A reflection on the Propers for 27A, Matthew 25:1-13 for Stewardship Sunday
Twenty years ago, when I was a seminary student, my mentor in the ordination process use to say “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Usually he would say this to diocesan staff or his clergy colleagues, and I always thought he was talking in some kind of code. I mean, I knew he was quoting scripture, but I had no real idea of the context in which he intended it when he said this to the Bishop’s secretary or the receptionist at the diocesan staff office. On the other hand, every time this piece of scripture comes up I think of that mentor and the time he journeyed with me.
Keep awake, for you never know when Jesus is going to come, is a piece of Christian wisdom that takes on different meanings depending the context in which one considers it.
We all grew up hearing proverbs and wise sayings from our parents or teachers. Some I remember are: “never eat yellow snow.” and, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
What are some “wise” sayings that you remember? (give people time to speak)
Proverbs and wise sayings are told by parents and grandparents to children through the generations as a way of teaching kids to think, to pay attention, to be aware, and to grow wise. Sometimes these wise sayings stay with us and we end up repeating them our own kids. But actually growing in wisdom, becoming wise and aware, takes more than just repeating words, it takes time and intentionality.
Some say that people who practice an instrument or are apprentices to an art or a trade need to practice for 10,000 hours before they become a master at their work. Think about that. How long would it take for you to acquire 10,000 hours to become a master at what you do?
Every yoga class I take at the studio down the street begins with the instructor inviting us to dedicate our practice. The idea is that the class is less a time of instruction, less a work out like going to the gym, and instead a practice, a discipline, that shapes and forms us in deep ways. The invitation to dedicate our practice is not about becoming a master yoga practitioner, its about the way I engage in yoga and how the discipline and practice transforms me from the inside out.
For the last eight weeks we have dedicated our stewardship season, and our practice of faith to “Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude.” Since Sept. 7 when received the money and the invitation to “Grace It Forward,” these phrases have become our wise sayings, our proverbs.
This project was made possible because a gift of money was given to the church to be used for outreach or new mission projects. The Stewardship Commission requested some of the money be given to each one of us to use as we see fit, sharing with others, or using for ourselves, money that was a pure gift of grace. It was an outreach initiative to help us grow within ourselves a deeper awareness of gratitude and generosity. These eight weeks are just a start, just an initiation into what could become for each of us a life long practice of growing in gratitude and generosity.
Practice takes discipline and developing a discipline takes practice. Practice involves a willingness to move through times when it’s easy to practice and times when its hard to practice. Some days practicing yoga is profoundly rewarding. Other days, my yoga practice feels too repetitive, doing the same thing over and over, and I grow weary of it. But still, I continue to practice. In time the repetitive nature begins to feel challenging and rewarding at the same while also being deeply prayerful. The practice has transformed me inside and out. It will, no doubt, continue to be challenging as I grow in and through the practice. But that is the point, practicing a discipline takes practice. 10,000 hours to become a master is just a metaphor for a life time of practice.
We hear in the Gospel reading this morning that the bridesmaids are waiting for the wedding feast. They grow tired and fall asleep. When the groom comes the bridesmaids awaken, but some of them have run out oil and didn’t bring any reserve. The Gospel asks us to consider what it means to be prepared for the wait. Or, to rephrase this, what does it mean to keep on practicing through good times and bad, through times when it feels rewarding and times when practicing our faith feels dry.
The only difference between the wise and foolish virgins is this: the wise virgins are prepared for the wait and therefore bring extra oil. As we practice our faith, as we strive to grow as Christians, we need to be prepared for the challenges that will try to take us away from our practice. As Christians, particularly as Episcopalians, we are formed by community. This means a significant aspect of our discipline, our practice, is coming to church and being present in worship, being with one another as we pray, sing, listen to scripture, and share the bread and wine. Some days this will feel profoundly rewarding. Other days this will feel dry and difficult. But the point is, it’s in the practice, no matter our state of being, that we are formed and transformed.
Today we will have two rituals that are part of our practice of faith here at Christ Church. First, after the announcements we each come to the altar and offer our pledge cards – our anticipated contribution to the mission and ministries of Christ Church for 2015. If you aren’t prepared to offer a pledge card come forth anyway and offer yourself. This is for many people a profound invitation to be come to the sacred table and spend a moment in prayer, offering what one is able. It is a reminder that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from God for which we give back with generous hearts.
The second thing we will do is celebrate a festive communion with the children who have spent five weeks preparing for this day. They have learned about the worship service and Holy Communion, baked the communion bread for today, and created icons as part of their formation and practice of faith.
Today, as we prepare to come to that altar and offer ourselves to God, remember that Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude takes practice. Gratitude comes from sharing with others, from “Gracing forward the gifts we have been given.” Let us come forth in thanksgiving for all that God has given us. Let us remember to “Stay awake!” – for Jesus is near, and one never knows the day or the hour when Jesus will seep deep into your soul and transform your life from the inside out.