A sermon for Proper 22: Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
Everyone should have received an invitation to our Consecration Sunday Celebration Breakfast on October 23rd. And yes, this means it is stewardship time again. And we all know that there is financial aspect of stewardship; it does take money to do the work we are called to do. However, the context of our financial participation in the life and ministry of St. Stephen’s is far more important than the dollars themselves. At some point in preparing for the coming month, I realized that I had not shared any thoughts about why “Consecration Sunday.” So today we are going to explore what consecration means and how it helps to define our stewardship of Christ’s ministry.
I expect you remember the story of Samson, who was consecrated by his parents to be a Nazirite before God. (Judges 13:2-5) He was not very good at keeping the vows made for him; none the less he was among the Judges that saved Israel from the Philistines. Samuel’s mother is barren, and she prays for a son, whom she will give to God as a Nazarite (1 Samuel 1:11; 1:27-28). Samuel serves as God’s agent to identify and anoint Saul and David to be Kings over Israel. Nazarites are consecrated, or set apart for God’s use. These examples show how those set apart can vary in righteousness. An entire group of people can be consecrated, priests, who call come from one tribe, Levites, Aaronites and Zadokites are all consecrated in service to God. In addition to people, times and places can be consecrated. Sabbath is a day set apart for God is consecrated time. Holy Days and seasons, like Passover, are consecrated time. The Temple and all the setting are consecrated for service to God. Events can be consecrated; the Exodus is consecrated, as are all the first-born of Israel from then on (Exod 13:2; Deut 15:19). In the New testament, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is an event consecrated to the service of God. Clearly, the human manifestation of Jesus is consecrated to God, set aside, and is holy (Sakenfeld). Others in the New Testament are also consecrated.
One person is Timothy. He receives a strong Christian tradition from his mother and grandmother. Paul acknowledges the risks of proclaiming the gospel and at the same time assures Timothy of the Spiritual resources that are available (Harrelson 2 Timothy). Timothy is set aside to subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy). There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.
subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy).
There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.
Today’s reading opens with Jesus’ disciples asking him to “increase our faith.” It is interesting to note their request is for our faith, not my faith, to be increased (Lewis). It may be an indication of their growing sense of being a community consecrated to Jesus. But why do they make this request? Well, back up a few verses and you read that Jesus tells the disciples to be sure they don’t cause anyone to stumble, and adds a warning about a millstone around their neck and going for a swim in the sea. Then he tells them that if anyone repents of a sin, they must forgive them, even if that person sins against them seven times a day, or 70 times 7 times (Matthew 18:22). This discipleship stuff is hard. The disciples realize they are going to need help. At first reading, Jesus’ answer is a tad harsh. However, he may be telling them it doesn’t take a lot of faith. They don’t have to have much confidence because the grace and power of God has it covered. And in truth, even if they don’t their scripture tradition points the way forward.
Lamentation is a series of poems expressing regret for Israel’s behavior that has led to her drastic downfall; lead to her death. The primary purpose of her lament is “to enable her to give voice to the extreme suffering she and others endure” (Gaventa and Petersen). It is an intervention that stops Israel’s descent, and at the same time compels her to renew her hope in God; as faint as the glimmer may be. In expressing her emotions, Israel releases the energy necessary for her to do the work that needs to be done (Hoezee, Lamentations 1:1-6).
Now, the gleaning about our consecration. As did Timothy, we have also received a great faith tradition. We too have to make or renew our choice to boldly proclaim the Gospel, in increasingly challenging circumstances. Nationally, proclaiming the Gospel in falling out of favor. The particular tradition we follow is vigorously challenged by other Christian traditions. Like the disciples, we may begin to see just how big our calling is. We may begin to doubt our abilities. We may even begin to get overly focused on possible miss steps that seem to be leading us into an uncomfortable future. Like Israel, our existence may be doubtful. And yet today we hear how expressing our concerns, and our fears, and confessing our missteps will free the divine energies necessary for us to continue to be consecrated, to be set aside, to serve God’s purposes as faintly as they may appear.
One other observation. By our baptism, we are consecrated into Jesus’ ministry. We are Nazirites in service to Christ’s ministry all our lives. We may, no ~ we will fail on occasion. God forgives, seventy times seven times a day. Our trust, our faith may, no ~ will falter. The Spirit is always there gently pointing to the way. And when our days are up, we will give thanks for the resurrection of Jesus through which we come into the gracious presence of God.
In the days between now and October 23rd, our Consecration Sunday I invite you to prayerfully explore how you are consecrated to service in Christ’s ministry; trusting in our God, who is always: more ready to hear than we to pray, more ready to answer than we are to ask, more ready to welcome than we are to seek (Pankey).
Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:114. 2 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.
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Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Proper 22C | Lamentations 1:1-6. 2 10 2016.
—. Proper 22C | Luke 17:5-10. 2 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
—. Proper 22C 2 Timothy 1:1-14. 2 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.
Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher The Increments of Faith. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.
Logue, Frank. “An Act of Love, Proper 22(C).” 2 10 2016. Sermons that Work.
Lose, David. Pentecost 20 C: Every Day Acts of Faith. 2 10 2016.
Pankey, Steve. “Is that you Jesus?” 2 10 2016. Draughting Theology.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:510. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Lamentations 1:16. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.