Sunday, November 26, 2017

Moriah Hurst: God the just judge is seeking us - Christ the King Sunday

Matthew 25:31-46
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

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    As many of you know I bought a house this summer. What you may not know is that I bought a small farm. My little house is perched on a small hill with woods and fields around it. And with those fields has come my first experience of caring for goats. We raised sheep when I was younger and they have their own character and quirks but goats are a different beast and I am slowly learning what it means to be responsible for raising them, with all its trials and tribulations. When I hear the Matthew passage for today it is easy for me to go to stories of goats and sheep in my head but really that may just be confusing the point that Matthew is making. Sheep and goats may be more comfortable to talk about then the passages we heard this morning. Because what I read in these passages is judgment.
    Restoration is easier to preach than judgment, or so says the one of the commentaries I was reading about Ezekiel this week. I think I would have to agree. Judgment, hmm…how do I feel about judgment? Well, it makes me squirm. Some of the strong lines of judgment we heard in the texts today make me totally uncomfortable. There is little that is gray here and I am a person who kind of likes gray.
    But I do judge all the time. I want to be on the side of right and good and I judge others and their actions. And yet when I think about it I don’t want to be THE judge, I’m really glad I don’t need to decide who is right and good in the complexity of our lives. Which is a good thing because I’m not really sure if Mennonites can be judges anyway, are we allowed to do that?

    When I read all of Matthew 25 it confuses me. The two parables that proceed this story are ones that make me scratch my head. First we hear of the Bridesmaids getting oil or not and then being excluded from the party. Then there is the parable of the servants being given talents. Two invest or grow the money but the one who does not is punished. Reading these I feel my stomach flip, this is territory I don’t like treading into. People are being cast out and there is gnashing of teeth. Where is our compassionate God in this?
    Then we come to this story we heard read today. It starts with a grand picture. I can hear the trumpets and fanfare, see all those upturned faces waiting expectantly to hear the words of the Son of Man seated on the throne in all his glory. Yet as he starts to divide and judge the goats and the sheep there is shock and possibly horror.
    I grew up listening to the musician Ken Medima who has a beautiful way of telling stories in his songs. When I listen to this text I hear his setting of this passage. When both the sheep and the goats are given their judgment they are truly astonished and surprised. Who me? No! When did I do that? And I wonder how we would react. I have tried to be the good girl most of my life, would I be devastated and want to ask why? How? When?
    Do we fear others judging us and ultimately the judgment of God? Are we all longing to hear the words “well done, my good and faithful servant”?
    Many in my generation and those younger than me shy away from judgment; unless it is judgment of the judgmental. We value tolerance, openness and letting people believe or act how they deem as right. But we still believe there are rights and wrongs. We may just lean towards John 3:17 a bit “Jesus came not to condemn the world but that the world through him would be saved”.
    As Mennonite we have tried to be without spot or wrinkle. Trying to live out our faith in ways that are pure. Yet earlier this year many of us gathered to hear some of our history of how Mennonites were complicit with the Nazis. These stories hurt more because our forefathers and mothers tried to be in the world and not of it. Yet even as they came to the USA to enact their faith in freedom, they displaced the indigenous people of this land, stripping them of their land, their culture, their language and ironically their religious freedoms. Is there space for judgment here?
    We like to think that God is on our side, judging the other. My cousin and I have been watching a number of dramas lately about WWII. One of the things that hits me as we watch is that all sides think God is on their side. It seems easier to act if we think God will work for us and judge in our favor in the end. This seems true of our day and age and the way we treat those who are on the other side or don’t agree with us.
    As much as the Matthew passage made me squirm the Ezekiel passage drew me in. I honestly don’t remember reading this passage before. “Ezekiel was a prophet to those Judeans who survived the fall of Jerusalem…he ministered to the few who found a way to continue as the people of Yahweh in exile” (Knox Preaching Guides, p. 1). The passage just before this one judges the false shepherds or bad leaders of Israel with words and condemnation very similar to what we see in the Matthew passage. These shepherds did not protect and care for their people. The verses before today’s text say “Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds…and I will rescue my sheep.”

