Monday, August 9, 2010

Pentecost 11: Are You Ready?

Are you ready? Ready for what? Ready for… I don’t know… something!

This fall will mark the completion of my third year as your rector. I know, I know, the time flies when you are having fun. Twice now I have written articles of our newsletter – The Messenger – imploring you to be ready. One instance encouraged you to be ready for a hurricane. I mentioned a list of items you should have on hand, including…

• An adequate supply of bottled water.
• Batteries and a working flashlight.
• Non-perishable food items.
• A battery powered radio.

The question you should ask is this: “So Preacher, how are you doing on this?” But before you can ask, let us move us quickly on to the other article I wrote about readiness. In it I talked about some of the things each one of us needs to do to be prepared for unexpected incapacitation or an untimely death. These things include…

• An up-to-date will.
• A medical directive describing what kind of treatment you want and don’t want should you become incapacitated.
• A Power of Attorney document appointing someone to handle your financial and legal affairs should you not be able to tend to them.
• Up-to-date documents stating the beneficiaries of your assets and financial holdings.
• A document that lists your various accounts and password information.

Again, you might want to ask, “Well Preacher, did you take your own advice?” All I can say is, when in Oz, just watch the show, but never ever peer behind the curtain.

If you get nothing more from today’s Gospel reading and this sermon than the importance of tending to the basic acts of preparedness for life’s strange twists and turns, then something good has happened. The reading encourages this, but it also invites us to think broader and look deeper.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the first followers of Christ lived in a state of heightened readiness. They expected, anticipated, looked for, and taught that the Lord’s return was imminent; perhaps only a matter of days or weeks away. Surely, they thought, it was no farther off than a month or two. Given this mindset, it did not make sense to plant crops or enroll in college or even buy a pair of new shoes. Given their expectations, it made sense to leave your job, liquidate your assets, and use everything you have to spread the good news that Jesus is coming… soon… any day… any moment… maybe even tonight.

Extreme readiness. Hyper-readiness. Don’t even sleep. What happens if you are asleep when the Lord returns? Will you miss out, be locked out, get left behind? Well, as months passed by it became impossible and impractical to live in this kind of state. Some believers began to reengage the practical matters of life: going to work, paying the bills, planning for the holidays, sleeping on a nightly basis… these kinds of things. To those who held out, such behavior seemed akin to the household servants who, when the master returns, are caught not tending to their responsibilities. Eventually all the followers of Christ had to develop a more practical ethic for living on a day-to-day basis given that Jesus’ return could be a long, long, long way off.

2,000 years later we read this text and ponder not only what it meant to those believers in that original setting, but also what it means to us in our present – and very different – context. What does the return of the Master look like and what does it mean to be ready for it? This is the deeper and broader question we are invited to ponder.

Jesus’ teachings on this matter seem to fall into three types of images or stories. One we see in this lesson. Spend your time doing the things that matter most – that count for something important… like the Kingdom of God – rather than frittering your days away on things trivial and inconsequential.

Another image relates to being ready for power outages and drastic changes in life. Think of the parable of the ten maidens who, again, are waiting for a bridegroom who (it just so happens) is delayed. Five of the maidens bring enough oil for their lamps to last through the night, while five do not. Those in that second group have to scurry off to find more oil and it is during their absence that the bridegroom appears. This story suggests there is a practical aspect to being ready.

A third and final image relates to great feasts and parties. Those who miss out on Christ’s return are those who consistently ignore invitations to social gatherings, family events, and community celebrations; preferring instead to tend only to the drudgery of daily tasks.

These three images tell us something very important about the “return of Christ;” suggesting that it is not so much an end of time occurrence as much as it is an on-going experience in the life of God’s people. The first image hints at how we find Christ present as we exercise our gifts in ministry. The second image suggests that we need to have our affairs in order. When our life is in chaos it is near impossible to be open to what God has to offer. The final image relates to how Christ becomes present as we gather in the company of fellow believers.

Making each a priority is how we can live into Jesus’ teaching to be ready.

• Be mindful of life’s basics.
• Be about the things that bring out the best you have to offer.
• Be present whenever God’s people gather together.

Do these things and you will be well-positioned for the “return of Christ” – today, tomorrow, every day, and at the end of time as we know it.