Sermon: Tomorrow Won't Wait
Tomorrow Won’t Wait
Texts: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Matthew 25:1-13
(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church, Covesville, VA, 11-12-2017)
I was young, in love, and seriously broke. But since I was young and in love, I did not let the “broke” part stop me. I saved and scraped enough just enough money to make a reservation at a romantic restaurant in Williamsburg, with a table that overlooked a cascading waterfall. I got dressed up in my most debonair polyester plaid suit, picked up my beloved Jennell in my ’65 Chevy Chevelle chariot, drove to the restaurant, pulled out the chair for her, and tried to behave as if I were accustomed to such elegant surroundings.
The waiter nailed us at once. “These are a couple of poor college students trying to act like they have money and that means I’ll get none tonight.” I had a plan for the evening, but the waiter’s plan was better executed. My plan was to spend a leisurely night, sipping iced tea (after all, we were not twenty-one yet) and gazing into Jennell’s eyes. Our waiter served us with lightening efficiency and everything seemed just a tad bit rushed, but being inexperienced in such elegant settings, how was I to judge?
My plan began to unravel seriously when the waiter started to wipe down our table only minutes after serving us the entree. He hovered about us with his Windex and rag in hand, and he placed the bill on my lap when I took my last bite of chicken.
I wish this story had a happier ending, but the truth is that I paid the bill and we were bum rushed out of the restaurant just like he wanted. Years later, when I think of that spoiled romantic evening, I still get mad just as I do whenever I feel anyone rushing me to do something or be somewhere or change something right now.
I do not like to be rushed. Those who know me well are smiling now because they know that I have been known to rush things along, people along. Maybe I do not like to be rushed because I have spent too much of my life in rushed settings, with alarms and sirens and beeps and buzzers pushing me to do this or say that right now. When everything is important, nothing is important. Increasingly, when I am told that something has to happen right now, my gut reaction is: “No, I bet it can wait until tomorrow.”
So, when I read the parable of Jesus and read the climactic ending of the book of Joshua, I began to twitch. In both stories, there is an urgency, a decided sense of rush that has less and less appeal to me.
Joshua has finished the job that Moses started. He has led his people into the Promised Land, but like any land, it turns out to be a place filled with the temptation to follow lesser loyalties than the Lord God. Joshua looks out over a sea of familiar faces and asks his people to make a choice about God this day, to choose right now.
Joshua stands at the crossroads of a new life in a new land and declares to his people: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The book of Joshua is not a book about a leader rushing his people to make a decision. The end of the book of Joshua reminds me of a common saying of former Coach John Wooten, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Joshua can make a quick, unhurried decision because he has been preparing for this moment all his life. The same is true for the people of God. So, Joshua asks them to make a decision that just won’t wait until tomorrow.
The voice of Joshua continues to call the people of God to decision, to make a choice as we do whenever we come to waters of baptism. Parents or grandparents or grown adults stand before the waters of grace and are asked to make a choice. It is an urgent choice, but not a rushed one.
Talitha Arnold (a pastor of a UCC church in Sante Fe) says that if we take Joshua seriously at baptism we will ask more than a generic: “`Do you promise to grow with this child in the Christian faith and offer him or her the nurture of the Christian church?’”
Talitha writes, “Instead I would ask, in front of God and the whole congregation, `Do you promise to get him or her out of bed, dressed and here every Sunday morning for the next 18 years, even when you’ve had a long week or you’d rather sleep in or there’s a soccer match or when this darling infant has grown into a surly, tatooed teenager who thinks church is dumb?’”
I think Talitha is on to something here and I would add one more question. I would ask the congregation: “Do you promise to love this child, to know her by name, to listen to him no matter how hard it is to hear what they have to say, to be an advocate for all children and youth in worship even when others want them to be seen and not heard? And, will you do this even when you are single or a couple with no children or your children have long since left home?” My baptismal question asks if we will prepare all who comes to the waters of baptism to make a choice so that when their moment of urgent decision-making comes, they can make a quick but not hurried decision.
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” says Joshua. It is an urgent choice, but not a hurried choice; a choice that just won’t wait until tomorrow. The old spiritual says it this way, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.” There is nothing provisional about the words from Joshua and nothing optional about the words from the parable. I love the way that Jill Duffield speaks of this parable: “There is a mundane quality to this parable. Go . . . to the grocery store, buy some oil, get what you need to pack the kids' lunches, don't forget the cat litter. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. Call your mother. Check in on your neighbor. Write a note to the college student who has not been to church since she left for school. Keep awake. Be present when your partner wants to process the stress of work even when you'd rather watch Netflix. Be alert to the baby's cry down the hall, to the lonely person on the pew, to your own need to ask for help. [Keep your lamps trimmed and burning].”
To follow the Lord God means that you and I do not segment our lives, so that God gets us on occasional Sundays and maybe for grace before dinner and for an occasional bedtime prayer, while real life gets us the rest of the time. To follow the Lord God means that we “choose this day,” every day, that we “keep our lamps trimmed and burning,” that we are God’s children around the clock, from the moment we awake to the moment we fall asleep, from the moment of our birth to the quiet seeming finality of our last breath.
Jennell and I have been audited only one time, and trust me, once is enough. When we got the audit letter from the IRS, it sent chills down our spines, as if the letter itself was a guilty verdict. After we calmed down enough to read the full letter, we learned that we were being audited for our charitable giving. We met with the IRS auditor, showed her our cancelled checks, and she said, “That’s a lot of money you are giving away when you don’t make all that much money.” Unable to resist a teaching moment, I responded, “That would be true if it were our money in the first place.”
To follow the Lord God is to know that life and all within our lives is a gift from God. It is to know to the very core of our being that “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It is to greet each new day by keeping our “lamps trimmed and burning.” Those words from Joshua and the parable of Jesus are not the words of an annoying waiter who is rushing us, hurrying us to do something that we are not prepared to do; they are words borne of grace, baptismal words that shape us and form us in the womb of God’s love. What we give of ourselves to God is not an obligatory formula to get God off our backs, but a joyful response to God, whose extravagant grace always has our backs.
Listen to Joshua and Matthew and it is clear that whatever we give to God is a deliberate choice, not from a hurried thought, but as our first thought. It is not whatever is leftover that we can manage to share after we have given to the political party of our choice, the Cancer Society, or the alumni association. What we give to God flows directly from the choice that God has made for us in Christ Jesus, celebrated again and again in these baptismal waters. It is a choice that leads us to “keep our lamps trimmed and burning,” to affirm right now, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
It is not a life-changing choice, but not a hurried choice. It is a deliberate choice and it is a choice that just won’t wait until tomorrow.