We are approaching the end of the Christian year. As always, the Gospel lessons focus on the end of things and the return of Jesus. This teaching, sometimes called apocalyptic, is always associated with this time of the church calendar. Many believers fervently await the coming of Christ in glory. Those of us in more traditional churches tend to scoff at their anticipation, but this is a time for us to take seriously the message that one day Jesus will return. Our job is to be ready. As Paul says in the reading from Thessalonians: "so we shall always be with the Lord."
One way to understand this time is to think of it as preparation. What we do with our faith and our lives right now will influence our readiness for Jesus. That is one point of the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.
Everyone who lives in the country knows you have to stock up on fuel and food in case bad weather prevents you from getting into town. Even today many rural people live this way. They stock up on kerosene for space heaters in case the electricity fails, they have a ready water supply in case the pump on their well goes out, and they may even have a portable generator. Y2K notwithstanding, many people live in a state of readiness.
But how do we live in a state of spiritual readiness?
Harlin was an older single man who had a lot of ideas about how to use his modest wealth to help other people. He kept trying new things. He paid for flying lessons for troubled boys because he believed focusing on something as demanding as flying would be good discipline for them. He sent children to summer camp, and paid tuition for vocational schools to train young men who were headed for trouble. Where he saw injustice in terms of housing he tried to provide improved dwellings for people to live in. He visited Indian reservations, called church leaders about needs he saw to be addressed, and brought bankers and poor people together to talk strategy. In a way he lived out Amos' call in the Old Testament reading for today: "Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). Being concerned about justice and addressing injustice in our society is one way to be ready for the coming of Jesus. The kingdom of heaven holds no place for injustice of any kind. Whenever we take steps against injustice we are kingdom seekers.
Recently a Sunday school teacher celebrated her 90th birthday. She was loved by many, and for her special day a number of her former students sent cards; and some even came to the celebration at her church. Many of them told her they still remembered what they had learned from her about the Bible and Jesus. She had offered her simple faith and practical Christianity to those whom God sent her, and the results were remarkable.
Teaching and sharing the faith with others is another way we prepare each other and ourselves for the coming of Christ.
Diane was an active church member in her community. Once she told her priest, "Just ask me, all I have it time." She always had time for things the church needed from her, whether it was serving on the vestry, organizing a meal for a bereaved family, or making canvass calls. She was a grandmother, a wife and homemaker, but she seldom said, no. Her faith and the church were primary in her life, and she could always find time to do the things being a Christian, as she understood it, demanded.
Putting our faith and its practice first in our lives is a way to order them so we have time to do the things that are worthwhile. With Diane, it was easy; with others it can be a struggle. She is a beacon in a busy world where people too often say, "I don't have time," when they really mean, "I'm not interested." People who are ready for the Kingdom are people who have time for it whenever it breaks into their lives.
As the season of Pentecost turns into the time of preparation and anticipation of Christ's coming, look at what you have as assets from God.
How can you better use them to prepare for God's coming? What changes would you make in order to respond to the Gospel that calls each of us to be ready? If you're uncertain about what being ready means for you, remember the examples above. The elderly man, the Sunday school teacher, and the woman who always had time -- they were ready because they decided to be. Then they worked out how to be ready, with Jesus as their partner.