Sermon: "Consecrate Yourselves"

1st in the "Consecrate Yourselves" series.
Delivered January 7, 2007 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3

Sermon Series: "Consecrate Yourselves"
God has given the church a mission. However, it is not a matter of hearing what God wants, and then just doing it. God is on a mission, and he draws us into it. To go on this mission with God first demands an change in ourselves, because God's mission is changing people, from the inside out. We cannot call people to what we have not experienced. The Bible calls this inward journey of change "holiness", to be set apart, consecrated to a new relationship, a new purpose, a new identity.

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Joshua 3:5

Sermon Notes are at the end.

Well Happy New Year. It's our first worship service of the new year and we have this tradition in U.S. culture that at the start of every new year we kind of evaluate our lives; the tradition of the New Year resolution. Now, most of them don't pan out that well, but we still go after it you know. We resolve that this year is going to be better. We are going to make some progress on certain areas of our lives and you know I think that isn't a bad idea for a church as well, because this is a good church, but it's not a perfect church. There are bigger things, there are different things, there are deeper things, there are more holy things that God is calling us to be; to be more like Jesus Christ. We are not there and so it's a good time for us to evaluate that, take a look at that and to set our face, set our direction in pursuing what God has called us to be.

We have talked a lot over the last few months about the kind of church that God is calling us to be. He is calling us to be a missional church. Being a missional church means that we have the world on our heart, that the things that affect the lives of people half a world away impact our lives and so because of our concern for these things, we support missionaries and we send out people to be missionaries and that's a good thing, and that's part of our identity and its part of what we are called to be as the church of Jesus Christ. But part of being a missional church is to recognize that the problems and the issues aren't just overseas; they are here too, right in our own neighborhoods and here the missionary is us. We are the missionaries. We don't just sent out missionaries, we don't just support missionaries, we are missionaries. That is part of what it means to be a missional church. In other words, there are people that God wants to reach where we live, where we work and where we play and we are the people that are going to move people towards Christ in those places because we are the missionaries.

And so that means that we as a church have made some commitments, commitments to grow deeper, commitments to grow larger; that is why we are making space, to make space for that growth. We are just about topped out here today in terms of what we can fit in this sanctuary. But, we don't want to top out here because the work is not yet done. We are making a commitment to take seriously the needs of the people in our neighborhoods. We are going to learn more together about what that means to reach out to people. We are going to take seriously the needs of this city; not that we haven't before, but even more take serious the fact that God has called us to Baltimore and Baltimore has certain problems. We are going to take our location seriously. God has put us in the middle of all of these college campuses. God has put us in Towson. God has put us on the border of the city and suburbs. All of these things are a part of who we are and we want to be serious about that, because it is part of our calling as a church and we want to build on that.

We have a glimpse of where we are going, but we don't have a road map. We don't know exactly how all of this is going to happen, but we believe that God is going to do it. Well thankfully we are not the first people who have ever been in the situation of having a promise from God, a direction from God, a vision from God without knowing exactly everything about how they are going to live that out. We have a passage that we are going to read today that goes back all the way to the formation of the nation Israel, 1,000's of years back and here are people who have had a promise for hundreds of years. God has promised them a land and their ancestors carried that promise around in their heart. They built stone mounds of remembrance, altars in the middle of this land as they passed through as a reminder of the promise that God has given, even though they didn't yet have possession of it. They went through slavery in Egypt. They were delivered from that slavery and then spent 40 years wandering around the wilderness, the desert. And then now they are on the edge of the land that God has promised; they can see it. It is right across the river, but that river is at flood stage. There are no bridges. There are no boats. There is no safe place to fiord this river because of that flood stage, and yet they are at the edge and God is saying to them, "This is your land. I am going to take you in." Let's hear what Joshua said to the people on that day. We are going to look at Joshua, Chapter 3; it's in the Old Testament, Verses 1-5.

"Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it."

