(The scripture can be found here)
Beam Me Up Scotty
A Sermon on Matthew 25:1-13
When I was little, my family would spend a week each year hiking and camping in Haleakala National Park. My dad would carry a week’s worth of canned goods and bisquick in a world war II pack board, my mom laden with sleeping bags. Haleakala, is the Hawaiian name for the volcano that formed the island of Maui. It means “house of the sun” and when you look up at the crater from the valley below, it quite literally looks as if the sun is setting within the bowl of the caldera. And, when you drive up the curving road traversing this dormant volcano’s side, you pass through the ring of clouds that so frequently encircle the peak--the chill dampness permeating until you reach the dryness of the air above the clouds.
There is an expansiveness to the landscape there. From the crater’s rim you can look out and over the valley where the majority of those who live on Maui dwell, when you walk down the sliding sands trail, you enter what seems a martian landscape of dry cinders and lava fields. It is desert like, and indigenous plants like the silversword and animals like the nene goose, fall into the category of “found nowhere else on earth”.
As I describe Haleakala, or “the crater” as we would casually refer to it, it sounds fantastical. And, in retrospect it was...however, as a child I had little appreciation for the folks who looked upon Haleakala with wonder and reverence. The folks who you would sometimes find, worn and weary and enchanted, on the trails. The folk, my mother referred to as the “beam me up scotties” who quite literally would climb to the crater’s rim out of some sense or understanding that they would be picked up there--by gods or aliens or whatever transcendence caused them to leave behind all they knew for encounter in the caldera.
After one such encounter with a white woman with wild hair who asked to sit on our cabin steps to eat her papaya, I found myself (intrigued at the age of eight) wondering what she would do when “scotty” failed to come get her. Where she would go, when her life continued on, devoid of the aliens she seemed so committed to.
My parents were politely dismissive of her ramblings and kind as they brought her water. But, later they were clear with us...both about kindness and about the importance of staying grounded in the here and the now.
Romantic notions about what might be encountered in the house of the sun were far less important to my parents then the work being done to remove invasive species, fence the crater so that feral goats wouldn’t eat the endangered silversword plant, and the trails my father had once helped maintain.
And, with this memory--I am drawn to the tension that Matthew addresses in the Gospel we hear today. In these passages, often referred to as the “little apocalypse” those Jesus addresses are the insiders, the disciples and followers of the way--they are the ones who have waited and hoped and suffered for the sake of their faith in the son of God, Jesus the Christ, the crucified one. He is quite literally, preaching to the choir.
Matthew wrote in 80 or 90 of the current era--decades after the death and resurrection of Christ. Scholars note, that Matthew was a Greek speaker who was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry--and he wrote in a time when followers of the way, the early Christians (both Jewish and Gentile) were being expelled from the synagogues (hence the sharp critique of Phariseeic Judaism that we hear in the Gospel).
Matthew addresses a group that felt marginalized and the Gospel of Matthew emerged out of that sense of alienation. Further, this group of Jewish and Gentile Christians were experiencing the tension of delayed hopes, they had been waiting for a lifetime and yet the wait continued. The early followers of the way of Jesus felt sure that Christ would return in their lifetimes. As time passed, the leaders of the early Christian community dealt with the broken hopes of the waiting followers...
And, this parable emerges out of the reality that there were those who had given up on the expectation of Christ’s, the bridegroom’s, return.
The entire community waited and had become complacent in the waiting. One cannot help but think of the sleeping disciples--can you not stay awake one hour?
This parable is a tough one, as my modern ears are quick to notice the lack of generosity on the part of the quote/unquote wise...and my store of biblical knowledge notes the abundance of the blessing and love of God--an abundance which seems in short supply in these verses. But, once I get past the “issues” I have with the text, I find that the main point of the parable has little to do with living in community, and a great deal more to do with waiting in anticipation.
I can only imagine that the early Christians struggled with moments when the Way no longer felt relevant to them--when living for the future, that never seemed to come, caused them to give up on the present. And, I can imagine that the followers addressed in the parable were those being reminded of members of the community who had fallen away and how easy it is for complacency to take the place of engaged preparation.
How, do we 2000 years after the life of Christ, live in the waiting? In the time between time, between the creation of all things and the restoration of all creation to God. As we moved through the exodus narrative with its prolonged wilderness, as we move through this time of transition at St. Clement’s, how do we wait?
How do we serve God in the here and the now, in the already but not yet of life after the resurrection?
Do we become complacent and wait for someone else to assume the ministry of this place? Do we sit on our metaphorical cabin porches waiting to be “beamed up” and disappointed when the transcendent disappoints?
Or do we wait with action and compassion? Sharing our light and our hopes, our joys and our sorrows. Sharing the burdens of those who travel the way with us, being swift to love and making haste to be kind. Seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Honoring the dignity of every human being. Breaking bread and drinking wine. Keeping our vigils and honoring our vows. Reconciling, forgiving, serving, embracing.
There is much to do while we wait. And, in my time here as transition priest, I’ve watched you all in the waiting, and have been struck at the love and the care, the passion and engagement, the commitment of time and talent and treasure. Haiti, loaves and fishes, dress for success, weddings, memorials, baptisms, requiems, pilgrimage, anthems, baking bread and stirring soup, pouring coffee and selling boats, praying, teaching, learning, painting and cleaning, raking leaves and embroidering linens. This is what we do while we wait. This is what we do. This is who we are.