    In this passage we hear the words from a personal God. God who is the true shepherd. “God is the sole source and agent of salvation” – “there is no appeal to the (bad) shepherd to change, for it is too late for that.” there is little reference to human activity of any kind (Knox P111-112). This passage is God seeking, God coming to care for the sheep.
    We hear again and again the divine “I” and at some points for double emphasis “I myself”. It is God who will search, seek, rescue, bring out, feed, watch over the sheep and then restrain those who might hurt the flock. God will judge and save. “I will” is said 18 times in these 11 verses. These are commitments that God is making. This is an active God.
    What really hits me is that there is such love here and then, bam in vs. 16, we hear also of God’s justice. “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” This is not lovey dovey – this is a strong and powerful care.
    A few weeks ago in Kids Club we had prayer stations. At one of the stations the kids were led to think about images of God and how they see God. God is a rock, God is a mother hen, God is a strong tower, God is our refuge and our joy. Who is the God we see in this Matthew passage and here in Ezekiel? God as royal, God as a good shepherd, God as a just judge. I want you to think for a minute: what is the image of God you connect to? What is an image of God you struggle with? I invite you to turn to the person next to you and I’m going to give you a few minutes to tell the other person about what your images of God are.

    This is Christ the King Sunday. Is that an image of Jesus we like? What does it mean for us to look beyond Jesus as teacher, model and savior and to give Jesus the space of King and just judge? Because we don’t know what will happen when the final judgment will come. We are not the judge and thus we don’t get to decide about others fates. We are not the judge – God is, Christ is. What do we know is God seeks, God cares, God judges justly and we are judged by our care for the least and the lost.
    I am normally surprised when I ask young people what it looks like to be a Christian. I often get a long list of don’ts – Christians don’t swear, they don’t sleep around, they don’t drink, they don’t dance. The positive thing that I normally hear is that Christians are nice to people. But this Matthew passage says that our “judgment rests not on acts of wickedness but on (our) failure to act compassionately when faced with human despair.” (Matthew – A Good News Commentary p. 244). It’s what we don’t do that may get us into trouble. The good shepherd God of Ezekiel cares for the lost sheep and we need to join in that work.  We are called to accept God’s care and extend it to others – this is a God of complexity, care and judgment.

    Often after I hear a sermon I want to go back and read the texts again. Wanting to look at them after I have the insights of the sermon. In the same way that I love Lectio Davina where you can hear the text heard multiple times and new things stand out to you. So I invite you to hold your image of God as we close by listening to these texts read again.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Phil Kniss: The circle of trust

Stewardship: Trust and gratitude
Matthew 25:14-30

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on the second of two Sundays focusing on stewardship,
we have a Gospel story that is just classic,
when it comes to morality tales on good stewardship.

It’s a go-to story,
when a preacher wants to encourage generous giving,
and church finance committees just eat it up,
when the preacher chooses this story to expound on,
when budgets are tight, or the fiscal year is winding down,
or for some other reason,
they want us to be thinking about money.

Oh! . . . . . . is this . . .
is this the Sunday we are turning in our Faith Promises!
Oh, wow! Who knew? What a coincidence!

This story of taking what we are given,
and investing it in the work of God’s kingdom,
is, all joking aside, an appropriate story to read and think about.
There are good lessons to be learned in this text,
lessons on wise use of resources,
lessons on using our varied gifts for God’s mission,
lessons on valuing everyone’s gift, whether large or small.

Good stuff.
But in the context of inspiring us to meet a church budget,
something doesn’t sit quite right.
Is the message of this parable as obvious
as we who think about church finances would like to believe?
As far as inspiring generosity toward the church,
I think we can get there from here,
but it’s not a direct path.
I think we jump there a little too quickly,
and a little too self-servingly.

So let’s step back from these facts
that we at Park View have to finish 2017 in the black,
and need to draw up a balanced spending plan for next year,
while trying to figure out how to pay for a major building fix.

When Jesus told this story, I don’t think he had—
even in the farthest reaches of his mind—
any thought about the need for funding
the work of the temple in Jerusalem,
and the high costs associated with temple life and worship.

In fact, this story about bags of gold,
has nothing to do with money.
The gold was a metaphor.

I think what makes it so clear it was not about real gold,
or a lesson about actual money,
is that the whole premise of the story,
if we look at it through a financial lens,
is utterly ridiculous.
It makes no sense as a money story.

Metaphors need to be read as metaphors,
and not taken literally.

We know that. Like, when someone undertakes
the most ambitious project of their lives,
they might comment that this is their “moon-shot.”

The appropriate response to that comment is not,
“Sounds great, John.
But there’s a lot more to getting to the moon than you realize.
Have you been in touch with NASA?”

We can recognize our own metaphors pretty easily.
It can be a little trickier recognizing biblical metaphors.
But here is one, and let me unpack it.

First a quick review of the story itself.

A master goes away on a trip
and calls three of his servants to care for things while he’s gone.

One faithful servant is given five talents of gold—
a whole lot of money—
and he exercises good stewardship of what he was given.
He invests it wisely.
Doubles on the investment.
Returns it to his master.
And . . . gets a reward.

The second servant is given two talents—still a heap of money—
and he also is a good steward.
Doubles it, returns it, gets his reward.

The third servant gets one talent—still a huge amount of money.
But he is not a good steward.
He is short-sighted & self-centered.
He buries it in the ground.
When the master returns, the servant gives it back the way he got it.
And the servant is taken to task.
Being a poor steward catches up to him, and he pays the price.

Okay. What do we see here?
First of all, we see this is not really a story about some workers
and what they produced, or failed to produce.
It’s a story about the relationship
between a master and three slaves.

We are told that the master “entrusted his property” to his slaves.
That statement in itself, without anything else being said,
should make us sit up and say, “Ah! Metaphor!”
This would not happen in real life.
Just the liquid assets, the gold, was substantial.
This master was a “1-percenter” you could say.
One talent was worth about 15 years wages for the average laborer.
And one of the slaves got five talents.
Do the math.

It would be like the owner of a fast-food chain,
taking three of his minimum wage employees,
and handing them nearly two million dollars.

Would any master in their right mind
have entrusted this massive wealth
to three underpaid laborers?
This is the kind of trust you might put in a close family member.
If not a son or daughter, maybe a savvy niece or nephew.
And if not family, surely there was someone on his level,
another property owner, business colleague, investment broker,
someone with experience handling large amounts of money.
Then the story might make sense.
As it stands, it’s nonsense.
And all of Jesus’ listeners would know immediately
that he is building up a metaphor here.
The facts of the story are fantasy,
but he is going somewhere with this story.
So they are willing to listen,
to see how the story progresses.

Two of the slaves responded exactly the way the master had hoped.
With gratitude.
With responsibility.
With action.
Five talents became ten; two became four.

These slaves accepted their master’s amazing gift of trust,
and trusted him in return.
But the third slave dug a hole in the ground.
And he buried not only his master’s property,
he buried the relationship of trust.

And when the master returned, the slave said it to his face.
“I didn’t trust you.”
“I knew you were a harsh man,
reaping where you did not sow . . .
so I hid the money.”

The master showed enough trust and confidence in this slave
to place in his hands $250,000—a quarter million—
15 years of flipping hamburgers.
He trusted the slave to invest it for him.
But the slave couldn’t perceive it.
The slave could not accept this gift of trust in him,
because he had already decided not to trust his master.
Now maybe the master had indeed done some things
that seemed harsh or unfair, from the slave’s perspective.
But as a servant, his first obligation was to serve the master,
not to undermine the master’s work.

And . . . one could ask,
how could a master be as cruel and heartless as claimed,
and still exhibit so much trust and confidence
in his lowest servants?
How could someone so unjust and self-serving
have that much faith in persons under his total control?

Another reason why this story is an over-the-top metaphor,
is the master was offering his slave a partnership.
This is unheard of in master-slave relationships.

The master was the senior partner is in this relationship, of course.
I’m not suggesting the balance of power was equal.
But the master was offering a certain degree of mutuality here.
Both parties gave and received.
The master needed what the slaves had to offer.
He was going on a long trip.
His wealth needed to be managed.
He needed someone he could trust.
And the slaves, of course, needed the resources of the master.
On their own, without any capital,
they could never have survived,
much less become successful entrepreneurs.

This was a mutually beneficial partnership, here.
And what made it work was trust.
The master trusted his slaves by putting his wealth in their hands.
And two slaves trusted the master
by devoting all their time and energy
to fulfilling his wishes.
They trusted that in the end, he would treat them right.

That’s why the third slave was punished so severely.
He rejected this relationship of trust his master extended to him.
That’s why, in the end, this parable doesn’t work very well,
as a straight-up lesson in wise investing and personal stewardship.

Sorry about that, Finance Committee.
But I have to say I don’t think the slave was punished
because his talent did not earn enough.
He wasn’t punished because of poor investing choices.

I think if he had received the gift with the same attitude as the others,
and gone out and invested it as best he knew how,
he would have earned the approval of the master—
even if he was not able to double the investment,
even if his management skills were not up to par,
even if he made some unwise investment decisions,
and the bottom dropped out of the market,
and he ended up giving back to the master,
less than he had at the start.
Not everyone is able to be a shining success in business.

If the servant had gratefully received the gift of trust,
and showed some trust in return,
even if he failed miserably, I believe there would have been grace.

The servant was punished because he scorned the master’s gift—
he rejected the trust the master had placed in him.
He disrespected both the gift and the giver.

Keeping in mind that this parable,
and most other parables of Jesus,
were stories about the Kingdom of God,
I think we are best to read them through those lenses.

This is not a story about funding temple worship,
it’s not about being smart with money.
This is a story about orienting your whole life toward God,
in a posture of trust,
of self-giving,
of generous openness and hospitality,
of risk-taking for the sake of the kingdom of God.

God has entrusted us with much more than we deserve.
The gift of a quarter-million dollars,
pales in comparison to the many and varied gifts
our loving God has given to us in life.
God has given these gifts in trust.
God is this master, who “entrusted” the servants,
to look after all these things,
that God still owns, but is handed to us, in trust.
We are God’s trustees.
As low-level laborers,
we did nothing to earn that trust.
The trust is a gift, pure and simple.

God is still owner of all our resources.
Ownership has not been transferred.
But the trust? That is a free and unencumbered gift.
We can do with that gift whatever we choose.
We can treasure the trust God has in us,
and live accordingly,
returning that trust to God.
By so doing, we create a circle of trust.
God trusts us.
We trust God.
And God’s agenda gets accomplished.

Or we can do as the third servant,
and break the circle of trust.

The quantity of gifts is not the issue.
Whether we start with 1 or 2 or 5 . . . it matters not.
Exactly what kind of gifts they are, matters not.
Whether we successfully double the investment matters not.
It’s the trust that matters.
Have we returned the gift of trust?
Do we trust God sufficiently to invest our gifts in God’s enterprise?

We know what God’s enterprise is about.
God’s mission on earth is the same as it has always been—
building a kingdom of peace, of healing, of shalom.
God’s mission is to make broken things whole.
God’s mission is to turn violence and death into life and growth.
God’s mission is to take suffering, and transform it into healing.

If we use our gifts to accrue wealth and power to ourselves,
if we use our gifts in ways that oppress or harm others,
even if our investments multiply 100 times over,
it’s clear which of the three servants we resemble.

But if we use our gifts to bring hope and reconciliation—
in our personal lives,
in our communities,
and in and through the church—
if we use these gifts to nurture life and growth,
and bind up the wounds of this world,
then when the master returns to settle accounts,
we will hear the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant!
Enter into the joy of your master!”

This is where we come back,
in a round-about way,
to one of the important tasks we have in the church,
that of managing our financial resources well,
for sake of the kingdom.

We all play a part in that collective work,
whether it’s participating in the Faith Promise process,
or contributing in other ways toward our financial stewardship.

My prayer is that we will all do so in a spirit of deep trust,
a trust that is willing to take risks for God’s sake,
and for the sake of God’s mission.

My prayer is that this trust
is guiding your participation in the Faith Promise process,
and is guiding all the other decisions you are making,
about how you respond to the trust God has placed in you.

—Phil Kniss, November 19, 2017

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Phil Kniss: A whole-hearted life

Stewardship and a jealous God
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

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So what gives . . . with all this talk in the Bible,
about God being a jealous God? . . . 
Have you ever felt, even a twinge of discomfort
when you hear God referred to, as “jealous”?

Be honest. Doesn’t it sound a little . . . off?
like God is being a tad selfish? or petty?
that God would be portrayed in scripture
as having hurt feelings
if someone doesn’t pay him enough attention?

When we read a text like Joshua 24, or many of the psalms,
and get to the word “jealous,” 
we sometimes wish there was a good substitute word,
a euphemism maybe.

We know when humans are jealous,
it’s a sign of immaturity, more often than not,
it’s a clue that we’re not quite emotionally secure enough,
to allow a friend to share attention and admiration
with other people.

Not talking about protecting healthy boundaries in intimate relationships.
If a little jealousy helps us keep faith, that’s good.

I mean the sort of feelings we had in high school or junior high,
a sense of entitlement or exclusivity,
when we weren’t quite willing to share a friendship
that was meant to be shared.

But whatever the word “jealousy” conjures up for us,
this morning I want us to come to admire God’s jealousy,
to be grateful for it,
and to realize what a gift it is to our wellbeing,
and the wellbeing of the world.

So let’s first talk about Joshua, and what’s happening in chapter 24.
This is Joshua’s last lecture.
You probably heard of this at universities,
where professors give a public lecture,
as if they knew it was their last chance 
to impart any wisdom to the world.
It’s inspired by a professor at Carnegie Mellon 
who gave a public lecture
after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Some of you EMU profs have done this—
given your hypothetical “last lecture.”

But this is literally what Joshua is giving to the people of Israel,
his last lecture.
It says in v. 1 of Joshua 24,
“Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. 
He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, 
and they presented themselves before God.”

Joshua got straight to the point. And I quote,
“I am very old. I am about to go the way of all the earth.”
No denial going on there.

And then he proceeded to give a challenging last lecture
on priorities.
And it was timely, given their context.
By the time of Joshua’s death,
they had partly, but not completely,
been given their promised land.
They were no longer nomads, for sure.

They were becoming a powerful people in the Ancient Near East,
economically and militarily.
Other city-states in the region
had a healthy fear of what the Israelites could do to them,
because they had seen it happen to their neighbors.
Now, it’s way beyond the scope of this sermon,
to try to help us make sense of
all the violent stories earlier in Joshua,
describing Israel’s partial conquest of Canaan.
That’s not the focus this morning.

Suffice it to say
this was a people, once enslaved and poor and landless,
who were now a landed people,
with significant economic wealth and military might.

God . . . and Joshua . . . were worried.

That’s the context of Joshua’s last lecture.
He started out by reminding them where they came from.
They are the children of Abraham.
A nomad who went wherever God led him.
One step at a time.
All over Canaan.
This is the land in which their ancestor once roamed,
not always knowing where his daily bread would come from.

