A World with Limits
Joshua 24: 14-25
MATTHEW 6: 24-34
November 12, 2023
Well, you don’t see a certain 4-year-old here with me this morning … it seems that 4-year-olds spending a weekend with their Babu’s and Bibi’s for the very first time at Babu’s home, around the corner from St. Paul’s in West Deptford, don’t always sleep soundly, wake-up as you expect, or become totally agreeable when they don’t know where their moms and dads are. Time alone with Babu, Bibi, and great grand mom Gigi with a few animals tossed in. Thereby creating a world with limits for their grandparents who are merely trying to be compliant and make the little one happy.
Truth is … many adults whom we know and perhaps even some of us have chosen to not put a limit on our engagement with the world’s all too many gods but instead have created a world with limits when it comes to focusing in on … worshiping God and connecting with church or even investing in our church’s future. There are other priorities … and we don’t even seem to notice anymore the closing of neighborhood churches leaving their mission work, feeding the hungry, and instilling basic rules for living and caring for neighbors much less a connection with Jesus Christ to other places called church whose numbers are vanishing as everyday people embrace their own special elements out in the world while hardly giving any support to their church.
In our reading from Joshua today we heard his frustration with the people identified as God’s people. He stressed to them that it was about time to make a decision about what mattered … a life choice no different than the choices people who are aware of the reality and benefits of church, faith and worship need to make today, choices about priorities and values. Joshua declared that it was time … to put aside all those worldly gods that the the people of Israel had been investing in and valuing above the true God. It was time to not only serve the Lord but to revere the Lord … pretty much honestly love God as if God was God. Invest in God. He pretty much shouted at them to make a decision … you heard his words again, they could “choose the gods whom your ancestors served” but Joshua firmly and clearly declared a statement most of us have heard throughout our lives because of church, “my family and I will serve the Lord.”
End of story … acknowledging the fact that just as in the 21st century humanity lives in a world with limits and pressures to fit in, but our freedom comes with a requirement to actually make a choice. And, frankly, there is no choice in that choice we have to make.
Have we had enough of the world’s stuff … are we so focused on investing everything we have from our time and our dollars into the world’s indulgences that we have chosen to reduce or even limit or eliminate what we give back in faith to ensure that God’s missions on earth are accomplished? It’s a difficult challenge to even talk about because so many folks will be quick to remind you that it’s private or personal; their decisions whether or not to include church finances or personal volunteer time amongst their priorities of life …. No one’s business but their own. However, God knows … God knows.
We don’t have to look very far to notice the impact of those pulling back from valuing God those putting a limit on God rather than the world. Clearly, whenever less is given or devoted to their faith walk or their churches it also means that there will be less opportunities for the churches, they claim to love, to actively embrace Jesus’ statement related to believers, “And, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and Swedesboro, and Thorofare, and to the end of the earth.” At times … it does make one wonder if the limits we humans want to have in our lives are limits on a God or Christ connection hoping to pay the least expensive ticket to get to heaven for our eternal days … certainly not a cost that impacts our world values or investments … do as little as possible for God, Christ, and church and hope God doesn’t notice our priorities … our worldly investments of time and dollar.
Who do you serve? Who does your family serve? What example for living life is the one that you knowingly offer month-to-month, week-to-week, and even day-to-day?
Jesus made it clear, “No one can serve two masters …” NO ONE. And, as we witness the closure of churches … witness the shrinking of attendance numbers and even the elimination of Christmas Eve services that have stood for decades as traditions of churches … one can only wonder how quickly we forget the miracles of God in our lives; the miracle of God in the lives of people who matter to us; and the true benefits that a faith-connection can bring to families and to humans as they journey in life.
