October 18, 2020
Our second scripture reading on this Commitment Sunday morning comes from the gospel according to Matthew. In this passage the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with their question about taxes. Listen for the Word of God as it continues speaking to you today.
READ Matthew 22:15-22
I think in this political season it is easy for us to understand the malice behind the Pharisees’ question. They are only seeking to entrap Jesus in the snare of public opinion rather than seeking to hear any deeper truth from him. The Pharisees are looking to manipulate the crowd with their polarizing question. They want to unleash upon Jesus all the pent up emotion and frustration… all the differing opinion and anecdotal evidence of the crowd… drown him in the tsunami of a never ending, emotionally heated battle. I mean… we probably understand this better today than ever before… this tactic about how to make your opponent look irrelevant and ineffective by burying them underneath such an onslaught.
And that’s the goal of the Pharisees here… knowing that the question… Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?... will bury this upstart, country prophet who has dared to step foot into Jerusalem… onto their turf. You know, I always imagine Jesus kinda rolling his eyes and letting out a deep sigh before he gets to his answer. And… of course… the answer Jesus gives is both practical and aspirational… and the trap laid by the Pharisees isn’t sprung making them look like the fool.
So on this Commitment Sunday… that’s the path I want to follow this morning… because on this Sunday we are talking about both the practical and the aspirational commitments to Parkway.
I mean, as a pastor, I’ve never really bought into the whole notion of the yearly stewardship campaign that has the different components that are somehow supposed to convince you to make that greater practical, financial pledge to the church. I’ve always found those to be unnecessarily manipulative like the Pharisees are in our passage. As you know by now… I prefer the straightforward stewardship approach because we all know that it takes a certain amount of Caesar’s coins to make the institution of Parkway Presbyterian Church function. On this Sunday we ask that you make a commitment to that part of being Parkway together… that you… as you are led… as you are able… pledge some of the emperor’s coins you possess to the financial functions of the institution.
That you do your part… through your pledge… to help pay the staff of the church. Saints, know that as the pastor of a church, I am always acutely aware as I stand up and do the annual Commitment Sunday sermon that I am a big ticket item in a congregation’s finances. Today… as I am everyday… I am thankful that you all afford me the opportunity to do ministry with you in this way. This is my calling… my passion… and it is also my profession. I can’t get away from the practicality of that. This is the work that I do to support my family and live that part of my life where Caesar’s coin is a necessity. Speaking on behalf of your church staff, I can tell you that we are committed to helping this congregation do the good ministry to which it is called. And we are all thankful and happy to be here to serve in this way. The practicality of this Sunday is not lost on us… the difficulty of this year… and the year ahead… for some of you is not lost on us.
On this Commitment Sunday, you are asked to make a financial pledge which will in part support the church building… which is both a gift and a responsibility of this congregation. In church finances, staff and building are usually the two biggest expenses of the institution… that’s why I wanted to bring it up this morning… not shy away from it.
And I know that maintenance and repair of a building are not exciting… I know that it doesn’t bring us closer to God necessarily… that often the maintenance of the building can overwhelm our sense of called common purpose and consume our energies meant for ministry done in Christ’s name. Again… let us be honest with one another… the Session has spent over a year now working on trying to figure out how we are going to solve the problem of a $250,000 HVAC replacement. I’m not sure if those who do stewardship consultation for a living would approve of me saying something like that in the commitment sermon. They definitely wouldn’t want me to say that the HVAC for the other building is just as old and will also need to be replaced at probably around the same cost. But… that’s the reality of the responsibility of the shared commitment, isn’t it? If it isn’t HVAC units it’s something else. Flooring. Roof. Parking lot. A church building is subject to the law of entropy. It’s a fact of the institution which we are constantly facing… it’s a part of the commitment we make… the commitment to face these realities openly and honesty with one another and then work together for solutions. This year we replaced a bunch of old toilets… something that needed to be done… but also a move to help reduce the ongoing costs of being an institutional church. Jesus doesn’t give any lessons to his disciples about reducing a water bill that has only been going up over the years… but we know that trying to waste less means using less which both helps to lower our bills and does a bit of good for a world where water will increasing become a more valuable and expensive resource. We can do interesting and responsible things with our buildings… like install solar panels… still a dream of mine… and use the financial resources that would perpetually go to paying for electricity to eventually free us from such a large yearly institutional cost. But there will always be costs… there will always be building challenges that will call for large piles of Caesar’s coins. It may not be something we like to consider or think about… but it’s the reality.
