Monday, November 13, 2017

All In (Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve)

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, November 12, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church in Sterling, KS.  Listen to the audio here.

Read Joshua 24 and 2Cor8 here.


What kind of toes can’t be tickled? 

That’s a joke that was in a book that Amy Brownlee set out for me to read to the first graders at Sterling Grade School last week.  I love spending time with them.  It’s fun to see them get excited about stuff.

I’m excited. I’m excited because today I get to talk to you about Jesus.  Ok, so I do that every week.  And I’m excited about that every week.

I’m excited because today I get to talk to you about Clemson football.  Yes, I know that’s probably not your favorite, but it’s going to be ok, I promise.  I’ve got to talk about Clemson football because that’s where I first heard the phrase “All In.” (Today’s sermon title.)  I know it’s not unique to them, but that’s the first place I heard it.  When Dabo Swinney first took over as Clemson’s coach, he used it to explain how they were going to turn things around and become a team that could win football games.  Last year we got to see the how his plan worked.  Clemson won the national championship.

When Dabo first became head coach, he was just the interim head coach.  He could have said, “I’m just keeping things going while we figure things out.”  But he didn’t.  He said, “I’m all in. And if you’re going to be all in with me, because that’s what it’s going to take for this to work – for us to turn this season around – then show up to practice at 6:00 tonight. Otherwise, no hard feelings.”[1]

Total commitment.  All in.

I borrowed the title for this sermon from Dabo Swinney because the Bible passage we read today sounds to me a lot like Dabo’s speech to the team.  Joshua is asking the people to be “all in.”

“Choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15)

So I’m asking you, “Are you All In?”  I’m committing to you that I am ALL IN. It’s an all or nothing kind of commitment. It’s the commitment we all are called to make.

Jesus puts it this way:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” (Matt 22:37, Luke 10:27)

All.  What does all mean?  All means…well…all.
Why does “all” matter?

Because there will be tough times, and if we aren’t all in, we won’t do so well in the tough times.  It’s much easier to be sort of in.

In football, one way we see this is players holding back.  Football is rough.  Players get injured.  Around the time Dabo first took over at Clemson, the quarterback had been doing pretty well, but then his performance dropped off because he started being careful.  He wasn’t all in.  He had one foot on the football field, and one on the baseball diamond.  He was soon going to have to choose which way to go in professional sports.  Baseball was starting to look more promising, so he was being careful on the football field so he didn’t get injured and mess up his baseball prospects.  He stopped taking chances and stopped making plays that needed to be made. He let down the team because he was no longer fully committed to them.

Being all in means being committed enough to do whatever it takes.

Often in the Bible our relationship with God is compared to marriage.  I understand that analogy because I have learned over the years how I need to be fully committed to my husband Rob.  Even though we made the formal commitment the day we got married, as with any marriage there have been other deciding points along the way, and there is one in particular that changed the course of our marriage.  We were having an argument, as all couples do, and this particular day we were arguing about money, as all couples do, and I realized in the midst of the argument that this issue we were having was not something we were going to solve, at least not easily, and certainly not in this argument.  If we weren’t going to solve it, that meant I had to be willing to accept things as they were in that moment, and accept that they might never be exactly the way I wanted, or I had to get out.  I asked myself, “Self, if this never changes, can you live with that?”  My answer to myself was yes, because I realized I loved Rob more than I loved having perfectly settled issues, and that even if we never solved this, I couldn’t imagine life without Rob.

This is the level of commitment Joshua is asking for in his call to Israel to “choose this day whom you will serve.”  Joshua knows there are going to be challenges and issues.  They are going to continue to be confronted with other gods, because the people around them are worshipping those other gods.

The people say, “We will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:16-18) And in response Joshua gets prophetic about what will happen.  He says, “You’re not going to be able to do it.” (Joshua 24:19) And he’s right.  As we read on through the Bible in the books of Judges and Kings and Chronicles and the prophets, we see that Israel was continually turning away from God to worship other gods.  Even when they did worship Yahweh, they did it half heartedly, going through the rituals and sacrifices that were required in that time, but then going on doing the things God had told them not to do – treating people badly, lying and cheating and stealing from one another.

They weren’t all in.  They worshipped with their lips, but their hearts were far from God. (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13)

So today, on the day we’re making our pledge commitments, I’m challenging us to commit, or to recommit, to be all in with our hearts, to be committed to loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, and souls, and minds and strength.

If we say we are committed to God but we aren’t willing to do and be what God calls us to do and be, then we aren’t really all in.

