So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
[Psalm 90:12 King James Version]
Here are the readings for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost.
This is the next-to-last Sunday before the end of the church year. We continue to hear unsettling images of the end times. The prophet Zephaniah, for example, predicts that: “the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.”
It gives one pause to wonder, “Where’s the good news in that?”
I can tell you with all honesty that when I was in the parish, I detested this time of the year for preaching. That may be a horrible admission to make, but I went back into my sermon archives hoping to find at least a nugget of wisdom to spark my imagination, only to discover a huge gap between Reformation Sunday and Christ the King. There was absolutely nothing there!
Believe me, I hoard EVERYTHING! So the only reason I could think of was that the sermons were so dreadful that I discarded them, which I do from time to time.
Part of the problem may be that many congregations at this time of the year, are in the midst of their annual stewardship campaign. Pledge cards, or statements of intent, or spiritual gift surveys, have been given to or mailed to members. They’ve been asked to consider their response and place these forms in the offering plates either this Sunday or next week, on Christ the King Sunday.
The challenge then, for most pastors, is how to hold in tension, stewardship and the end times. At the risk of oversimplifying, here is the theme I would highlight this Sunday – it would be about trusting in God and not being afraid.
Throughout my time as bishop, I have spoken to individuals and congregations overcome with fear. At this time of the year, the biggest fear is that they will not meet the budget. So they make cuts that affect their ability to do ministry in Jesus’ name.
They cut the salary of the pastor, or staff, they cut their percentage of mission support. They cut programs and what they consider unnecessary costs. They cut back on newsletter mailings and if they have a website, they’ll drop it as unnecessary. The image that comes to mind is the third servant in the Gospel reading, the one who buried his talent instead of investing it. [Matthew 25:24-25]
The point I often stress is that the church is about mission, not maintenance. God has given us, through the Holy Spirit, a variety of gifts. Those gifts have equipped us, the church, for the work of the ministry and for building up the body of Christ. Whatever we do, or don’t do, affects the whole church. I’m fond of a verse from the letter to the Ephesians: The power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. [Ephesians 3:20]
The greatest risk of all is not risking anything. Being a follower of Jesus is about risking everything. After all, Jesus risked his very life for you. This week’s readings then, are an invitation to risk, to trust in God’s goodness, to live our lives to the fullest of its potential.
We repeat the words of the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Thessalonians for our closing blessing:
This week and always, remember that God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. [1 Thessalonians 5:9, 11]
+Bishop Abraham Allende