October 15, 2017
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 22:1-14
Today is Recommitment Sunday. You’ve already heard the children, members, and Stewards make their commitment to Christ through this church, and you probably noticed some of the differences in what they promised.
The children agreed to grow in their care for the earth, for family members and those at the margins, and to say “yes” to God as they grow. They have been preparing for this commitment in Sunday School, so they speak with some understanding. It’s a great place to start!
Membership in Seekers is open to anyone willing to be intentional about their spiritual growth while sharing their gifts and resources with others in Seekers Church. Basically, membership means that we are willing to engage others who are also drawn to build community around Christ’s call here.
Stewards make an additional commitment to God as Triune being; to spiritual practices that include tithing our time and money, and we promise to care for the whole community, rather than just the work of our mission group.
In light of our Gospel reading for today, we all promise to come and stay at the wedding banquet! We know that our families and our culture, like that of the parable, are full of other distractions and demands, but our intention is come here and participate, not just observe and be served.
Our commitment is to show up and expect to be changed over time. Yearly recommitment gives us a chance to ponder the journey and the company we are keeping – to ask whether God’s call is still guiding us to be here.
The tradition of yearly recommitment goes back 70 years, to the founding of Church of the Saviour on the third Sunday of October, in 1947. Gordon and Mary Cosby wanted membership to be a conscious intentional response to God’s call to inward formation and outward action at some specific place of need for social justice. Recommitment speaks to faith as a process of growth and change, not a static state called “being saved.” In practice, recommitment is a theological statement.
Thirty years later, in 1976, nineteen Church of the Saviour members made their commitment to Seekers for the first time. Joan Dodge, Muriel Lipp and Emily Gilbert were in that group of founding members, along with Fred Taylor and Sonya Dyer, our initial leadership team. Joan has recently rejoined stewards after a long hiatus, and with Muriel’s recent death, only Emily remains an emerita steward.
Becoming a steward at Seekers is based on call, not special qualifications or credentials. Because there is no set number of stewards, the number has fluctuated widely over the years. In 1981 and 82, the number dropped to 11, even though the number of regular worshippers hovered around 60 adults and many, many children. Newer people weren’t used to the patterns of shared leadership then.
The number of stewards grew slowly through the 80s and 90s, as people explored different calls and a new servant leadership team grew around Sonya after Fred left. Then, as we prepared to move to this location, the number of stewards climbed to a high of 26 – as though we needed extra core strength to face the challenge of financing this building through loans and gifts from the congregation.
After the move, the number of stewards dropped again, as people moved in and out during recommitment season. This year, all of the current stewards chose to recommit and today we welcomed Glen Yakushiji as the newest steward, which brings the current number to 18. That invitation is open to anyone who wants to and can care for the whole community!
Recommitment rests on our initial commitment to this community. At the risk of being simplistic, I think it’s a little like buying a mattress.
First, you test the texture – see how firm or soft it is. Maybe you hang around after worship, get a cup of coffee and see or hear what the community feels like when the formal time is over.
Then you sample the structure – take a class or sign up to help with coffee-hour. You stretch out on the mattress, to see if it’ll hold your weight in the right places. Maybe you listen for signs of changed lives, leaning in together toward a common call or you join a mission group. It’s often a time when our individual freedom gets trimmed a bit, because you have to say “no” to some of the other possibilities in order to say “yes” to being here.
A sign that the Spirit’s at work is when you stop doing so much — so you can get quiet and hear the whisper of God’s spirit, signaling that this is the place for you. It might be a comment on your spiritual report, a story or phone call, or a felt sense of being in the right place at the right time. It might be a silent retreat at Dayspring or something tugging at your soul in the middle of the night. You can rest in that sign, trust that call to commitment.
When that happens, it’s time to take action, put your weight down here — become a member or a steward. Our practice of yearly recommitment is a reminder that God is a God of the living, of seasons and times that will shift and change. But for now, we know that this is the place and this is the time to say “yes” to the invitation we have been given to celebrate with this particular body of Christ. As Paul wrote to the church in Phillipi which we heard Mary Carol read today, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
What attracted me to Church of the Saviour initially was the notion of call, which I first read about in Elizabeth O’Connor’s books. The idea that every person has a primary call gave meaning and purpose to my daily life, especially what I did for love rather than money. Her descriptions of life in a mission group intrigued me too.
What attracted me to Seekers was what I saw on the first Sunday that we came. Fred and Sonya stood at the communion table together, blessing the elements and passing them around the circle that we made in the sanctuary. I didn’t know how hungry I was to see a woman share leadership in the church until my tears told me that I was standing on the holy ground of my own call.
What has kept me at Seekers is the chosen family that we find here. Not people that I would necessarily have chosen, but the family that God has called together in this time and place. If you look closely at the place cards in this banquet hall, your name and my name are there. We have all been invited to this wedding feast and we hope you’ll stay.
Some of us came dressed for the occasion, and some of us came in off the street, clueless about what we’ve been called into. All of us had other things we could be doing. Our lives are full of other choices. There are a thousand distractions away from the path that Jesus walks, but LOOK AROUND. This is the company Christ has called us to embrace.
Recommitment also happens in the eight mission groups at Seekers. For people who are used to a committee structure in other churches, mission groups can be a challenging experience of learning how to love one another in the midst of a common work shared by all members of the group. We need to examine our call and commitment there too.
You may have noticed that we don’t have a pledge drive at Seekers, but we do depend on a culture of generosity to get things done. Money is part of that equation, and stretching your budget to give here is important. Giving the community control over how and where our common funds are spent is important as a spiritual practice. We need everyone’s gifts because that makes for a healthy body of Christ.
One last thing. In the Gospel reading for today, did you wonder about the guy who didn’t have a wedding garment being thrown out of the party? What was the big deal about that? It could be, of course, that wedding garments were provided for all guests, and he had already sold or ruined his. We don’t actually know what the protocol for weddings would have been at the time Matthew included this parable with its harsh ending and implied threat to his listeners.
But I like Garrison Keillor’s version better. He described a fabulous wedding scene in Lake Woebegone for the daughter of Clarence Bunson and her fiancé from California. Just as the music started and the lights dimmed, a couple walked into the wedding wearing black jogging outfits. Everybody wondered, “Could that be what they wear to weddings in California?” All kinds of questions arose about their strange garb, but of course everyone was too polite to ask. Then, the couple left right after the wedding, before the reception, so nobody had a chance to find out.
That version makes sense to me because I’ve been on both sides of that story – part of the hometown crowd, and the awkward guest with the wrong clothes. You probably have too. So, like the biblical storyteller, I’m not even going to try to explain it.
On this recommitment Sunday, I’ll stick with the heartfelt invitation to join the wedding feast that God has prepared for us in this time and place, and I hope you will too. We’re all welcome here!