A Sermon for 13 November 2016 – Commitment Sunday
A reading from the prophet Haggai 1:15b-2:9. If you were here last week, then these words likely will sound familiar to you. It was one of the assigned lectionary texts for last week that just had to make a re-appearance this week. Listen for God’s word to us and to see why we’re hearing it again today.
“In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Now you see why this text had to come back today, on Commitment Sunday? When else do we hear so clearly from God, through the words of the prophet Haggai: “Thus says the LORD our God: the silver is mine and the gold is mine. Mine. Mine. Mine!” (Haggai 2:8) . . . I realize most of us already arrived today with our 2017 pledge amounts in mind. And then like a sticky-handed toddler, a heavenly fist pounds. All of it: “Mine. Mine. Mine!” . . . Though I really believe this text is meant to be one of hope, it sounds as if God is throwing a little bit of a two-year old tantrum. “Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine!” The land from which it comes is mine. The birds of the air and the fish of the sea are mine. Mine. Mine. Mine! Yes, even you, o fledgling little re-turnees from nearly 70 years in exile. You all are mine! . . . At this point in their history, a remnant of the people have returned from Babylon back home to Judah. And while they have been busy rebuilding their own homes – trying to replant in a land left wild for all that time; they got an early start on laying the foundations of a new Temple, then promptly gave up. According to the history recorded in the book of Ezra, the newly returned exiles under Judah’s first governor, didn’t do much those first 18 years, other than lay the Temple foundation. God’s about had it with the delay and after the work of the prophet Haggai, it takes less than five years to complete the rest (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4, Jack R. Lundbom, p 269). While the Pharaoh finally sent the ancient Hebrews out of Egypt with heaps of gold after all the signs done for God by Moses; when some finally were allowed to return from Babylon, none of the treasures plundered from the Temple were released with the exiles. Maybe it all gives us a better insight into God’s insistent words: “mine. Mine. Mine!”
Likely it’s the first word most all of us speak – at least if we’re born into the United States. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” It’s a natural part of human development. In fact, a youngster who does not learn to distinguish where she begins and ends is bound for trouble. A boy who never knows the difference between himself and another can reap all kinds of havoc on the rest of the world. This is me. That is you. And that is another still. There’s a boundary between who I am and who momma is. We must learn this in order to grow to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. And then we ALSO must learn that me and mine really do not exist. At least not from the perspective of the Divine Creator. This is God’s. You are God’s. The other is God’s too. All we see belongs to God, according to the ancient faith passed on to us from our Hebrew brothers and sisters, through Jesus the Christ, and all the generations of the Church. It all is God’s. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” We need a little toddler tantrum now and again to wake us up to remember! All that we are and all that we think we have – it’s really just a gift. A body, and mind, and heart, and home, and bank account entrusted to us by a Grandiose Creator. Do you ever wonder if God’s just watching to see what we’ll do with it? We know the Spirit is within nudging us in the right direction. And certainly the life, death, and resurrection of Christ inspires us too all along the way. So that the lives we lead profess in every way: “Yours. Yours. Yours, O God! We belong to you, Holy One, and all of your ways!”
On a day like today, in a week like this week; it’s good to remember that 100% really does belong to the LORD our God – to be used for God’s purposes. It’s just that not all of God’s purposes happen through the budget of this church. 100% of all we have is to be used for God’s purposes and that includes things like the care of our bodies, which belong to God. Providing for our families, who are God’s gift to us. Enjoyment of God’s amazing world – a pleasure we only get to embrace as long as we’re standing here on this earth – perhaps just 80 or 90-some times we’ll have the joy of moving through the cycle of the seasons in our lives. That’s not that many times for us to wake up to autumn-days like today saying, “Wow, Holy God! Your handiwork is absolutely amazing!” . . . 100% of our time, talents, and treasures belong to God. And, the biblical tradition points out that it would be great if at least 10% of our time, talents, and treasures were dedicated to God’s collective purpose for use in the ministry of this church.
I ran the numbers. 10% of our time is the equivalent of 16.8 hours a week. Because 10% of 24 hours times 7 days is 10% of 168 hours in every week. . . . So if before, during, and after takes about 2 hours a week for the worship of our God, that leaves each of us about two and a half hours a day for the rest of the ministries of the church. I realize that sounds like a lot. But if we each spend 30 minutes a day for personal prayer, study, or devotions – at least 15 minutes when we wake and 15 minutes before we sleep or another configuration that works for us. If we each do that, then we’re down to just 2 hours a day – less time than it takes to watch a sporting event or a movie or countless number of other ways so many of us flitter away our time each day. . . . Careful thought about the use of our time for the collective ministry of God through the church might help us re-align how we spend our days, our years, our lives. If we all cannot give two hours each day to this church’s work of supporting each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges; can we give just two hours more each week than we’ve given in the past? That’s just like 20 minutes or so a day – about the time it takes to make a phone call to check in on the person who sits down the pew from you each week. . . . The root of the question for us seriously to ponder is: how much time every day will we invest in being the church that fulfills God’s work?
We each can figure how 10% of our treasures equate. Whether it’s before or after taxes, it really doesn’t matter. If we’re nowhere near yet, due to whatever the circumstances of our lives, can we make just a 10% increase this year? So if we’re at $100 a year, we increase to $110. $1,000 a year to $1,100. $5,000 a year to $5,500. For some, that’s the only way we ever may get to the commitment of 10% of our treasures given to God through God’s church. Baby steps, year after year, until 10 or 20 years from now we’ve finally reached the goal. I’m sure all the Stewardship gurus would tell me not to tell you this and to just tell you God expects us to tithe 10%. But in my experience, we’ve got to start somewhere. No matter our age or our over-stretched budgets, we’ve got to figure out our realistic starting point, commit to it as a first priority, and grow from there each year. If it’s been a bad year in which your financial circumstances have dwindled; rest for a bit, but don’t quit. Remember that Jesus once told a story about a widow who put in her last little bit? Giving something even when we feel like we have nothing is about our trust of God – our Loving Creator who promises never to let us go even when it feels we’ve just lost it all. It’s the spirit of how we give that God enjoys, not the sum total of the check. . . . If you’re a parent or grandparent with the opportunity, teach your children now how to do this. Setting aside $1 of every $10 they get for whatever, will help them learn to tithe before they even have an income, so that when they do, they just might be ready to approach it this way from the start.
And what about 10% of our talents? It’s an odd way to figure that up. Maybe it’s best to take stock of the abilities we really have. Do you love to encourage, or organize, or create music, or communicate? What is it you truly love to do? Back in my days of being a specialized pastor with children and their families, I would ask children this question. I heard a lot about basketball and dance. And while it might take a little bit more thought out-of-the-box to figure out how to use for God’s work talents such as basketball or dance; it is possible to use even those abilities in the mission of God. Just ask the youth who come here for Wednesday nights – they LOVE to play basketball in the parking lot and would thoroughly enjoy taking you on! Maybe they’d even be interested in dancing for Jesus some Sunday during worship! . . . The key to God’s work is figuring out the talent God already has given you, then find a way to put that talent to work in the bigger picture of God’s mission in this world.
After all, none of it is ours in the first place. It’s God’s! Remember: “Mine. Mine. Mine!” Says the LORD God of hosts! . . . And it generously has been given to us for the purpose of being used in God’s work. . . . With glad and thankful hearts, may it ever be so.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)