Commitment Sunday – St. Paul, Gloucester, MA
Fourth Sunday in Easter
April 29, 2007
The Holy Gospel according to St. John, the 10th chapter.
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
This is the gospel of our Lord.
Grace and peace be unto you, Christian friends, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
The story is told of a man who lived long ago. He was an art collector. He had one son, who, like so many sons, went off to college. The son was killed in a tragic accident, and in many ways, the father’s heart was broken.
Some time later a young man showed up at the art collector’s door and introduced himself by saying that he was a friend of his son in college. He spoke of how respected and how well liked his son was. Finally, the young man said, “I have painted a portrait of your son. I know it isn’t very good, but I want you to have it.”
The art collector looked at the painting and began to cry. He said, “Oh, no. It is perfect. You have captured his eyes perfectly.” The painting was hung proudly along with the other priceless works of art. Many years later the art collector was quite old, and decided to sell his collection. Dealers from around the country gathered for the auction. The collector stood before them and said, “The first painting to be auctioned is this portrait.” The dealers began to grumble. They had come for the masterpieces, not for this amateurish portrait. No one bid.
Finally, one voice was raised from the back of the room. I bid $100.00. It was the man’s gardener, who had watched his son grow up. The collector said, “I have a bid of $100.00, are there any other bids.” There were none, so he said, “Sold, for $100.00.” And then to the amazement of everyone, the collector said, “And now, this auction is over.” The grumbling changed to open complaining. The collector said, “This auction is over, because the one who has the Son gets it all.”
That is the marvelous news of the gospel – that you who have the Son, receive also all the wonderful gifts our God has to offer. In our gospel Jesus says it this way, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” In the waters of your baptism you were joined to Jesus. In the waters of your baptism, you were given all the gifts of our Lord Jesus. You were joined to the family of God. Your sins were forgiven. You were given the gift of eternal life. And you will never perish.
There is also another incredible image in our gospel. In addition to saying that you will never perish, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” What an incredible promise – that come what will, in this life and the next, no one can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand.
Paul says the same thing when he says that nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing in heaven, on earth or under the earth can pry you out of Jesus’ loving hand.
I imagine this cosmic game of tug of war going on, with you in the middle, Jesus on one end, and the worst that life can throw at you on the other end. You need not worry. Jesus has you. You are safe. You are secure.
What a promise – you are safely, securely carried in the palm of the Son. Nothing can change that. And being in the palm of the Son means that all the other gifts of God are yours as well. The one who has the Son has it all.
No one can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand. Because Jesus has you so securely in his grasp, your life can be lived in the confidence that you are in the care of the one who cares for you so deeply that he was willing to die for you. Because Jesus has you so securely in his grasp, your day to day life can be lived in the knowledge that you are his. Because Jesus has you so securely in his grasp, that means that you can let go of all sorts of things.
We all live with lingering guilt and regret over things we have done and things we have left undone. You can let that go. You have Jesus’ word that your sins are forgiven, that his death on the cross paid the price for your errors. You can rest secure that your past is in Jesus’ hands.
We all live with insecurities about our future, even our eternal future. You can let that go. You have Jesus’ word that even as he rose from the dead, so too someday you will also. You can rest secure that your future is in Jesus’ hands.
Since today is Commitment Sunday for St. Paul’s “Building the Dream” program, I want to talk in a little more detail about another thing you can let go – and that is the possessions of this life. We live in a society that tells us that you are what you have. We are told that the more you have, the more you are worth. Therefore, you should hang on to everything you can get, invest it wisely, and watch your net worth go up.
The message we receive from our Lord is quite a different message. First of all, our Lord tells us that we have value not on the basis of what we have, we have value on the basis of whose we are. We are His, therefore, we have value. Our Lord also tells us that everything you think is yours really belongs to God, and your job is to care for it on God’s behalf. Our Lord tells us that part of what it means to care for that which is God’s, is to give some of it away for God’s work.
If you get value based on what you have, it makes no sense to ever give any money away. But if you know that you are valued already, then it makes all the sense in the world to follow God’s instructions and give generously.
I want to tell you about a little girl I observed last winter. I was in a congregation where the children were bringing their coins forward for their congregation’s capital program, just like your children are going to do in just a few minutes. The difference was that in that congregation, each child had collected coins in an ice cream pail, and they were going to dump them into a large container at the front of the sanctuary.
There was a little girl, probably about five years old, who came forward with a container of coins in one hand, and a ten dollar bill in the other. I have no idea where the ten dollar bill came from, but as she approached the pail into which she was supposed to place her offering, she quickly poured the coins in, and then she froze. She held the ten dollar bill over the pail, but it appeared to be glued to her fingers. Other children passed by, pouring their coins into the pail, and she stood like a statue. Finally, after what seemed like the longest time, the ten dollar bill fluttered from her fingers, and she headed back to mom and dad.
All I could think of as I watched her was – she is just like all the rest of us. Parting with a little money is easy – it really won’t damage our net worth. But parting with a lot – and for her ten dollars was a lot – that is another matter completely. God’s call to each of us is to recognize that our worth is given, not accumulated. God’s call to each of us is the call to generosity.
St. Paul Lutheran Church has been carried in the hand of our Lord for a long time. As I have talked with many of you, I have heard some of your history. Since I was here last month, I have read a history of Lane’s Cove, and have learned more of that history. As I have learned that history, I have learned that through lean years and good years – you obviously have been carried in Jesus’ hand.
Through the last 20 years of that history, you have had a dream. Your dream is that this building might be improved so that all of God’s children can join you free of barriers. Your dream is that your sanctuary might be larger, so that more of God’s children might gather here for worship. Much conversation and much work have gone on to turn that dream into reality. Today is another significant step on that road.
Your congregation has been carried safely in the hand of our Lord. And nothing can snatch it out of his hand. You have been carried safely in the hand of our Lord. And nothing can snatch you out of his hand.
Today, these two facts come together in this call for your generous support to turn St. Paul’s long standing dream into St. Paul’s reality. It is with great confidence that I can stand before you now and invite your generous response to all that God has done for you. For all that God has done for St. Paul’s, and for all that God has done for you. May God bless your future, even as God has blessed your past. Amen.