November 23, 2014

Rector’s Reflection – November 23, 2014

I’ll be the first to admit it. These last few Sundays have been rough, lectionary-wise. It always bears repeating that what we hear Jesus saying in the gospels at the end of the Pentecost season are not being said in November, right before Christmas. They are being said in what we have come to call Holy Week, just a couple of days before Jesus’ arrest and death. He has fought the good fight. He has tried to teach people into a new way of thinking about God and one another. He has done all that he can do. He told his disciples a long time ago that he had to go up to Jerusalem and what that would mean… that he would suffer and be killed, but that he would rise again.

Our 20-20 hindsight knows that everything Jesus had predicted came true. There was the ugly arrest, the uglier trial, the still uglier beatings, and the hideous execution. But then there was the wonder of the empty tomb… the glorious resurrection… the miraculous visits… and the promise of the Holy Spirit. And sure enough, shortly after Jesus was whisked from their sight, the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and pretty much all heaven broke loose.

That’s the story as we know it. Jesus said it. It happened. Church founded.

Fast forward a couple of thousand years. I had a discussion with a parishioner this past week who wanted to talk about the parables of the ten bridesmaids and the poor bloke with one talent. “That was some pretty heavy stuff,” the person said. “I thought Jesus was about love, and forgiveness, and second chances.”

Well, I can’t argue with that. That’s what we know from Jesus’ own lips and from the lips of his disciples. What we have in scripture is what has happened. But what these last Sundays in Pentecost are about is what hasn’t happened… yet. Jesus is clear that he’s coming back. Paul was expecting him any minute, as were the other disciples. But as time passed, things changed. Structures and doctrine had to be formulated that were faithful to what Jesus had taught about stuff like love, and forgiveness, and second chances. But we are never to forget that he will come again, and that we are to be ready. That’s the point of the bridesmaids’ story. That’s the point of the talents’ story. Jesus is coming back and, at that point, it will be too late to start doing something.

That’s a significant thing to consider. Remember, the bridesmaids hadn’t spilled the oil. They hadn’t miscalculated. They had done nothing. The guy with one talent didn’t invest it badly and lose it. He did nothing. And what Jesus very pointedly says is that there will come a time when the door will be closed… a heady reminder that, at the end, the knob to salvation will not be on our side of the door.

I know there are those who say that messages about gnashing teeth and outer darkness and judgment can be turn-offs for seekers, and I agree. If all I preached was that people were bad and were going to hell, then I would be a bad priest and a crummy Christian. There is no doubt in my mind that the witness of scripture is that God in Christ is about love and care and forgiveness.

But there’s also not a doubt in my mind that if Jesus says he’s coming back, he’s coming back, and if I were to dismiss his warnings about being ready – and the consequences for not being ready – as just so much clap-trap from an ancient book, then I would be an even worse priest and not a true Christian at all. I would be a false witness, and my faith and my ordination vows will not allow for that.