This is the challenge that Paul is making to the Corinthians in our New Testament reading for today.  Paul knows that we grow in our relationship with God and in our commitment to him when we trust him and step out in faith.  If we trust that God is our provider, then we will trust him enough to share what we have been given.  If we trust that God is helping us to be more and more like Jesus, than we will see the world more and more through God’s eyes and have compassion for the needs of the people around us, and we will share what God has given us to help them.

If we are all in, that means with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, with all our lives loving and serving God, trusting that God keeps his promises, that God demonstrated the depth of his love for us in sending his only son to die for us.  Jesus gave his all for us, and asks nothing less of each one of us. (Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Eph 5:25)

That’s why I’m so often saying that everything we have and everything we are is from God.

2 Peter 1:3[2] His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

God has already given us everything.  We’ve been working on practicing gratitude for the past six weeks to help us see how much God has given us.  We have so much to be thankful for.  As a church we have so much to be thankful for.  God has already done so much among you here at UPC, and I’m excited to see what God’s going to do next!  We’ve only just begun!

I’m so thankful for all the ways that you have already been following God to get to where we are today.  God was at work in my life bringing me here, and he’s been at work in your lives bringing you here as well.

As I was thinking about this message this week, I got to thinking about a phrase that you may have heard me say:  “We’ll get there.”  We already know we have some things to work on, and we’ve already done quite a bit, and we have lots of ideas brewing and we really are just getting started together.  And I realized that “We’ll get there” isn’t just something to say, but something I really believe.

Together we’ll get there.  Wherever “there” is.  “There” is where God is leading us.  And here’s what I know for sure about that:
Isaiah 41:13 God is with us, always leading us and guiding us.  We just have to keep on holding on to his hand and following – keep on praying.
Matthew 28:20 Jesus has given us our marching orders – to go and make disciples, and baptize and teach them.  We come to church to reorient and refocus and be renewed and then we go out.
Acts 1:8 We go wherever God is leading us – Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  That means we’re sent out to do ministry here in Sterling, among our neighbors and friends, and at the college and surrounding areas, and out beyond.  Next week we’ll get a chance to hear about some of the “beyond” as we’ll hear about some of the missions that we help support.

I want to be clear – our primary commitment is to Jesus, to letting Jesus be Lord of all of our hearts and all of our lives.  The vehicle that Jesus has given us to help us with that is the church, the gathering of believers to encourage one another and to hold each other accountable in our commitment to Jesus.  That’s what we see Joshua and Paul doing in our scripture readings today. Encouraging the people and challenging them to accountability.

Joshua says, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” He’s asking, “Who or what is Lord of your life?  Who or what is behind the decisions and choices we make?”  Paul says, “Let your commitment show in your giving” (2 Cor 8:11).

Our commitment as a church is to helping one another follow Christ with all our hearts and all our lives, and to obeying Christ’s charge to us go out and help others know his love.

It’s a commitment we have to keep making and renewing, because we get off track, and sometimes we don’t realize when we have let other gods, other idols, rule over our choices and decisions.

One of the ways we get off track in church is that we get focused on doing the things we’ve always done – our traditions.  I was reminded of this while watching the musical at Sterling High School Friday night – Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevye, the main character, explains at the beginning how tradition defines their lives and helps them to know who they are.  But we see as the story unfolds how the traditions that hold them together also become something that breaks them apart, and eventually Tevye and Golde have to let go of tradition.  Tradition is a wonderful guide for us in the church, and our traditions can be beautiful touchstones, markers that remind us of God’s love and grace.  But when tradition becomes our god, then we have forsaken God to follow other gods.

That’s why I want us to be clear that our commitment is to Jesus and to following him.  That’s especially important because sometimes the way won’t be perfectly clear.  God will lead us to do new things in new ways that we have yet to discover.

A missionary society once wrote to David Livingstone, the famous missionary to Africa, and asked, "Have you found a good road to where you are? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you." Livingstone wrote back, "If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all."[3]

This church has already demonstrated that it can make new roads.  The daycare center is a shining example of your willingness to follow Christ in new ways.

I can’t promise that it will be easy, but I can promise that being totally committed to God is way more fulfilling than following God halfway.

Choose this day whom you will serve.

If it is God, then let us commit today to loving God with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength, and let that be reflected in our pledges and in our lives.

Let us be all in.

[2] Message version: Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!
[3] Good News Broadcaster, April, 1985,  p. 12.

No comments:

Post a Comment