The Sunday Sermon: November 8, 2020 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Joshua 24:1-15
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
It was unavoidable. After spending last week crossing the Jordan River, going back into it to pull stones from the river bed, asking ourselves what those stones might mean to us, and responding by remembering those who have gone before us – the saints who led us to the churches in our lives and who keep us coming back, it was unavoidable. We had to remain with the ancient Israelites this week to listen in as Joshua gives his most famous speech to them, and the book that bears his name ends with his burial in the hill country of Ephraim. But before we hear that …
Pray with me …
And so we have come to this day, this morning, this gathering, this Dedication Sunday to present ourselves before God. We are “gathered” in a way far different than we’ve ever gathered before and this morning, perhaps more than any other morning this stewardship season, our questions haunt us: How have we been encouraged to give of our time and talents this year in the ways we’ve done in the past while we have been so incredibly limited in what we can do that takes our time and utilizes our talent? How have we encouraged ourselves to faithfully consider our pledge for next year, how much money we will set aside for our church, when we may be feeling like the church hasn’t really given us much for our money this year (and how long will it be into next year until it’s much different)? I altered those questions, ones that have begun the sermon messages for the last four weeks, only slightly to reflect the end of a journey, rather than its beginning or middle.
We come before God every time we gather in Christ’s name, of course, but this Sunday is always different from other Sundays of the year – it’s Stewardship Dedication Sunday. We have come this morning to present our tithe for the year ahead, our money, before God … and there may be a number of us who are a little nervous about it – Finance Team members, Treasurers, and a Pastor or two – ordained or not. I suppose, it doesn’t seem very “faithful” to be nervous at this point, so let’s just say more than a few of us are … anxious.
But we’re “anxious” because we are remembering the journey that we have been on, that we will continue on no matter what kind of money hits that plate. A journey this year like no other year in any of our memories. Separated, but together … but apart … but together. We have come to this day, this morning, this gathering, this Dedication Sunday in the only ways we can, “anxious” to present ourselves before God at the end of a journey.
We are gathered like our ancestors of old to hear our own story through the words of Joshua 24. Listen for the Word of God …
Read Joshua 24:2-13. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Do you remember all that?! From our scripture stories to the parallels in our lives today. Our reading goes a long way back, not just scripturally, but in the history of our particular 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.
The journey that Joshua retells for the ancient Israelites has been ours again 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 abnormal economic realities of most of this past year and the gloomy outlooks for, at least, the immediate future … we’re talking about giving to “the church” – a fallible institution administered by imperfect stewards. No wonder some of us are “anxious”! 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 present ourselves before God, in God’s house, for this 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. This year, we cannot stand, step into a center aisle, and come forward this morning as an inspirational hymn leads us to place our pledge card in the common basket. Instead, we sit in the presence of those with us now and in the presence of God to hear our call into the next year. As you listen and sing to the anthem this morning, a familiar hymn reminding us all that the church of Christ is calling us to make the dream come true, consider the pledge you have made or will make to your church.
Surely, God accepts our gifts no matter how great or how slight we may perceive them to be, because God knows our hearts. As we consider our gifts of this morning and our pledges for the year ahead, given in the name of Christ and to the service of his church, let us do so with generous hearts
We have come to this day, this morning, (this gathering), this Dedication Sunday as a household of God to present ourselves before God, and so we pray, with the anxiety that always foresees great things, that “As for our household… we will ‘choose again’ to serve the Lord.”
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 8, 2020