Crows Nest Uniting Church
Sunday 32 • 9 Nov 2014

Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Rev. Chris Udy

There’s a story
that many preachers tell,
so it may be familiar to you –
about an old monastery
that had slowly declined
in energy and numbers
over generations -
and was finally left
with only five old monks in residence.
The Abbott of the monastery decided
that he wouldn’t wait
for the monastery to whimper into oblivion,
so he went searching for inspiration and wisdom
from those who lived around them.
Not far away there was an old Jewish hermit
the last of his community also,
and widely respected as a wise man and a prophet.
The Abbott invited him to the monastery
to eat a meal with them,
to read from the Bible with them,
and to pray with them -
and on the day the old Jewish prophet came
they all had a deep, deep sense
that something important was happening.
When the time came for their visitor to leave
the Abbott embraced him,
and the brothers saw him whisper something
into the Abbott’s ear.
When he’d gone the brothers asked
what the hermit had said -
and the Abbott replied,
with a slightly surprised expression on his face -
“He said, ‘Messiah is among you’.”
No-one knew quite what to do
with what the hermit had said -
so no-one ever mentioned it again -
but the story says that over time
the monks in that old monastery
began to listen to each other
and care for each other,
with such love and respect,
that their home became known as a holy place,
a haven of beauty and peace.
Visitors felt uniquely blessed
whenever they came to see one of the brothers,
or to share in their worship,
or even just to sit and rest in the garden -
and over time,
a few of the visitors stayed
and joined the community’s life
and the monastery was reborn and raised to life.
Messiah is among you.
This morning we welcomed Daisy
into the faith and family of Jesus Christ.
We sang her a blessing
on God’s behalf,
“may the Child of God grow in you
and God’s love bring you home” -
and she is now a member
of the body of Christ.
Messiah is among you.
Last week we gathered around the table
to share in communion.
When we broke the bread
we said -‘The body of Christ’;
when we dipped bread in the wine
we said - ‘The blood of Christ’;
we talk about being nourished and sustained
by Jesus -
and what we eat and drink today
walks and talks tomorrow.
Messiah is among you.
Sunday by Sunday we meet together,
we read the Bible,
we sing and say our prayers,
and we celebrate the sacraments
of Baptism and Communion.
There are many in our neighbourhood
who’d say that what we’re doing is quite strange -
that we’re trying to live in a world
that ended centuries ago -
that we’re preserving a book
that’s seriously flawed,
and that, when you come right down to it,
all we’re really doing
is holding a one-way conversation
with our imaginary friend.
Worship doesn’t make much sense
to a material world.
That world wants to know
exactly where in the universe God lives;
it wants us to prove
that Daisy really does have a soul -
that she’s not just a little biological computer -
a slave and a puppet to her DNA.
A material world asks
which of the words we read in the Bible are fact,
and which are fiction;
and when we say
that God is present
among us when we worship,
it wants us to point
to one particular pew.
But whenever anyone’s tried to answer
questions put like that, they’ve failed.
God can’t be distilled into a bottle
or separated out from everything else
like some sort of spiritual energy
or a magical holy power.
God isn’t any kind of stuff -
not a gas, or a solid,
nor flesh, nor a physical force -
but in and behind
and around all those things,
is God.
Messiah is among you.
God is like the meaning in a story;
meaning can’t be separated
from the words that tell the story -
we can’t point to one sentence
and say - see that - that’s the meaning.
It needs all the words to carry the meaning,
but the words on their own aren’t enough -
and when we try to explain the meaning
the best we can usually do
is tell another story.
God’s also like the beauty
in a face, or a photograph or a painting.
It isn’t just balance, it isn’t just colour,
it isn’t just arrangement or proportion.
Two artists can present almost exactly the same scene -
but one will be pedestrian and boring,
and the other one
will hold and fill
your heart and mind and soul.
God’s like the bridegroom
in our gospel reading.
We don’t know exactly
when and where he’ll come,
or what he’ll look like,
or what he’ll say and do -
but over many many generations
those who’ve waited for God,
and have been alert for God’s presence,
and have tried to live in company with God,
have found that God
is more like a person
than a power
or a set of rules and laws.
A person has a body,
but is much more than muscles and bones;
a person is memories, and history,
and plans, and hopes,
and most of all,
a person is relationships of love.
God is also a person - who loves,
and because God loves,
God creates, and protects,
and teaches, and heals, and saves.
So when we gather week by week for worship,
what we’re trying to do
is live in that relationship with God -
but it isn’t always easy -
no relationship is.
Sometimes we get lazy,
and we do things by routine and out of habit -
and every friendship and marriage  and family
sometimes gets like that.
Nor can we force relationships to deepen -
any parent will tell us that -
sometimes there are too many distractions
or not enough trust and respect -
and all we can do wait and listen
until the time is right
until that moment of insight,
that flash of discernment arrives
when we know that we are in the presence of God.
Like the bridesmaids in our reading,
we wait.
As we wait, we encourage each other.
We read the Bible,
listening for God’s meaning
and God’s message for today -
and at the end of the readings we say
‘For the Word of the Lord:
thanks be to God’.
In many congregations we used to say
“This is the Word of the Lord” -
but then we realised
that the Word of the Lord
is always something more
than the words in any particular Bible reading.
What we’re waiting for -
what we’re listening for -
is God,
and often the Word of the Lord
won’t only be in the passage from the Bible,
it’s as likely to be in a hymn,
or in silence,
or in a conversation we might have
with someone sitting beside us,
or over morning tea.
We bring our prayers -
not because God doesn’t know our needs
or understand our concerns -
but because we know God is concerned,
and is involved in our lives.
That’s why those who lead our prayers
often ask for our response -
“Lord, hear us: hear our prayer” -
and the prayers they bring
aren’t some private conversation
that we happen to overhear -
the prayers are offered on our behalf,
using words chosen carefully
with all of us in mind,
and in a voice that represents,
not only us, but the world,
and our neighbourhood,
and people who need us to pray for them
because they need to know that someone cares.
And we celebrate baptism and communion -
because, we trust and try to understand,
that in those celebrations
Messiah is especially among us,
and whenever we are welcoming,
whenever we are hospitable,
whenever we do or say something
that brings a blessing to someone else -
in that moment, God is present,
the Word of the Lord is being heard;
what we say carries echoes of heaven,
and what we do
is blessed by God.
This morning,
in and through this congregation’s welcome
the God who gave her life
also declared his love for Daisy.
God claimed her as his daughter,
as his much-beloved child,
and as she grows,
and as her family cares for her,
and share their faith with her;
as they tell her the stories of Jesus
and teach her how to pray,
the rest of the body of Christ
will also be around her
offering love and support and hope -
and in time we’ll also wait and listen
for a word from the Lord through her,
because also in Daisy,
and in her growing faith, and hope and love,
we need to remember:
Messiah is among us. Amen.