Reflections for the Week of Sunday November 12, 2017 Twenty Third after Pentecost

Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13 tells the parable of the wise and the foolish bridesmaids, the latter who did not provide oil for their lamps so they were unable to fulfill their function as bridesmaids for the wedding. Most of the parables of the Lord relate to the subject of the kingdom of God; and this parable, like most, is designed to break open the understanding of its hearers so that they will not only understand something new, but will change their behavior accordingly.

If this parable is about God’s kingdom, then the point is that we must prepare to carry out our functions necessary to make the kingdom of God a reality. This is really the purpose that we the church are to be about. But do we have ears to hear and eyes to see and understand this message (Isa 6:9,10; Mt 13:13-17)?

The church is to be a community – a diocese, a parish, a small discipleship group –people who are devoted to learning the habits of heart and life together to change the world in their neighborhood. It is a forum where through community people are learning and practicing the arts of being a royal priesthood, as N.T. Wright describes in After You Believe. This community is a working and worshiping fellowship for whom faith, hope, and love are being learned and practiced in the service of God’s kingdom.

The Christian virtues are identified and practiced as Christians come together and interact in the church and outside it. The virtues are relational in nature and require the community to learn. Community requires honesty, and this will lead at times to conflict which needs to be resolved through dialogue and perhaps the intervention of friends in the community. Forgiveness and compassion, bearing one another’s burdens, and being servants to one another is what it is all about.

As true community develops, people must grow in their social abilities to understand, tolerate one another, hold one’s tongue, show kindness, gentleness, and meekness as they interact with one another. It is not always easy, but the result is what God has promised to His followers and is worth all the effort.

Ultimately, love, joy, and peace are the results. It requires participation and prayer and effort to realize and manifest the Christian virtues that are being cultivated. There is a sense in which we don’t really ‘have’ the virtues but are called upon to show them to others whether we feel like it or not. And that is the exercise that requires us to grow in maturity, which is the goal we are striving for. And success requires perseverance rather than giving in to the desire to give up and show our baser, immature human nature.

Like ‘iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another’ (Prov. 27:17), we become stronger as we interact and ‘bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ’  (Gal 6:2). Maturity reflects itself as kindness, goodness, self-control – all the fruit of the Spirit that don’t come naturally or effortlessly but through practice and effort and the indwelling of the Spirit.

Many people say they don’t need to go to church because they can worship God on the golf course or wherever, but they may be feeding their self-centeredness by avoiding community and the opportunity to grow in the Christian virtues that it affords. The kingdom begins as a small mustard seed (Mk 4:30,31) that grows into a large tree, and like leaven that spreads gradually through a batch of dough (Mt 13:33).

Memory Verse: “… for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph 4:.12,13).

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