Monday, November 21, 2011

An Ancient Story, Our Story: Proper 27 Year A

Well, here we are. Today is our Stewardship Ingathering. Today, we gather up our pledges and offer them to God. It is an important day in our life together. It is an opportunity to choose to serve God through the ministries of Trinity Church.
For a moment, let’s turn our hearts to an ancient story.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived a man named Joshua. On this particular day, he offers his last speech as the leader of Israel. His goal: to remind them who they are and renew their commitment to YHWH. He begins with the great ancestors: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah.  These nomads traveled the land searching for and finding God.  In their wandering, they discovered God’s mercy, faithfulness and justice.  And, no matter how many times they turned away, God was always there. Then, there is Moses, the one who led them through the Red Sea  and out of slavery in Egypt. 

Joshua remembers Moses. Most likely, he sat at Moses’ feet, learning the ways and wisdom of God from the prophet. Moses anointed Joshua the leader of Israel and commissioned him to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

This was no small task: occupying the Promised Land. Joshua led the people into battle.  His skills as a soldier and warrior led the way. Joshua, though, is also an expert in the law. Like Moses, he is a prophet, reminding the people that their life means nothing without YHWH. 

As Israel made their home in this new land, they were tempted to accept and follow other gods. Their journey with Joshua is not only about land; it is also about their relationship with YHWH; it is a test of their faithfulness.

Joshua tells the story of the Israelites to remind them of their salvation. God has brought them into a new life, a life free from slavery.  This is a new beginning and it is all from God. So now they have a choice: “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD…”  The Israelites must leave behind their other gods, the gods forsaken by their ancestors. In exchange for their new life, they must serve only YHWH.

The Israelites respond with a resounding yes, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods,…” they say, “…Therefore, we…will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” It seems to be a forthright, honest answer. Joshua, though, does not accept their quick response. He challenges them, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God.”  Joshua knows that serving God is not an easy choice.  It requires more than words, witnessing miracles or conquering the land. To serve YHWH, the people of Israel must return their hearts to YHWH.  To say yes to God demands their fidelity in all things, forsaking all others gods. They must do more than say yes; they must live and follow ONLY the way of YHWH.

The story of the Israelites is not so different from our own. Each one of us comes from a long line of ancestors whose stories influence our own.  The stories of our families offer reminders of God’s work in our lives and the world around us. Trinity Church also has a story to tell, a history that offers a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us.  It’s important to remember these stories, to put our lives in a larger context. The leaders of Israel often invited the people to renew their covenant with YHWH.  We, too, must take a moment and renew our own faith.

What is our covenant with God and how do renew our promises, our relationship, with God?  

At our Baptism, there are two primary events: our lives are bound to God and we are bound to one another.  The water of baptism signifies a new birth into the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This means that God’s mercy and grace are a guarantee; they are sure and certain. This new life is the one thing we all have in common. Because we are all members of Christ, we are members of each other. This is how we become Church; our faith unites us.

The gift of Baptism does not require a response. Yet, as our faith matures, we do respond. As we begin to claim our faith, we do respond to God’s gift of grace and mercy. 

Our Baptismal Covenant defines this in two ways: our beliefs and our way of life. As Christians, we claim One God who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. This claim means we forsake all other gods’ power in our life.  This means that before all other things, we follow Christ. It influences every aspect of our lives;
it influences the way we live. We become more and more inclined to forgive, to work for justice and peace, and to serve others. Our Baptism does more than declare what we believe, it is the beginning of a way of life.

We renew this Covenant, the Baptismal Covenant, every time we baptize. Several things happen during this renewal. First, we remember that we are not alone. We renew the Baptismal Covenant as a community.  This is a faithful reminder that the journey of faith is more than an individual experience. We make these promises together; we are a people of faith and a community of faith. Second, the response to each way of the Covenant is: “I will, with God’s help.”  It is akin to Joshua questioning the Israelites. It is a faithful reminder that these are not easy promises; this is not an easy way.  It is by the grace of God that we are able to be faithful. At the end, a remarkable thing happens: we find that, once again, we are bound to God and one another.

Today, Joshua renews Israel’s covenant with YHWH. Then, he places a stone in their midst as a witness to their promises.  This is a common tradition in Ancient Israel, akin to building an altar in a holy place. 

We do not have a Baptism today.   Yet, today, we make a promise.  Our Stewardship Ingathering is one way that we renew our commitment to Christ’s life in our midst. As members of Trinity Church, our ministries are an outpouring of our Baptismal promises.

Our pledges of financial support are witnesses to the ongoing ministry of Christ in our midst. Generations of faithful parishioners created a way for us today.  They made a choice to serve God here, in this place. Today, we make the same choice. And our pledge cards are our witnesses. As we place them on the altar, we make a choice: to serve God here, in this place. 

If you’ve made a pledge to Trinity Church. Thank you. Thank you for your support and trust. 

If you’ve not made a pledge, I ask you to explore the ministries of Trinity and your life here.   I hope you’ve found a safe, inviting place to experience Christ in your life. I hope that you’ve found a way to express your own vocation and ministry here. I hope you will reconsider and make a pledge as a witness to your life in Christ and Christ’s work here.

No matter what: I hope we all leave here refreshed, renewed and ready to serve God with our whole lives.  This is who we are: faithful stewards of Christ’s body, the Church.  May God grant us the strength and courage to serve God in all that we do.    

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