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A college professor had the mysterious habit of removing a tennis ball from his jacket pocket as he walked into the lecture hall each morning. He would set it on the corner of the podium. After giving the lecture for the day, he would once again pick up the tennis ball, place it into his jacket pocket and leave the room.
No one ever understood why he did this, until one day a student fell asleep during the lecture. The professor didn’t miss a word of his lecture while he walked over to the podium, picked up the tennis ball and threw it, hitting the sleeping student squarely on the top of the head.
The next day, the professor walked into the room, reached into his jacket, removed a baseball…
Today, we are still in the same conversation that Jesus was having with his disciples in last week’s Gospel as they make their way to Jerusalem.
As a refresher: last week we understood that Jesus, as the Son of Man, would act as judge on the last day, therefore, we need to care for our souls in the same way that we care for every other aspect of our lives. You spend time with your job, family, hobbies, etc., then spend time with your soul, caring for and nurturing it, so that on that last day… well, like they say, live your life in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral. Care for your soul in such a way, that on the day of judgment, you are prepared, which brings us to today: the need for vigilance in the caring for the soul. Of not being the one that gets hit square on the head with more than a baseball when we fall asleep or become complacent.
We’ve noted in the past that the authors of the Bible plagiarized a good bit of the Book of Common Prayer, which may explain why, when I went searching for a passage of Scripture, I couldn’t find it. You may recognize it: “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” Well, come to find out, that’s one of the bits they didn’t plagiarize and it is only in the Book of Common Prayer. It is the collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Put another way and in the language we’ve been using, “Assist us Lord in being in vigilant caring for our souls, so that on the day that Christ comes to judge, he may find in us a home worthy of a of King.”
Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) and again, “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” (Matthew 25:34) We have these passages about Jesus going to prepare a place for us, so the Advent four collect and our Gospel reading gives it a bit of a twist: we’re the ones making ready and being prepared for Jesus, the master and judge’s return. We’re making sure that all is ready for him to take up residence within us. For Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) We understand that passage as the giving of the Holy Spirit, but there is also our responsibility in maintaining that home, for the one who sent the Spirit, Jesus, will come again.
Those of you who were here long before I came are fond of telling about the time this place needed a new roof. How bad was it? You could literally look up and see daylight. However, at the time, we couldn’t afford a new roof. So, in “church speak,” when a congregation can’t afford to care for the building or simply don’t care for the building, those kinds of jobs become what is known as “deferred maintenance.” Yeah, you have a problem, but because of circumstances or negligence, the problem is not resolved. The house the Holy Spirit and the one that Master, Jesus, will return to is the same way. We recognize a problem in the care of our souls, but we do nothing. Deferred maintenance. We don’t want to spend the time and effort to correct the problem or we just don’t really care, so we justify leaving it. “I know I spend too much time in front of the TV or the computer and neglect family time, but ‘Hey, I work hard all day and I deserve a break.’” Instead of addressing the issue, we push it off, but when the Master returns, he will not be pleased with what he finds.
Not only must we maintain this home of the Holy Spirit, but in preparation for the Master’s return, we must expand it. Consider the parable of the talents. The Master gave the the three servants one talent, five talents and ten talents respectively. The ones with the five and ten talents went out and doubled their money, but the one with only one talent did nothing and the master was displeased, calling him a “wicked and slothful servant!” (Matthew 25:26) The house we are given is only the beginning. We begin with the knowledge of our salvation, but then we are to take that knowledge, discern our gifts, engage the world in such a way that we make Christ known… we are to expand ourselves and the Kingdom of God, not just sit and hold what we’ve got.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, describes this process of maintenance and growth like this: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
I’ve done my share of home maintenance. In the process, I was electrocuted—more than once—so covered in dirt and grime that I didn’t recognize myself, had paint in my hair that didn’t come out for a week, I’m not even going to talk about the sewer issues, etc. But in the end… the house of the soul requires the same work. Now, I willingly admit, if I have to remodel another house in this lifetime, it will be too soon. Not my idea of a good time, but the work on the maintenance and the expansion of the house of the soul is no burden. Far from it. It can be daunting, but it is intended to be a joy. You are working for a Master, a King who loves you. Who desires to live with you and in you.
Queen Victoria reigned over the United Kingdom for more than sixty-three years until her death in 1901. It is not true of many monarchs, but she was much loved and she made a practice of making unexpected calls on the farm folks who lived in cottages. Any day for these farming families might be a royal day, and the Scots had a chair prepared for her visit. Because any day might see a visit from the Queen, they kept their houses spotless. They were a clean and wholesome people, but her unannounced visits added to the joy of keeping their homes lovely. They had an expression for the joy they found in the work: “Perhaps today, she’ll come my way.” Perhaps today, the Queen will visit us… and perhaps today, our Master, our King will visit us.
“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!”
Do not fall asleep. Maintain and expand the house that God has given you for your soul and prepare a mansion for Him, worthy of his Glory.
Let us pray: God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.