Be Prepared

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Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I was a Boy Scout in high school. And the scout motto is: Be Prepared. Simple. Concise. No whys, no hows, no whens. Just: be prepared. In all my years as a scout, it never occurred to me that this would apply to real life. My fault, no one else’s. It made the most sense for when communists invade, or you get lost in the woods, or you are shipwrecked on some desert island. Basically, what would McGyver do? It didn’t apply to when your parents catch you sneaking out of the house, or when you had to explain why you didn’t do your homework, or when you get stopped for speeding.

Be prepared. Accidents will happen as well, things no one ever expects, some of them awesome like winning the lottery, or tragic like sinkholes. Some result from plain carelessness, like texting while driving, or putting on make-up while driving, or really doing anything else while driving. Accidents will typically catch you by surprise, and throw your world into a tailspin. You lose sleep, hair, weight, valuables, friendships, your appetite, your confidence, your cool. You lose your wallet or your luggage; you run out of gas. You burn dinner; you have unexpected house guests. You’re short on cash; the machine won’t take your credit card. The milk goes sour; you are a victim of identity theft. You discover you bounced a check; you get a flat tire after dark far from home. You get laid off work; the medical test confirms your fears. You get caught in a rainstorm, a snowstorm, or a sharknado. Your home is broken into; you are assaulted on the street. The list goes on.

Be prepared. So we learn to take precautions. We learn to anticipate emergencies. We buy insurance, the club, mace, brake fluid, caller ID, AAA, umbrellas, credit cards, travelers checks, underarm deodorant, multi-vitamins. We keep tissues handy, safety pins, breath mints, aspirin, band-aids, emergency phone numbers. I just now get why women carry handbags—in case of emergency. The queen of England doesn’t need to, she has other people to carry stuff for her. We keep the spare tire inflated, the cell phone charged, and a spare key under a rock on the back porch. We call on friends when life overwhelms us, close friends when we need a favor, close rich friends when we need someone to post bail. It would help to know our strengths as well as our limits, how we handle pressure, expectations, loneliness, frustration. Then we put on a brave face each day, a positive disposition. We rely on God’s help, giving people the benefit of the doubt, hoping Murphy’s Law is not in effect today. We strive to face life free from irrational fear and anxiety. We pray for divine protection and guidance. We put faith in God and in our own selves, that we will overcome challenges and bring order to chaos wherever they find us. It is the best we can do. Sometimes, it is all we can do.

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Be prepared. If you haven’t yet noticed, no one is immune from the hardships life sends our way. We all will experience difficult situations, next-to-impossible odds, and unbelievably challenging people. Being a baptized Christian, a believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham, will not, in and of itself, shield you from the harsh realities of human existence. It’s not magic. So you do what’s reasonable. You prepare.

But we all take risks everyday. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door,” said Bilbo. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings) Abraham and Sarah took a great risk going out their door, leaving family and home behind to find this place God promised he would give them and their descendants. Well, they had no descendants to speak of at the time, no children of their own. And at their age, who were they kidding? Moses took a great risk going out his door, returning to Egypt, demanding Pharaoh to let Israel go, and leading a bruised and battered people from slavery to freedom. And the people in their turn followed Moses into the desert, leaving behind the harsh reality they knew for the uncertainty that lay ahead. Everyday, you and I walk out our doors. We travel to far-off places, we graduate from school and enter the workforce, we start families and businesses, we face new adventures. And at every step, we keep our eyes peeled. We know to watch for sharp edges and dark corners. And we call on God to be with us. There is a kind of fear that is healthy. It keeps us on our toes. But we also know to put faith in One beyond ourselves. We trust. We are confident in God’s goodness. We do our part with freedom and enthusiasm and determination and hope. We prepare.

Faith inscription on a granite block

But there is a difference between those who acknowledge faith and those who do not. Those who rely on faith know, or rather, believe that this existence is satisfying at best, but nonetheless temporary, that we must set our hearts on another existence that is glorious and eternal and awesome. “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” We are destined for eternal life and the kingdom where every earthly power will be subject to God. And we will reign with him. But “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We will have reason to fear only if we have not been good stewards, for we will have to give a full account of our stewardship. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” We are stewards of God’s blessings. We are not our own masters. We answer to One whose Word alone created the universe and all that is in it, who holds life and death in his hands, whose rule over all is eternal. And he is pleased to give you the kingdom. On the other hand, those who have no faith believe everything is up to them, that if they don’t do it, it will not get done. And when this earthly existence is ended, they are convinced we go back to square one, and someone else gets a go. So they know to be prepared; but in the end, it’s still just the luck of the draw.

Abraham and Sarah put their faith in God. So did Moses, and Israel. And Jesus tells us to put faith in God as well. “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Be prepared, like the Boy Scouts tell us, but know that God is at work in the world fulfilling his wonderful and awesome design. And God calls us to participate in that design. Sometimes he will share details with us, but he is not obligated. Our choices, our actions, our participation matters. But God is in charge.

So be prepared. And trust that your Father has a wonderful plan, and he is pleased to give you the kingdom.

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Rolo B. Castillo © 2013

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