Sermon - 20 Pentecost
There once was a man who came to Jesus, a “seeker” we might call him today. He was not poor, he led a good life, he followed the commandments; he probably was from a good family and was respected in his community.
But he knows there is something more.
Perhaps he is like Job, angry with God because of some unmerited suffering. “The almighty has terrified me,” he might secretly feel.
Or perhaps he, like the psalmist, feels bereft of God’s presence. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Or, perhaps he has spent his life and energy doing good works on his own - wealth, success, piety – and it is just not enough.
We don’t know. What we do know is that this unnamed man came to Jesus, seeking more. He is seeking a moment of God’s grace, a gift which will bring him life, real life, eternal life. So he comes to Jesus and asks “what should I do?”
How many of us here today are seekers too, like this man? How many of us are seeking that moment of grace, that vision of true life that God gives, that experience of God’s love which renews and transforms our lives?
How many of us, consciously or intuitively, know that something in us is incomplete, that something is lacking and wrong with our life, that our world is out of joint, not leading to life but death?
It is likely that we know that the old ways don’t work anymore for us. The old piety, the old beliefs, the old world that we grew up with, just doesn’t cut it any longer. The world in which we live is drifting further and further away from the world we knew, a world of blessing and life.
We used to take it for granted that the earth, the sea, the sky, God’s creation is secure and permanent. But no longer. Climate change, oil spills, drought, environmental degradation – the list of threats to our world goes on.
Fractured politics, failing economy, mass shootings, international terrorism, and profound stress in our personal lives – the ground is shaking under our feet. The old center does not hold.
We come to Jesus, seeking something more. Perhaps more urgently than we have in the past. We come seeking hope and security, seeking the assurance of the grace and love and life of God.
Like the man in the gospel, we ask: “Jesus, what can I do? What can I do to find life?”
In a few weeks on November 1, All Saints Day, we will celebrate Commitment Sunday, the day when the vestry asks all of you to support St. Pauls’ budget in 2016. Between now and November 1, you are asked to prayerfully consider what financial commitment you can make to St. Paul’s mission and ministry, and then come on November 1 ready to make that commitment. You will be asked to put an annual amount on your 2016 pledge card, which you will receive that day, and take it to the Altar as a sign of your dedication to the work of St. Paul’s.
We know that the church needs money to run. Perhaps we don’t like to talk about money in church, but know that money is necessary. We know that our mission, our life as a congregation, depends on the money we all give. Pledges and budgets are a realistic necessity.
But money and budgets do not satisfy the yearning we have for the grace of God. Pledges and Commitment Sundays are not the final answer for those of us who come here seeking God.
Not a final answer, but still – part of the answer. Making a financial commitment to the church is a step in our discovery and experience of God’s grace. Commitment Sunday can be a day when we begin to discover what we are looking for and hoping for.
Because Commitment Sunday is a call to follow Jesus.
It is a call to put our new mission statement into action – learn God’s word and live God’s love.
Unlike the man in today’s gospel, we are not asked to give all our wealth away.
But, like him, we are asked to put Jesus first and follow him.
The path of following Jesus which lies ahead of us in the next few months takes many forms:
For example: Searching for a new rector involves following Jesus. As we consider who will be our rector, we must think about our own faith and hope in Christ. Two weeks from today, I invite you to come to an all parish meeting at 11:45. Our search consultant, Kim Fletcher, will lead us in reflection and conversation about the qualities we need in clerical leadership. This take some time – the meeting itself involves commitment of time and energy. But it will be worth it. Please plan to come.
Another example: Following Jesus involves the things we do with our time and energy. So, this winter, we will consider more deeply our ministry of time, the stewardship of what we do with our lives and the gifts God has given us, our commitments of Christian service in the world. We know that stewardship goes beyond giving money. So, in Epiphany season we will consider all the ways in which we can show forth the light of Christ to the world through Christian action.
But first, on Commitment Sunday, we will follow Jesus by making a financial commitment to the life and mission of St. St. Paul’s for the coming year.
A pledge is a profoundly spiritual act. A pledge is an act of faith, it is a sign of our ability, our freedom to commit our lives to Christ.
And, our pledges together are signs of our commitment to the ministry of this church, the witness this congregation makes to our hope and life in Christ, hope that goes beyond terrorism, climate change, economic collapse, all those things in the world which assail us.
This is hard work. The man we meet in the gospel today was shocked at what Jesus asked, and went away grieving. Jesus asked him to follow in the way that was most difficult for him – and I might suggest for many of us too – Jesus addressed his relationship with money, his preoccupation with possessions and wealth, and asked him to let go. So he turned away, sorrowful. We don’t know if the young man ever came back. Maybe he gave up, maybe he quit seeking, quit hoping for God, or maybe he returned to Jesus. We don’t know.
But it is encouraging to remember that Jesus loved him anyway.
The disciples were shocked too. Even these closest friends and followers of Jesus thought that this way that Jesus proposed too hard to follow. But follow they did. They stepped out in faith, and, going through the eye of the needle, they found life. We will too. No matter how hard, how impossible we feel that the way is, there is grace, the grace of giving up, the grace of giving. And the fact that Jesus loves us, no matter what.
So – on Commitment Sunday, join the Saints all through the ages who have taken the step that is before you, that God presents and Jesus bids you to take. Follow the path of life in Christ and the discipline of letting go and giving from the blessings God has given us. Know that when we seek, we will find. We will discover what we are searching for – life, life eternal with God.
Make that act of faith and of hope. Make that commitment of giving from the abundance which God has given you and which leads you to new life in Christ.