Sermon
November 10, 2002
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Matthew 25:1-13

1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (NRSV)

Joshua 24:14-25

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors -- lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6 When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 When they cried out to the LORD, I made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant

14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."

19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." 21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!" 22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel." 24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey." 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. (NRSV)

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Sermon - Only 2 choices

We confess our faith in God, our heavenly Creator and our reverent love for Jesus Christ, our savior, and our willingness to be guided by the holy spirit. We promise, as members of this Church, to walk together as Christians, obedient to the teachings of the Holy Scripture, and to participate in the government, worship, stewardship and mission of this Church. This we do for the glory of God, for the good of our neighbors and for the mutual growth in Christian grace, seeking to do all in faith, fellowship and service in the spirit of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

This is our Church covenant with God, with each other and also – even though it doesn’t specify it, because we voted as a congregation in the 50’s to join the United Church of Christ, this covenant connects us to our denomination. We reaffirmed this covenant last Sunday when we received new members.

A covenant is an agreement between two parties, that specifies how people will behave. It begins with the reason for the covenant, in this case, because we all profess the same set of religious beliefs, and moves on to the action that is promised. It closes with the fruit that we hope will follow our actions, the final affirmation.

How seriously do we take this, our promises?

We make promise when a person is Baptized here also – we promise to welcome those baptized into the fellowship of the Church of Jesus Christ and to offer them our support, care and nurture in the love of God and in faithfulness to our Lord. And the parents promise to raise their child in the knowledge and the love of God.

These promises are the interpretation of the phrase, “Walk together as Christians, obedient to the teaching of the holy scriptures” that is in our covenant.

Our covenant is our promise to serve the Lord.

How seriously do we take these promises?

That is what Joshua was asking his followers. They had been exiles in Egypt, led out of bondage across the red sea. They had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, unsure of where their next meal would come from. They had nearly died of thirst in the desert. They had trusted God to bring them into the promised land… And it came to pass. God fulfilled the promise – and they found themselves in the land of milk and honey. And Joshua says to them – look at all that God has done for you –God takes this covenant seriously – how seriously will you take it?

Joshua wants to get a firm commitment out of the gathered… this is their annual reaffirmation of faith. They say, “of course we will serve the Lord.” Joshua presses them – it is not enough to just say the words. you have to live it. You can’t say that you will serve the Lord and then occasionally rely on some good luck gods, just in case. You can’t say that you will serve the Lord and then celebrate the festivals of other gods… God will notice, believe me. Do you or don’t you trust in Lord? There are only 2 choices. You don’t get to edit the covenant, - say – take out what you don’t exactly agree with or soft peddle the tough parts. You must believe it with your heart and your soul and you must strive to live it fully, every minute of every day. It is a package. When your covenant is with God, Either do it all or go on your way.

Aren’t we glad that Joshua wasn’t standing here last Sunday – he would have said – after we proclaimed our covenant, ok, that means that. you will be here every Sunday without fail –this will be your priority and you will tithe to our Church – not just the 2% that is our goal, the whole 10 % - before taxes - there will never be a budget shortfall again. And if you get called to serve on a committee, you will feel so honored that you will not only accept, but will work tirelessly. Our missions will be your missions – poverty could disappear forever. and It the sanctuary needs paint, you will be the one on the scaffolding, if the parking lot needs to be paved – well, you get my drift.

And when parents promise to raise their children in the knowledge and love of God, Joshua would say – OK< here is what you have promised you will get this kid out of bed, every Sunday for the next 18 or so years, even when he or she has grown into a surly teenager with piercings and tattoos who says “church is too BORING.” This kid will sing in the choir – get the Sunday school pin for perfect attendance and you will never forget - as this child’s parents, to read the bible regularly and pray before each meal.

Aren’t we glad Joshua isn’t here to hold our feet to the fire.

There is one big difference between Joshua’s covenant and our covenant. in Joshua’s covenant between God and the people there are stated consequences. “Our God is a jealous God, he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord – he will turn and do you harm and consume you after having done you good.”

This is accountability at its greatest… real consequences.

Our covenant has no stated consequences. – they used to be there. In the early 90’s we subtracted one part of one sentence.

“We promise to be obedient to the teachings of holy scripture and to submit to the government and discipline of this Church until we are regularly dismissed therefrom.”

Now, we didn’t remove that because we thought that it was theologically unsound – we removed it because the language seemed archaic and the idea, we felt that the consequences were implicit in the concept of covenant.

In every two way agreement, there are natural consequences for not complying. Even though we don’t believe that God will punish us if we violate our covenant, The consequences for us don’t have to be stated to be clear. When we honor the covenant the Church is successful. Things go well, our missions bear fruit, our elderly feel supported, our youth grow up and return to the Church with their families, our children learn that this is the place where they are safe so they can grow in their faith. When we honor our covenant, our lives take a certain shape so that we can continue to learn about our relationship with God,

We see the evidence of our commitment to God right here, for we are a successful Church. We have growing, we readily volunteer for mission projects and we can tell that the children are happy here. But that doesn’t mean our work is done.

The responsibility for this Church is ours – the consequences inherent in the covenant are ours, the choice is ours.
Amen.

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