The Sunday Sermon – June 28, 2015
So far: Community and the priestly roles we are called to in our lives as disciples. Bearing the burdens of others, being a part of something bigger than ourselves, building a “community” not consuming a “commodity.” And taking on, within this Community, responsibilities that cost us something: the sacrifice of our time, the offering of our talents, and the giving of our money. Our faith is deeply personal, but it is not private. There is no such thing as a disciple of Christ apart from the community called the church. And our faith requires our community to gather, to proclaim, to study, to support. (The insert is back in your bulletin this week.) We are “priests” and we make sacrifices in our lives of faith.
This morning, we lift up something else we are, or something else we are called to be.
Listen for the Word of God
The Word of the Lord …
So, I’ve realized this past week that there is one thing, at least, that makes us more nervous than talking about money in the church. There is one other “topic,” or discussion, that makes us more nervous than our “call to financial stewardship.” Can anyone guess? Yes … our call to be prophetic in and for this world of ours.
It has been written: “The Prophet is the constitutional enemy of the Priest and priestly religion. (A Prophet is) the scorner of sacrifice and ritual doings … (The Prophet is) a voice of doubt about the doctrines and the literature which shelters the priest.” (Walter Rauschenbusch). We talked last week about our priestly roles in the church, for this community. As Priests, we serve the church through budgets by pledging our money; by preparing classrooms and teacher/leaders to impart the doctrines of our faith; by providing for the maintenance of divine worship; by keeping up the sanctuary (and all other property); paying a preacher and a choir director and an organist and other staff; making sure there’s heat, air conditioning, and light; and making sure there’s some time for fun at picnics, trivia nights, retreats and anniversary celebrations. That’s a lot of sacrifice and work.
But into the midst of all that, the voice of the Prophet sounds in our hearts, if not in our ears: Thus says the Lord: “Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.” Isaiah 1:13-14
What … ?! But we’re working so hard … at one facet of our discipleship. And too often at the expense of the other. Priest and Prophet: It’s a fascinating relationship. One is the “constitutional enemy” of the other. And yet … we are called by God in Christ to be both … Priest and Prophet. To maintain the community that is the church and to call forth “newness” and “possibility” within it and – and here’s the genuine challenge – beyond it, within the world. To “challenge” the status quo and “change” the status quo whenever and wherever the radically inclusive love of God is being limited because of it. Our roles as priests and prophets are not limited to the community created by the Pentecostal Spirit and maintained by the church. Our roles as priests and prophets are for the transformation of the world. That is why, while we could have read from any or all of the books of the Prophets of the Old Testament, we read instead the words of our own Prophet-Lord, in the writing of Luke.
To connect this understanding of the Prophet and the scripture I just read: The Prophet cries out whenever the priestly roles of the church limit the bringing of good news to the poor. The Prophet cries out whenever the release of captives is constrained; whenever the offering of sight to the blind is inhibited; or the giving of freedom to those oppressed and the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor, the year of “Jubilee,” when crushing debts are forgiven and slaves are freed, is denied. Whenever these things are limited in the church, whenever we tip the scales in favor of our own customs and comfort and community, we must raise our prophetic voices and look outward. And whenever these things are limited in the world, we are called to act. “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
It’s a fascinating life we are called to. Everything else in our world calls us to be comfortable and happy with what we’ve created, with what we’ve worked so hard for, with the relationships we’ve established and the people we’ve invested in. I’d be willing to bet that there is nothing and no other place in your whole life, other than your faith and your church, calling you to not be comfortable with the way things are and to not be content with what you’ve established, but to always look to do more for more people.
It’s exactly what Jesus did and we are his disciples, his followers, his feet and hands and heart in the world today. Our reading this morning is part of a larger sequence of events. Luke tells us in the early chapter of Acts that the Holy Spirit came upon the first “believers” and launched the church. That’s what launched the exploration of our own discipleship this summer. In our reading, he tells us of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the life of Jesus as he steps into his own public ministry, his own “discipleship.” Our reading is preceded by the brief story of Jesus’ baptism and the longer account of his temptation in the wilderness. All three episodes are Holy Spirit stories. Being baptized is a Spirit moment. Saying “no” to false options in the temptation story is a Spirit moment. “Priestly roles” are accepted and engaged by Jesus, himself. This third Spirit moment finds Jesus embracing the prophetic role that is equally, some might say “even more,” critical to a life in the love of God.
“Filled with the power of the Spirit” Jesus began to teach: Give up, give away, give out, go out, go beyond what is and create what must be: The Kingdom of God … on earth. How are we doing with that?
As I pondered that question this week, the question we’ve been asking ourselves for over a month now – “How are we doing with our discipleship?” – I was reminded of a remark that one of our former Moderator’s shared in a sermon during her time leading our denomination. She noted that “the (energy and drive) of the Spirit is the only thing the early church had going for it (in the beginning). It had no buildings, no budget, no paid staff, (no campus), and very few members.” It had, in other words, very few “priestly duties.” Not so today … In fact the opposite situation may face us: we have buildings, a budget, paid staff, a campus, and more than a few “members.” I spend much of my own time worrying about finances, figuring out property needs, balancing staff concerns and configurations, and teaching the tradition. And all of that is essential for a healthy community. But do I have the prophetic power of the Spirit? But do we have the prophetic power of the Spirit that is equally essential to the survival of this experiment called “the Church?” And how can we know if we do?
We’ll know we have that prophetic power of God whenever we do something for God’s Kingdom. The reason we’re in this space is because we’re doing something for ourselves, for our church, our community. We are renovating our sanctuary. Before that we remodeled the kitchen, reconfigured the Gathering Room, and repaved the parking lot. All done for ourselves, but as means to a greater end. Or so we’ve said.
I am well aware that there are those here who are deeply concerned about the amount of money we’ve spent and are spending on ourselves these past years. But it is a means to a greater end. Ten percent of our Capital Campaign has been designated for “mission.” Just over twelve thousand dollars, so far. Our Mission Team is bringing recommendation for the disbursement of that amount to Session this summer, and that is a beautiful thing. But the real mission, the real prophetic push of all this work and attention on “ourselves,” is to ensure that the buildings and the property, the staff and the money, the members and the ministries of Pewee Valley Presbyterian may offer a prophetic voice, may “bring good news, feed, give sight, and free” generations to come.
Or so we’ve said. I believe it. I believe we will. But time will tell. And the time, according to our scripture reading is now. Jesus says “today” in our reading. “Today this scripture is fulfilled.”
I’m going to take a week off, this coming week and next Sunday. Wayne Willis will be in this “pulpit” next Sunday. He’s going to preach from Luke 20. He’s titled his sermon “When Christ Calls.” I haven’t shared anything about the conversation we’ve been having together so far this summer, but you just see for yourselves how the Spirit may be moving among us. I know that his message will challenge our discipleship every bit as much as my past few.
When I come back, we’re going to re-enter our most sacred room. Made sacred not because we gather with ourselves, but because we gather for our God. We’re going to continue our talking about our prophetic roles in the modern world. We’ve done a wonderful, and necessary, job as Priests in Pewee Valley – from business to budgets to buildings. We’re going to take a look at the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed in the twenty-first century. And we’re going to bring good news, proclaim release and recovery, and offer them freedom through the love of God we share in Jesus Christ.
The challenge of our discipleship is to be both Priest and Prophet for the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor