value of the common humanity that we all share. That the latest atrocity in Sutherland Springs, Texas occurred in a church, a place where everyone has the right to expect to be safe, welcomed and peaceful, shakes us all to the very core of our being. Is no place sacred anymore? Is there no location where we can feel assured that senseless violence will not intrude into our lives and change them forever? Small towns, big cities, churches, sidewalks, concert venues, schools, movie theaters, college campuses…..I think there is a new psalm breaking forth, or perhaps an old one being replayed. Why, O God…..When, O God…..How long, O God….O God, help us. 

It is clear that there is no easy answer to this…for if it was easy, we surely would have figured it out by now. If you are hoping for a sermon on gun control, tighter rules on truck rentals, or laws about selling pressure cookers, machetes, or fertilizer, I am afraid that you are going to be disappointed, for I am convinced that the issue is much, much deeper, and much more complex than the mere choice of a weapon, and so, therefore, is the solution. For I firmly believe that this is a crisis of spirit – or complete lack of spirit – and the more that our world turns away from God, and worships instead at the altars of self-interest, self-gratification and personal desire, the more pervasive our despair and fear become. We are losing our appreciation and reverence for each other, for the preciousness of each life, and for the image of God in which we have all been created. When rage, anger, resentment, frustration and fear take over, rationality is lost, our sense of the sacred becomes blurred or disappears all together, relationships fall apart and all we can think about is how to protect ourselves by making others hurt as much as we do.

Haven’t you thought about this over the past week? I have – for several reasons – but mainly because church is a holy and sacred place to me; a location of tranquility and peace; a room that is so much more than four walls, a roof, two doors and half a dozen windows, but because it is a haven where I can come with my question, my fears, my doubts, and lay them before God. It is a place where I sometimes find answers, but mostly where I can pray and let go of what tries to hold me back and hold me down. And I want this room, this house of God, this sanctuary, this building that has sheltered the faithful and the unfaithful, the seekers and sinners, the bold and the bashful, the frightened and the fearless for 150 years to still be that place. I also know how much being a part of this church means to each of you, and to me; how the relationships within this community mean as much, or more, than family; how we care for one another by visiting, calling, writing, emailing, sharing meals, sharing worries, fears, joys and celebrations; how there is never a minute in any day of any week when any one of us cannot reach out to someone within this congregation and be received with compassion, understanding, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a hug to enfold you, a loving heart to sit with you, a trustworthy presence who will receive you with respect and dignity. This community is something very precious and special to me – and I don’t want anything to ever damage or destroy that, for we are truly the Body of Christ – imperfect in our creation, made perfect in perfect love. I don’t want fear to rob us of that – or the wider community to be denied the witness of hope, kindness, mercy, generosity, gentleness, forgiveness, acceptance and justice that we bring. For if we do not bring this message, who will? And if we are not here, what is the message that will be brought? We are surrounded by a world that is hurting – by people who are isolated and lonely; who are wounded and afraid; who are disillusioned and in despair; who believe that their lives do not matter; who cannot take responsibility for their own circumstances and instead place blame on others; who have not been loved for who they are and feel rejected; who in that place of rejection feel a need to retaliate to ease their hurt; who feel unworthy and resent others for their self-confidence; who have struggled with mental illness without improvement or who no longer imagine that they can ever be well. We know these people because sometimes we have been these people. And for each of us who has experienced this and healed, there has been someone or several someones who have reached out in kindness, empathy, compassion and love to help us heal, to reintroduce us to the deep well of spirit within us, and to walk the journey beside us. And we praise God for those kind souls who have made such a difference in our lives – those loving people who have worked so hard to be prepared to do the difficult and challenging work of the kingdom – God’s kingdom – here on earth.

Being prepared to do the challenging work of the kingdom is part of what Jesus addressed in the parable of the 10 bridesmaids. He criticized the 5 for being lazy – the 5 women who didn’t attend to the level of oil in their lamps and then expected someone else to bail them out. They knew what was expected of them, that the time of the bridegroom’s arrival could be anytime, but they were not attentive to these expectations. Therefore, they were not ready, not prepared to do what needed to be done. Now the part of the parable about them being prevented from attending the wedding feast is pretty troubling, because as Protestants, our theology informs us that the way of salvation is the way of faith and not works. However, I do not want to dwell on that today – perhaps another day – but rather, I want to focus instead on the expectation that we need to be ready, to be prepared, for the work that God through Christ calls us to do. In a time when the social philosophy is to protect one’s self out of fear for what might happen, I think that the Gospel call is to something entirely different. “Be ready,” Jesus said, with lamps that are filled – with spirits that are open, with hearts that are willing, with love that knows no boundaries, no beginning and no end.

I belong to two clergy chat groups on Facebook that are closed groups to protect confidentiality and encourage freedom of thought. This past week, I read with great dismay the many, many comments that were posted in response to the question – what is your church doing to be safe in the face of the tragic events in Sutherland Springs? Virtually all of the answers were locked doors, people stationed at doors to have eyes on every person who entered, people stationed in the parking lots – perhaps armed – and the hiring of security personnel. And I thought about us, and I spoke preliminarily with Chief Dronsfield about meeting with him and seeking his advice. But the thought of locked sanctuary doors, people patrolling the parking lot, or suspicious looks being given to newcomers hurts my heart. That is not who we are, and I doubt if it is who we want to be. Further, how can we worship fully, with the spirit of God flowing in us and through us, if we are sitting encased in an atmosphere of fear? And yet, what if…..

So, I will speak with the Chief, and respect his suggestions, and share what he says, for we do want to be ready. But I will also try to be more attentive to the people who surround me – especially those who are hurting, and sad, and seeking, and afraid, and anxious. I will pay attention, because paying attention is something that we all can do – and it is part of being ready with lamps that are full. With lamps and spirits that are full of love and compassion and hope, we can pay attention to the hurts around us, and try to make a difference – one person at a time; infuse hope – one person at a time; share love – on person at a time; and begin to create peace – one person at a time. My prayer is this: may our lamps be full, may our hearts and hands be prepared and ready to push fear away, embrace with joy, and welcome peace.   Amen.