Sunday, July 27, 2008

Commitment, Abby!

Genesis 29: 15-28a
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-45

The summer I was Joe’s age was the summer of 1976. In Boston, visiting relatives, I was introduced to a movie that has been my touchstone for American Revolutionary history, for better or for worse since, the movie of the musical 1776. It’s fascinating to have learned over the years how much the authors of the show quoted directly from historical documents, working things into actually song and dance numbers.

Specifically, there is a long solo number by John Adams character, in which he is writing to his wife, Abigail, about what the Continental Congress has done in approving the Declaration of Independence. The lines of the song come from actual letters John Adams wrote to his wife back in Massachusetts. The quote is:

"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth all the means." – John Adams

. . . and then, in the song, he follows that up with a stage-shouted “Commitment!”

He probably didn’t do that in real life. The shouting bit, I mean. I don’t know, he was known as a rather hot-tempered guy. But what he writes on the day after the Declaration was approved, the day before it was signed by John Hancock, is true of anything worthwhile.

Jesus, speaking of the kingdom of heaven, compares it in a parable to a pearl that a merchant sells everything he has to be able to buy. He also compares the Kingdom of heaven to a treasure hidden in a field that someone knows about, and sells all that he has to buy the field.

In both, the Kingdom of God is worth all we have.

The Story of Jacob today, speaks of the same thing. Through seven hears of toil, being tricked by Laban into marrying Leah, and agreeing to seven more years, Jacob’s pearl, his treasure in the field, is Rachel.

When we commit to causes, ideals, when we truly commit, what we are doing is opening ourselves up to change. We are saying “this is what I believe. This is what I want. This is what I need.” The pursuit of it may very well change me, but I believe that those changes will be, on the whole, positive”.

My cousin Kris, whom I just reacquainted myself with last weekend in Colorado, is involved with an event that takes a good chunk of commitment. Every female in her mothers’ side of the family has experienced either breast or ovarian cancer. She, her sister, her mother and their aunt are all that is left of all the women on her mothers’ side; the rest have all died of cancer. Her father, my uncle, died of cancer. Her aunt has fought it and has been in remission for 8 years. Kris and Lindsay’s commitment is to participate in the American Cancer Society 3 Day.

You’ve heard of the Relay for Life, I am sure. Well, this is the extreme relay. Rather than one 24 hour period of people walking, in teams, it is 3 days, it is 60 miles, and each person cannot get on the track unless they have $2200 in commitments from others. Individually. They have to train, they have to get into shape to even do the event, which of course changes their bodies. They have to raise funds to a deeper degree than the regular Relay for Life, an event which is hard enough already. Kris and Lindsay have made their commitments, and participating in these events, like yeast through dough, over time has changed them.

As Christians, we are called to commitment. We are called to submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are called to build the Kingdom of heaven on earth, or more powerfully, to let it be built in us. Like the merchant, we must sell all we have to follow. Like the man who hid his treasure, we must give everything to be able to buy the field the treasure is in. And the way we sell everything is through committing ourselves. All in. All the chips to the center of the table. Football players talk about leaving it all on the field, and that is what we are called to do as Christians. Our tiny little bit of faith, totally committed, grows. That’s the lesson of the mustard seed. Yeast is small, but powerful. Two cups of the wee beasties, mixed with warm water, will ferment 13,000 gallons of grape juice into prime Pinot Noir in two days.

Commit all that we have, even though it is small, and stay committed, and watch what happens. It takes a long time for something worthwhile to come to fruition, but it is sure and worthy of full acceptance to say that that without commitment, nothing worthwhile happens. It took 14 years for Jacob to finally earn Rachel. It has taken 232 years for the United States of America to develop to the nation it is today, and many believe that the nation is not finished yet, that that particular mustard bush hasn’t yet realized it’s full potential.

It takes a long time to become mature in the faith, for the Kingdom of heaven to grow within us, and through us to the world.

Jesus calls us to commitment. If you are not already, commit to regular prayer. If you are already regularly praying, commit to regularly reading the Bible. If you are doing both of those, commit to fasting. If you are already committed to all three, find another way to up your commitment to the Kingdom of Christ. Give yourself time, and be patient with yourself, as you adjust to the new commitment in your life. Jacob, in pursuit of his goal, nevertheless spent 14 years just getting up and working.

Give it all, every day. When you go to bed at night, ask whether you have given your all to build the Kingdom in your heart and in the world. If you have, you will get up and do it again tomorrow. If you haven’t, forgive yourself, for you are already forgiven in the eyes of God, and get up and try again tomorrow. You will see, to use John Adams’ words, that the end was worth all the means.

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