November 9


22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 32)
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Matthew 25: 1-13

Yesterday my oldest daughter Kimberly sent me several text messages with pictures attached.  Kimberly is about 3 to 4 weeks away from giving birth to her first child, our first grandchild.                                                                                                                                   

My wife Darlene is actually in Calgary this weekend to attend a baby shower for Kimberly and as Darlene got on the plane Friday evening, I insisted that she get some pictures of Kimberly so that I could see the changes.

I have to confess that I was receiving those pictures Friday night while I was supposed to be handing out bananas at our street ministry evening downtown.  Occasionally I was distracted from my banana run while I looked at the pictures sent to me. 

Confession aside, I noticed from the pictures that while there are the obvious physical changes with my daughter Kimberly, there are a host of other changes as well; they have redone a bedroom to create a nursery, they have redone the basement to make a guest room, they have renovated in the basement to create a sitting room and bathroom.  

There has been a flurry of purchases; a crib, stroller, a running stroller and I could go on and on. 

Looking at all these pictures and the changes they signify, put me in mind of all the adjustments families go through when they begin to prepare for new arrivals.  Darlene and I experienced such preparation and change as we were waiting for the birth of Kimberly and quite amazingly we noticed the preparation and the changes within our family unit with the birth of more children.   When Erin was born there was a new dynamic added to our family in a host of ways and finally when our son Matthew was born, it was the same thing.

Maybe you have experienced such a phenomenon when your children were born; in some interesting and exciting way, each child brought a different flavour, a different dynamic which enhanced your family.  

On top of that, each new member of the family necessitated preparation, change and accommodation.  

Well, those are family dynamics with which we might be familiar, but they are also dynamics that occur in the life of a COMMUNITY.   We see that at work in our Old Testament reading from Joshua. 

Let’s set the scene.

The people of Israel had been led out of slavery in Egypt by Moses and they had wandered through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years.   By this time, Moses had died and the people of Israel were in the promised land, occupying the land.  They had conquered as God led them into the promised land and they began to settle down.  Now what?

Their leader, Joshua, has them perform a covenant ceremony; they renew their covenant with God.   Joshua reminds them of their distant past, “long ago,” literally “from eternity,” when the Israelite’s ancestors lived in the land beyond the river, or the Euphrates.  Instead of recalling the often invoked ancestors -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- Joshua goes back even further, to Terah, Abraham’s father.                                                                                                                        

Joshua reminds them that God took Abraham from his home town and place of comfort and led him into a new land.    God established a COVENANT with Abraham; God would be with him, would make him the father of a great nation and all God wanted from Abraham was his trust and his allegiance. 

With that covenant between God and Abraham, the people of Israel were able to trust and survive.   They followed God out of slavery to freedom and to a new home.

So now, as we read the book of Joshua this Sunday, we see that they are in a new neighbourhood with new circumstances; while they remember the past, they get ready for the future and they establish a new covenant with God and they prepare for life as a community of faith in a new land.  

Because of what God has done for them in the past, they will continue to serve God in their new place.  However they recognize that the need to serve this God who has blessed them requires a re-commitment to God and to each other.  

In order to live as a faith community in a new land, they need to prepare by making that re-commitment to God and each other. 

Which leads us to an important idea for today:  PREPARATION.  

As a young couple welcomes a new child, or additional children, it is one thing to change and accommodate; it is another thing to PREPARE.  It is not easy to change and accommodate without preparation.  

JESUS emphasizes this need for preparation. 

Jesus tells his disciples a parable, the parable of the watchful and foolish virgins that we read about in Matthew 25.  While Jesus regards the Hebrew covenant with God to be essential, he also suggests that maybe it is not enough to promise and make a covenant. We also must be watchful and keep awake, so that we can be ready to meet God, and in so doing, continue to choose again and again to serve God. 

