Commitment Sunday (Lectionary 32) 11 November 2019
(2 Chronicles 24:13 Psalm 84 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 Luke 20:27-38)
“Claiming this Building for the Work of God’s Kingdom!”
There are many ways to preach a sermon on Commitment Sunday. One obvious way to begin might be by looking a little closer at what the word “commitment” means.
The word “commitment” comes from two Latin words, “com – mittere,” which means “to join with,” or “to join together” or simply, “mutual engagement.” All of these definitions have one thing in common: Commitment is always about being in relationship with others.
So I thought the best way to get a glimpse of our commitment to St. James is by sharing a few stories of how we are joined together – because we live in our stories—St. James lives in its stories.
Here are four stories of commitment!
(#1) A woman shows up at church on a Sunday morning. It becomes evident that she does not have a winter coat. As she and I talked after the worship service, two different couples from the congregation come into the conversation. Before we were finished, each of these couples left here, went home, and came back with several winter coats. Before my very eyes I saw winter coats multiply and this woman left here that day with a coat that could keep her warm into the winter months.
(#2) A prisoner is released from the Adams County Correctional Facility early evening, but until the paperwork is completed it is close to midnight. The person’s only relatives live close to Philadelphia and he has no transportation to get there. A member of our congregation is awakened out of sleep at midnight and asked to provide transportation. Eight hours later this member of St. James returns to his warm home.
(#3) A group of people are looking for a building to serve as a Resource Center for a new homeless initiative in this community called Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S. St. James has a house on York St., that was being used to provide housing for seminary families, but votes overwhelmingly to offer Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S. the use of this building as their Resource Center.
(#4) A torrential rainfall hits the Gettysburg Community and York St. becomes a river threatening to flood the lower floors of the church. Several members respond and spend many hours into the night making sure drains and clear, pumps are running, assuring that our Early Learning Center will be able to open on time the next morning with dry floors.
These are only snippets of who we are here at St. James. There are many more stories and you all are in those stories! This building provides the heartfelt focus for our engagement—beginning with weekly worship and moving us into faith active in love. Luther would say that it is the “liturgy that takes place after the liturgy” that makes us who we are! In every one of those stories I shared at the beginning of the sermon, those stories are examples of the “liturgy” that takes place after we are sent forth from here to “Go in peace to serve the Lord!”
This building stands as a beacon of service and hope to countless individuals who come here daily for AA meetings; to those who come through our doors seeking help with shelter from the cold and rain, for food and gas. And it stands as a quiet, prayerful place for those who need solace from the brokenness of our lives hearing the healing Water of Baptism.
So today, our commitment is to the repairs and upgrade of this building, certainly, but our commitment is to so much more—it is about our being part of the story that is St. James. And it is even more than that: it is our commitment today to the work of God’s Kingdom, and by your commitments together I want us to claim this building to continue the work of the Kingdom of God! Let’s claim this building yet one more time to do the work of the Kingdom of God!
We are not just rebuilding walls and roofs and lighting—we are rebuilding people.
In the Chronicles text we heard this morning, the prayer text for this Campaign, the Temple is being rebuilt after the exile in Babylon; but in similar fashion they really were rebuilding the People of God to bring them together once again.
The Gospel text is part of the journey narrative in Luke, as Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem to die. What we heard was stories of how some Sadducees, high priests of the temple, try to trap Jesus, take Him off course. And they do so with bizarre questions about the Resurrection. Our challenge today is to not get off course on the journey of our Campaign. Elizabeth Howes,1 one of the scripture scholars we looked at on Wednesday morning, suggested that the condition of Resurrection is for action on the part of the individual, turning from a life whose central focus is limited to personal desire, to concern for a life of fullness. This understanding of Resurrection becomes the driving force to hold all people together for all that is life-giving in our lives today.
Final Story: When my wife, Lois, and I were in Scotland two years ago, we went to the island of Iona, to the Abbey, originally built in the 7th century. Because of war and simple neglect this amazing building had been left in disarray. More recently, it has been and continues to be rebuilt and restored. In the Abbey courtyard there is this fascinating and evocative figurine made out of bronze. It looks like a mini-space capsule. Some think it looks like a tulip bulb! It has been used in many ways as a focus of reflection. It is named, “The Decent of the Spirit,” and the artist describes his work as a reminder that humans need better understanding between them so that the work of the Spirit may prevail!2
On this Commitment Sunday for our Capital Campaign, my prayer is that we will continue to be engaged with each other in the work of the Gospel, creating more stories of who we are, and by our commitment today we will, yet one more time, claim this building for the work of God’s Kingdom so that the work of the Holy Spirit will prevail!
Come, Holy Spirit, come! Amen.
1. Jesus’ Answer to God. Elizabeth Boyden Howes. The Guild of Psychological Studies Publishing House. 1984.
2. Iona, God’s Energy. Norman Shanks. Wild Goose Publications. 1999. p. 14.