The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2019
Scripture: Joshua 24:1-15
Choose This Day …
So Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. Joshua 24:1
And so we have come to this day, this morning, this gathering, this Dedication Sunday to present ourselves before God. We do this every Sunday – come before God in a special way, a way different than other days of the week. But this Sunday is even different from the other Sundays of the year – for today is Stewardship Dedication Sunday.
I’m going to tell you something that you may already be aware of. If you’re not, maybe you should be aware of it. We have come this morning to present ourselves before God through our stewardship pledges for 2020. And as we do, there are a number of us who are a little nervous about it. I think that’s sad, but I know it’s true. Dedication Sunday, you see, includes our first real look at the financial commitments of the members of this community, this congregation, this church for the year ahead. So there are a number of us who are a little nervous – you probably know a few of us, you may be one of us.
It doesn’t seem very “faithful” to be nervous at this point. We ought to have faith that either the amount needed in pledges will fall into this plate in the moments ahead (or in the next week or so), or that we’ll make due with whatever is received. The truth is, we know we’re able to do the latter, we’ve done that in years past, made due with what God, through all of us, has provided. So, “nervousness” doesn’t seem to be too faithful. Maybe we can say that that this feeling some of us have this morning comes from a more hopeful place. Maybe some of our nervousness is actually a positive thing. Perhaps some of us are nervous because this is dedication Sunday and we are eager to know, to find out! We are hopeful, expectant, ready to find out whether our plate will not just “flow”, but overflow!” This, then, is a kind of nervousness that precedes a celebration. I’m going to call it that: not so much nervous, but … anxious.
And if we’re “anxious” it’s because we are remembering the journey that we have been on, that we will continue on no matter what kind of money hits that basket. So, we have come to this day, this morning, this gathering, this Dedication Sunday “anxious” to present ourselves before God at the end of a journey. And what a journey …
We began in the book of Exodus with Moses and the Israelites out in the wilderness and struck the rock. So it began. The Word of God flowed in the weeks that followed through the teachings of Jesus on the treasures of this earth, the things that are God’s. We are not to store up those “things” Jesus said. He still says, if we can only understand. Our hearts are messed up in our treasures more than we care to admit. I think maybe that’s why we’re so nervous, or anxious, or sad, or anything but content. Our hearts are messed up in our treasures and our treasures are too often fleeting. It is never lost on me that all the preaching and teaching of this season is in service to the continuation of another earthly institution, namely the church, beautiful as it I consider it to be in its expression here in Pewee Valley. Our earthly treasures for another earthly treasure. Unless … there’s more to this church than we most often allow. This season we asked ourselves …
“What do you expect from and demand from the church, your church, to which you give? How do we, how will we, in the year and years ahead, reflect the Kingdom of God on earth? And how will we give to God all that is God’s?”
These are the questions we started with again this year. And asked everyone to prayerfully consider your responses in anticipation of this morning. Last week, we re-entered the Old Testament journey, reading from the book of Joshua, pulling our stones from the Jordan River and placing them down to remind us that God has provided and that we will respond. So, this week, this morning, we read from the last chapter of Joshua as we prepare to present ourselves to God before one another. Through the words of Joshua 24, we continue to discern how God is leading us on our journey and how we will respond.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Joshua 24:2-13. The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
It’s been a long time coming, this day. Our reading goes a long way back, not just scripturally, but in the history of our church, all the way back to when the first two or more gathered in Christ’s name on this plot of land and declared that “this is what our stones mean to us” and “this is what our stones will mean to our children:” Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church. From beyond the river they came, through the wilderness, to the top of the ridge and down into the valley of promise that was no more earned than the air they breathed, but that was given to them for the generations who would follow. Those generations include us, sitting here today.
Our sanctuary – and this plot of land at 119 Central Avenue with all the structures it contains – remains here because for about a month every year for about one hundred and fifty-three years, the community that gathers here has done exactly what we’ve been doing this past month. Choosing … That’s finally what our Stewardship Season every year is about. Our yearning to maintain our covenant fellowship with God, with the community of saints who have come before us here, and with one another, together now.
It’s good to remind ourselves that as we prepare ourselves for our commitment to the future of this community, this congregation, as we anticipate our “stewardship dedication” in just a few moments, I know that each one of us here and many others who are not present this morning, love this church … that’s not in question now, and it won’t be later this week and in the weeks ahead when we start totaling and figuring in case we need to adjust and modify hopes, dreams, and expectations. We all love this church and are loved by it, no question. The only question that remains for us in the moments ahead is: How many of us will walk away feeling like we did less than we could have, or should have?
We don’t give out of guilt. Guilt is not sustainable. But love is. And so is hope and promise. Take out your pledge card, or pull one now from the pew in front of you. If there aren’t enough there, raise your hand up and we’ll make sure to get one to you. Whether you have filled this out or not, as you hold it in your hands, I hope that you do not feel guilt or obligation more than you feel motivation and possibility. I hope that this pledge card feels more hopeful and more full of love than guilt. I promise that if you’ve heard your call to this church and its community, it has. And maybe there’s a number or two you may want to change on your own pledge card. You have time – we’ll sing and affirm our faith before we dedicate our gifts.
The treasure shall come and God will fill this house with splendor. To the glory of God and the good of our world. Today we answer the question from last week Mom, Dad, Granpa, Gramma, what do those stones mean to you?
The journey that Joshua retells for the ancient Israelites has been ours this year and is ours every year: Out of bondage, into the wilderness, met by God, led by God, to a land of blessing and peace, of memories past, ministries present, and perhaps most importantly, of mission future. We have gathered, all of us, to present ourselves before God. And the challenge that Joshua issues in our final verses this morning is the challenge we face every day of our lives. Choose this day …
Read Joshua 24:14-15
It’s not an easy decision, though we preachers may like to try to make it so. Even beyond the economic realities of our lives beyond this church, we’re talking about giving to “the church,” a fallible institution administered by imperfect stewards. No wonder some of us are “anxious” this morning! And yet as we gather this morning, we do so not to present ourselves to an institution or to any person or persons in it. We have come to present ourselves before God, in God’s house, for our little corner of God’s kingdom. How will our household respond?
Joshua makes it clear in our reading, our decision is free and deliberate. We do have options. We live in a time that worships a multitude of deities. It is possible for us to do that, too. But, as we have come to this day, this morning, this gathering, this Dedication Sunday as a household of God to present ourselves before God, we pray, with the anxiety that always foresees great things, that …
“As for our household we will serve the Lord.” Let us sing, let us affirm, and then let us offer a portion of what we have and the whole of ourselves …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 10, 2019