The folks at Crown and Cactus have enjoyed their life in myth…as far as they’re concerned they’d love to live forever. But Pastor Baldridge has met their maker and gotten the news that their ending is at end…and now the council knows all about it.

Based on Matthew 25:14-30

14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

It’s been a quiet week at Crown and Cactus Lutheran Church, that little congregation over between Mesa and Gilbert and Chandler. Even though the council had not met, Ralph Mogen had decided to be an armed presence near the front door of the sanctuary where he could see the parking lot and survey folks as they came toward the church. Of course no one saw that he was armed…he’s adept at concealment and is almost never without a weapon. He had told the ushers what he was doing and managed to provoke a pretty intense conversation among them that only ended when one went to find Pastor Baldridge. He was told to just let Ralph do his thing, that it would be all right, that the council would be discussing the matter on Tuesday evening.

The service had gone well. Janice had picked a couple of hymns related to oil and lamps, one rather slow and somber about the coming of the Bridegroom, the other upbeat and familiar, “Give Me Oil For My Lamp.” Naturally people sang out strongly on the latter…it was a camp song, short on theological depth, but fun nevertheless. Sometimes she wonders how composers choose the tunes for their lyrics…there are so many hymns with incredible words that are virtually unsingable.

Pastor Baldridge had prepared a thoughtful sermon about the shootings in Texas. Sadly this has become almost routine in these days…he has a whole file of sermons that he has delivered in the aftermath of mass shootings. He wonders if someday soon they will become so common as to barely attract notice…sometimes that happens. Violence has a way of numbing us…it’s a survival instinct…natural, but nothing to be proud of.

At the end of the service he made an announcement that caught a few people by surprise. There would be a special council meeting on Tuesday in the fellowship hall. It would be a time to reflect on their history and make an important decision about moving ahead as a congregation. Ralph Mogen looked knowingly at the other ushers…he knew what was coming. He’d be at that meeting and he would be ready to speak. Pastor Baldridge invited any who were interested to come and join the conversation.

There was a bit of a buzz after services about the announcement but by Tuesday most of the people had forgotten all about the meeting. They trusted that whatever it was, the council would take care of it. Only about a dozen regulars were there in addition to the council when Loren Meade opened the meeting at 7:00. Pastor Baldridge asked if he could make a statement to begin.

Pastor Baldridge had been thinking about this moment ever since he had awakened on the Myrtle Brier bench the previous Thursday about 11:30. His whole body was sore from sleeping in such an uncomfortable position but he remembered vividly what had happened while he slept. He had felt a presence sitting next to him on the bench and became conscious that Myrtle had come. He knew it was her…the smile and tender eyes were unmistakable. She looked at him for what seemed ages…he reached out to her. She whispered gently, “Don’t touch me,” and then she gave a nod and said, “It’s time!” And then she was gone.

Pastor Baldridge recounted this experience to the council and they listened courteously…perhaps he was going to retire. He was obviously exhausted. It was what he said next that shocked them.

Pastor Baldridge said, “When Myrtle left I sat pondering her words…and then I saw him.” He paused, “I saw our creator. He was sitting across the way under the acacia tree. He motioned for me to come to him.”

One of the council members interrupted and spoke incredulously, “You mean you saw God?”

“Oh no,” Pastor Baldridge said, “I saw our creator, our tangibilifier, the one who has made a myth of us. As I came close to him I saw that he had a book on his lap, a big one with many pages. I looked and it was the record of our existence…there were hundreds of stories…and he was reading through them. I waited and then he spoke, ‘I’ve been looking over the record of your ministry and I see you’ve become discouraged. I think it’s time for you to enter into my rest.’ I didn’t know what he meant so I asked. He said, ‘You’ve been a good and trustworthy servant for over 20 years. Not once have you complained about the words I’ve given you and you’ve faithfully proclaimed a gospel of grace. Enter into my joy!’ And then he disappeared. I looked around and no one was there…and then I heard a car door slam and that’s when I woke up. It was Helga. She wondered where I was and had come to find me.”

Loren said, “So all this was a dream then?”

Pastor Baldridge said, “You could say that…but there’s one more thing. I got a call from the former bishop of the synod, my friend, and he told me that our creator, who he knows very well had called him and said that Crown and Cactus was closing its doors. He intends to come next weekend, on Christ the King Sunday, and lead a ritual of closing for the congregation. In other words, it’s not a dream. Friends, our time has come! The myth is ending!”

The council sat in stunned silence…a couple began to weep. There were questions for Pastor Baldridge. Did they have to just acquiesce? Could they just protest and go on without their creator? Pastor Baldridge explained that there were limitations for those who have only a mythological existence. Even though they had been immortal, with the exception of Myrtle Brier, the ending when it came would take them all at once. Every one of them had only 10 more days to experience their peculiar life.

Mel Falstaff spoke up and said, “Well, I just want everyone to know that I have thoroughly enjoyed my mythological existence in this congregation. I guess I’ve always known there would be an ending…and now that it’s here, all I can do is say ‘thanks.’ It’s been a great run.”

Others chimed in saying pretty much the same thing. Then Pastor Baldridge spoke again, “One more thing that I forgot to mention. Before our tangibilifier left he gave me a message for you. I’m not the only one who will be getting a rest. He called all of you good and trustworthy servants too…all will live on in his joy…so I guess it’s really not an ending.”

Before the meeting broke up some of the sadness had dissipated. Ralph Mogen was disappointed when he couldn’t make his presentation but even he realized there isn’t much point in discussing security when their ending is at hand. Pastor Baldridge will inform the entire congregation this Sunday and then it’s just a matter of getting some last minute bucket list items done. They will be having a Thanksgiving service next Thursday morning at 10:00…they really do have a lot to be thankful for. Mel was right…it has been a good ride!

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