After days of more snow and sub-freezing weather that has many saying, “Enough of winter!’ or as a church posted on its lawn sign, “If you’ve been praying for snow, stop praying!” both the Scriptures for this Sunday and our annual time to honor, ordain, and install Church Council members break into these winter doldrums with springtime thoughts of planting, watering, and weeding.
In the Old Testament lesson we hear Moses giving a charge to the people he has led out of slavery and all those wilderness years.
As they are about to enter a land scouts have reported is flowing with milk and honey, he raises toast-like words:
… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,
loving the Lord your God, obeying him,
and holding fast to him;
for that means life to you and length of days…
CHOOSE LIFE! “Choose!” Choose to live a life that loves God by obeying and holding fast to God.
That’s really not the trend these days. The words: “Choose, hold to, commit to…for life” are out of style and even relegated to being out-of-date.
“Hang loose.” “Do your own thing.” “Avoid becoming obligated to anyone or anything at any time.”
A quaint item that may be found at a yard sale or secondhand shop is a small board marked with items such as bread, milk, sugar, salt, and beside each word there is a hole to fill with a peg that is stored in a small box below the board. Years ago the British preacher, Leslie Weatherhead, who people flocked to hear in London’s City Temple, told of a home where such a board was mounted inside the door to the pantry. When something needed to be purchased at the store, a peg beside the name was a reminder to put it on the list.
The problem with the board’s location was every time the pantry door was closed, the pegs fell out. Dr. Weatherhead used that board to describe people whose life is not securely anchored to a commitment. The slightest jar, be it a tremor in faith, or the enticement of running after a new religious fade until it loses its newness, has them falling away from God.
“Choose!” the word that echoes from Moses’ send-off-toast, “Choose to live a life that loves God by obeying and holding fast to God.” The choice Church Council members choose to accept and all of us promise to join them in keeping in this congregation. “Choose!” A choice the Apostle Paul described in the imagery of gardening when he wrote to Christians living in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth:
I planted, Apollos watered,
but God gave the growth.
The one who plants and the one who waters
have a common purpose,
…we are God’s servants, working together;
you are God’s field, God’s building.
“Choose!” to planting and watering that require a commitment to be “God’s servants, working together.”
From the very beginning, the first Christian communities had a problem in holding to that commitment. Paul complained about “the divisions among you;” leaders were vying for attention rather than looking to Christ, the Head of the church, and the problem has persisted through the centuries.
The first immigrants to settle in Penn’s Woods found themselves being victimized by charlatans posing as religious leaders. When Henry Melchior Muhlenberg came from a school in eastern Germany where Christian missionaries were trained to minister to the needs of the people, he saw the chaos and corruption, and said “the church must be planted” - Planted with pastors and lay leaders trained and committed to being servants working together in congregations established to preach the Word, baptize souls into new life in Christ, nurture faith in the young, and be sustained through Christ at the Table of Holy Communion.
Almost 100 years after Muhlenberg began that ministry in Trappe, here in what was Freeland and is now Collegeville, Abraham Hunsicker choose to make that same commitment as he gave his financial resources for
an educated clergy, supported by lay leaders who, with the entire congregation were to come to a Table of Holy Communion open to all Christians, knowing each is but a servant, working for God, the Gardener Who gives the growth in the church which is God’s field.
As congregations face declining dollars and members, “church growth” resources propose programs and procedures as solutions, but the reality is the truth that: only God’s life-giving Spirit can grow a church and the church God grows is a community that adds weeding to planting and watering; the weeding that responds to Jesus’ Gospel words:
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar,
if you remember that your brother or sister*
has something against you,
leave your gift there before the altar and go;
first be reconciled to your brother or sister,*
and then come and offer your gift.”
The before-worship-act of: weeding out loneliness with visits and prayers; weeding out another’s needs with tangible acts and gifts – food, clothing, shelter; weeding out the life-choking growth of prejudice, gossip, and contentious divisions which the Irish use as the subject for an old poem:
There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many;
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails,
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.
Planting, watering, weeding – the choice Church Council members choose to accept and all of us promise to join them in keeping, so that God may give the growth in this part of the garden of the church that is God’s field where we are heard singing:
We give thanks and adoration for your Gospel’s joyful sound;
May the fruits of your salvation in our hearts and loves abound:
Ever faithful, ever faithful to the truth may we be found.