I was never a boy scout, and a bit of a disaster as a cub if I’m honest, but I do remember the famous motto of the scouting movement, ‘Be Prepared’. I will doubtless get into trouble for saying so, but the wisdom of this motto has some very definite limitations. Of course it’s good to be prepared, but it is also possible to be over-prepared.
A couple of particularly sharp examples of this were presented to me early on in my curacy. One concerned the preparation of sandwiches for a parish lunch. In all seriousness I was told that some of these had been prepared several days in advance, to make sure everything was ready in good time. Another had to do with preparations for Christmas. The events manager at a local nursing home explained that she liked to get Christmas ‘out of the way’ by the end of November.
Doing your preparations too far in advance may mean that your work is wasted and you have to start again. Equally, preparing with too rigid an idea of what is going to happen may mean that your preparations get in the way of what should happen.
The Bible is full of cautionary tales about the dangers of presumption, and being over-prepared is often an example of this. We presume that we know what the future holds. We presume that we understand what a situation requires. We presume, most dangerously, that we know what God thinks.
Preparation goes wrong when it plans God out of the picture. But paradoxically the best antidote to this is a different kind of preparation, spiritual preparation. Making ourselves ready for what God is going to do is another important theme in our Christian tradition. Being open, nimble, alert, ready for action, are all part of the Christian way of life. Being rigid and inflexible are often a sign that our opinions have taken over the space in our souls that should have been occupied by prayer.
We have been reminded this weekend of how change can be forced upon us at very short notice. In this case, our preparations were sound and good, and they will not go to waste – Peter’s licensing will happen just as soon as it can safely go ahead, and most (if not quite all) of the work done to prepare for it will take effect.
These events, however, prompt a deeper reflection. Are we, as the people of God in this place, neglecting our spiritual preparations? Are we giving enough time and effort to being ready for God to surprise us? Or are we, like the man in today’s gospel reading, too busy building bigger barns for our riches to make time to prepare our souls for God’s grace?
May God bless you all,