Words are important. That may sound like a silly thing to say, but words matter. Words help us understand and interpret our world in ways that no other creature can interpret. When words are foreign or unfamiliar they trip our tongues and leave us feeling embarrassed or unsure if we have even communicated what we intended. This happens in restaurants across the land every day. I’ll never forget the night when I learned what steak tar-tar was, right in front of my date for prom.
Sometimes we even remake words to fit our own objectives. Although there are plenty of examples of public gaffs in the news, my favorite is a personal experience. Several years ago my father (pronounced in southernese as “fah-thah”) was writing down my itinerary for an international flight. I told him we would be flying into Accra. He asked me how to spell it. I told him. He repeated, “You’ll be flying into Ah-kra.” I interrupted, “No, Dad. It’s pronounced like Uh-krah.” He continued, “Ah-krah.” But I just let that one go. After all, we have a town in Georgia called La-fayet that is spelled just like Lafayette.
The thing is, it’s not just the way words are pronounced that matters – although finding agreement with others is a big part of what makes us more or less comfortable. It is the choices that these words reflect that truly matters. For example, “Consecration” has been chosen over “dedication” or “commitment” to describe what we are doing today. But why?
It has been said that all you need to know about dedication and commitment can be found in a plate of bacon and eggs. The chicken committed its unfertilized egg to your breakfast, yet the pig was dedicated to it. But what about consecration? How much farther than the pig can we go? Consecration means being dedicated for a holy purpose. Consecration means making a breakfast that you will not eat.
Maybe there isn’t enough bacon to share and you want to be sure that someone who is beloved to you gets the last piece. Maybe you are cooking for someone who is truly needy and would otherwise go without food. Or maybe you aren’t cooking at all. Maybe you are providing resources that will grow and feed others in the future like the community gardens and orchards that are popping up in several congregations in our Presbytery.
However it gets expressed, the idea of consecration requires us to think about the way that God is active and present in the world and the way that we might reflect what God is doing in our lives.
In our Old Testament reading, we find that Job realizes that even with all of his trials and losses he is still beloved of God. Job realizes that his friends have forced his hand into a fist shaken at God, and he repents. He turns from selfish concern and prays for his friends. And because Job recognizes his place before God, he is able to receive restoration from God. And because he understands that restoration comes from God he is able to share what he has with those who have known him all along.
This is not the prosperity gospel. Job does not give so that he can get. He does not receive so that he can give. He simply recognizes his limitations, prays for those of others, and shares what God has given him.
In the same way Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to tell them that their competing agendas were a denial of the active presence of God. In competing over teachings and leadership they were squeezing out the space for God’s active presence. He didn't use the words “repent” or “penitence,” but it seems clear that he was telling them to let go of personal agendas for a shared hope. And that hope is based in an understanding that while each of us has certain things to do – planting, watering – God is the one who provides the growth.
Not only that, but realizing that growth is in the hands of God moves us to build on what God has done through Jesus Christ. And because of what God has done, nothing will last unless it reflects the grace, mercy, and healing that we have received.
So, we have the opportunity to know ourselves as beloved of the God of all creation through the forgiveness that we have received through Jesus. Think about that. The One who spins quarks and planets and paints rainbows in the sky as a promise of peace cares about you. How else could we respond but to confess our lack of understanding? How else can we respond but to let others know that God cares about them, too?
Yet how often are we like the crowd that follows Jesus, totally self-absorbed and wanting to protect him from the voice of the one who is truly needy? But that doesn’t really matter, because Jesus hears the blind. Jesus sees the blindness of the crowd as easily as the blindness of Bartimaeus, and he stops. He stops and reorients the crowd. Suddenly they change from, “Hush.” to “This is your lucky day!”
But I wonder if they see their own blindness. We don’t know. What we know is that Jesus asks the man, “What can I do for you?” Well, duh. What do you think he wants, Jesus? Maybe a better question is, what does Jesus want? Jesus wants him to confess his limitation. Because it is through confessing our limitations that we realize that we need God. And then our faith – which is made possible by God – brings healing and restoration.
Of course healing may take a lot of forms, and it may not even be physical at all. What matters most is that we understand that God is with us, working in and through us in ways that restore life in all its fullness.
Yes, you are beloved of God. Yes, discovering that you are God’s beloved compels you to share that love. Yes, sometimes we share that love in ways that we never see the results of – in fact I would say that’s the way it works more often than not.
I learned of one such example in our last Presbytery meeting. It came in the form of a Synod report. The Synod of the Sun is a large region of Presbyteries that covers LA, TX, OK, and AR. We tend to think of them as a source of Administrative Commissions rather than mission and service, yet they are involved in projects that range from solar power for developing nations to racial reconciliation in the US. A small portion of our offerings support the Synod, and it’s important to hear this story.
While I did not record the names, the important details are that a congregation in a small town in Texas that was traumatized by a race related murder was wrestling with how to respond. It is a 20-member congregation with about a $30k budget and no Pastor. With the help of our Synod, they called a Pastor – but not for themselves. They called a Pastor for the specific purpose of creating dialogue, reconciliation, and spiritual healing in their neighborhood. And that is exactly what she has been doing. The congregation planted the seeds. The Synod provided the water, and God is providing the growth.
That has been the theme of our Stewardship campaign this year, “I planted. Apollos watered, and God provides the growth.” A few weeks ago you heard about the ambitious conversation of the Session that the Rev. Barry Chance stirred up. Since then, our conversation has become more focused, and it has even taken on a confessional quality.
As we consider God’s amazing love for us, the history of this congregation, and the resources that we’ve been given, the Session has recognized three areas that we feel called to respond to with greater resources. The first is to continue increasing our commitment to the Presbytery. The second is to increase our resources for local outreach, and this is where it gets personal. While we have deep partnerships in the community, the Session believes that these resources need to be used to support our own efforts of outreach into the community.
Maybe this will take the form of a backpack ministry that feeds children who are dependent on school lunches. Maybe it will fund a music camp for underserved children. Maybe it will support some other ministry that you have been burning to get started in this community!
The third area of consecrated giving the Session is supporting is the continued development of our youth and children’s ministries. And before any of you tells me that they are the future, hear me when I say that they are a part of the present and that we will grow in faith with them.
Now, these are all great priorities, but first we need to plant the seeds. By now I imagine you have decided what a faithful pledge will be for your family. Some of you are able to tithe, and some are working toward a tithe. Your Session and I have already made our pledges as a demonstration of our commitment. But more than that, what I hope you will consider today is that you are God’s beloved, that being loved is not earned but it does compel a response.
While your response is always a personal commitment to demonstrate God’s love, it always involves others. I pray that you and I may have the courage to call out to Jesus in our blindness, to reach out to those who call in their own blindness, and to demonstrate the growth given by God through the unity of our voices in this time and this place. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen!