Prayer, Preparation and Reconciliation

Episcopal Church in Almaden

22 Pentecost—November 9, 2014

Proper 27A: Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 78; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

Well, it’s all over. Finally. The election is done. There is much sorrow, and there’s much rejoicing, and it’s very neatly divided down the middle. There are those of us on one side and those on the other, and there’s not much meeting in the middle. The robo-telephone calls have stopped, and we can give thanks for that, but talk is continuing. It’s keeping on going, and I imagine it’ll keep on going until 2016. The talk is still going, but I’ve noticed and you’ve probably noticed as well that there’s not much talk about is reconciliation. There’s not much talk about is reconciliation.

We gather this morning to worship, and we bring with us our various perspectives on the world. We don’t all see things in the same way or in the same light. We have different opinions, we have differing thoughts about the world and how it ought to be run, but we come together to worship and stand here in the middle of all this disagreement, and we hunt for common ground together.   And we’ve got a lot of practice at that: 400 years of being the middle way—the via media—held in tension by the poles: there’s a group over here and a group way over here, and most of us are somewhere in the middle. That tension keeps us pulling—keeps us pulling—keeps us aware of what we’re thinking—keeps us working on how we believe—keeps us thinking about how we’re acting in this world. As people who are accustomed to being in the middle, we Christians—and I think we Episcopalians—I’ll just go ahead and say it—have a particular duty. You’ve probably heard about this. If you haven’t, you’ll be hearing a lot about it in these next three months while I’m here.   Because on page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, where all our traditions live, it says The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. And the way we’re supposed to be doing that—the way we’re supposed to pursue that is to pray and to worship, proclaim the gospel and pursue justice, peace and love. That’s it. That’s the marching orders we’ve got.

And immediately, you know my first thought is well, if we can just get those other people to pray, everything will be fine. But that’s not what it says. It says we’re supposed to be praying. And that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. When we come here together and when we pray as individuals, our prayer brings us a stronger connection to God’s love. Our prayer grounds us more deeply in God’s grace. And our prayer prepares us to live in this world that’s filled with conflict and disagreement and lack of reconciliation in a way that’s respectful, responsible and life-giving. That’s what our prayer prepares us to do.

Preparation is the watch-word for today’s gospel. This strange little gospel that proves to us once again that parables sometimes can let us look at one point, because if we look at the whole thing, we don’t get it. It’s kind of strange. I mean those five wise ones—those mean girls—who say “no, I’ve got mine, you go get yours.” That’s not Christian. That’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. But as I read this gospel and I think about that moment when the five bridesmaids who have gone off to try to find oil for their lamps are standing there in the dark. It’s long after midnight by that time. It’s long after midnight. They’re standing there in the dark and they don’t have enough oil. I’m wondering if they have enough light—if they have enough oil in their lamps—so that the bridegroom can see their faces and recognize them.

It’s our job to carry the lamps—to bring healing light to this broken world, and we can’t do that unless we’ve got oil. This is where we come to fill our lamps—to find the oil that we’ll need to take out into the world so that there’s enough light that we can recognize the Christ living among us and that the Christ can recognize us.

And today—today!—we get to prepare someone else—this precious child—to carry her own lamp. Today we baptize Cecily Elizabeth Van der Staay. A tiny little girl with a great big name. This child—she began walking two and half months ago, when she was only eight months old, and now she’s a moving girl, let me tell you. She goes anywhere her big brother Emmett goes—not quite so fast, but she gets there, and she knows that she’s just as big as he is. So today we prepare her. We continue to prepare her—we continue the preparation her parents and grandparents are already doing. Like all children, what she’ll learn is what she sees. If she sees us focusing on our differences, she will learn to broaden and deepen that gap that’s between people. If she sees us focusing on our common values, on those things that we believe to be true and acting out of that place, she will learn to be a reconciling force in this world. It’s when we focus on how we are together—those things that mean the most to us—that our connection to God helps us to keep our lamps filled.

We’re going to be making promises today. We’re going to promise to support Cecily and her family in their life in Christ. We’re going to promise to support Cecily as she grows. And all the rest of Christendom is promising to do the same thing. We stand for everybody. When you baptized Emmett a year ago, you made promises. I didn’t even know him then, but I was part of that promise. I promised then because I promised in my own baptismal covenant to support those others. And we’re going to keep our promises. We’re going to keep our promises to this child who comes to us in trust and to her family who are trusting us to support her and guide her and guard her and love her in all the years to come. So we gather. We put ourselves in God. And we prepare to go out into the world, carrying the healing light of Christ so that all the world will be brought a little closer to the kingdom that God offers to us.

Thanks be to God.