Sermon for Proper 27. Year A November 12, 2017

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16        Psalm 70              1 Thessalonians 4:13-18                 Matthew 25:1-13

In our cottage meetings, I learned a lot about your interests and desires for St. Paul’s. Like with any group of people, there were different points of view expressed.  Still there were some recurring themes, some of which I will share with you today.  You heard me say that the building blocks of a healthy church address the following needs:  worship, fellowship, study (or Christian Education), and mission (or service).

Two of the desires I heard repeated at our dinners were for us to have more opportunities for fellowship and Christian formation.  You love the fact that we offer the community meals, but many of you miss the potlucks and programs that St. Paul’s once offered on Wednesday nights.  Other than Sundays, Wednesday nights are the best nights for anything we might plan.

So, I checked with our community meal team leaders and got some help finding out when community meals are offered elsewhere in this community.  One meal is offered each day in Batesville with the exception of Thursday.  So, beginning in December we will offer our community meal on Thursday nights, freeing up Wednesday nights for church events and activities.

The first Wednesday night in December is actually a feast day, the Feast of St. Nicholas, so I want to have a potluck and program that night after our 5:30 Eucharist.  We will eat around 6:00 and St. Nick wants to come to visit with our children.  I will, of course, need some help if we are to do this.

Fellowship and Christian Formation often happen together and in addition to using Wednesday nights for periodic potlucks and programs, many of you expressed a desire to have opportunity for small group gatherings.  Call them what you want: cottage dinners, dinners for eight, or movable feasts, these gathering provide members an opportunity to support one another in this chaotic world in which we live.  These can be simply a monthly potluck meal at someone’s house or dinner out. The group can have a brief discussion on a topic provided, or talk about whatever comes up.  If this interest you, there will be a sign-up sheet in the Narthex next Sunday.  Groups will begin meeting in January and continue through May.

The topics suggested for Christian Education included some of my favorite:  why we do what we do, what it all means; and the Episcopal Faith (including preparation for Confirmation).  There are two important considerations:  when these are offered and child care.  So, stay tuned as we determine how we will address these concerns.

When it comes to mission, I learned that you are appreciative and supportive of our efforts to help people in our community by offering our community meals and supporting the backpack program.  But there is also a need her to support our own members.  Among other things, you want more for our youth, more for families with small children, and more to draw families into the life of our parish.

In each of the dinners, I pointed out that I am the only full-time employee of St. Paul’s so what happens at St. Paul’s depends on you and on me working with you.  Some of what happens will also depend on what we can budget to do next year – something that also depends on you.

Already two things are being planned by some of members.  The first is for me to have one more cottage dinner – a lunch on the first Sunday in December for me to visit with our youth.  I will ask them the same question I asked their parents at the cottage dinner: “What would you like to see happen at St. Paul’s?”  What happens next for and with our youth will depend on what they say.

The second thing being planned is to start a Women’s Group.  I do not have any specifics yet, but we do have some members who are willing to organize a group.

Now, moving on from the cottage dinner I want to answer a question for you that I, as an Episcopal priest have been asked repeatedly, “Why do we have red doors?”  The obvious answer is simply, tradition.  We love our traditions, even though we often don’t know why we do what we do, we like the sense of calm that comes with familiarity.  There are multiple other explanations given, though, as to why our doors are red.  The most common ones related to what red symbolizes.  Red is a symbol for the Blood of Christ, and red is the color we use to symbolize the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we enter into salvation through the Blood of Christ, or we are received into the fellowship of Christ through the Holy Spirit – take your pick.

In the Middle Ages, the red doors of the church became a symbol of sanctuary.  Not the word sanctuary people use to refer to the worship space in a church, but a place where someone could seek safety.  Churches were holy places and not even the police would not risk committing a violent act in church.  So, people who were being pursued could enter through the red doors and know that they would not be harmed.

Times have changed. Last Sunday, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a man entered the First Baptist Church, executed 26 people and injured 20 more.  This morning, that same church is holding services.  A report I read said that its members are not holding services to prove a point, but because of the “importance of finding faith in trying times.”

Churches may not offer us a sanctuary from violence, but they do offer us a place to focus on faith rather than fear.  Our world is filled with uncertainty and things will happen that we will not have anticipated – even in small towns and in churches.  There is no place on the earth that can guarantee our safety.  Living in fear, however, robs us of the joy of living.  Living with the faith that God’s love will ultimately prevail, however, gives us a sense of peace. And, with this peace, we can see the love of God that surrounds us and find help in trying times.

The parable Jesus shares today is one that talks of being prepared, because we never know when he is coming.  The wise bridesmaids come prepared to wait, they bring extra oil for their lamps – just in case.  They are thus rewarded because they are ready to enter the banquet hall when its doors are opened.

Our reading from the Wisdom of Solomon speaks of wisdom and the need “to fix one’s thoughts on her.” Wisdom, not surprisingly for many here, is portrayed as a woman, and she represents understanding and vigilance.

I applaud the wisdom of the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs who is holding services today.  He understands the need for faith in his life and in the lives of his members.  His faith has prepared him to endure the suffering and grief they are all feeling.  He was away last Sunday, but his daughter was among those who were killed.  I don’t know any better respond to such a horrific act than to seek the comfort of God in one’s own faith community.  We need each other.  In one of the prayers found in our prayer book, we say, “only in you [O Lord] can we live in safety.” The reality is that the safety God offers is found in the knowledge and love of Christ who offers us the hope of life everlasting.  Being prepare requires us to fix our thoughts, to be vigilant in our focus on loving others as Christ loves us.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, we ask for your help that we might live in faith and not fear.  Help St. Paul’s to grow in fellowship and faith that we might support one another in the challenges of our lives, loving one another as you love us.  And today, we especially pray for the people of Sutherland Springs, for Batesville Officer Michael Dickinson who was shot in the line of duty last week, and for all those who have suffered from acts of violence in our nation and the world.  Comfort them in their grief, give them the strength to do what they need to do and fill them with your grace that they may know the healing power of your love.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen