Today is Consecration Sunday. Consecration—It means to bless, to sanctify, or to make holy. This is the Sunday that we consecrate the pledges that we have made to the mission and the ministries of this church for the coming year.
Now, how do you suggest, pray tell, we do that? Exactly, how are we going to make these pledges that are in this box holy? I know how some churches do it. They get themselves a holy man with some holy hands to make the pledges holy. The holy man simply comes, reaches out and everything the holy man touches is consecrated, sanctified, blessed and made holy. The holy man might even have some holy water to help really make some things holy.
Problem is: where are we are going to get a holy man? Does anybody know one? Look around. Does anybody see a holy man in this room? Oh, no. Don’t look at me! Wearing a robe with the pretty stole does not make one a holy man!
And you know better than that as many of you have known me a long time. I have been called a lot of things, but I don’t think anyone has ever called me a holy man. And the only holy water I ever had (if coming from the Jordan River makes it holy), was poured out earlier this month in our baptismal pool.
So, how in the world are we going to consecrate this box, sanctify this box, make this box of pledges holy, without a holy man or a holy woman?
Well, let’s turn to that place that all Christians should turn when they have questions about faith and the church. Let’s turn to the Bible, and more specifically, let’s turn to Jesus.
In this morning’s lectionary lesson, we find Jesus doing something he absolutely loved: telling a story. And not just any story, but a story about who God is, how God acts, and what God desires. And if we want to truly live in the image of God, the story is also about us.
Jesus said, the way God is, acts, and thinks is like a landowner who went out around 6 am to hire some workers for his vineyard. He said, “I will pay you the going rate for 12 hours’ worth of work: 120 bucks.” They agreed and went to work.
At 9 am, he goes out and hires some more workers, and tells them that he will pay them whatever is right. He hired a few more people at noon and told them the same. Then went out and hired some at 3 pm and then even a few more at 5 pm and telling them, “Come and work and I will pay you what is right.”
At 6 pm, when the work day was over and the time had come to settle up with all of the workers, he called up the ones he hired last, who had only worked for only one hour, and shocked everyone by paying them each $120.00.
Well, the ones who had been working for 12 hours started to get a little excited. “Boss man paid them $120 an hour! Let’s see, $120 times 12 hours, uh, that means we are going to get paid $1,440 for our work!”
It is then the boss does something that is even more shocking. He gives those who had worked all day the exact amount he gave those who had worked for just one hour. And you better believe that when they got their check, they got pretty upset: “We have worked out here all day in the scorching heat. And you paid us the same as the ones who worked only an hour in the cool of the day!”
The boss replied: “Did you not agree to work all day for $120? Or are you just envious because I am so generous?”
Of course they were upset because he was generous, too generous. He overdid it with generosity when he paid those last workers, and there was nothing fair about it. It was shockingly offensive.
This, Jesus says, is who God is, how God works, how God thinks, and what God desires. In other words, this, says Jesus, is holy.
So what is it that makes something holy? According to Jesus, it is an amazing grace, an overdone generosity that is so unfair that it is shockingly offensive.
Now, back to the box. Once again, are we going to make the contents of this box holy? Well, according to Jesus, we do not need a holy man or a holy woman with holy hands or any holy water, which, by the way, is good news, because we certainly don’t have any here.
I believe Jesus would say that these pledges in this box are made holy by the way we give our offerings to fulfill our pledges, and by the way we use these offerings after they are received.
First of all, the ones who made the smallest pledges in this box have as much worth as those who have made the largest pledges in this box. And those who joined this church just a few weeks ago and their pledges, are as important to this church as the ones who joined this church 50 years ago and their pledges. No, it is not fair. It is shockingly offensive. But it is holy.
Secondly, all of these pledges will be made holy if the offerings that are given to fulfill the pledges are given generously and graciously. Jesus says that when the landowner paid an entire day’s wage to those he hired at 5:00, he was essentially paying for nothing. He paid for labor that he did not receive. Therefore, he gave freely, selflessly and sacrificially. He gave generously, expecting nothing in return.
It is interesting to hear some people say that they give to the church expecting to somehow be blessed by God. I cannot tell you how many testimonies I have heard from people on Consecration Sundays about giving a large offering to the church on Sunday, and then on Monday morning, opening their mailbox to find an envelope with an unexpected check inside of it. Or how after they gave to the church their business grew, their sales increased, or a rich uncle died and left them a bunch of money.
The landowner paid some of the workers for 12 hours of labor and only got 1 hour. Therefore for 11 hours, he paid for nothing. He got nothing in return. It is not fair. It is shockingly offensive. But it is holy.
Thirdly, all of these pledges will be made holy, if the offerings which will be given to fulfill the pledges are used to give to others, graciously, selflessly, sacrificially and generously.
We are to give to those who cannot give us anything in return. We are to love those who will never put a dime in our offering plate. We are to use our offerings to reach out to those and care for those who will never do anything whatsoever to benefit our church or our lives. They might live as far away as Nicaragua, West Virginia, and many live right here in Farmville.
I believe this gracious type of generosity that Jesus expects us to have is evident in the way we minister to children and youth: those little ones who have no job, no income, nothing to offer us in return.
Now, I know some churches will say: “if you minister to children and youth by having good and strong programs, then you will get their parents to come and give, maybe even their rich grandparents.” But during the next year, I believe God wants us to minister to our children, finish our basement, purchase children’s choir robes, overdo it with Vacation Bible School, buy some playground equipment, send some kids on a mission trip and send them back to camp, expecting absolutely nothing in return. It is not fair. It is shockingly offensive. But it is holy.
Fourthly, we are also to give generously to those who simply do not deserve our generosity. The landowner gave to workers who did absolutely nothing to earn their pay.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a lot of talk in the media about giving. During this time of the year, many organizations try to raise money to help the less fortunate. In nearly every plea I hear, someone will say something like “Donate this year to a deserving a child.” “Give to the well-deserved needy in our community.” Through this parable, Jesus implies that when we give, we should give maybe especially to those who do not deserve, have done absolutely nothing to earn our generosity. It is not fair. It is shockingly offensive. But it is holy.
This is how we make this box of pledges holy. And we can do it without a holy man or a holy woman with holy hands!
Which brings up an interesting question: If we can make this box holy, if we can consecrate and sanctify our pledges and our offerings, can we then consecrate our lives? Can we make our lives holy? Can we perhaps be holy men and holy women with holy hands?
Through the parable of the workers in the vineyard, I believe Jesus is suggesting that we can.
To make this happen, I believe Jesus wants us to simply get over the envy that we possess by the overdone generosity of God’s grace. And I believe the only way to truly get over it is to understand that we are the recipients of it. We need to understand that there is nothing any of us have done to deserve or earn the gifts of God’s grace. No human being ever did anything to earn the gift of life: the gift of birth; the gift of breath and a beating heart; the gift of feeling the warmth of the sun or a cool autumn breeze or a purple and gold sunset. And no person has or will ever be able to earn, do anything to deserve rebirth, unconditional love, forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal. They are given as free gifts of an amazing grace and an overdone generosity by a loving God. I believe when we understand this truth that all is gift, all is grace, and when we embrace this truth, we will begin to live this truth. We will live it by giving our lives freely, selflessly, sacrificially and generously and thus live in the very image of God. And guess what? Our lives are consecrated and sanctified. They are blessed and made very holy.
Well, how about that! Look around this room. I see a room full of holy men and holy women and holy boys and holy girls with holy hands to go with, what we are going to make together in this next year, a very holy box.