Jesus wants his disciples to know that after he is crucified, rises from the grave and then ascends to heaven, the landscape will be changing for his disciples.   Circumstances may change for them; the locale in which they live and serve may change for them.  As they spread the faith and give witness to Jesus, their numbers may change; they may add more disciples to their faith community. 

Jesus suggests that his disciples must keep awake and be watchful and be ready to act.  The bridegroom, Jesus, WILL return and as Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven to this reality, his disciples, his followers, must be prepared; they must be ready.  

As the circumstances of the kingdom change and evolve, the disciples of Jesus must not only be ready to change and accommodate the leading of God through Jesus, but they have to prepare for such change, for the coming of the kingdom of heaven.   They need to have oil in their lamps among many things. 

Changing circumstances, changing locales and neighbourhoods, changing disciples within the faith community, requires faithful preparation

So now we come to that faith community called St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, in Maple Ridge.   Guess what?

Changing circumstances, changing locales and neighbourhoods, changing disciples within the faith community, requires faithful preparation. 

We must be prepared, we must have oil in our lamps BECAUSE.... the bridegroom is coming.   Jesus, the bridegroom is coming to a neighbourhood near you.  

Jesus comes to this neighbourhood, our neighbourhood, through US.   Jesus ushers in the kingdom of heaven through us as he always has.  The kingdom of heaven arrives as we let our lights shine. That has always been the case, but the more things remain the same, the more things change. 

Like any faith community, St. Paul’s remains the same in many ways; the task remains the same, but is constantly changing.   Circumstances within the congregation change, the neighbourhood and the community around us constantly changes and the disciples who populate our faith community are changing all the time.  

Like any family who welcomes someone new to their midst, we too welcome new members to our congregation.  Because of the way God has welcomed us through Jesus and through baptism, we welcome others to our midst.  

As we welcome others to our midst, we have to change and accommodate.   We have to   listen and learn about the gifts of those who have joined us and then we need to change and accommodate in order to let those people share their gifts. 

I don’t know what your family was like, but I know that each one of our children is different.  Same family, 3 different personalities.  In order to function effectively as a family, we had to figure out what each child was like and what each child needed and we had to figure out how to make that happen.

I think churches are quite similar.  But change and accommodation is much more than an internal exercise.   As we look at the community around us, we can see change and we need to accommodate that change.  This change and accommodation is not limited, is not a “one-off,” but is constant; it is happening all the time. 

In order to do all of this, day after day and year after year, we have to PREPARE.  How are WE going to prepare?

First of all, I believe that we need to prepare RITUALLY.  Today as we welcome new members, WE stand WITH THEM, as we affirm our baptisms.   TOGETHER we affirm our baptisms.  We do not bring people to the front and watch them give assent, so that we can mentally check off the list of important points.   We do not watch to see if they were professing the faith loud enough.  

Rather, we stand together to affirm our baptisms in order to make a re-commitment.   All the baptized have been baptized, but as we affirm, we make a re-commitment, a new covenant if you will.   Like the people of Israel who followed Joshua, we make a new covenant, a re-commitment to GOD, a re-commitment to EACH OTHER and a re-commitment to our world, our neighbourhood. 

But that is not the only way we prepare.   As our city changes, as our faith community changes, as our neighbourhood changes, as our circumstances change, we need to listen.  We need to be awake.  We need to hear what is going on, we need to hear the changes; we need to listen to the way that God is moving about in our neighbourhood, our community and our congregation. 

As we listen, as we stand together, we will be prepared, we will be ready.  Ready for what?  I have to honestly say I do not know “what.”  I do not know what other changes are in the offing, other than the fact that things constantly change.  The only thing I know, that we know, is the bridegroom is coming and he will usher in the kingdom of God.   This he promises.   He also promises to stand with us, to strengthen us and encourage us in our ministry as we change and accommodate. 

But make no mistake; the bridegroom is coming and he wants us to be ready, to be watchful and awake and prepared. 

May we honour the bridegroom as we prepare.