And I want you to hear particularly Verse 5:

"Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."

I want you to particularly notice Verse 5 because that is the theme verse for this year for Central Presbyterian Church. Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.

Let's pray. God we come before your word and pray now that you will speak to us wherever we are in our walk with you, help us to hear just what we need to move more towards Christ and to respond to you with the obedience that comes through faith. For we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

"Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you." They are right on the edge of the land. They are ready to grasp the promise that they have been carrying around in their hearts for hundreds of years and then Joshua goes around to all the people; not just the leaders, all the people and says to them, "Consecrate yourselves." It's a word to everybody. What I find interesting here is that he is going around and talking to people and he is not saying "check your shields and sharpen your swords because we are going into battle." That would be a logical thing to say at this particular place in their history, but he is not. Instead, there is this issue of consecration, "consecrate yourselves for the Lord's going to do some amazing things among you."

Consecrate yourselves, what does that mean? Consecrate means to dedicate something or somebody to a specific purpose, to dedicate someone or somebody or something to a particular purpose. Now this word in Hebrew can be also translated sanctify; a word we use in church. It means to set apart for a specific purpose. We also could use the words "make holy" for the same phrase, for the same word. There is a particular moral aspect to this that comes out when you take this same word and translate it purify, dedicate, sanctify, purify, make holy, all of these are valid translations of this word in this passage; to dedicate it.

One of the delights as pastor here is I get a chance to celebrate with so many families as they anticipate having a new baby. It might be, as they get ready for an adoption. It might be, as they get ready for a natural birth. But there is a certain excitement that hits the family particularly with the first child, because inevitably there is something in the household, they go in to a household and there is a room that's your office and sort of your junk room and you walk in and you say that "This is no longer the junk room. It is no longer the office. This is going to be the nursery." So you look at those file cabinets. Now these are valuable files and all, but you know you start looking through it and you say, "No, I have got to make this ready for somebody special." So you look through those files again and you throw away a lot of them and you keep a few and you store them over in the closet, because you have got to make this room ready for somebody special.

Then you look at that desk. You have had that desk since college. Boy, the memories; the times you didn't study in front of that desk. But you know, you've got move that desk. You will have to put it out in storage or maybe we have got to get rid of it because we don't have storage, because we have got to make room, because somebody special is coming and this is going to be a nursery. And the walls, the walls are white. You can't have white walls in this nursery. It's got to be some kind of amazing color and then you've got to put fancy little drapes and curtains and stuff and whatever you put around the top of the room, that thing with balloons on it and stuff, you've got to have that because it's a nursery. It's dedicated. It's set apart. It's going to be something special. It's for somebody special and then you are going to clean it and clean it again, maybe clean it again. It will be the cleanest room in the house, because this is for the baby. Consecrated, set apart for somebody special.

We are called to be consecrated to God, set apart for somebody special. What an amazing privilege. God wants us to be ready for him. For Israel this involved, this consecration involved some ritual things. It involved a ritual washing of themselves, a ritual washing of their clothes. They lived in a culture where water was scarce, so they didn't bathe every day; so bathing and washing your clothes was a pretty big deal. And so, it was viewed as sort of a symbolic moment of starting in a new direction, in a new stage of life even. You see that in the New Testament where it talks about cleansing and water and putting on new clothes as being a symbol of living a new life. It was part of their mindset. So they would symbolically wash in this anticipation that something is going to be different; something is changing.

But what was changing had to happen on a heart level. It's not just ritual. It's heart. They had to put their attention on God. They had to draw close. They had to pay attention. They had to be available. They had to be ready, because God was coming to do something. And getting ready for God is not a casual thing. Before Jesus began his ministry, John the Baptist goes out and he proclaims a message. Mark 1, Verse 3:

"Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him."

God is coming. Get ready. Prepare. Be ready for somebody special. And so in the New Testament after they heard the preaching of John the Baptist they confessed their sins, they made restitution for things they did wrong, they got baptized. Again this picture of cleansing as part of preparing for Jesus; getting ready for somebody special.

