The Sunday Sermon: October 25, 2020 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Joel 2:23-27
Community, Not Commodity
Week two of our Stewardship Season 2020, unlike any we’ve ever had before. How will we be encouraged to give of our time and talents in the ways we’ve done in the past when we are so incredibly limited in what we can do that takes our time and utilizes our talent. How will we encourage ourselves to faithfully consider our pledge for next year, how much money we will set aside for our church, when we may feel 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).
Pray with me …
Just before we read our morning’s scripture, let me give you this week’s response to the questions I just asked, questions that will begin each week of this special season. I want to encourage you this morning to consider even more deeply than you have done before, that when you give to Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church you are contributing to a Community, not a commodity. That’s this morning’s response: Community.
With everything that is different this year, particularly through these last seven months, there are things that are not so very new, not so very different. The incredible blessings that we have received from God and from faithfully responding to God’s call and the incredible blessing that this church is to all of us, to the wider community, and (dare we say) the world, remains the same. And it’s not just us, now. Communities that gather in God’s name have received blessings and lived into their “promise” for thousands of years.
Listen for the Word of God in our reading from the prophet:
Read Joel 2:23-27 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Our church year begins with the first Sunday in Advent, and we’re closer to that season than any of us want to think. Stewardship season ends our church year, pretty nearly. This past year has flown by for obvious reasons. If some days dragged on then the months have flown by. Yet, even through a year such as this, “God gave the early rain for our vindication.” Joel 2:23
Our soil was nourished by the life and the love and the ministry and the relationships we have all shared. Some of that life and love, ministry and relationships may have started timidly at first, but with growing confidence and trust in one another we hoped, and dreamed, and envisioned what our “faith life” in a COVID-19 world would look like for us. Almost immediately … recorded worship.
We chose early on to record at least six different parts of worship each week and edit them together so they’d be available on Sunday mornings, instead of recording live or recording one long continuous service of worship filled with long silences and awkward transitions. That took, and it still takes a lot of time and skill from one person in particular. Matt Killion has, and is, “abundantly raining down” his gifts for us this year.
Two weeks after those recordings were offered, we had our first drive-in service on Palm Sunday. We gathered in this way for special Sundays and first Sunday Communions, finding creative ways to wave our “palm branches,” flower our Easter cross, welcome in the Holy Spirit, and share our common meal through the rest of the Spring and into the Summer. We started having weekly drive-in services on Sunday mornings in August and anticipate continuing that for as long as the weather permits! These drive-in services have also relied heavily on Matt’s gifts and his unwavering willingness to share them with us, but these services have also relied heavily on all of you. On Sunday mornings you wake, you get up, you get dressed … (well, most of you get dressed. I happen to know more than one of you often come in your pajamas) … but, you get out and you come together in one of the only ways we can safely do so.
God has rained down upon us the early rain and the later rain and our threshing floors are full of grain. Joel 2:24
This week, as I considered this message, I asked “why.” Why do so many of you come to a drive-in service when you so easily could stay at home and watch the recorded service, or nothing at all. And while I know it’s presumptuous of me to answer my own question for you, here’s “why”, I think. Because you miss your community. Because you want to be on this campus and with other members and friends of your church. That’s what I think. Last week I invited all of you to share a fifteen second video with us for this season (more on that in a moment). But, Sis Sleadd sent me a text after our worship time together and she put what I’m trying to articulate this way:
I love being outdoors, surrounded by the beauty of this little community, the feel of the history and days gone by of our little church, experiencing humility, the quietness of worship – most of all, I’ve come to my senses that pomp and circumstance are not necessary.
She ended that short message giving thanks for another “wonderful service.”
We don’t need the pomp and circumstance – we appreciate it, and we miss it, and we hope to be enjoying it again sometime soon – but we don’t need it. Others have come to realize that, too. What we do need is community.
Do you know the question I still hear the most during stewardship seasons as a Presbyterian Pastor? That’s twenty-one seasons now, including this one. I hear it the most from church members and I ask it of myself. “How do the really big churches do it every year? Raise seven or eight figure budgets and still see people coming back and coming in? These are questions asked with that “grass is always greener on the other side,” kind of vision, but they’re legitimate questions. And here’s what I think when others ask, and when I ask this question myself:
At some point – and this has as much to do with church size and necessity as it does with theology and understandings of church, I believe, but still – (at some point) communities of faith, Christian churches, begin selling a product and providing a service that many, many men and women are willing to “pay money for” and are able to leave behind until the next time, the next week most often. At some point “church” becomes a commodity.
Now, the longer I respond to the mega-church phenomenon, the more it comes out sounding like “sour grapes,” that I’m just jealous or envious of what others have. I’ll own that to one degree or another and we’ll move on quickly enough. But what we here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian have to offer – and this has as much to do with our size as with our theology and understanding of what it means to be church – (what we have to offer) is not a product or a service, not a commodity, but a community. And you can’t leave a community behind when you slip past those stone pillars on Central Avenue. And you can’t always pay someone to “fix” a community when its air-conditioning leaks, or its drywall crumbles, or its lights burn out, or its members experience sorrow and death. And you can’t ever allow a community to get used to you not being around.
That’s why you’re here, I think. That’s why it’s so, so hard for me (for all of us) when we disagree or do things that make anyone or any group of others who are a part of our community, uncomfortable. We care … deeply … for everyone here.
And, if we grow, as we grow, we will need to change – new worship spaces, increased staff, more Elders, deeper ministries, wider outreach. But we must always be a community that needs not only for each and every one of you to be “in” church, but to “be church” for the future of this congregation.
As the prophet Joel begins his prophecy, he cries out: “tell our children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” Joel 1:3 This season is for that telling. I invite you all once again to take up the challenge of sharing with me a ten-to-fifteen second video of why you are here and what you are thankful for. Let us discover together how we will be better stewards of the community we have been given in the year ahead.
God has given us abundant rain, each one of us a raindrop. Next week we will remember and celebrate “All the Saints” as yet another month begins. This week take some time to share yourself with your beloved community.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 25, 2020