Commitment – John 14:23-29
Jesus answered Judas (not Iscariot), "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
After a two week hiatus I have been invited to return to the task of preaching. In order to earn back this honor and privilege I had to promise that I would never again talk about ripping the lips off of a fish, which was the primary illustration of my last sermon! So instead, we’re going to talk about stewardship. Although, I think some of you would rather talk about ripping the lips off of fish!
Today is commitment Sunday – a day when you are asked to establish (or reestablish) your commitment to the ministry of Christ’s church with your financial resources, time, abilities, and ideas.
I’ve had to be reminded on several occasions that the term “commitment” is intentional and important at Cross of Grace. Conversely, I grew up in, and served as pastor to, congregations who used the word “pledge.” A parishioner would write down their financial pledge on a pledge card and drop in in the offering plate. A pledge, by its very definition, is a non-binding declaration of an intention to contribute something of value.
Remember that next time you think about the Pledge of Allegiance. By calling it a “pledge” we are voicing our non-binding declaration of an intention to contribute something of value. Kind of cheapens it a bit, doesn’t it? The words we said every day when school started – the words our kids say every day still now – are a non-binding declaration of an intention to contribute something of value. That doesn’t sound right.
The financial commitment card we have asked you to fill out – as well as the time and talent sheets that we hope also ends up in our offering plate – they are more than a non-binding declaration of an intention to contribute something of value. A commitment is an obligation (which I realize has a negative connotation) but it’s true nonetheless. A commitment is a binding declaration of an intention to contribute something of value.
A pledge is what you say when you recite rote words before the American flag. A commitment is what you do when you enlist to serve your country.
A pledge is what you do when you show up in a congregation. A commitment is what you do when you look at the world God has blessed you with and say, “I have something of value to give in response to God’s love that I have felt in this place.”
So let’s make sure we’re all on the same page here. What we are asking for today – what we are celebrating today – is your binding declaration of your commitment to the mission and financial health of our church and the church throughout the world.
I doubt that I ever made a pledge when I was growing up in the church. But I know that I made a commitment. It was a commitment learned from my parents who decided that regular participation in worship and the life of the church would be part of my life from my earliest days. It was a commitment shaped in response to the people from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green, Ohio and St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Archbold, Ohio – the people from every generation who took me under their wing, supported me unconditionally, and gave me a glimpse of what a congregation serving Christ was capable of. It was a commitment to dedicate my vocation to serving people and preaching the good news of grace through Jesus Christ.
Once you make a commitment to the church, your life is changed. You are no longer on the path of your own choosing. It’s a bit like falling in love – you cannot possibly know when it will happen, but when it does, everything changes. It’s permanent and it’s transformational. All of the sudden you are invested, you have a stake, you are bound together.
I am a product of a church that loved me unconditionally. That’s why I’ve committed my life to its service. I am a Christian. I am a Christ-follower. I am a sinner. I am a saint. And I am committed to spreading the truth that God is not a distant, detached being somewhere in outer space, but rather a loving God who lives among us and intends to transform the world around us so that all people may know the truth about the power of forgiveness, love, and grace.
If you’re not ready to fill out your commitment card or your time and talent form, then don’t fill it out. If you cannot imagine committing to the life and ministry and well-being of the church, don’t just turn in something to feel better about yourself or because it seems like everyone else is doing it. Take it seriously. Think deeply. What are the gifts that you have received as a part of Christ’s church? What do you have to share with others?
If you have received nothing, than you have nothing to give, and that’s my fault as much as anyone else’s. But I think that you are here today because you have received something. And if you've received something that means you have something to give back – something that someone else in our congregation or community will receive as a gift. This is precisely how the church will continue to thrive for another 2,000 years.
Jesus told his disciples, “Those who love me will keep my word…Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
The dollar amount you indicate on your commitment card does not indicate whether you love Jesus or not. Signing up for the most ministries on the time and talent sheet doesn’t earn your salvation. To say otherwise would be outright manipulation. But the truth remains that God desires your love and commitment. Commit to Christ’s church what you can of your finances, time, and talent. And do it with seriousness, faith, and trust that God will work through this motley crew of saints and sinners to bring grace to a world so desperate for good news.