Still… I want you to think back in time for a minute… because some of you were here when this building to my right was built. Some were around when the other original church building was built in the late 60’s. With the Administrative Building, though… I’ve seen the pictures of the church then gathered outside for the groundbreaking. I ask you this morning to remember the intention… the reason why you put so much time and resources into building an addition. I ask you to remember the dream you had and the purpose… the hope that was there of what God could do with this… with the people who would gather within its walls to learn God’s word… to plan ways to take God’s love into the world… to nurture children and one another within those walls as we journeyed through life together. The cost of building… the cost of maintaining… the cost of repairs and refurbishing… our hopes say those costs are worth it. Our hopes fuel our ongoing commitment.
Because if this year has shown us anything… it isn’t the buildings that make our ministry here at Parkway possible… they are a tool of ministry… it is the hope of the faith we carry that makes our ministry together possible. We haven’t been able to use our buildings as we normally would for the last seven months. That’s going to continue into the months ahead. However, they’ve been a valuable resource in our service to the community since we’ve been able to respond with an e-Learning program. Our buildings have benefited families who have relied on the preschool. We took a risk and for nine weeks under the great leadership of Kristin Absher we’ve been able to have about a hundred and fifty children spread out throughout the buildings in small groups with both the preschool and the e-Learning program… providing a space for children… for not just learning, but a bit of stability and normalcy. Sure… if Covid rears its ugly head… all of that would end immediately. But it hasn’t happened yet. Tomorrow starts week ten of e-Learning. This is what a commitment to the hope born of faith looks like. Trying to bring some of the goodness of God into the world in often very practical ways. We have managed to do some mission with the emperor’s coin this year… making a decent sized contribution to the food bank earlier in the year… still keeping our long-term commitment to the people of Haiti… putting the coin given in memory of Bob Moore to use in a way that honors the commitments he had to this church.
On this Sunday, while we need to talk openly about the practical… it’s not just a commitment to the building or the things that Caesar’s coins can buy… it’s a commitment to the community of faith that the Holy Spirit has, is and will be bringing together here at Parkway. Covid has been the worst thing that could possibly happen to a church whose focus has been community… of bringing people together. Meg here… her whole purpose is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by going out and creating community around God’s Word… whether that be the Word in worship or study or mission. She is to find where the Holy Spirit is moving among people and start there… during a pandemic where distancing is one of the main tools in prevention. How do you create community when people can’t be together? How do you maintain community when people can’t be together? For us together… it will take your commitment to this community. It’s an act of will. It’s an act of faith. For much of this year, the leadership of this congregation has been thinking in about two month increments… as in… ok, let’s do this and see where we are in about two months. Always with the hope that in two months, there would be a change… that Covid would somehow be in retreat… that we could start coming together again. Now that winter approaches… truthfully… we can’t do that anymore. Two months isn’t realistic. We are going to pass that year anniversary in March… still mostly separated… still working our way through Covid. And the longer we are apart… the more we will rely on your quiet commitment that Parkway Presbyterian has value… that it is important to you and your life… that it is worth holding together for that day when we can be together without distancing… without separation.
This part of Commitment Sunday is not about the emperor’s coin… it is about giving to God that which is God’s. God has given each of us the gift of faith. God has given to each of us the gift of the Holy Spirit… gifts to live by and to spread that faith. This is about giving your hope… your determination… your dedication and discipleship. This is about making that commitment so when the day after Covid gets here… whenever that day comes… on that day when we are able to come together in person and do what the church has always done… we will all be here to continue to love one another… and to take the love, grace, mercy, and purpose of Christ into the world through the collective work and faith of this institution and through the dedication each of has to our own personal faith. This morning I ask you to make the commitment. Amen.