The Sunday Sermon: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 15, 2017
Scripture: Exodus 19:1-8
We Will Do
And so we have arrived … at the mountain … no ordinary place.
This is the second Sunday of our formal “stewardship season”, these weeks set aside to lift up the mission, ministry, and fellowship of our congregation and the resources needed to sustain and increase them – the time, the talents, and the money of each one of us, you and me. Every single year we wonder how we’re going to do things this time. I try to gauge the conditions of our community in the sanctuary from the pulpit, our Elders try to gauge the conditions in the ministries we undertake, and each one of us gauges the conditions in your own lives, in an attempt to understand how we will balance our “obligation to provide” with our “motivation to give,” how ot balance our desire to offer with our ability to give up. It’s a tenuous balance we maintain, in our lives as a whole, everyday really. This is the season we strike that balance for the church. How are we going to do it this year?
We’ll start with prayer …
And let us continue on our journey with the ancient Israelites. Three weeks ago, just before we gathered at our World Communion table we joined the ancient Israelite on the Exodus … we crossed the Red Sea and hungered for food that week. What we needed was provided. Last week we were “thirsty” and what was needed was provided. As Moses was commanded to “strike the rock” I called all of you to do some “thumping.” All we need for this stewardship season – time, talents, and money – is right here already. Strike the Rock and the water will flow. But our journey has just begun.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Exodus 19:1-8 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So, this morning we arrive at Mt. Sinai, the mountain … no ordinary place. The mountain, you see, is the dangerous environment of holiness, the place where the ordinariness of human, earthly life has contact with the Holy that destabilizes and consequently transforms it. My guess is, you feel pretty safe at the base of the mountain, as we begin our season of pledging and giving. I know I did as I began putting together these words and directions last week and before. Mount Sinai is known, we get laws and directions here, commandments from above. We get to rest – in the scripture itself, the people of God spend eleven months at the foot of this mountain. This is no wilderness, scarce of water and food.
Like that mountainside millennia ago, we all feel pretty safe here, in this room, so pleasantly named “sanctuary.” But listen again: Like the base of the mountain, this is the dangerous environment of holiness, the place where the ordinariness of human, earthly life has contact with the holy that destabilizes and consequently transforms everything we have structured for ourselves. The base of the mountain, the sanctuary of our church community, this room, is a dangerous meeting place that ought to leave nothing unchanged.
Oh, I know it’s not and I know it doesn’t, always, or even mostly. We come every week, drop to our knees or bow our heads, and we imagine that God is eagerly awaiting all the attention we’re going to lavish on God today, an attention so minimal every other day of the week. Or we drop in occasionally and casually for worship, assuming God is always here, always there. Most of our “worship” takes place well short of the mountain, where we can seize and maintain the initiative, where we can regulate the destabilization and control the transformation. Well … not this year, not this season, not this morning.
This year, in this season, we need to be serious about stewardship. To do that we need to understand that God, in whatever way we experience the Holy, is not at our beck and call, and does not eagerly await our attention when that attention is solely on our own terms. God, the Holy, the Sacred, the “More” that is part of our lives together does not show up in our casual indifference. Some other god might – the god of “good enough” or the god of “all we can do” or “I did my fair share” – but not the powerful God of liberation that rescues, demands, and promises abundance.
And so this morning we find ourselves at the base of the mountain in this profoundly counter-cultural room, with a pledge. That’s how our formal stewardship season always ends, and it will again this year on November 12, with our monetary pledges, our promises of money for next year’s budget. But this morning we’re going to make a pledge, too. A verbal one. It’s the pledge spoken by the ancient Israelites as they reach the base of Mount Sinai: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do.
Now, I’m going to ask you to do something that I know you’re not comfortable with, and not just because it means you have to participate directly this morning. No, this is going to be uncomfortable because as you consider my request, you’re going to pretty quickly start calculating, you’re going to try to seize and maintain the initiative in this particular encounter with God even as you feel your control slipping away.
I want you to say the pledge you just heard from me, the Israelites words of old, with me right now. Close your eyes if it makes it easier and let us all speak the words of verse eight. Hear them again: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do. Now say them together. Repeat after me: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do. Once more: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do.
Did you feel it? If you were courageous enough to say it out loud, I know you felt it, if only a little bit. I’ve been feeling it all week just “rehearsing” this moment. We lost some initiative there. You lost a bit of control. You’re wondering what exactly it was that “the Lord spoke” and what exactly it is you just pledged “you’d do!” That’s exactly where the ancient Israelites found themselves in their pledge at the base of Mount Sinai. It’s where we should find ourselves every Sunday when we gather in this place. Our pledge to God, our commitment to the Holy One, is open-ended, to whatever God may have to say or to wherever God may happen to lead at any point. The Israelites’ commitment in verse eight, and ours in this season, includes a profound level of confidence in God, that what God may have to say or where God may happen to lead in any future is in our best interest, that we are under care of someone, something, more powerful than ourselves.
Even as I speak these words (again) and you hear them (again) we feel like they are self-evident, “Of course, that’s what we do every day in our lives of faith, or at least on Sunday.” But we don’t! Most of our commitment takes place well short of the mountain, where we seize and maintain the initiative, where we regulate the destabilization for our lives and control the transformation of them. Well not this year, not this morning, not this stewardship season. This season we pledge first: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do.
In our biblical journey, after the people arrive at Sinai and set up camp and after Moses goes up the mountain “God” starts speaking. In verses four to six, through the very voice of God, the writer summarizes what has been done on Israel’s behalf: Alright – you were delivered from Egypt and born on Eagle’s wings to Sinai. God has been fully involved in your life from Egypt through the wilderness all the way up to this point in your lives. Our pledge for the unknown future is based solidly on our experience from the known past. God’s gracious actions in our past make our own pledge for the future a “no-risk” promise. We will obey God’s voice and keep God’s covenant, we will be a priestly kingdom, that is a servant community and not a ruling one, and we will be a holy nation, that is a people set apart to embody God’s purposes in the world, precisely because God has always delivered us and born us up, and been involved in our lives.
I want us to think back as far as we can go in this community. We noted last week that the distance we travel backward is going to vary greatly. My own memories of Pewee Valley Presbyterian only go back about nine years, most of your memories go back longer than that – some much, much, longer – and other memories, of course, not very far back, at all. But think back over the history of this church, this “holy” nation, this community. When has God delivered us?
However you experience or express God at work in our lives, when have we not been delivered from bondage, in any of its forms, and born up on wings like Eagles? Now, I’m not being naïve. This community, in its one hundred and fifty-one years has thirsted and been hungry. It has wandered, aimlessly at times, and wondered “why, when, and how long!”
But no one in this community, from 1866 to the present day, no one of us has ever, ever been alone. Not only do we have one another, not only has every person who has gathered here for worship or fellowship, in joy or in sorrow, had others to journey with, we have all had, and still have the mysterious presence of the one we call “God with us.” Within us, among us, and beyond us, always bigger than we think, always more forgiving than we allow, and always leading us to worlds larger than we may even desire.
We have arrived this morning, on our Stewardship journey … at the mountain … no ordinary place. This is the dangerous environment of holiness, friends, the place where the ordinariness of human, earthly life has contact with the holy – a contact that destabilizes and transforms us. We have spoken an ancient pledge once again, in this place. Spoken it without knowing where exactly it will lead us. Say it with me again: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do.
So that we too, shall mount up with wings like eagles, shall run and not be weary, (and) shall walk and faint. (Isaiah 40:31b)
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 15, 2017