The fear that Joshua had, on behalf of their jealous God, Yahweh,
was that other gods were getting in the way
of them remembering their identity.
They were forgetting the kind of people they were destined to be.

Particularly, the gods of the Amorites, in whose land they lived,
had an appeal with the people of Israel.
Perhaps because the Amorites themselves
tended to be tall and strong and influential,
and were thought to speak a similar Semitic language.

It’s not a coincidence that they gathered at the city of Shechem.
This was a commercial center on vital trade routes.
It had political, economic, and religious significance.
It was one of the few cities the Israelites occupied,
where there is no mention of them destroying it first.
They may well have lived there in the city
with persons of other nationalities and religions.
So here at Shechem, the people of Israel stood 
at a theological and political crossroads.

Whatever the details were, this much is clear:
They were becoming a people with power,
having land,
having influence,
having commerce with other powerful people,
who were shaped by a very different value system,
and it was changing the people of Israel.

God had already set forth pretty clearly,
in the Exodus,
and the years in the wilderness,
what sort of God they were in relationship with,
and sort of people God wanted them to be.
And that was very different from who they were becoming.

So God’s jealousy is not merely about feeling slighted 
because his people are sneaking in some idol worship on the side.
God is jealous,
because as our Creator, God already determined and defined
the full and flourishing human life.
God gave humanity a precious gift—
the possibility of a full life reflecting the image of God.
God gave us the means to live lives of
self-giving freedom and joy,
and abundance for all,
celebrating the beauty in diversity,
showing compassion for the needy.
Idolatry undermines and trashes that gift.
The worship of idols,
stands for the very opposite of all that God designed.
It cultivates self-interest, 
fear of scarcity, 
fear of the other,
and all manner of other evil.

The God of Abraham has a heart for 
the poor,
the downtrodden,
the oppressed,
the dispossessed.
This is a God whose intention is deliverance,
full and abundant human flourishing.
That is what God is jealous for.
God is jealous for our well-being.
God is jealous for the shalom of all creation.

That kind of jealousy has nothing to do with insecurity.
It is a precious gift,
to preserve God’s good intentions for creation.

God’s intentions are all love.
And this love is mirrored in us, as bearers of God’s image.
It courses through our veins, and through all creation.
This love and longing is directed toward 
God’s saving and reconciling mission.
To worship God, alone, is to live the life we were made for.

We reject the many idols that would distract us from that worship,
not to satisfy God’s petty emotional needs,
but to help God fulfill God’s universal purposes for creation.

That is why Joshua was so pointed and passionate 
in his plea for the people to put away their idols,
and choose to worship Yahweh,
who was jealous for them to fulfill their created purpose.

Joshua saw how compromised they had already become,
so he put before them a challenging choice:
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve—
Yahweh who delivered you from slavery 
and led you through the wilderness, or
the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.
As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

So the people got all excited and motivated by Joshua’s lecture,
and declared anew their loyalty to the one God Yahweh.
But Joshua didn’t buy it right away.
They were too compromised by their idolatry.
He said, you are not able to serve the Lord.
God is holy. God is jealous.
God won’t stand for your compromises.
You are in open rebellion, in sin.

But the people insisted they would put away all other gods,
and serve the Lord alone.
Thus, a new covenant was established there at Shechem.
They would make a new start.

It was a stark choice the people of Israel faced that day.
And it may seem hard for us to identify with this ancient story.
But I have to wonder whether this is not also our story.

We, too, are compromised by the gods of the people 
in whose land we have taken up residence.

The Israelites, a once-enslaved people,
a once-nomadic people who depended on God for daily bread,
were, tragically, seduced by 
the extravagant life and abundant land in Canaan.
They no longer saw themselves as servants of 
the God of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger.
They no longer even recognized the core spiritual values
of the God who delivered them from Egypt.

Could that be our temptation today?
Could that be the seduction of life in 21st-century North America?
Do we even recognize the God that calls for our allegiance?
the God who is jealous for our future well-being,
for the shalom of our cities, our nation, our world, our planet?

