Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
Matthew 22:34-46

Next Sunday is the New York City Marathon and it’s All Saints Sunday.  Day Light Savings Time ends so don’t forget to set your clock back an hour.

We will be celebrating Holy Communion Sunday as we always do on first Sundays; it is also Stewardship Sunday.   And though it might be somewhat of a challenge for some of you to make your way across blocked off streets, cheering fans, and thousands of runners, I want to encourage you to start out early, press your way, and make the effort if you can.  What better time than All Saints, and Holy Communion, and shared life to come together and celebrate our stewardship of this Church that has been entrusted to our care! God has trusted us with it; can you believe that?  Trusted us to be the body of Christ in this community, in this city, at this time.

I want to ask you to also prayerfully make a pledge for 2018.  To be mindful of fulfilling your 2017 pledge that is due before year end and to also make a pledge for the coming year.  Next Sunday instead of passing the plate for the offering we’re going to ask you to bring it forward as well as your pledge card.  Now, I know that some of you have already mailed in your card, you’ve responded to the email request, some have mailed it in, and that’s wonderful and amazing, but come forward anyway and as an act of solidarity of our commitment to this church, let’s offer ourselves and our pledges together.

I’m going to also ask our friends, especially those who have been journeying with us for a while.  Not necessarily the first time visitors although if you wish, please don’t let me hold you back.  But if you have been coming here week after week, month after month, or for years, appreciating the experience of worship, finding friends and purpose, I’m going to ask you to consider making a pledge to our church and signing on with us in this way.  We know that it takes people sometimes years before becoming an “official” member, doesn’t it?  I understand. I get it.

I do quite a bit of marriage counseling.  People come to me all excited about their wedding.  The date has been set, bridesmaids identified, gowns picked out, diets started.  They come holding hands, smiling, looking all sweet.  Often they have been living together 2, 3, 5 years already: sharing life, paying bills, figuring it out.  Some of the first questions I often ask is: “Why do you all want to do this?  What do you think you’re going to get now that you haven’t had before?”

They look at one another stunned; can’t believe the pastor just asked them that.  But then, they inevitably say something like:  “We want to make a deeper commitment; we want to take this thing to the next level.  We want to shut it down; take on something new.”

They know that there is something more beyond what they already have; and it is that good and precious thing of buying in; signing on, making claim on one another that they desire most of all.

My brothers and sisters, it is quite possible to live one’s entire life on the fringe: at work, in relationships, within our families, in the church.  It is possible to always live on the outer perimeter, never fully landing or making our way into the circle.   But I want to invite you to come into the circle – members and friends alike.  Become part of this family.

Stewardship is about faith.  It’s not about how much we have or what someone else has or what they are doing.  It’s about how we are being stewards of this place and the ministry God has entrusted to our care.  It’s about how the Church registers within us and how we understand its meaning and purpose and our own part in its existence and viability.  It begs the questions:  “Why am I here?  What can I do?”   Why am I here?  What can I do?

It’s about staking our claim. Now, giving is not the only way.  No, there are other ways, of course: bringing our talents, expertise, knowledge, good-will, and service; bringing it freely and offering it however possible is also about stewardship.

But the way we think about money; our money, the money we have access to, what we do with it, how we use it in relation to other things that we want or we want to do; how we prioritize and sacrifice; take the risk of maybe not being able to have something or do something because we want to honor our commitment to the Church is a great window into what we really think about it.

It’s about commitment and how we weigh in. Together, we are the body of Christ.  Together we can do what we cannot do alone.  Together we can ensure that worship happens; the kind of worship that reaches down and strengthens the soul.  Hymns and anthems and prayers lifted; the word is preached that gives people hope and helps them realize that they can press on a little bit further.  Children learn the basic tenets of faith early on; “we are baptized as children of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit; claimed as God’s own forever.”  We recognize the meaning of these words and how powerful they are.

We understand that if Chase and others can grab ahold of them early on and if it is repeated over and over in meaningful ways; and if he can carry it throughout the course of his life – come what may – he may very well have a life; a rich and meaningful life, loved, and assured.

Together, we can begin to dream new dreams about what is possible for our collective work in the world right now.   We might not be able to solve all the world’s ills but we can do what we can do.  We can feed hungry people; brainstorm about immigration programs for immigrant families and put ourselves in that place of being in a strange land with little to no resources to help.  We can have forums like Isaiah’s Faith and Public Life where we talk about issues pressing down around us and maybe. just maybe. we can learn how to be safe with one another and have difficult conversations so that healing can occur.

In our Old Testament passage this morning, God said to Moses, “Tell the people be holy, because I the Lord their God, am holy”.[1] The very thought of it makes us cringe, doesn’t it?  Be holy.  Who wants to take on such a lofty burden?  But maybe the definition has been tainted some.  Maybe we have marginalized it to fit into our categories so that its original intent has lost its meaning.

God says, “Be like me.  Be holy.” And then goes on to describe what holiness means: “Don’t hate your neighbor, don’t judge them, don’t steal from them, don’t show partiality or preferential treatment to one person over the other.   Love them.”[2]  Every single one.  Love yourself.  For you are worthy and capable of goodness, joy and peace; you are worthy of receiving it and giving it away.

That doesn’t sound quite as bad, does it?  Still daunting, but at least achievable somehow.

Love God.  Love neighbor.  Love self.  In other words: buy in; all the way in.  Don’t hang out on the edge, don’t hide in the fringes.  Get all the way in; go all the way.  Stake your claim in the movement.

That’s what God did, isn’t it?  God staked his claim in us and still does, no matter what.  God decided and God has never reneged nor given up on that claim regardless of what we do; or what we say or how we act.  God still claims us as God’s own.  Be like me, God says.  Be like me.  Get all the way in.

I’m asking you to stake your claim in this church and our shared life.  Our shared life means that sometimes things may not go the way we want.  We may disagree, but the bigger thing that binds us together is greater than our individual desires and opinions.  It means that progress must be made; the church must move into an ever changing future.

Who knows what that future might be?  I surely don’t.  But what I know is that if we don’t plan for it and work toward that end, it won’t look very pretty.

We don’t have crystal balls and we don’t know about tomorrow; how long we’ll be here.  What life might bring.  I don’t know and you don’t either.   But what I do know is that while I was here, I was here.   I tried.  I gave everything I had.  I took claim of the charge that was placed upon me and did my best.  Can you say that with honesty and integrity?  What I also know is that if Jesus leads us, if we follow his way – and I believe he will – we’ll end up where we are supposed to be.  We’ll get home someday.


[1] Leviticus 19:2b Paraphrase

[2] Leviticus 19:15-17 Paraphrase