Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Found Faithful in All


Colossians 3:12-17
November 22, 2105
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry


Colossians 3:12-17

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Every now and then, I think I am very clever, and then I discover that the Holy Spirit is much more clever than I imagine. 

Last week, I was away in Dallas for a wedding. Like many young couples, they are people whose beliefs could fairly be called secular theism. That is, they believe in God as a transcendent force in the universe, and they are not against any particular belief, but they do not practice a particular religion. All that being said, it was important to them to have a wedding that included an explicit religious element. The bride is a Texan through and through, and so is the groom, except that his parents were born in Iran. They included a Persian tradition in their wedding, alongside the scripture and prayer that characterize Christian weddings. And the scripture they chose was this text, from Colossians.

So, you may be wondering, what does a wedding sermon have to do with a Stewardship sermon? Especially a stewardship sermon on pledge commitment Sunday?

A colleague of mine – call her Pastor Pleasant –told me about a wedding in which the couple planned to write their own vows. Fine, Pastor Pleasant said, but I need to see them before the wedding. Bride complied, but by the day of the wedding, the groom had not.

Pastor Pleasant finds the groom a few hours before the wedding and asks for the vows he has written. He has not written them yet, says Groom. He isn’t sure what to say.

Pastor Pleasant sighs, smiles, and says “You need to express your love for the bride,
and pledge to her your lifelong commitment.”

Groom sighs, smiles, and says, “Pastor Pleasant, my parents raised me to keep my promises.
They said that I should always keep my word, no matter what. And I’m not sure I can keep that kind of promise to Bride.”

Pastor Pleasant smiles again and says, “Then do you want to tell her, or should I tell her,
that you aren’t getting married today?”

I’m happy to tell you that Groom saw the light, and the wedding happened.

I think that in stewardship, as in marriage, the word “commitment” is the key. At a wedding, the two people pledge lifelong commitment. They promise that they will stay together no matter what. You know the vows – for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. They end those vows with “so long as we both shall live.”

In the old days, Pastors would intone how marriage is a sacred commitment, “a holy ordinance, not to be taken lightly.” This is certainly the kind of commitment we look for in a marriage. It is a reflection of the commitment we make in the Christian life. It is, I hope, the level of commitment that we have to God in Christ. This text from Colossians describes to us what commitment looks like.

The first part of today’s scripture reading is like a poem, a practical but beautiful metaphor that offers us the image of an attitude wardrobe. It tells us not only what to wear to church, but what to wear to life! It is quite an ensemble:

Compassion –to empathize and share in one another’s sorrows and joys.
Kindness – which includes generosity in giving of time and gifts and money.
Lowliness –learning to live with humility toward each other,
and being able to admit that you might possibly be wrong.
Patience – the wisdom to wait, to keep silent,
and hold onto your temper, or your excellent solution to the problem.
Forgiveness – the wisdom to forgive, to reconcile, to let go of hurts,
and not keep a list of every wrong.
And above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
But the writer isn’t finished yet.
This commitment to be found faithful in every aspect of life is total.

AND let Christ’s peace rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in the one body.

AND be thankful.

AND let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;

AND teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;

AND with gratitude in your hearts
sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.

AND whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This is absolute commitment – being found faithful in all. We are told to give our entire selves – every feeling, every thought, every action, every word – to God, in gratitude. We are asked to live like saints, to act like Jesus, with one hundred percent commitment to the Christian life. How many can testify that they do that? Anyone? I certainly can’t.

But truthfully, how many of us who are married thought we could really come through on those lifelong vows? Whether we are married or not, I think we’d agree that everyone falls short of their promises sometimes. I confess I always love Bob, but there are moments…

The same is true of our Christian commitment.
We make the promise so that we can live into it, live up to it, and keep at it. Stewardship is one part of that commitment. Commitment is a big thing, not to be taken lightly. You’ve heard that old line about the difference between involvement and commitment? Think about ham and eggs. When it comes to ham and eggs, the chicken is involved. The pig – he’s committed!

At the beginning of every wedding I officiate, I make a little speech about the covenant of marriage. Here is part of it, but I am going to substitute the word commitment:

“Contracts have escape clauses for non-performance – commitments ask us to keep on being committed to someone who may be tired, or angry, or sick, or downright aggravating, even when we are tired or angry or sick or aggravating. We keep our promises, even on days when the other person does not seem to be giving back their fair share. We pledge our commitment and promise it forever.”

The pledges we make as Christians, to God, to Jesus, and to one another, are just as serious – more serious, really, than the commitments we make in marriage. We promise fidelity – faithfulness, as long as we live. We promise to keep our commitments in every circumstance, richer, poorer, better, worse, sickness, health…

To be found faithful, we keep our commitments, with compassion and kindness and generosity and above all, love. We forgive, even when sometimes people are downright aggravating. Not that anybody here is ever downright aggravating, but you get my drift!

We make a pledge, like we make vows, out of love, and gratitude.

Sometimes we have to grow into it, other times it is easy. One thing I can tell you, from my own experience, is that stewardship takes practice. Maybe we start out just tossing a few bucks in the plate, you know, whenever.

Then we get a little more thoughtful, and we plan it – we give ten or twenty or fifty dollars
every time we are in church. One day, a light bulb goes off— hey, Christ’s work continues even when I’m out of town! So we give a regular amount on a regular basis.

Turns out it doesn’t hurt all that much.
Turns out, we like singing in the choir, going to Bible study,
helping in mission projects, even – GASP!- going to meetings!
Turns out over time, it actually feels pretty good.
Turns out, maybe we can do even better, give a bit more.
Turns out, we are fully committed.

Turns out, we learn how to be found faithful in all things.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, may we always be fully committed,
found faithful in all things. And may everything we do, whether in word or deed,
be done in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Amen.

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