Sunday, November 9, 2014

Keep awake... (Annual Meeting 2014)

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is the first of two parables. They come at the end of Jesus' teaching about "the coming of the Son of Man." He is teaching his disciples about his return, after his death and resurrection. He is preparing them for when he will, in fact, come as king: the king of heaven.

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is a parable of conundrums. It leaves us with some questions. We might wonder: how does this story tell a story of God's kingdom? Why don't the five bridesmaids give up some of their oil? Why does the bridegroom reject the other five bridesmaids? Where is God in this parable; where are we? The point of the parable, though, has little to do with these questions. The point of the parable is this: Jesus is coming, be ready!

Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is near; it can appear at any moment. These words have elicited fear and joy in the lives of people for thousands of years. While others rejoice in the Lord's imminent return, others wonder if they will be rejected.  I wonder what it means to imagine that Jesus might return. Tell us, the disciples ask, ...what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age... Can we imagine asking this question?

Five of the bridesmaids, for some reason, do not have oil for their lamps. When they ask the other five to share, they are refused. Now, I have heard many sermons explain the reasons why the bridesmaids do not share. I even accept some of these reasons. What I notice, though, is that, in the end, the five bridesmaids without oil are rejected. And the other five bridesmaids could've done something about that. Maybe it wasn't their responsibility. Maybe it wasn't even expected. It is, though, what I expect: that the bridesmaids will share. Why don't they share; and how would the story change, if they did?

Every Sunday, after church, a group of 9 - 12 young people gather upstairs in the Parish Hall. They put off lunch so that we can be together and study the Bible.  And that's what we do. They are also looking at their lives: what they believe and how that forms who they are. They have journals; we pray; we laugh; we ask questions - and sometimes we answer them. It might be the best hour of my week.

I want to share with you some numbers because, in their own way, numbers tell a story. Our Sunday average attendance hovers somewhere around 104. When I first arrived, I was pleased when we had 15 at the 8:30 service, now I worry when there's less than 23. Our pledge income has grown from $175,000 in 2012 to $185,000 for 2015. Our non-pledge income hovers near $15,000. Never mind the several hundred thousand that we raised this year for the new instrument. In other words, we don't worry about paying the electric bill. We don't even worry about the Reading Camp budget. Here's two more numbers.  This year, since last October, we buried five members of this parish. We walked alongside no less than five members facing serious illness.

What do these numbers tell us? They reveal we are showing up; we are offering our time, our finances, and our hearts to one another. They tell us we are sharing our oil with one another. We are being church: a community of the faithful.

Every year Reading Camp happens in June, except this year, when it was in August. On August 3rd, I found myself walking near the shore of Haines Alaska. Thank God for cell phones! I called Sue Ferguson and Jan Sheffield. How are you? I asked. And, of course, they both told me everything was fine; they were tired already; everything would be great. And, of course, it was.

On Monday the 4th, they (along with countless others) opened our doors to 18 children. Throughout the week, these children became better readers. They also got to swim, play, and even make goo. They were fed, taken care of; they were loved.

When I got here on Thursday, I found 18 very energetic children, and many, many tired volunteers. On Friday, we gathered in here to celebrate the children. We gave them each a book case, a bag full of school supplies, a bag of books, and a gold helium balloon. And we gave them so much more. I watched as Thomas and McKay led them in camp songs, as Sue and Jan gave them pep talks, and I saw us loving. I saw us sharing ourselves with them.

Now, here's the thing, when we give, it means we have a little less for ourselves. Maybe the five bridesmaids don't share their oil because they are afraid of running out. Sometimes we don't love, or share, or give because we're not sure what will be left.

I've just shared with you a bunch of numbers. And I tried to show how they tell a story. These numbers, though, tell more than one story. They tell a story of generosity. They tell a story of how we are giving pieces of ourselves away. They tell the story of a people who are working hard; and of a people who are grieving. They tell the story of how we are searching for ways to encounter God's kingdom here, in this place.

And so, I want to give you something. I want to offer us something to renew us, to refresh us, to give rest to our souls. I wonder if you would join me on a journey for our souls? I have a chosen a devotion book, We Make the Road by Walking. Starting the first week of Advent, this book will be our guide for individual and group devotion. There will be a group that will gather after the Wednesday noon service. There will be a group that will gather on Sunday mornings. And, there can be more: maybe Sunday afternoons, maybe in someone's home. The goal is to study the Bible, to talk about the way God is acting in our lives, to share our faith with one another. Will you join me because I would like to share some of my oil with you...

Ever since I have known this community, there has been one thing that stands out: if we could do it all, we would. And the truth is, we are limited. There are only so many of us, so many hours in a day, so many days in a year. How will we focus our passions, our dreams, our vocations? How will we respond to God's presence in our midst?

I believe one of the greatest things we do together is eat. And the highlight of our eating together (other than the Eucharist, of course) is the Pig Roast. Every year, as we drive onto the Clark Farm, my heart races with anticipation: for the fun, the laughter, and the pig! On that Sun day in August this year, I noticed that our dear Carla Liverman was not at church. This sat with me throughout the day, and I assumed I would see her at the Clark's. You also noticed. You are the ones who called. You are the ones who went to her house when she didn't answer. You called me to tell me there was an ambulance at Carla's house. It was you who helped the ambulance drivers. It was you who showed up at the hospital, stayed with her at home, took care of her. Over the next few weeks, two things happened: we rallied together to take care of Carla, and Carla made a miraculous recovery. Carla was brave and let us help her; and we were brave and offered her our help. We shared our oil with one another.

Today, I ask you for one thing, and one thing only: please keep showing up. Keep coming on Sunday. Keep coming to events. Keep volunteering, keep giving, keep persevering. Keep telling stories, keep challenging one another. Keep loving God, and keep loving one another.

It will not always be easy. We may grow tired. We might get lost. Things might not always go as planned. We will have moments of sadness. And we will have moments of great joy! We may discover that we're about to run out of oil, or that someone has shown up without any oil. Keep awake, therefore, for your know neither the day or the hour. There is one assurance in that statement; it is the assurance that Jesus is coming, the kingdom of heaven is near. May this assurance give us strength and courage to be God's people in the world.

God's peace be with you,