How can we read the signs of the times? Horrible terrible things are happening…perhaps the end is near. Pastor Baldridge is getting exhausted in his search for wisdom…and his lamp is running out of oil.

Based on Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

It’s been a quiet week at Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church, that little congregation over between Mesa and Gilbert and Chandler. Services last Sunday went very well. For many All-Saint’s is a favorite time to worship…it’s a day of quiet remembrance and there’s even a bit of an uptick in attendance. It’s different from  the other annual festivals in that there are no cultural attachments…and this year with the earlier Halloween many of the distracting influences of witches and goblins had been forgotten. It stood by itself as a time for pure reflection…and folks liked it a lot.

But then came the horrible, heart-breaking word of the Texas shooting and all the tranquility and peace of the morning worship was forgotten. As the tale unfolded in the ensuing hours the enormity of the evil became almost unimaginable. People wondered what it had been like in that church…and many asked themselves the question, “What if something like that happened to our congregation?” A few people stopped by the church on Sunday evening for prayers…it just seemed like the thing to do. Pastor Baldridge was there and opened the sanctuary…they went inside, prayed, and talked.

Pastor Baldridge has been doing a lot of thinking during this last week about what happened. He’s heard the back and forth arguments about gun control and the absurdity of making access to deadly weapons so easy. Personally he doesn’t believe there will be any concerted effort to decrease the availability of automatic weapons. The arguments have gone beyond the rational and people’s opinions are fixed. Once that happens there can be no compromise…no reasonable solution is possible. Sadly that means incidents like this will continue to happen…even now he believes that there is some violent and depraved individual who is gathering ammunition and weapons for a new attack in which innocent lives will be taken. It could happen anywhere at any time…and there is no common will to stop it.

And then he’s been thinking about his own responsibility as pastor at Crown and Cactus. Even though he knows that the probability of an attack on any particular congregation is infinitesimal…is it right for him to say “no” to those who would like to add security for Sunday morning worship? In fact Ralph Mogen was in his office on Monday morning asking for permission to organize a subgroup of ushers who would take firearms training and then volunteer to be present and armed whenever it was their turn to usher. In Ralph’s estimation they should also be given permission to search purses and backpacks…”just like they do for football games,” he said. Pastor Baldridge said he would take it up with the church council and Ralph said he wanted to be at the meeting. He hoped they would talk about it this month.

There was time when Pastor Baldridge would have simply humored Ralph and done nothing…but now he wonders. Is this what this country has come to? He remembers the carefree days when people could come and go as they pleased, when all you had to do was go to the airport and get on a plane…there were no security protocols anywhere. How times have changed! He never dreamed that there would be a day when worshipers would have to be searched as they came to church…it was becoming like the early years of Christianity when followers of Jesus huddled behind locked doors. He’s wondering if the time is coming near when Christ will return. Perhaps the end is near!

By Thursday he’d gotten his head together enough to start working on Sunday’s sermon. The text is about the wise and the foolish bridesmaids and he’s wondering what it means to be wise or foolish in these times. Perhaps the scripture is saying that it would be wise to be prepared for the coming of a shooter to the congregation. Certainly there is an apt analogy. When nothing is happening, when no danger looms, it’s possible to become complacent and lazy, and think there is no need to prepare for the unthinkable. In light of the parable it would be foolish to wait without first making preparations.

That got him thinking about endings in general. The text was certainly about waiting for the return of Jesus…and being prepared when he comes. He’s wondering if the time is drawing near for him to leave Crown and Cactus…being a pastor has changed so much in these last years. The congregation is mature…not many new folks are coming…and children are growing up and moving away. There just isn’t the same spirit there was just a few years ago. Everyone is getting older…and now he has to think about posting armed guards. He wonders how they can maintain a welcoming atmosphere in that context. But what would he do if he left? There’s not much of a call for retired mythical pastors…at least not in the ELCA. He’d have to become a Presbyterian or maybe a chaplain on a cruise ship…something he thought Helga might like. But he’d really miss the people…they’re his family…almost his own creation.

And could Crown and Cactus get a new pastor? Would they even want a new pastor? But then again, everything comes to an end…it can’t be avoided. Nothing is forever. One day the bridegroom will return…we can’t go on thinking that won’t happen. It’s simply a matter of being prepared and practicing wisdom.

So many questions…so few answers. Thursday evening when everyone had gone he went out and sat on the Myrtle Brier bench…maybe she would come to him in the darkness and he could ask her what to do. Once he thought saw some movement but if wasn’t her…he sat waiting until he fell asleep. Poor man….he’s exhausted!

That’s the word from Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church, where all the men are faithful, the women are committed, and the children are all growing in grace.

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