The Steward and the Ship: Consecration
Today we wrap up our journey with Noah. We watched Noah build the ark, just as God commanded, then survive the flood, then leave the ark and give thanks to God. Today is God's response, you might say. Noah's response is to give thanks, and God's response is to make a covenant with Noah – a promise – and to share a beautiful symbol of that promise. God sets in the sky a rainbow – the very symbol that our baptismal liturgy referred to today. And God promises to Noah and his offspring never again to destroy creation. Of course, we know the conditions that make for a rainbow: they appear in the sky when the Sun shines on to droplets of moisture in the Earth's atmosphere. That’s the science of it. But the heart of it is that rainbows often appear after storms, perfect timing for a reminder of God's promise to us. The promise, and the symbol to remind us of the promise.
The scriptures are full of God's promises to us, and symbols of God's faithfulness to the promises God makes. Abram and Sarai and Jacob all receive new names a symbols of God's promises to be with them and to bless their families. Circumcision becomes a symbol of that promise for Abraham. Jacob sees a ladder to heaven as a sign of God's promise to him. Moses and the Israelites receive the Passover meal as a symbol of God being with them and promising them and leading them to freedom. At Jesus' baptism, God shares a dove, the symbol of God's Holy Spirit, as a sign of his love for Jesus, a promise to be with him in his earthly ministry. Soon we will talk of a star in the sky, a symbol that guides people to find baby Jesus, the promised Messiah. And when Jesus shares the Last Supper with his disciples, he tells them of a New Covenant – a new promise – of God's forgiveness for all – and seals the promise with the reshaped symbols of bread and cup. The promise, and the symbol to remind us of the promise.
We do the same in our relationship with God. We make promises, and we make signs of our promises. Covenants are two-party agreements. God promises to be with us, and we promise to follow God and only God. Sometimes we mess up on our end, but God is always faithful and forgiving. But we still try – because promises, covenants, are made in relationships, between parties that care about each other. When people are married, they make promises, and then use symbols – usually rings, to remember the promise. When we confirmed our young people last year, they made promises to God and this congregation, and we used symbols – stoles – with their personal choice of symbols on them – as reminders of their covenants. And today, we celebrated Carter's baptism, we acknowledged God's promises to us – unconditional love already at work in Carter long before this day, by promising that his parents, his family, and his extended family, this body of Christ, would be faithful to nurturing him as a child of God. A promise we seal with holy, blessed water. And because we are part of the whole Body of Christ, even though Carter lives far away from us, and even when his own family will be far apart from each other, we know the promise stands because we make it as the Body of Christ. His grandparents and great-grandparents are a part of us, and a part of Carter, and so we are a part of each other, and all part of Christ's body, bound by our promises to God and one another. The promise, and the symbol to remind us of the promise.
Over the summer I shared with you about being a chaplain at Music Camp at Sky Lake, one of our church camps, and talking about Holy Communion as a place where we celebrate God's ability to make the ordinary holy. Remember? We talked about the parables of Jesus, and how he always used ordinary things to describe the kingdom of God – seeds and plants and bread and yeast and fish and water – the stuff of everyday life – to illustrate that God was in everything and everything can be holy because God is in our midst.
Today we celebrate our Consecration Sunday, and that word, consecration, means something like this – making an ordinary thing a holy thing. It literally means to associate something with the sacred – con/with, sacre/sacred. When we offer something up to be consecrated, we are asking God to make it sacred and holy. When we celebrate communion, the last prayer I pray over the elements is called the prayer of consecration; I say, ʺGod, make these gifts be the Body of Christ.ʺ In other words, God, please make this bread, this juice, into holy stuff.
Today, we are offering up our financial commitments to God, and we are asking God to make them holy commitments, not just forms we filled out. We are asking that God make them a symbol of our hopes and dreams, not just numbers in a budget. By consecrating these financial commitments, we are asking and expecting that God give them a weight and significance that goes beyond other bills we pay, even other charities we might support. More than business as usual – consecration is committing a serious act with God.
Maybe I have made Consecration Sunday sound pretty serious all around! And it is! Not because I want to scare us all into giving more or less than we planned to give. As Anne mentioned last week, these commitments don’t represent binding contracts with the church that are burdens that can’t change if your life changes. But Consecration is serious because without Consecration, we can expect everything to unfold just as any income and expense report would. Money in, money out. Budgets and balances. But when we ask God to make the ordinary into the holy, we ask God to make it extraordinary. And then our financial commitments aren’t about dollars and cents anymore. They are about sharing God's love with as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible. They are tools that enable us to feed hungry people and clothe them. They are ways we support our children as they grow in faith and as they teach us about faith. They are symbols of the promise we make – to God, to one another, and to our community, about how we want to be together, serve one another, work together. The promise, and these little commitment cards that are the tangible reminders, the symbols of our promise.
Today we consecrate our financial commitments. Today we make promises. Today we ask God to make our commitments sacred and holy. Today we trust in the promises of God. Today we can trust that God makes our ordinary offering into our extraordinary future. Thanks be to God. Amen.