Archive for November, 1999

Sunday Week 32 Year A

Ten young people ready for a wedding party. Waiting for the bus to arrive to get them there. They are excited. They are ready. All dressed up. They all want the bus to hurry up. All ten are eager. But the bus takes longer and longer. They are getting tired. So all ten decide to take a nap so they’ll be fresh when the time comes.
When the bus does eventually arrive, all ten shake themselves awake. Five of them had been careful before they napped and kept their clothes neat and ready but the other five hadn’t bothered too, figuring there’d be plenty of time. But when the bus finally turned up it was late and in a hurry. The first five were able to fix their hair, smooth our their wrinkled clothes and get on board. But the others were running around begging for combs and hair-gel and steam irons. And by the time they were ready to go the bus had gone.
We spend quite a lot of our time in the Month of November praying for our dead—the family and friends who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith to be with God. We have the confidence that they have found a home in heaven. But it wasn’t always so. The second reading today comes from the earliest bit of Christian scripture we have and you can see that the dead were an embarrassment to the early community. They believed the promises that Jesus would come again. Would come again soon. In fact would come again before the present generation had passed away. So when that coming in glory was delayed, and delayed, and delayed, people began to worry: what was going to happen to those who had died when Jesus did come? Was his salvation only for the living? Well St. Paul tells them No. All those who have faith in Jesus will find a home in heaven.
The gospel story we have today was written maybe decades after Paul’s letter. And by then the Christian community was getting used to the fact that Jesus hadn’t come back yet and wasn’t coming back anytime soon. So how should they live in the meantime?
What’s the difference between the wise and the foolish in the story? They’re all waiting eagerly. They all take a nap because of the delay. The difference is just this: five have common sense and five don’t. Five are practical and five aren’t. It’s important to spend the time waiting wisely.
All the Christian people who have ever lived, lived their lives out without Jesus second coming. There are some groups of Christians living now who are so sure the end is coming in their lifetime that they’ve stop caring about the world and just look after themselves. They couldn’t care less about the future because they don’t think they’ll have one. Why bother about global warming if the world ends next year? Why care about pollution if your children won’t be around to be poisoned? Why resist war if you think that a final battle is needed to bring on the end?
The parable today says simply: don’t be stupid. Be practical. Live as if the future really mattered. Live as if the world really mattered. Take care of your children. Live honourably. Have some common sense.
Today, as a community, we do one of those practical things—we welcome two new Christians to be part of our body through baptism. Two children who can’t yet understand what’s involved, can’t yet feel eager themselves, can’t yet take care of themselves let alone others. What they do best is sleep. We this afternoon offer to do some things for them until they can do them themselves. To understand for them what’s involved in being a Christian. To feel the eager desire for the kingdom on their behalf. And to take care of them and of each other for them. So that as they grow up to make their own minds up about their faith they can see our common sense, our care for each other and the world, and our own longing for God.
Now there’s no doubt we’ll fall asleep on the job. But that doesn’t matter if we’ve had the common sense to take care of what’s necessary. If we’ve built a good foundation for them, then their faith will survive when we get sleepy. In a moment we all renew our own baptismal promises—let’s make sure when we do that we mean what we say and intend our promises to have some practical effect.

November 7th, 1999

All Saints of the Society of Jesus

Half a planet away right now in England I can guarantee that the cold night air stinks of sulphur and smoke and the ground is littered with the spent carcasses of fireworks large and small. As a kid we’d spend the weeks running up to bonfire night out in the freezing evenings scavenging wood to burn and dragging from door to door our “Guy”—a dummy flung together out of old clothes and newspapers—begging for money for fireworks. “A penny for the Guy!”
A cold and complex work, that preparation for the fifth of November. Keeping your wood dry. Keeping it out of the hands of the big kids down the hill who would raid your pile to make theirs bigger. Calculating just what proportion of bottle rockets to bangers to roman candles made the best of the meagre money you’d scrounged together.
And then come tonight … the Guy would be on top of that bonfire burning away, the fireworks would be screeching and exploding all around, and you’d be baking potatoes and sausages in the fire—frozen on one side, scorched on the other—you and the sausages.
“Remember, remember, the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot.”
None of us really thought that we were burning an effigy of a Roman Catholic caught 400 years ago in a plot to blow up the King and all his ministers. Or if we thought it we didn’t think it strange. Or even consider the power of propaganda to keep such a memory going for four centuries.
King James, so his own mouth told it, was warned in a dream, by God’s own self no less, that the filthy treasonous Catholics were plotting to blow him up and all parliament with him. He dispatched his men straight to the spot under the parliament building were Guy Fawkes, Catholic and munitions expert, was in hiding with enough gunpowder to blast them all sky high. Fawkes was arrested, tortured, and killed along with whoever else it was convenient to remove from the political scene. And every year since Guy Fawkes has been burned in effigy by hordes of school children out for some fun. But who was really behind the gunpowder, treason and plot? “Jesuits,” said the king. “Lying, equivocating, treacherous, devil Jesuits!”
Now that’s probably all propaganda. But it makes you wonder what was so troublesome about those Jesuits, real or imagined, that it was worth inventing rituals so powerful that they persist even today. Why did James fear them so? Why, more recently, did the Salvadoran military? Or any number of political powers between the two in time and space.
The answer is in the readings today. And it extends beyond the Company of Jesus to anyone who sincerely wishes to walk in company with Jesus. “The word is very near to you.” “Unless a grain of wheat…” If we, sitting here tonight, truly believed those readings and let them live in our lives we would be a force to terrify any evil power. To believe that God’s desire and will for you and for me is not distant or abstract or alien or difficult to fathom but is here—in our heart, upon our tongue, behind our eyes—available, powerful, clear, direct. That’s what Ignatius taught his followers and showed them how to do.
To believe too that the word of God’s desire once we have discovered it will turn out to be more valuable to us than life itself. A word that speaks most loudly by laying down its life.
Now if we were convinced of that tonight—if we found the desires of God burning in us stronger than life itself—then wouldn’t the powers of air and darkness tremble. Wouldn’t we be scary!

November 5th, 1999


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