By The Rev. David Sellery
The scientific community got a terrible shock recently. Turns out that Einstein may have got it wrong… big time. The speed of light may not be the universal constant he thought it was. Scientists have successfully fired sub-atomic particles faster than the speed of light. So in one shot, the brilliant theory on which all modern physics has been built is exposed as potentially flawed.
Change is unsettling. Profound change is profoundly unsettling. Think of the waves of change that have swept through the Church in the last hundred years. And yet we have a universal constant that will never prove flawed. I know with absolute certainty that you and I are saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I know that in baptism the light of God’s grace was ignited in my heart. And it is meant to burn there ’til God gathers us home.
Which brings us to a lesson I take from this morning’s gospel: We have been given the light of grace, but it is up to each of us to tend the flame and to keep the faith burning. As shown in this parable, things will not go well for anyone who takes God’s gifts for granted. We were never meant to put God’s grace on cruise control and nod off. We are charged to be active, to be faithful… to be ever-ready: For you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.
The wise maidens knew this. They lit their lamps in immediate anticipation, but they also laid in a store of oil to stay ever-ready. The foolish maidens thought that they could take life on their own terms and live it on their own schedules. They found out that God is not to be taken for granted. He does not march to our beat. He is not some doting, distant relative we are obliged to visit on holidays. God is the center of our ever expanding, ever evolving universe… the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sustaining Spirit. While God is infinitely loving and merciful, as we see in this parable… He is also infinitely just.
In this gospel Jesus reminds us that while our salvation is a gift outright, we were never meant to file it away after baptism Christianity is not a spectator sport. God expects us to carry our cross… to take the field… to give it our very, very best shot… every day.
From the Mayans to Nostradamus, there has been wild speculation on a precise date for the world’s demise. While that topic is light years above my pay grade, I do know that God does have a time quite certain for my earthly demise and for yours too. God knows the day and the hour. But we don’t. He expects us to be ever-ready. He expects us to be tending the light that he gave us…until he comes again.
“Live every day like it’s your last…” Google that phrase and you’ll get 7.7 million results. It seems the inevitability of earthly mortality is never very far from mind. It is our essential anxiety. Jesus assures us: Be not afraid. Infinitely more certain than the speed of light, God’s revealed truth is the one absolute you can literally bet your life on. Even Einstein allowed: “God does not play dice with the universe.” Clearly there is purpose and direction in all of creation. In Romans 8: 28, St. Paul captures the essence of that universal order: All things work together for good to them that love God, and to them that are called according to his purpose.
His purpose for us is to be faithful… to wait on the Lord … to keep our lamps burning. Life in Christ is a life-long commitment to vigilance. It is a marathon, not a sprint. He is on his way… but at his own pace… and in his own time. Wait for him. Work for him. Welcome him every day. Be ever-ready. It is the only reason why we are here.
Today is also Commitment Sunday: the day when your preacher says something about stewardship. It is always a challenge for all of us when the clergy are asked to speak to a congregation about money and about sharing time, talent, and treasure. I do not need to tell you that it costs more today – than in former times – to sustain a full-time priest, support staff, a fine music program, a somewhat adequately heated church building, the recurring needs of keeping up a building which has suffered from deferred maintenance over many years, the monetary support of the diocese expected from this and every parish, and still provide for the emergencies that may come our way in the year ahead.
I do not need to tell you that we live in challenging economic times. This parish does not enjoy the bounty of very many very prosperous parishioners which it once knew. Some of you cope with unemployment or underemployment in these still recessionary times. Many of you live on relatively fixed retirement incomes. Some of you may tithe on your annual income – a Biblical model embraced by many Christians down through the centuries. Some of you may give a particular percentage of your net income each year – a widespread practice among many modern Christians who for a variety of historical, sociological, and economic reasons do not embrace the tithe per se. Some of you may give very sacrificially like the widow. Many of you have already made provisions for the support of this parish in your estate planning and intended bequests. Some of you are periodically generous with special gifts in response to particular needs in the church or in the community.
I want to emphasize that stewardship is not just about money, pledges, and open plate offerings. It really is about the gifts of time and talent as well. Some of you give very generously of your time to make this parish work – in liturgy, hospitality, governance, music, outreach, service, pastoral concern, and in countless other ways. Some of you give very generously of your talents and you skills – things get done – things get taken care of – problems get solved – repairs get made – altar linens get washed – Sunday School classes get taught – education programs happen – decisions are made and implemented – because of your giftedness and willingness to share those gifts.
This morning I am asking each and every one of you who loves St John’s to commit to a renewed future for this parish – a renewed future which depends upon your generous sharing of your time, talent, and treasure. These are challenging times for all of us- our parish, and indeed, parishes across our land and around our diocese.
If you love this parish – if you cherish its heritage and traditions – if you rejoice in its liturgy and music – if you yearn for the continuance of faithful pastoral care – if you are hungry for strong and effective preaching and teaching – if you yearn for it to maintain a witness of service in the community – Praising God, Serving Neighbor – if you enjoy the fellowship and the friendships which you find in this place -if you long to keep a beautiful historic building witnessing to Christ’s Gospel and God’s glory – there can be only one conclusion: support St. John’s Church with as generous a gift of your time, talent, and treasure as you are able. May God bless and guide you in your stewardship decision-making!
Copyright 2014 David Sellery. Used by permission.