October 9, 2011
Exodus 32:1-14; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
Today is the kick-off for our annual stewardship campaign. Our Bible texts today all invite us into lives of total commitment, not just with our financial treasure, but with our whole lives. The envelopes you receive today contain both a financial commitment form and a Time and Talent Sheet so you can indicate your commitment to Hope’s ministries. Let’s look at the various ways the scriptures call us to a total commitment to God.
... In Exodus, we remember that in last week’s reading, Moses received the commandments from God. They are simple commands, and one of the first rules says: do not make any images of the Lord. That means: no statues, no little carved objects, no pictures, no golden idols depicting God. We are to worship an invisible God with a mysterious presence and commitment. God wants a trusting commitment from God’s people.
The people, however, are not used to such an arrangement. They are used to having a statue to remind them of their God. So, while Moses is up the mountain again, and for a long time, the people become worried that he is not going to come back. Aaron tries to hold everything together, and believes that the golden idol is a good compromise to appease the people until Moses returns. So, Aaron arranges for the gold to be melted and shaped into a calf, and they begin to worship. Some of the Hebrew language indicates that this may have been a wild party, with many kinds of revelry.
When God sees what has happened, God is upset and determines to destroy the people and start over with Moses and his family. Moses challenges God and gets God to rethink that decision. Moses is a leader with a brain and with courage, even the courage to stand up to God.
In response to this challenge by Moses, God is gracious and gives the people another chance. Still, the message is: God wants the people’s wholehearted trust and loyalty.
... In our gospel story, Jesus tells a story about a king who throws a party for his son. The king invites lots of people, yet they refuse to attend. There all have flimsy excuses, and go so far as to mistreat and murder the slaves who come bearing the invitations.
Imagine that you receive an invitation to President Obama’s second term. Would you be excited to attend and make plans for travel and clothes shopping? Or tear up the invitation and throw it in the trash? At least, we probably will not attack the mail carrier.
When the king’s invited guests refuse the invitation, the king sends out invitations to all people; anyone the servants see is invited. There’s plenty of food; it makes no sense to throw it out, right? Many people accept the invitation, and the hall is filled with guests. The king is happy, until he notices that one of the guests is not properly attired. He kicks that guest out of the party.
Suddenly, as we read, we are puzzled. Wasn’t everyone invited? Why is this guest not welcome? What do clothes have to do with attending this party? ... Just like today, some people attend events just for the food. They have no intention of being part of the community. And Jesus says, if you don’t want to be part of the group, get out.
This parable is a thinly veiled reflection of Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish and Roman leaders. It is also a parable about discipleship. Some people followed Jesus just to see the show. They have no intention of being part of the community, no intention of giving their lives to Jesus. They have chosen to not put on the garment of discipleship.
We are called to do more with our lives than come to worship on Sunday mornings and never think of God again until next Sunday. We are called to put on the garment of discipleship and give God our all, our best.
... In Philippians, Paul calls his beloved community to a joyful, total commitment to following Jesus. He wants all people to be part of the faith community, also with joy and love and justice for all. When there are disagreements, the folks should work together to find peaceful solutions. And in all things, people should seek the best: whatever is true, holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise.
... So, using this theme of total, joy-filled commitment let’s look at how our commitment has done ministry this year. First, I want to share with you how we came to make the changes to the beginning of worship that we started today.
We had a couple of concerns: it was taking too long to start worship because of the announcements, and many people want to listen to the prelude as a way to prepare for worship. The worship and music committee wrestled for about half an hour with the topics and drafted a proposal for the council. The council also wrestled with the topic for about half an hour. The conclusion is what we announced this morning: announcements will come at the end of worship, and the prelude will be part of worship just after 9:30.
The reason I’m sharing this with you is because it shows we have learned to disagree and find a compromise while respecting all points of view. During both conversations, no voices were raised, no one said it had to be their way or else, no one threatened to walk out. Our goal was to find a solution that would work for the entire community of Hope and for our visitors and guests. I see this as a major step toward Paul’s image of a community that works together seeking the best: whatever is true, holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise.
Second, our time and talent commitment has enabled us to worship and serve God in so many ways. We gather for worship each Sunday, Wednesdays in Lent and Advent, and occasionally for a healing service, funerals and weddings. We put together quilts, shoeboxes, health and school kits. We send cards to soldiers and to each other. Our buildings and grounds are well-maintained, even though they need a lot of work. We give in-kind gifts to needy families and to a local school. We serve on committees and council. We help fold bulletins and newsletters.
Our financial gifts support our ability to do ministry. With our finances we make sure we have a building in which to gather, heated and air conditioned, lights, water, insurance, computers and internet connections. With our shared financial treasure we have paid staff: organist, choir director, choir accompanist, all to enhance our worship. With our shared financial treasure we have a custodian to keep the buildings clean and tidy, a secretary to process all sorts of paperwork, greet visitors and members, assist us in communicating with each other in many ways. And we have a pastor to preach, teach, lead, guide, comfort and challenge us.
This year, as we consider how God has blessed us, and how we may be able to pass on those blessings, I invite us each to consider the amount of commitment we have to God. Let’s seek to wear the garment of discipleship and make our decisions with complete trust in God to provide for us.
Please pray with me: God of abundance and grace, send your Holy Spirit to us as we pray and ponder our commitment of time, talent, and treasure for the coming year. Encourage us to be as generous as you are, offering the best to you and to each other: whatever is true, holy, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise. Amen
Picture of golden calf
What do you think God looks like?
The ancient people often thought God looked like things in nature: like a mountain, because it was strong; like a bull, because they are powerful; like a woman, because she can have babies.
Long, long ago, God gave our ancestors ten rules to live by. We call them the Ten Commandments. One of the rules is to not make any pictures or statues or God. In today’s reading, the people made a statue of a calf, a baby bull. God didn’t like it.
God doesn’t want us to make pictures or statues of God because God is not like any one thing on earth, and God is bigger than anything we can imagine.
God loves better and forgives better than any person on earth. God has a bigger heart than anyone on earth.
So, when we try to figure out what God looks like, it’s better to figure out how big God’s heart is.
Pray: thanks for the big heart.