This sermon followed a skit in which members of a church finance committee fight about the budget until a phone call brings news that someone has died and left an inheritance which provides for everything they need.
The skit ended;
Well pastor, who was it who died? Anyone we know?
The pastor replied: "I certainly hope so. His name was Jesus."
Jesus has died and risen again and in the process left us everything this church will ever need. Is that true? I wonder.
To date God has provided for all our needs financially through the generosity of every member and others who have been blessed by our ministry. Today is our pledge ingathering Sunday, the day when we offer to God our promises and our hopes of what we can give next year. From these promises the vestry will construct a budget which we hope and pray will be realistic. Pledge income is only part of our income; we are also blessed by the Abundance Shop, by gifts in the Sunday morning collection and by fundraising events.
God has supplied our needs and will continue to do so. It has not always been the way we hoped or expected. Sometimes miracles have occurred. But sometimes it feels as though we are working so hard, but God is not granting us the fruits of our labors in the way we would wish. I suspect that’s how the bridesmaids felt. They were full of hopefulness. They had put on their wedding clothes, made with care and loving attention to detail, they had taken their lamps and gone with joy and hope to meet the bridegroom. But he didn’t come and he didn’t come and he didn’t come.
This week’s election was one of hopefulness for many people. The issues galvanized folk in a way we hadn’t seen for forty years, and many hopes and dreams hung in the balance. Not everyone rejoiced at the results. There are many who did not see the outcomes for which they had hoped and worked. Like the bridesmaids whose oil ran out, their hopes were dashed.
But that’s where the analogy ends. This isn’t a parable about waiting a long time and then getting what you want versus not getting what you want. This is a parable about preparation. It’s about doing your homework and waiting patiently and hopefully.
In her address to the diocese yesterday, Bishop Mary said that there is no way we can keep up with the rapid changes in our world. Instead of trying to stay abreast of the latest technology, the latest information, our job is to cultivate spiritual depth, to go deeply into God so that from that place of stillness we can sustain not only ourselves but our community as well.
As people live longer, many of us will experience severe physical or mental limitation. I have noticed that while this is not easy for anyone, those who have developed spiritual discipline, those who have cultivated a deep relationship with the divine, are able to greet the deprivations of old age with much greater equanimity and calm. Waiting until we’re older to develop a life-giving relationship with God, a sustaining spiritual practice, is like the bridesmaids who ran out of oil. They didn’t have enough oil because they had not prepared.
That deep relationship is made possible because of Jesus’ work. His life death and resurrection enable us to have oil in our lamps that never runs out. But we are not just the passive recipients. We have to tend the wick. By our intention, by our faithfulness, by our holy habits and our spiritual work we open ourselves to receiving the fullness of God’s grace. Our faithful practice enables us to stay full of hopefulness even when things don’t go the way we want them to.
The people of St Benedict’s know much about faithfulness, and hopefulness. We know that all we need is provided in Jesus and that our response to that generousity is to give generously ourselves, to provide the buildings and the programs and the hospitality through which God can reach out to a world in need.
It is through continuing to be faithful to the God who has called us, even when it seems that the kindom is too long coming, it is through giving generously of all that we have been given, it is through developing a deep inner alignment with the divine, it is in pouring ourselves out in service that we prepare ourselves, in faith and hopefulness to greet God whenever and whenever she reveals herself.
And God who is faithful and whose love is wildly extravagant, will not let us down.