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9th November 2014 - Sunday Evening - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for 3 before Advent (Remembrance Sunday) 6.30pm
Amos 5. 18-24
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 time.

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 be so.)

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?