3 before Advent (Remembrance Sunday) 6.30pm
Matthew 25. 1-13
Who is foolish and who is wise?
I have spent the last week
with a number of colleagues - all priests with many years experience
in ministry, helping them to discover and to celebrate their
wisdom. This is part of a rolling programme of conferences and
courses that the Church offers to its clergy.
What emerges always at such
events is the staggering way in which these men and women offer
their lives in God's service. Some of them benefit from the much
appreciated support of their people ... some of them struggle
with difficult or powerful personalities amongst their congregations
and church councils, some live in areas of high deprivation,
where vandalism and attacks upon their person and their homes
is just par for the course.
Some have developed the wisdom
that creates a protective shell. Opposition and insults bounce
off - well, that is the theory. Some have the wisdom that maintains
a degree of vulnerability - for to be open to their own suffering,
may make them more compassionate towards the suffering of others
- maybe within their own parish, or within the world.
I am sure that soldiers serving
in the trenches had to adopt some of the same strategies - although
I am not, of course, suggesting that the life of even the most
hard-pressed vicar can really be compared to that of a soldier
in WW1 - that would be absurd / even offensive! But I am using
it as an example of how human beings seek to protect themselves
and their mental well-being, in the face of difficulty and oppression.
We sometimes create a barrier behind which we cower and cringe
- or we face up to the problem that is terrifying us.
Sometimes it is just impossible
to explain to another what we are going through - or even to
reassure someone who is in a pretty bad place, psychologically,
that the sun will metaphorically rise tomorrow. That things will
get better. They can be endured.
We are not just in a season
of remembrance. It seems we are also in a season of fireworks!
These days they are not confined to just one night - as when
I was young. But they seem to stretch over at least a two week
festival of whizzbangs! Now on one level this is all very jolly
- bright pretty fireworks and exciting bangs delight older children
and many adults. I felt much the same - until that is I acquired
pets. Whereas my old Labrador never minded fireworks - she arrived
with me as a puppy the week of the Shrewsbury flower show which
always finishes with a massive firework display. She was of course,
bred as a gun dog - so loud bangs never phased her. But my two
current dogs are quite different. They both hate the noise and
the atmosphere. And although I use as many tricks as I can to
disguise the noise outside and relax them, they still cower in
a corner and shiver and shake until the noise dies down. So now
I have come to dread it too, because there is nothing - or very
little - I can do to make it easier for them. They just have
to get through it
We are luckier, however. Jesus uses the parable of the wise and
foolish bridesmaids to remind us all that we know God is among
us and that he has high expectations for us.
When we descend to armed conflict
- although I accept that it is at times inevitable and even necessary
- it is always a disappointment of those high expectations, those
high ideals that God has for us. It shows that we have failed
to prepare adequately. That somewhere we have slipped up, neglected
to provide the right conditions for all to thrive - such that
men of violence can gain support and followers.
And those who end up suffering
the most will be those brave men and women who lay down their
lives for us and for Peace. They are the ones who have to experience
the shellbursts not of pretty rockets but of real shells and
ammunition. The ones who are ripped to pieces by grenades and
mortar fire. And not just the soldiers today of course, but increasingly
it is civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong
We make sacrifices of those
who can do nothing to avoid getting caught up in the conflict
and the bloody consequences. No wonder God tells us in Amos that
he doesn't think much of our sacrifices.
Only when we have truly allowed
justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing
stream, will we be in a position to relax and to think, "yes,
bring on the bridegroom - We have our lamps ready and brightly
lit - we are prepared." (We have some of our young people
here tonight - maybe you will do better - be more wise - in your
generation than we have in ours? I do hope and pray that may
But I fear that too often we
are left - in the dark. Our lamps extinguished, or maybe never
even filled in the first place. We probably get the leaders and
politicians we deserve - a sobering thought. It is down to each
of us in our own way and in our own corner of the world, to ensure
that we are ready and prepared to answer for our state of readiness
to receive God - or not?