A Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost + November 12, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost + Proper 27A
First Lesson: Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 70
Second Lesson: I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2924522876_f380d939ce_oLast Sunday, we had a great celebration here at St. Catherine’s during our Festival Eucharist for All Saints. We sang beautiful and uplifting hymns. We heard an inspiring anthem from our choir. Together, in communion with all the saints, we gathered at the Table to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we welcomed two new members into the Body of Christ, Addison and Brodie Taylor. After the service, we enjoyed coffee and refreshments next door in the Annex, similar to what we do every week. I couldn’t help but leave church overjoyed and full of excitement for the future of our parish and all of the wonderful things that God is doing in our lives.

Then, I went home to discover the tragic news coming out of Texas, and my joy quickly turned into sorrow. According to news reports, a masked gunman had entered a small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs. Armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle, he shot and killed twenty-six people, including eight children, making it the worst mass shooting in Texas history. When I heard the news, my first thought was, “How could this happen?” “In a church of all places, how could this happen?” How could someone invade a house of God during worship and commit such a horrific act? My initial thoughts quickly turned into feelings of guilt and fear. I felt guilty knowing that, while we were celebrating such a wonderful day here at church, our brothers and sisters in Texas were experiencing a living nightmare, something that no one should ever have to live through. I felt afraid knowing that the same thing could easily happen in a place like St. Catherine’s, a small church in a small town, the last place where you would expect such a terrible thing to occur. 

Two vastly different experiences of church took place last Sunday. At St. Catherine’s, we worshipped in the beauty of holiness and celebrated the gift of new life through the sacrament of Baptism while the people of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs witnessed an act of unimaginable evil. Their lives will never be as they once were. Two vastly different experiences, one full of hope and one where all hope seems lost.

Over the past week, I’ve actually given quite a bit of thought to all of this, and I’ve come to realize a couple of things. First, the difference between these two experiences last Sunday, the hopefulness of Baptism at St. Catherine’s and the tragedy in Texas, provides us with a helpful look at our relationship with God and our place in God’s Kingdom. Jesus teaches us that, through him, the kingdom of God has come near but that it hasn’t yet been fully realized. It isn’t some far-off place in the distance. The kingdom of God is here and now. It’s all around us. We see glimpses of it every day, and we see it especially clear in those brief moments when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, moments like the Baptism of two young children. But, the kingdom of God is also yet to come, and we know this because we still live in a broken and sinful world, a world where someone can purchase a weapon specifically designed to kill as many people as possible and murder twenty-six innocent churchgoers during a worship service. The kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet.” As Christians, we’re called to live in the tension of those two realities with the hope that one day, God’s Kingdom will be fulfilled.

The second thing that I’ve come to realize in the past week is that we can’t stop doing the work that we’ve been given to do. As tempting as it might be at times, especially when the pain seems too difficult to bare and when it seems like all hope is lost, we can’t give up. We have to keep moving forward, despite the fear that may tempt us from doing otherwise. There’s still so much work left to do as we seek to fulfill God’s dream of reconciliation between God and God’s creation. As we’ve witnessed in Texas, evil exists, and as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility to respond to evil with love, to be a light that shines in the darkness.

Light is a common theme found in the Gospels.  Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his listeners, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” In the prologue to John’s Gospel, the author describes the preexistent Word of God as the “light of all people, the “true light, which enlightens everyone.” This is the same light that became flesh and lived among us so that we might be bearers of that light. In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus shares with his disciples a parable about ten bridesmaids. Five of them are foolish, and five are wise. The foolish bridesmaids are unprepared to meet the bridegroom. They bring only enough oil with them to light their lamps for a certain amount of time. The wise bridesmaids, on the other hand, bring plenty of oil and are prepared when the bridegroom runs late. The foolish bridesmaids hurry to try and find extra oil, but by the time they return, the bridegroom has already arrived at the wedding banquet. They miss their opportunity to welcome the bridegroom and are locked out.

Jesus makes it clear from the very beginning that this is a parable about the kingdom of God. The story of the ten bridesmaids illustrates this tension that exists between the “already” and “not yet” of God’s Kingdom, and the light represents faithfulness. The foolish bridesmaids aren’t ready when the bridegroom arrives; they have no light to welcome him. But, the wise bridesmaids are prepared; their lamps shine bright in order to welcome the bridegroom. At the end of the parable, Jesus says to his disciples, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” This is an important lesson for all of us, especially in times such as these when mass shootings and terrorist attacks seem to be happening more and more frequently. Keep awake. Be prepared. Come to the wedding banquet ready to welcome the bridegroom. In our own time and place, this is how we work to build up God’s Kingdom on earth. This is how we work overcome the darkness, by looking for ways to welcome the bridegroom, to welcome Jesus into our midst through acts of love and faithfulness. So, let us be vigilant, dear friends, and let us always remember that we are the light of the world. It’s true. A city built on a hill cannot be hid, and we are built on the biggest foundation of them all. Amen.

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