It is Consecration Sunday. To consecrate: it means to “set apart,” “devote,” “dedicate,” “commit.” Today, with our presence, prayers, and pledges, we consecrate First Christian Church to the selfless, self-denying, sacrificial service of God in this community and in our world. We set-apart, devote, dedicate and commit ourselves to the difficult journey we call discipleship, a journey that calls us to lose ourselves, empty ourselves, and pour ourselves out for others; a journey that calls us to lose our pride, our possessions, even our lives.
And as painful, as difficult, as taxing, and as costly as this journey is, Consecration Sunday is the day we claim it, and commit ourselves to it, believing it is the only journey that leads to true life, abundant and eternal.
And after being around you folks now for a couple of weeks, I believe with all my heart that the First Christian Church of Farmville is more than ready for this day of Consecration. And believe it or not, I can just look at you this morning and tell that you are ready.
I believe you are ready simply because you are here. Like all churches on the discipleship road, this church has experienced a few bumps, several pot holes, a little bit of mud, some rocky terrain, a couple detours, and although you have even gotten close to going over the cliff, you have somehow managed to stay on road. And in many ways because of that, you are more committed and more devoted than ever to seeing this journey through. I know you are ready to commit to this journey because you are here.
And let’s face it, you could have made the choice with the majority of Americans to stay home today and experience God on your back porch or patio with a cup of coffee or during a morning run or walk in the park. But you made the difficult decision to get up, get dressed and drive to this place this morning. Some of you came here to sit beside of people with whom you could not disagree more, with people who have at times made you angry or even made your cry, but you still came because you are committed to something that is much bigger than your feelings, your emotions, even your life.
Rev. Lillian Daniel, pastor of First Congregational Church from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, has said: “Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party, but has a baby who is crying while you are trying to listen to the sermon. “Community,” she says, “is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask the hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.”
She continues: “I think a lot of those who can’t tolerate organized religion are really just frustrated by other people. They think, ‘If they could just kick all of the flawed human beings out of the church, we could really do this Jesus thing. Better do my spiritual life solo, where I don’t have to be disturbed by the amateurs.”
I have a confession to make. During my break from pastoral ministry, I often felt the temptation to go solo with my faith. I would go for a Sunday morning run along the Tar River in Greenville. There, I would pray and enjoy being alive in God’s creation, and think to myself, “this is the way to do church! There is no one to disagree with me. There is no one sharing their problems with me, making me uncomfortable, and taking up my time. And I must confess, it was rather nice!
However, I must confess it was also very selfish. It was arrogant, and it was self-righteous. The truth is: it was the very antithesis of who Jesus calls us to be as his disciples.
One day, perhaps one Sunday at 11 am, Jesus decides to have some church. He gets the word out that he would be leading worship, preaching a sermon, and then afterwards having a covered dish or a nice catered lunch. And people from all over town came to the service. Of course, other religious leaders and people of faith came carrying their Bibles: Pharisees and scribes, deacons and elders, Sunday School teachers, and other respectable, well-dressed and well-groomed church people, even some from other congregations in town.
But then through the front door entered the other people. You know who I am talking about: the others—those who tempt us to find Jesus alone with a cup of coffee and a sunrise—those others, who are just so, well, “other.”
It was then that it came. It came in whispers and it came in murmurs and it even came in a few gasps the sound of grumbling. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The truth is that being the church that God calls us to be in this world is in itself a selfless, sacrificial, self-denying journey because it calls us not only to welcome, accept and love others; Jesus suggests that “others” is who the church is actually for.
Jesus asks, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he finds it?”
Well, Jesus, do you really want us to answer that question? Do you really want to know if we are willing to risk 99, forget about their wants and needs, just so we can go after one that has lost his way? And just how did he get lost in the first place? I hate to say it, but he probably deserved it. It makes more sense to make sure the more deserving sheep that have not strayed stay safe and comfortable. Do you really want us to risk losing the entire flock for one lost soul?
