Happy New Year! Today is the first day of the church year, and so we are in Year A with the Eucharistic Lectionary and Year 1 with the Daily Office Lectionary.
The honest truth is that almost no one really savors the season of Advent. We are supposed to be fasting and preparing ourselves for the Second Coming, and instead I think most people are focused on gift exchanges at work and going to parties. The church is a little out of sync with culture in one more way I guess.
The theme of Advent is always readiness. The Gospel reading for today’s Office is the parable of the bridesmaids. Five were wise and five were foolish. This morning’s Gospel tells us to “keep awake therefore…” and “Therefore you also must be ready…”
What does readiness look like? You remember being in school and the teacher announces a pop quiz. A classmate leans over and asks, “Hey, can I borrow a pencil?” That student is not ready. He was not ready for class, but he is for certain not ready for the quiz.
When I was in college, I took one semester at the University of South Carolina my Junior year. This was a turning point in my academic career. I thought I was a Math/Computer Science major and was taking Cobol and Fortran at USC while I recovered financially and could return to Sewanee for the Spring semester. The two classes were both taught by the same guy who was easily the worst teacher I have ever had. I dropped the classes and picked up Shakespeare a Philosophy instead. I ended up declaring a major in English back at Sewanee when it was all over. I went to graduate school in math later, but that is another story.
One day at USC I was waiting for my Philosophy class to start and I saw a guy I knew from high school. He said “I am so glad to see you. You have to help me out. I have a test in 10 minutes, and I need you to tell me everything you know about “Sofekless.” I determined he was talking about Sophocles and asked what they were reading. Was it Antigone maybe? Oedipus Rex? He said he did not know because he had not really been doing the reading or going to class. This former classmate of mine was not ready. He was not even close to pretending to be ready.
Matthew 25 tells us ““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” My friend was a goat that day as far as that test was concerned.
When the Day of Judgment comes, we don’t want to be the guy who says, “Quick, tell me everything you know about salvation. Can you help me out here? It looks as if we have about 10 minutes in line.”
Readiness means a lot of things to different people. Firemen and EMT’s practice things they hope they will never have to do. Lifeguards practice rescues they may never use. Emergency preparedness at work means you know what you are going to do if some fired worker comes back and goes postal. What do we need to do to be ready for the Second Coming?
The answer is a lot like what my friend should have been doing in his English class. He should have been attending class and doing the homework. We also need to attend church and practice our faith when we are not here. We have to be spiritually prepared. We have to be in relationship with God.
I don’t know how many of you have read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. There is a story there which speaks to my message about Advent this morning.
Three apprentice devils were coming to earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, about their plans to tempt people.
The first devil said, “I will tell them that there is no God.” Satan responded, “That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God.”
The second devil said, “I will tell them that there is no hell.” Satan answered, “You will deceive no one that way; they know that there is a hell.”
The third said, “I will tell them that there is no hurry.” “Go,” said Satan, “and you will ruin them by the thousands.”
The Gospel reading today talks of the days of Noah. Noah was a different kind of guy. He was someone who built an ark when it was not raining. There was not a cloud in the sky, and he is mumbling about a flood.
“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
What is our ark?
We are now in the nave of St. Thomas. The word “nave” comes from a Latin word that means ship. If we look up, we can see the rafters and supports that even look like the frame of a ship. This church is our ark. We are called to build it up and keep it seaworthy. Like Noah, we are called to do this even when it is not raining. You may see a cloud or two yourself. It is time. It is part of our readiness plan.
Our being ready involves getting to class and doing the homework. It involves getting to church and practicing our faith.
Today’s reading is from Chapter 24 of Matthew. In the next chapter in this Gospel, Jesus drives these points home.
In the Parable of the Talents, we are taught to use our God-given gifts for God’s benefit. Then Jesus tells us to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger. We are to visit the prisoner and and clothe the naked. Doing these things for others is like doing it for Christ himself.
When the lawyer asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
This is it in a nutshell. It is our readiness plan, and Advent reminds us to think about it and maybe get to work. That ark is not going to build itself.
I have said these words in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon preached by Fr. Tom Haynes at St. Thomas Episcopal – Plymouth
November 27, 2016; The First Sunday in Advent – Year A