The Sunday Sermon: 25th Sunday after Pentecost – November 6, 2016
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-14a
Who Am We?
I know for a fact that the title of this morning’s sermon has been driving a number of you absolutely crazy this morning. Longer if you saw it go up on the website earlier this week. Well, you’ll just have to wait a minute or two longer to better understand!Because, this morning, as we start off talking again about our care, our stewardship, for this family, I ask the grammatically incorrect question out loud: “Who am we?”
Almost at the end of Stewardship Season 2016, this morning. Still not longer than the election cycle this time around, but … both are coming to an end in the next week. Be sure to vote this Tuesday and be sure to consider all week long how you will respond next Sunday at our Annual Stewardship Dedication service. Our future depends on both, though our purpose and our focus when we gather together is only on one consideration – Our stewardship and our future together as a community called the church, in its Presbyterian expression, in Pewee Valley, Kentucky. So let’s consider our community.
This Sunday is also All Saints Sunday, the first Sunday after All Saints’ Day, last Tuesday, November 1st. I want to bring Stewardship and All Saints’ Day together for us this morning: The remembrance of those who have come before us and who have made us who we are as persons of faith today and our commitment to those who will come after us – whose lives we may “effect” – through our stewardship of time, talents, and money in the time we spend here.
Pray with me … and listen for the Word of God … Read 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 … The Word of the Lord.
There is the sense of family in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians … Rudyard Kipling once wrote about families, “all of us are we.” And whenever we gather as a faith community, the congregation of a particular church, it really doesn’t do us any good to ask “Who am I?” And so now you know why I ask, “Who am we?” I’m not the first to ask that question, and I do this morning as much to get your attention at anything else, I admit, but I’m serious enough. On the Sunday after All Saint’s Day, in the midst of our annual Stewardship Season, we ask: “Who am we … as a church family?” Kipling said “a family shares things like dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, and gladness. A family is a clan held together with the glue of love and the cement of mutual respect. A family is shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family.” That’s sound nice.
That’s a very positive and desirable description of family. There are less positive opinions of family, too. But we’ll live into Kipling’s portrayal in our time together this morning. We’re a family here. Sharing dreams, hopes, and frustrations; possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, gladness and sadness together. And in our scripture passage, Paul, “like a father with his children,” is inviting the Thessalonians, and through them he is inviting us, to receive that relationship, the new relationship into which God, through Christ, has called us. In Christ, as Christians, we are called to relate to one another as family in the household of faith, as brothers and sisters. We are called to tend to the relationships that being a part of the Body of Christ gives us: nurturing, encouraging, affirming, and challenging, sharing both our vulnerability and our strength.
I’m not sure how well you all think you do that. Take a look around you this morning. How close do you feel to the others here? All the others here? I know there are a few that everyone is closer to, that’s natural, but what about all the others. Rugged individualism, even small group comfort, is not “gospel.” The countercultural call to treat everyone, even virtual strangers, as siblings – brothers and sisters – is.
Now before anyone gets to worried about how little you may know the person two pews over from you, or before anyone begins to think that it honestly doesn’t matter how present you are with anyone here – after all it’s just an hour or two a week – I want you to remember someone else. Someone in your own life who is responsible for your being here this morning.
I’ve been looking around this sanctuary this morning and taking note not only of who is here, but of what each one of you has contributed and is contributing to the life of this congregation. I am deeply blessed with the breadth and the depth of the human experience, of your lives, that you afford me as your Pastor. In one way or another, to one degree or another, I know each and every one of you in deep and deepening ways. Every single one of you have and are contributing something, make no mistake. Just gathering together this morning is a huge “something,” but there is so much more. From the countless hours you have spent on sharing music, leading worship, sitting with the staff of our church, planning for the fellowships, caring for our homebound, teaching our children, guiding our youth, traveling to foreign countries, providing for our worship experience, or handling our financial resources. And so many of you have and are doing more than one of these things! I note the contributions that each and every one of you have made to PVPC because it is a fact that church members, young and old, who have made or are making meaningful contributions in the church today have almost always had a mentor, a “spiritual guide,” in the earlier years of your life.
That’s the “someone else” I want you to remember this morning. Close your eyes or focus them out the window or at the pew back in front of you, take a hold of a hand beside you if that helps, but think back: Who is responsible for your being here this morning? I’m sure, in many cases, there is more than one person, but I’ll venture to guess that no one is here this morning without having had at least one person behind you, leading you, nudging you, toward the doors of the church – here or elsewhere.
Coming to church and being a member of the church, through a particular congregation is no longer assumed. We’ve heard over and over how the fastest growing group of people on religious surveys are the “nones” (n-o-n-e-s): 25% of the population, 39% of those between 18 and 39. A Staggering statistic and growing. Going to church, coming to church, is no longer primarily done because we feel obliged to do it. I’m sure that some of us are here because of some small degree of obligation, but more than ever we attend church, participate in the worship and fellowship, the ministry and mission, of a community of faith because we have been motivated to do so. And most often that motivation has come from someone in our lives who modeled a life, a commitment, a dedication to something beyond themselves that allowed us to experience that “More” in our own lives. They brought us, personally or spiritually, or both, to a community of faith and we have come back year after year, week after week, to be a part of this counter-cultural family.
We remember those people, the “Saints” of our church, the major ones and the more personal ones, at this time of year on this Sunday. They have all, in one way or another, in large ways or small, provided for our own presence and all that we are able to experience with one another in our lives of faith.
That leads, very naturally, to the Season we are engaged in now and the call we are hearing with boldness in these weeks. What difference might we be making in the lives of those who come after us? Will anyone in fifteen or twenty years, when asked to remember someone in their life who is responsible for their being a part of something bigger than themselves, for their being a part of family that extends far beyond their blood relatives, for their being a part of a church (whatever it may look like in the future) think of us? Will there be members of a church, here or anywhere, who will be making significant contributions in their community because we made a significant difference in their lives today? And what might that “difference” be? In most cases you and I, we, may never know what difference we’ve made to those who will follow.
And that is why we’re given times like this – All Saint’s Day – to remember those whom we follow. God calls us as a people. Our entire faith “community” is invited into the Kingdom of God. We never, ever, ask, “who am I” when we consider the community in which we worship and gather together. We rather ask “Who am we.” (Or … okay, okay: Who are we?!) It is “we” who are called to proclaim and to live the Kingdom of God, past, present and future.
There are slips of paper in a baggie at the end of each pew but the Fellowship pads. If you’re sitting on the aisle, take that bag up and take one or two slips of paper out, and pass it down the pew. Write the name or names of those “someones” you’ve been thinking about. Those who have had some influence on you in your life as a Christian. As we begin the second verse of the sermon hymn, For All the Saints, please come forward and put those names on the board here in front. We’ll keep singing, but we’ll remember and celebrate the Saints in our lives.
And that won’t be the end of our celebration this morning. As we faithfully endeavor to do all that we do here, and as we continue our Season of Giving, prayerfully discerning how and how much we will give for the life and the love of all who have gone before us and all who will follow, we will gather around our table to “Remember” again, all the Saints in our lives.
“Who am we?” We are … family. Let us sing and remember.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 6, 2016