Then Jesus says, not only do I want you to risk the entire flock, put their needs and their wants last, but when you find the lost, I want you to put him up on your shoulders and throw one big party! Because, when one lost soul is found, that is exactly what the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Angels are doing in heaven!
Then Jesus asks, “which one of you women, having 10 coins, and loses just one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house and search until she finds it?”
Well, Jesus, it all depends. I might look in a few places, but I am not willing to move any furniture or tear the house apart. And I might look for an hour or so, but I am not going to waste an entire day. I think I’m better off to use my time and efforts to hold on good and tight to the on other nine. Make sure they stay safe and protected. Doesn’t that make more sense?
Jesus says, “It may make sense to you, but not to my Father and the heavenly host. I tell you again, when you exist and act on the behalf of the lost, on the behalf of the other, although it might cause some in the church to grumble, the angels are singing!
And if we are all honest this morning, we would admit that we understand the grumbling. There is something within all of us that would prefer to be a country club for the ninety nine. Deep down, we prefer to hold on to each other, comfort each other. After all, membership should have some benefits for its members. It is not easy consecrating the First Christian Church not for us here on the inside, but for all those others who are on the outside.
It is not easy consecrating ourselves to leave our areas of comfort and safety and venture forth into the world share the good news that Jesus came and died for all people. However, although we may want to grumble, there is absolutely nothing than can stop us from this consecration. We have been through too much, the road has been too long, too bumpy and too muddy, too rough, and we’ve been too close to edge of the cliff to turn back now!
I once belonged to a church that had beautiful stained glass windows that told the gospel story. The first window portrayed Jesus’ baptism; the second, the call of the disciples; the third, the feeding of the five thousand; and so on. And then they portrayed Jesus’ crucifixion the resurrection and the ascension. Each window was imprinted with an appropriate scripture verse for each scene.
We had a guest preacher one day who pointed out how the stained glass windows should be taken out, flipped around, and put back in so that the gospel story could be seen, the scripture verses read by the people outside of the church, instead of to the people who were already on the inside.
It was a great sermon illustration. For it not only illustrates why we need to fix our own windows here where they can be seen by those outside our church, and we need to do it sooner than later, it illustrates that Jesus wants the church to always, selflessly and sacrificially, exist for the other, the outsider, even if it causes some to grumble.
Fred Craddock, one of my all-time favorite preachers, who I have quoted for 25 years, who by the way just happens to be ordained as a Disciple of Christ, tells the story of a local church that had a lot of grumblers. Although their sign out front read, “A church that serves all people,” when all people would show up to be served, the grumbling became so intense that it continually drove the newcomers away.
“Would you look at how long his hair is? Do you see all of those piercings! Oh my word, how those children are dressed! He sure is odd. She’s certainly strange. Don’t tell me we are now going to be a church for those people?
About ten years went by. When, one day, Craddock was driving down the road where that church was located when he saw that the building that once housed that church had been converted into a restaurant. Curious, he stopped and went inside. In the place where they used to be pews, there were now tables and chairs. The choir loft and baptistery was now the kitchen. And the chancel area which once contained the pulpit and communion table now had an all-you-can-eat salad bar. And the restaurant was full of patrons—every age, color and creed.
Upon seeing the sad, but very intriguing transformation, Craddock thought to himself, “At last, God finally got that church to serve all people.”
It is Consecration Sunday and we have come too far to turn back now. So, today we set aside, devote, dedicate and commit our presence, our prayers, our pledges, our budget, our building our windows and our very selves to the service of God in this community and in our world NOT for the benefit of the 99, but for others.
The road has been long and the going has been rough, but because of that we are stronger and more committed than ever to see this journey through. Although this way is narrow and at times uncomfortable, we are still here. And while some may grumble, we have decided this day to exist for others and sing aloud with the Father, Son, Holy Ghost and Heavenly Host. Then, at the altar we are going to lay our pledges to continue this journey as we make our way to the fellowship hall sit down together at the table and enjoy one big party!