Sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost

One of my most treasured gifts is a plaque with Joshua’s words: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It appears in a slightly different translation in our reading from Joshua today.

This entire passage is worthy of serious study. Despite all that the Lord God has done to deserve the allegiance of the people, God still offers them a choice—serve the LORD God or continue to worship the gods of the Egyptians or the older cult from their ethnic origin beyond the River Euphrates.

I don’t know whether the people and their leadership are caught up in the energy of the moment or if they just thought God would not find out, but the result is that a good portion of those present and their children will lie to God in terms of their actions. They will continue to worship these things of metal and clay.

I wonder how different modern society has become. I think the many people who have decided not to serve God this weekend in worship in mosque, synagogue and church have chosen what they can see and touch over the community that worships the unseen Holy God.

Would the majority of them see it that way? Of course not! The problem is that they don’t think about their choice at all.

I don’t think that their orientation is entirely their fault. In many ways churches have made themselves irrelevant to the people. Churches deny people full access because of their marital status or their sexual orientation. Churches have over the years been unwilling to reinterpret Scripture when faced with the realities presented by scientific discovery. Churches have met legitimate questions with knee jerk responses, and churches have led the way in persecuting minorities and justifying slavery.

And Sunday morning for the most part, 40 years after the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains the most segregated time in America. In our own denomination congregations and dioceses are taking the position that separate is preferred to unity in Christ while confronting legitimate differences.

But I don’t think we can undo the misperceptions of others nor do we speak for all churches in general but we can make a difference in our own house and I believe that we do. And others are being drawn to us. We must do the best we can to make God’s guests welcome and invite them to journey with us.

Only by being open and listening as others share their thoughts, fears and concerns can we present ourselves as a community in which the love and care of Jesus Christ is made manifest.

Jesus speaking, tells the crowd what the kingdom of heaven will be like. It will be like a group invited to share a wonderful opportunity. Some come fully prepared. Others don’t. And while the others are trying to play catch-up the opportunity that was open to all of them is available to only a few.

The kingdom of heaven is like this: everyone has the opportunity to participate fully but some lose out because they lacked the foresight to be prepared.

I think our church is in an analogous situation. We have the opportunity to be a significant presence in the lives of a wider group of people than are collected here today, we have the opportunity to make a difference directly and indirectly in ministry, and we can help affect positive change in our community and ourselves.

We can seize the opportunity or lose some or all of it. Think of the oil lamps as what we have in terms of the physical plant of St. John’s—the buildings and additions, the furniture and vestments and books and stuff. And we have oil in them—there is some level of income from all sources which keep the heat and lights on, provide for Sunday School supplies, pay for staff.

But we need to become better stewards by having enough oil to keep our lamps going when they’re needed. Right now we are like the bridesmaids who lack the flasks of oil. And the result is that we cannot do all that God calls us to do. Because we lack sufficient funding our ministry together is hampered and our ability to reach out beyond this church is severely constrained.

We quote 1 John 4:19—We love because He first loved us. But if we only are about loving ourselves, how is that serving the Lord?

Jesus calls us to go forth with God’s message of love. In this we are apostles—those sent with a message. But in this time in the history of the Christian Church, our message becomes like a dimly burning wick if we will not fund what it takes to do ministry in this place.

I believe in this church and I believe in you that we have the ability even in these uncertain economic times to fund our ministry fully by changing the way we give to the work of this church.

Join me in setting aside what I believe prayerfully that God wants me to give—first—and then allocate the remainder in priority. Is God our first priority? Will we be able to do what God presents to us to do? As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.