Jesus in today’s Gospel is still preaching from the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Last week we heard the Beatitudes, but Jesus had more to say, and Matthew captures a clear message that needs to resonate as much today as it did on that hillside. Jesus is talking about priorities … priorities for those who connect to God; you know the faithful, people who say they have Jesus Christ as part of their lives. In the version I memorized as a kid Jesus declares, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”
We hear Jesus remind us of this message when he tells the rich man to give away all of his possessions and to pick up his cross to follow Jesus. I am reminded of the incredible saints of the church who gave their lives in faith trading away their very future on earth fully aware of the world’s limits while acknowledging heaven’s rewards. We know the story of Columbine students, Cassie Bernall and Vallen Schnurr, who had to answer the homegrown terrorist’s question as to whether they believed in Christ as the automatic weapon was pointed at them … their answer we believe. Our own Terry Davis as she sat in her apartment earlier this year told me in each conversation that we had in those last days how much her love of God meant to her … how much this church meant to her … how she looked forward to being with God but also with a sense of missing all those she loved. I could share the stories of so many saints today … they figured out the world’s limits so they valued investing in God, in their faith, and in their churches fully knowing that if a community lost its churches, if people diminished their God connection … that future generations would spin hopelessly downward.
And, Jesus said “Stop worrying about tomorrow, isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes …” In fact, just before Jesus shared the message we heard today He said, “Where your treasure is … there your heart will be also.”
This week we have kept our friend Mary Ann in our prayers … three weeks ago it was me … if you have ever spent alone hours in a hospital bed with a serious and mysterious health condition that could potentially end your days on earth you pause and think. Believe me, for all my years of preaching and church attending … I have been healthy and never took medication and frankly rarely if ever seriously considered the next destination of my journey even though I believe … but in that bed I grew angry, I prayed pleading prayers wondering if I really had done enough … I prayed hard for my doctors and nurses … I wanted to live and here I am today. Mary Ann I am sure had similar thoughts but the truth is … Jesus paid a price on the cross but we have a decision to make as to whether or not we want to be part of the community that actually connects with God through Christ. We all know the truth that James wrote about … if you don’t show your faith through your life’s actions then that faith is really dead.
And, perhaps we need to start counting our blessings that we have because of church … because of faith … because of God.
As we approach Thanksgiving … as Christmas and a New Year wait for our calendars to rapidly flip through those special days … I have come to again realize that when we make the decision to do as Bobby McFerrin sang, ‘Don’t worry … be happy’ because when we set aside our worries … when we are happy … we can experience a better life and that better life friends … just look around this church. A better life comes from being in a community that loves you and cares for you. If you haven’t discovered that by being wrapped up in God’s love your worries will vanish then it is time … Jesus said it,
“Don’t worry about your life …. Stop worrying about tomorrow.”
So a little homework for all of us … what are you worrying about? Write it down and then put that list in prayer to God …
As Thanksgiving approaches remember to be thankful to God for all that you have been blessed with and I will state this faith community is a good place to start if you can’t think of something that God has given you that is special. A loving church that is still accomplishing missions and growing because of the faithful who understand the importance of keeping the lights on, sharing food, and inviting new people to worship and to community.
And, friends now is the time … because you are here … you have sung with me, prayed with me, heard God’s Word and now are hearing me unless you are texting … Jesus declared clearly: “No one can serve two masters … either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
So you and I have a choice … will we work together in love to build up this incredible church founded by some special saints more than 150 year ago? Does this location matter now and in the coming years as a place where God is worshiped, and missions accomplished. That’s not an impossible mission but one that can be achieved when we share our moneys and time and use our voices to invite others to join us.
An active choice … a personal choice … a joy-filled and thanks-focused choice when we choose God or we can always go back to that world with limits to give our money to, our time to, and our hearts to because we can’t have both … God or the world.
Joshua declared, “Focus your hearts on the Lord God!!!” And, the people said, “We will serve the Lord our God and will obey him!” Echoing in their thoughts were those words of Joshua, “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord!”
As Thanksgiving approaches … as Christmas arrives and the new year starts are you ready to make the commitment that you and your house will serve the Lord God with joy! It’s your choice …AMENui87