We have choices available to us.
Here, at our Shechem,
at the crossroads of everything that tempts us,
we have a choice to make.
Who will we serve?
Israel had to decide.
The church today needs to decide.
As families, we need to decide.
We, individually, need to decide.

We might even say, that in some way,
God calls civil society to decide.
What kind of people do we want to be?
That’s one of the questions our political systems are faced with,
in this tumultuous time we live in.

But those on the receiving end 
of this challenging question in Joshua 24,
are the people of God who have a particular identity and calling:
to reflect the purposes of God to a watching world.

Who will you serve?
The Lord? 
or your idols?
The only true God and Creator of all,
who made you, and names you, and loves you?
or the many things in this world that distract you 
from worshiping the true God of all?
When we answer that question right,
we are also in a much better position 
to live well, in a chaotic and wounded world.

Reminds me of the great Bob Dylan song,
“Gotta Serve Somebody.”

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.

And it goes on for about 8 or 9 verses like that.

If you want to be inspired sometime on YouTube,
when you get tired of cat videos,
listen to the blues great Etta James,
sing her version of Dylan’s song,
“You gotta serve somebody.”
You could worship to that!
In fact, I’ll play a 1-minute clip of it now.

You gotta serve somebody.
And those words are just as challenging to us today,
as they were when Joshua spoke them to the people of Israel.
“Choose this day whom you will serve!”

Sisters and brothers,
we live in distracting times.
We are at great danger, at all times,
of misdirecting our worship.
We are constantly at grave risk of the sin of idolatry,
the sin that offends God most.

God is a demanding and jealous God,
and I’m so grateful.
I need a clarifying purpose and focus,
in this world of constant distraction,
that pulls me in a dozen different directions,
but mostly, pulls me into myself,
encourages me to focus on my desires and my fears.
We need this gracious gift of a God 
who is jealous for our undivided loyalty.
Who wants all of us. All the time.
Who wants worship that is whole-hearted,
and whole-bodied,
and whole-minded.
God wants worshipers who are all in.

God’s jealousy is a gift to us all.
It saves us from a destructive self-obsession,
and keeps us aligned with God’s priorities 
for the poor and oppressed.
It’s a gracious gift to us that God is jealous
for our whole-hearted lives.
God’s jealousy is an expression both 
of God’s commitment to God’s cause, and
of God’s unconditional love for those of us
partnering in God’s cause.
God would not be so offended by our worship of idols,
if God didn’t love us so deeply and so unconditionally
and so irreversibly.
God wants us all in with God’s project,
because God is all in with us, to the end.
And God has made known to us
what will give us the most joyful, and free, and whole,
and flourishing human life.
And that is, alignment with God, and with God’s purposes.

This is where we start—with whole-hearted devotion,
offering our whole lives to God alone, in worship.
This is where we need to start whenever we talk about stewardship.
I didn’t even mention the word stewardship 
until here at my conclusion.
I don’t want anyone to think that we at Park View
are mostly interested in getting people to give their 10-percent
into our offering plate.
What we advocate for here is whole-life stewardship.
That we give it all, every moment, of every day,
in every situation we find ourselves.
Anything less is idolatry.

We might want to hold back some for selfish purposes.
But that is not what God is asking.

Let’s sing a hymn that talks about that exactly.
HWB 512 - a wonderful hymn text by Tom Troeger.

If all you want, Lord, is my heart 
my heart is yours alone 
providing I may set apart 
my mind to be my own.

If all you want, Lord, is my mind, 
my mind belongs to you, 
but let my heart remain inclined 
to do what it would do.

If heart and mind would both suffice, 
while I kept strength and soul, 
at least I would not sacrifice 
completely my control.

But since, O God, you want them all 
to shape with your own hand, 
I pray for grace to heed your call
to live your first command.

—Phil Kniss, November 12, 2017

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