Sermon Ideas 4U - Archived Sermons -- AFTER Advent 2002
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November 12, 2017, -
Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
Matthew 25: 1-13
In early September, before the start of classes, my first year at Mount A, university officials gathered the first-year class together in Convocation Hall and gave us this message: “Welcome to Mount Allison’s Convocation Hall. Take a good look around; only half of you will be back here to graduate.”
An uncle told me that his university had a similar assembly when he began his engineering program in the 40s. Stated explicitly was the instruction to chose work and study over parties and leisure. I remember the student who received a standing ovation at convocation; he enjoyed being a student so much he spent 6 or 7 working on his degree! Another friend from those university days got this encouraging verse from his grandmother:
“Go to college, get the knowledge, stay there till you’re through. If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can make something out of you.”“Oh, there’s nothing to it all. Just a few meetings, a few nights in the year, it’ll take no time at all really, you’d be perfect.” Have you ever gotten a call like that from someone looking for people to fill volunteer positions on a church or community committee? After you said yes, you discovered that it involved a great deal more responsibility, time, skill, and stress than you had been initially led to believe.
I wonder if the Nominating Committee of an organization would be well to say something like this: “Hi, Im calling to ask you to be a board member of the XYZ Foundation. I know that your whole family has been committed to this organization for many years, but I do have to tell you that it’s almost an impossible job. New tasks will come to you by email almost every week. No mater what you do, someone will be unhappy and stop donating, complain about it on Facebook and try to undermine your authority. But you’ll be perfect because its something you will really find meaningful and you can make a difference in this role. ”
Today’s passage from the book of Joshua features the equivalent of “drawing a line in the sand”- “CHOOSE”, along with the warning, “Are you sure you want to do this; it’s not going to be an easy job”.
You all remember that one of the “10 Commandments”, given to the people while they were still in the desert, was, “thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
One of the things to which the biblical story alludes is that Abraham was not born into what eventually developed into Judaism. There were many “nature religions” and “fertility cults” in that area which were concerned with paying homage to the gods who were seen to be responsible for good crops, good herds and many children. The “golden calf” incident that took place while Moses was on the mountain would have been an example of the people already worshipping another god, a god of fertility.
Abraham’s story was one of journeying in faith and trust. He journeyed away from his extended family in a time when that meant everything, including life and death. His descendants were called to take a long term view instead of relying on immediate success or being discouraged by temporary failure.
When we look at this passage we need to also keep in mind that the people standing before Joshua on this long ago day were probably not all “children of Abraham.” Some may have been the descendants of slaves of other ethnic groups and just “tagged along” on the way out of Egypt or they may have joined up at some point in the wilderness journey - they were there an entire generation, and had to have encountered other groups along the way! Therefore some of them would have had direct experience of other forms of worship and beliefs and the close proximity of other cultures would continue to present a constant temptation to begin to lose their faith in the God of their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, the God who had led them out of Egypt into the land of promise.
This is a clear test of loyalties: follow the God who has given us victory. Rely on this God. BUT, watch out, this God will get jealous if you are not completely loyal.
On this long ago day the people are very certain about their loyalties. As their story continues though, they do not always live up to the promises they made. Prophet after prophet would have to remind them of the call of God and the covenant to which they had agreed.
The gospel passage, a parable told by Jesus, is about ten bridesmaids, five of whom were prepared for the delayed start to the wedding and five who weren’t. It seems that Jesus also felt a need to call people to be prepared for the unexpected in the life of faith.
So what does this story from the life of the people of Israel under the leadership of Joshua have to do with us, where we are in 2017?
We live in a time of many competing loyalties. Children grow up with peer pressure which seeks a uniformity of attitudes, apparel and activities, usually in defiance of their parents’ views and actions. However, the pressure to “keep up with the Jonses,” is little more than “peer pressure - adult style”. “Everyone is going to XYZ vacation destination, or doing this or that on the weekends! ”
Of course we know that making a decision means that we exclude another decision. Despite the advances of technology we can’t be in two places at once and have everything. A great deal of unmanageable credit card debt comes from people trying to have everything they want and have it now, instead of waiting. We are often pressured to consume more and more and sometimes we just have to say STOP.
I like the Chinese food buffets because I don’t have to choose; I can literally have some of everything on the steam table but generally you have to choose one entree, one appetizer and one desert! Sometimes my budget does not allow me to eat what I want.
I have met more than one person over my ministry who changed jobs because their current job was too draining. Their new job paid less than their old one but they were happier and felt more fulfilled and learned to live on less.
I have a cousin who lives in a modest bungalow. It’s all she and her husband want but for years they were badgered by real estate agents who wanted to list their house, with the reasoning that they should upgrade and make room for a young family. Surely they want and need something bigger, newer, fancier. My cousin was happy where they were and still are.
Our culture pressures us to look out for #1. Look our for our own family. Look our for our own community. Look out for our own province and country.
Yet the gospel message calls us to love of neighbour and it’s clear that there are no boundaries to the Christian neighbourhood.
Even in the life of faith itself we can be tempted to choose a self centred, “gospel of prosperity” over an outward looking faith. The message from some pulpits is, “God wants you to be rich and if you are rich is a sign of God’s favour. You are doing things right.” It continues, “Get right with God, trust in Jesus and you’ll go to heaven.”
Our culture has many forces which encourage us to ask the question, “What’s in it for us?” we don’t need our religion to be doing that as well. Faith is meant to draw us to God, AND to others, not inward to a faith that starts and stops at a so-called “personal relationship.” Even a personal relationship must be lived out in the community and rub off on those around us.
Christianity is about more than being “saved FROM” an eternity in hell. I contend that Christians should be “saved FOR something?”. I see a relationship with God, not as a private possession, but as a way to keep things in perspective and help make a difference in the lives of others.
I get almost daily facebook posts which are of a similar theme: keep charity as close to home as possible. One the other day seemed to pit the needs of homeless veterans against those of refugees! I responded to one, “We should be doing both.”
We in North America are tempted to forget our history. Over time, the people of Israel forgot theirs and had to be reminded to, among other things, welcome the alien and the stranger because they had been aliens in Egypt. They had to be reminded that they had not been created in the land in which they were living.
At some point during my years at Mount A, I saw two films which have stayed with me for all these years. The first was an old scratchy film in which Dr Bob McClure, a former moderator, who had spent most of his medical career in mission hospitals associated with the United Church, was relating a conversation he had with someone in a developing nation, “ask your friends, was it your ancestors who put the gold in the rocks of Canada.”
I began to wonder, “Why is it that we think our natural resources are for us and only us”.
The other film that has given me much food for thought was equally old and tattered. It was about the beginnings of the l’Arche communities and featured their founder, Canadian, Jean Vanier who gave up various career opportunities to make his life with two men with developmental disabilities in the small village of Trosly-Breuil, France - the first of what would become many communities. There’s been one in Wolfville for years. One of their “mottos” is “if you are not there you are missed.”
Do we follow a God who calls us to reach out to others, welcome the stranger, and make sure our trust is well placed. How will each of us complete the phrase, “as for me and my house ......”
1995- 2017 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.
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