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November 6, 2011

A sermon preached at the White Plains Presbyterian Church

on Stewardship Commitment Sunday, November 6, 2011

 Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25          Matthew 25: 1-13

“Stewardship is everything that happens after we say ‘I believe.’”

– C.S. Lewis

Commitment is not a word used by the gods. Gods like words like majesty, honor, glory and power; you know – words you can build a reputation on. Gods, beings gods, tend to have a monopoly on these things, which is, of course, why people worship gods. Majesty, honor, glory and power attract followers, inspire obedience and enforce dependence. But Yahweh was not like the other Gods. According to the psalms, Yahweh left the court of the Gods and built a reputation on commitment, risking the divine reputation on a relationship with a people.

According to Walter Brueggemann, “The Bible is a dispute about the identity and character of the true God.”[1] The Hebrew Scriptures we read week after week narrate Yahweh’s slow withdrawal from the court of the gods. Yahweh is portrayed as one who “bears none of the marks of a god,” that is, Yahweh acts in ungodly ways. For Yahweh is not interested in protecting godly majesty, but is willing to get involved in the concrete and dirty struggle to liberate slaves from Egypt. Yahweh is not interested in being self-sufficient, but rather enters into a relationship of dependence and trust with a free people. Yahweh bears none of the marks of a god. For Yahweh is not interested in being worshiped for having divine power that is destructive and manipulative, but rather is the one who restrains divine anger and will not destroy us. Instead, God uses divine power to save, to persuade, and to call. These relationships, this justice, this act of salvation, liberation and call in our scripture, is named Covenant. The Biblical Covenant is the first act of a new kind of God who is unlike the others. A god certain that real saving power is found in uncompromising faithfulness — a posture the other gods in heaven could not condone. So our God leaves the heavenly court and travels with the people, with the oppressed into freedom, with the ill into health, with the powerless into a community of shared power and justice.

But, the biblical idea of covenant is not simply a discussion and clarification about the character of God. Israel understands that every notion of God carries with it a proposal for the organization of society. Being the people of this kind of god does not imply ooing and aahing at majesty, honor, glory and power, but living up to the relationship: caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. The covenant is an agreement to be not only God’s people, but people just like God. A covenant people believes that salvation is found in the act of uncompromising faithfulness, in commitment to God, creation, and each other. 

Last week the Presbyterian Mission Year Book for Prayer and Study described the uncompromising faithfulness of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia.  Listen for how they are living the covenant.

“In a culture that is filled with death, we choose to live the resurrection.” That’s how a church leader in the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC) responded when asked how he was able to dance and laugh in the face of great fears and hardship.

In a country that has been wracked by violence for over sixty years, with one in ten people displaced from their land and many people caught between state and guerrilla/paramilitary violence, the people in the IPC maintain their commitment to grow their church deep and wide. They advocate on the side of the displaced, are an active part of human rights networks, and work to organize new church communities amid the most affected. They do all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. They do this with the confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide them. They do this knowing that God is the God of all things and that even in dismal hours there is hope to be shared and grace to be found.

So they have men’s gatherings in Uraba to encourage more involvement in service. They hold Christmas parties for displaced children from Ciudad Camelot. They educate accompaniers from the United States so they can return and share their story. They believe things can change. Because even though the news from Colombia might seem more like Good Friday than Easter, the people in the IPC know that God has made a way out of no way in the past, so there is every reason to think it can happen again.[2]

Commitment lived.  Amidst violence and hardship the IPC fosters commitment to the most vulnerable, commitment to hope, commitment to God.

Commitment is not a word used by the gods, but commitment is the word used by our God. The church is the community attentive to the dangers and possibilities of solidarity in a culture that thrives in and celebrates our divisions and isolations. It is a place where we recognize and realize the cost of commitment in a society which no longer affirms its social commitment to those who are economically marginalized, rejected or deemed failures. And if we are open to the text, the church is a community of people who recognize that salvation comes not to individuals, not to communities or congregations, not even to a church, but to the nations.

Joshua’s call to reclaim the covenant with God is not first and foremost a text to be preached, but a text to be done, enacted, reclaimed, affirmed, lived. But hear Joshua’s warning to the people, reclaiming the covenant is a dangerous and subversive act, because it commits us to a God beyond ourselves and our interests, beyond our group or community, beyond our congregations and church, above our nation. It commits us to a rather ungodly way of life, serving each other, risking our selves, and throwing our lot in with other people. Will you, then, dare to reclaim the covenant?

Let us pray:

God of Israel, God of all nations, God of all worlds, who chooses to sojourn with us through this beautiful creation, we seek to love you with our hearts and our understanding and our strength, that our thoughts and motives and energies might be committed to serving you through the people and circumstances we encounter day by day. Strengthen us to be not only your people, but people like you. And as we prepare to bring forward our financial commitments to this congregation, may they be a sign of our preparedness to walk together now and in the future:  to serve, to risk and to endeavor for one another and for the world you love.  O Holy One who risked your own divine reputation for a relationship with us, in our culture filled with death we choose now to live resurrection.  Amen


[1] See for example Prof. Brueggemann’s recent book The Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. (Fortress Press, 2009). “The big idea of this book (that echoes the big idea of the Old Testament) is that the God of ancient Israel (who is the creator of heaven and earth) is a God in relationship, who is ready and able to make commitments and who is impinged upon by a variety of ‘partners’ who make a difference in the life of God.” (from the preface)

[2] The Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study is available online, and may be accessed in a variety of ways. It can be read online, delivered daily via email, followed on twitter, fed to your Facebook, or received as a podcast.  Check it out at

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