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Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13
Music: “Listen God is Calling” MV 97
Thank you to Emily Logan for sharing the gift of music with us.
A Children’s Time video can be found here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
The kingdom of heaven is like a convenience store. When I started work at the Needs convenience store on Windsor St in Halifax, I wasn’t looking for a dream job. I was in third-year university and I needed to make ends meet. The owner taught me how to work the cash register and redeem Lotto tickets, and that was pretty much it for the next four months.
I remember the first time I worked the back shift, receiving and loading the week’s stock. There was one instruction that stood out. The owner said that, at around 7am on Thursday morning, toward the end of the shift, I should put out a cup of coffee – medium, two sugars, no cream – on the lunch counter by the entrance. I asked her why, and she said, “It’s for one of the regulars. It’s just something we do.”
After seminary and our time in Scotland, I would have said that a minister has deep theological conversations, preaches, prays, and translates Gospel passages from the original Greek. Within the first year of ministry, however, I discovered that what a minister really does goes largely unseen by anyone else: visiting hospital rooms and living rooms; listening to cherished memories and to grief; going to high school basketball games.
Since then, I’ve also discovered that ministry is not really that different from any other vocation in the sense that we only ever see the tip of the iceberg. We see the outward or public face of peoples’ lives and work, but there is much more at work. The great work of faith is learning how to see it or, indeed, how to be gracious and loving even when we can’t see.
In two weeks, the church year begins again with Mary and Joseph and the baby. But in these last few weeks, we listen to Jesus talking about the kingdom of God. Now, when he says kingdom, he does not mean the political empire of Israel; nor does he mean the expansion of Christendom across the globe, converting everyone. What he means, he says in a parable.
Ten bridesmaids are getting ready for a wedding. The groom is running late, so they have to bring their oil lamps to see them through the night, but only five of the bridesmaids bring enough oil. The other five are not prepared. The forgetful ones ask to borrow some from the responsible ones, but they can’t, so they have to leave the wedding to find some. And in the process, they miss the groom’s arrival and all the festivities. Jesus concludes the story with the familiar phrase: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
This parable is what is called apocalyptic, a word that means unveiling, or revelation. (Turns out knowing the Greek is good for something!) It’s not apocalyptic the way Hollywood films or the Left Behind books would have it, with cosmic battles and people disappearing from their cars leaving the rest of us to watch it all burn. What Jesus is describing is a moment – a kairos, a season – in which God’s promises will be fulfilled. It is a time when peace and right relationship are our waking life, not just a dream.
To “keep awake”, then, is not to be in a constant state of panic, stockpiling beans and water. It’s also not to strive for some kind of ethical perfection. To “keep awake” is to be aware of times and places and people in which God is being revealed and, crucially, to allow those moments to work in us, to transform our perceptions, our relationships, even our priorities.
I joke about the convenience store, but I worked there during a low time in my life. I didn’t like what I was studying in university, but I was also stubborn about finishing what I’d started. I’d lost my grandfather that year, my first real experience of losing someone I loved, and I didn’t know enough about grief to know that I was dealing with it poorly. Cleaning the Slushy machine every day was not helping.
There were a lot of older men who stayed in a boarding house across the street who would come in for coffee, or a can of beans. At the end of the night shift one morning, one of the regulars – Earl, whom I later learned suffered from schizophrenia – came in and was talking about his doctor, and the people he was afraid of. As he talked, he picked up the coffee that was waiting on the lunch counter. Medium, two sugars, no cream.
And as he left, he said, casually, “See ya’, Sport.” Now, he couldn’t have known that that was what my grandfather used to say to me every time we left Sydney. In that moment, I was reminded of something I found it easy to forget at that stage in life: that I was dearly loved. I was also reminded that there are so many who do not know that about themselves.
That experience, and many others, helped give shape to a question I carry with me still: what has God prepared you to do, and how will you respond? This question sometimes takes the shape of vocation: discerning where, as Frederick Beuchner writes, “your passion and the world’s deep need meet”, and how God is calling you. Sometimes it’s a question of attitude, or approach: how we respond to obstacles, fear, anxiety, and frustrations.
Always, though, as it was for Jesus, what God has prepared us to do and how we will respond is lived out in our relationship with others. We learn from Jesus to begin with respect, and an open heart and mind; to ask questions rather than assuming we already know; to be gracious in the face of a person we can never fully understand; to see other people as our neighbour, rather than our problem. This is what it means to “keep awake”, to be prepared for God’s kingdom: to believe that we are in the presence of God whenever we are in the presence of another.
Jesus tells his parable of the bridesmaids at a point in their journey when the disciples are preparing for their last days with him. It was only a matter of weeks before Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s self-giving love to those who are lonely; peace in the face of violence; faith in the face of injustice; dying to the old, rising to the new.
When Jesus says, “It will be revealed,” he refers not only to himself, but to the fact that God is not finished revealing – that the story does not end with him, but continues with us. Jesus’ teaching to keep awake, to be prepared, is like the Boy Scout motto, but instead of packing matches and rope and water, we keep with us at all times the gifts of grace and patience, compassion and mercy, and courage and strength to meet the day, the world and each other, so that we don’t miss out on the beautiful signs of God’s presence in the midst of life’s brokenness.
My last day at the convenience store was a Thursday – the night shift. As luck would have it, I was training someone that night, a high school kid who wasn’t more than three years younger than I. The blind leading the blind. I was teaching him how to work the cash, how to redeem the Lotto tickets.
I told him that the last thing on the list for every night shift was to set out a cup of coffee – medium, two sugars, no cream – on the lunch counter, at around 7am. The kid had a look on his face that said, “really?” The grizzled veteran that I was – 21 years old, four months on the job – I simply told him what I had learned from those who had gone before me, “It’s just something we do.” Amen.
Holy One, we are in the season when the light is continuing to diminish and the winds are growing colder.
We know that winter will soon be upon us yet many of us are still waiting to change our tires, to put our gardens to bed and to do all that we must to make ourselves ready for what we know is coming.
You call us to be prepared, to be ready, for we do not always know what is to come. We realize that everything can change in a hare’s breath and suddenly our world can be changed.
You ask us to be attentive, to watch and to listen, for your time is at hand. A time when your light can suddenly shine on our path and show us the way of hope, the way of peace with justice and the possibility of a honeymoon when all of your world will come together for the betterment of all people and the creation itself. Keep giving us glimpses of your light and help us to ready ourselves.
We pray for those who have received either troubling or joyous news this past week that they will see your hand resting on their shoulder offering encouragement and strength.
We pray for all who await peace with justice in their relationships, in their homeland, in all the places of your creation. We think especially of the people of the people of Ethiopia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Palestine and Israel. We pray for our southern neighbours that their divisions that seem so deep may be healed and that they may become more focused on caring for each other rather than political stripe.
We pray too for those who are most effected by Covid 19. We remember the places where the virus is continuing to take a heavy toll. More important, we remember those whose lives have been lost, whose heath has been diminished or whose economic stability has disappeared. We ask that you be with all of the front line workers to help them know they are appreciated.
Be with all of us this week and especially with those who are in need. We pray for those who are sick in body or spirit, may they find wholeness and healing.
We pray for those who are grieving. Grant all who have lost a loved one the strength and comfort for today and the days to come.
We pray for ourselves, help us to have realistic expectations of ourselves and help us to see your light on this day and in the days to come.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus, our brother who teaches us to pray, Our Father, …. Amen.