Isaiah 55:1-13, Philippians 3:4-11
November 4, 2012
I guess it all started with The Price is Right. We played that game at our fellowship dinner last month. And it was great fun! I truly wish more of us had been able to be there! We had a ball!!
Well, during that game, as on the TV show, people were asked to play various pricing games. They were asked to guess the actual retail price of various items without going over. (Of course!) And if you remember that TV show, those words are familiar, if not nostalgic, aren’t they? You can almost hear them spoken with the distinctive voice of (?) Bob Barker.
Well, when your Stewardship Committee was working on the campaign this year, I guess some of them were also embroiled in the preparations for that game. And so the thought emerged, What about our faith? What is the price, the value, what is the worth, of our faith?
As we think about the pledges we make today, I want you to think about that. I want you to consider how valuable your faith is to you. Does it have the highest value? Or is it just one of the many things you value in your lives? Does it stand out as the “pearl of great price” that the merchant sold everything to obtain? Or is it just lost in the mix somewhere? I want you to think about that today and every day, for that matter!
Now, of course we know the price of our redemption. That cost is before us every Sunday. Here on this table, we see the elements of the sacrament that remind us of that cost. The chalice, and the paten – the plate the bread sits on – they remind us of the bread and the wine, which are the symbols of the sacrifice made for us – the price paid for our redemption.
Sometimes I think this may be one place where our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters have a more vivid reminder of all that. Their major symbol is the crucifix, the image of Jesus on the cross. We protestants have chosen to use the empty cross. That’s because, like the empty tomb, the empty cross speaks to us of the resurrection. And that’s wonderful! But the problem is that, for us, the cross is often cleaned up. It’s often made into an elaborate, artistic, beautiful thing. And that’s fine. But there’s a certain irony there. Because the cross is still the barbaric instrument of capitol punishment in ancient Rome. The cross is still the means of our Saviors brutal death!
As much as we might care to clean it up, the cross is still the price paid for our redemption. That’s basic to the Christian faith. With his body and blood, Jesus paid the price for our personal redemption. And that redemption is ours “if we choose to accept it” – as they used to say to Mr. Phelps on Mission Impossible. (Anybody remember that show?)
That price is important to us, isn’t it? “God so loved the world” – us! “that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him us! would not perish, but have everlasting life!” That’s the Amazing Grace we celebrate every week! But the question posed by our Stewardship committee, is the next important question. “What is the value of our life of faith?” “How much is being a part of the kingdom of God worth to us?” “Is it the ‘pearl of great price,’ that Jesus described it?” That’s the question our committee is challenging us to think about this year. And it’s a good question! It’s a point at which we could stop, go home, and think of nothing else. It’s that important!! And I hope you will continue to ask yourselves that question, not just during this Stewardship time, but throughout the year. (Because Stewardship does last all year, doesn’t it?) What is the value of your faith?
While you’re thinking about that, I’d like you to consider these words of Paul, as he tells us how valuable it was to him. We pick up this reading in his letter his epistle to the Church in Philippi. And this is where I got the title of this sermon, “The Surpassing Worth.” Paul says, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ.”
Those are powerful words! “Whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul had gained much in his life, and he had just told them about it. He said he was “a Pharisee of Pharisees!” Despite what we might think about them, the Pharisees were the most influential and wealthy people in that society. They were leaders, legislators, and rulers. They were highly respected by the people. And yet Paul said he gave it all up. He counted it all of lesser importance to knowing Jesus Christ. That surpassed the worth of everything else. That’s what he meant by “surpassing worth.” Paul realized that knowing Jesus was the most important thing. It was so important, that he counted all else as refuse!
Now, is that an exaggeration? Maybe. But they got the point. And I hope we do too. The value of our life of faith – the actual retail price – is higher than we might ever be able to think or imagine! We can’t go over! That’s what Paul was trying to get us to see. He wanted us to know that our life of faith is of greatest value, surpassing all things! It is now only a matter of realizing that, and living it.
So think about that as you answer this question were posing today. How valuable is the life of faith to you? Is it so important that it surpasses all else? Sometimes we say it is, but were not sure we really mean it. So we have to think about it. Then we have to choose to mean it. We have to choose to give our faith that kind of priority. That’s not easy in a world where so many other things want to take that preeminence. So many things in our lives vie to be the most important. And they can be quite compelling, can’t they! So I ask you today to pause and think about the importance of your faith. Choose to give it the highest value!
Then I want you to think about what that means in terms of Stewardship. As we’ve gone along, we’ve talked about the stewardship of our time, our talent, and our treasure. Well, as we do that, I ask you to remember the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount which we’ve been studying. He said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” In other words, “what you value in your life will get the devotion of your heart.” And we can say that the other way, too. “That which you set your heart upon, that which you see as most important, will tend to get your time, your talent, and your treasure!” And if something in your life is not getting those things, you need to ask yourself the question w’ere thinking about today. “How valuable, how important is it to you?”
Then I’d like you to think about another related passage. I’d like you to think of the passage where Paul told the Corinthian Church about giving. He said that we should give, “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:6-7) I think you know that passage. Well, let me tell you that it all goes together. Because, if the kingdom is not valuable to you, you will feel like you are giving with reluctance or under compulsion. But, if your faith is of great value to you, if it is of surpassing worth, you will give with joy!
So that’s what were asking you to do today. We ask that you will consider how important your life of faith is to you. We ask you to spend a few moments in prayer. And then we ask you to make the best pledge you can for support of our corporate life of faith together here at Eddington Church. So as we move to this time of Stewardship Dedication, let us prepare our hearts in prayer.
Eternal God we thank you for all you have done for us. Help us to know how important our faith is to us. Help us to remember our relationship with you and how it upholds us, sustains us, and gives us hope and peace. Help us to remember the importance of sharing that life of faith with each other in this Church. Then help us as we make our best effort to give of our time, our talent, and our treasure, to glorify you and to continue the work of your kingdom in our midst. For this we pray in Jesus name, Amen.