Pentecost + 23
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know the day or the hour. (Mt 25:13)
…so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Th 4:13)
By Andrew Hudson
I’m an empty-nester, twice over. I sent my son off to college a couple years ago, and I’m still not through adjusting. And just recently, I had a similar experience, sending off a good, small Mennonite congregation to a new location at the end of my being their interim pastor.
Every indication is that things are going well, but I worry about them. With my son, I’ve settled into balance with not worrying too much – he seems to be doing well. But I’m concerned about the congregation, especially their sense of the divine in creation. It seems so crucial to me these days that we stay aware of – stay awake to the reality that – our relationship with God is based in our physical selves living in real places.
My angst isn’t helped by this parable this week of the bridesmaids. Be prepared, or get locked out! Anyone inclined to spiritualize the parables should study this one. What stark, brutal reality! It was dangerous at night, the gate couldn’t just be opened. How awful for the women left out!
I think of the church members, with whom I ministered until last week. The space we (what am I saying? The space they…) just left looked over Phillipi Creek. We contemplated the creek’s watershed, repeating often the message that we are part of creation, not apart from it. Yet, they sat comfortably on the inside of the glass, looking at the ‘view.’ When invited to physically interact with the creek, or a permaculture site, only the same handful would come.
How long do we have? I wonder. Will this generation of – mostly retired – church members be able to live the rest of their lives in denial of our local landscape? Not know which native plants they can be eating? Have entertainment methods that are unnatural here? One of our few younger members plays in an ice hockey league. In Florida!
The future can’t be known, but I can’t help but feel that we’re in the time right before the parable of the bridesmaids. I picture us in the time when the prudent bridesmaids were filling up their lamps while the others were – playing hockey? Planting non-natives in their yards instead of getting ready to sell because the rising waters of the bay a few blocks away will make their housing prices plummet soon? Being in a Florida watershed means the waters are rising, literally and figuratively. We do not know the time – or at this point in history, even what is going to happen when that time comes – but only foolish people are unaware that this is a time to be making preparations.
Aah. Little flock.
They chose to move to a new building. Two reasons. One is that the new space is slightly larger. The other is that the acoustics in the new space are wonderful. Truly like a cathedral. But that’s my concern. A comfortable existence, with not even a view of nature anymore. They are only a couple miles away, still in the Phillipi watershed. Will they remember? Will they remember they are in the watershed? Will they remember the housing bust of ten years ago? Will they prepare?
But then I run across Paul’s reminder to the Thessalonians: we will not be without hope, no matter what happens. The creek will be there to be discovered, re-discovered, interacted with. When they sing into that beautiful space, sometimes rain will be coming down that will run into Phillipi creek, run to the Gulf, and dilute the pollutants. Enough rain, enough washing, all will be restored. When pain comes, when the box of the cathedral needs to be thought outside of, the watershed will be there.
My last Sunday, I said the benediction would be out by the creek. It took ten minutes for everyone to file outside. I drew water, and told them again that they were traveling to a different part of the watershed. I ceremonially poured creek water – tea-colored from oak tannins – into our footwashing basin which was held by our wonderful Council chair. She will take that water for use in baptisms and blessings. The water will be inside and outside the body, as it should be. Inside the church building, and raining on the roof. Spread on foreheads and coursing through our veins.
The benediction included dipping my hand in the water, and flinging it onto the congregants with each word:
“Remember – creation – within – you.
Remember – you – are – part – of – creation.”
Andrew Hudson is a recent empty-nester and until recently interim pastor of a small Mennonite church in Sarasota, Florida. He is throwing himself into organic farming and being a singer-songwriter. He, and his former congregation, live in the Phillipi Creek watershed, which was a small part of the territory of a group of Amerindians now called the Calusa. On contact with Europeans, the Calusa were wiped out so quickly by disease that they are only known through archaeology.
Wild Lectionary is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.