We are at a major moment in the life of our congregation. God has been faithful in the past. It's amazing when we look back at the history of this church. The faithful leaders that God has given us at a time when so many churches were losing their way, this church kept focus upon the scriptures, upon the power of God, upon serving Jesus Christ. God has been with this congregation through some very difficult, rough times in people's lives. There has been outreach in Jesus' name. There has been discipling and teaching and raising up people who actually live out the life that God is calling us to live in some measure. We have had a history of loving each other and serving each other. It's a great gift, but the best days of Central Presbyterian Church are not behind us. I believe that the best days are still ahead and I believe that because God is still faithful. God is still as big as ever and the job is just not done yet. There is still a promise. There is still a promised land out there, but the promise is to Jesus.

Jesus gave us a command as the church. "As you go make disciples of all nations." That's a commission to us as the church, but before it was a command given to the church, it was a promise given to Jesus and we see it in Psalm 2, Verses 7 and 8 and it says this:

"I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession."

The earth has been promised to Jesus Christ. He is the Lord. He is the king. He is the master and it's not just a matter of geography; it's a matter of lives. There are people that Jesus died to save. There is a world that is on God's heart. Right now you are close to a businessman or a businesswoman who has worked hard and has become successful, maybe cut a few throats on the way up the ladder of success. And now they've got the prestige and they've got the money, but they don't have a family, they don't have a life and they are empty inside and Jesus died for them. And there is an answer, there is a hope, there is a healing that can come to the life of that person and we are part of bringing that message and that power into their lives, because we are the missionaries.

There are some single mothers out there, lonely, trying to make ends meet, working hard and yet still in their spare time trying to have a family that works, giving a life to their kids, as well as trying to work to provide for them, feeling discouraged and guilty, beaten down. Who can win against those odds? And yet, Jesus has a word of hope for them; a word of forgiveness, a word of restoration and a community that can surround that person and help uphold them through the challenges that will come. Jesus longs to touch that person. There are some people struggling with drug addition, trying to hold together the details of their lives, as things fall apart underneath them, feeling their own weakness every day. Jesus died for them; longs to bring healing, longs to bring power and deliverance, longs to bring the power of the Holy Spirit to change them into the image of Christ and we are a part of that. We are the missionaries.

And then there are those orphans, AIDS orphans in Malawi or Kenya and other places; children who are just ready to hear the gospel, ready to respond to God, but who is there to proclaim it to them? And who is there to help hold their lives together and feed them and protect them from the dangers of the street until that day? We are a part of that. One of us might be that missionary and the rest of us might be supporting and praying for them.

The job is not done. The world is still on Jesus' heart and so that means that God will act. God is going to act among us. We have seen him do it before and he is going to do it again in new ways. So we need to be ready. We need to be ready for somebody special. But are we? Are we ready? One of my prayers is that I will never "play church." I do not want to get to the end of my life and look back and know that I jumped through all the institutional hoops, made all of the programs happen and yet didn't do what God called me to do. God deliver me from that life. I want to be the pastor and I want this to be the church that Jesus Christ died to make us, nothing less. And that might call for some sacrifice from me that when that day comes I might struggle with, but right now I am willing to face it. It's not play church. God has a calling for us that is much too wonderful for that. And so, we need to be ready. We need to be consecrated. So let's think for just a few minutes about what it means to consecrate ourselves.

The first meaning of this idea of consecration grows out of the fact that one of the words is purify. There is a moral meaning behind this idea of consecration. There are things in our lives that have to go. There are attitudes, ambitions, dreams, daydreams that have to go. God wants us to be pure inside and we are not going to have complete victory over that tomorrow. There is going to be a struggle involved, but we've got to commit ourselves afresh to the struggle, to have the inner life consecrated, relationships brought under control, habits be broken, thoughts and ambitions that need to be cleaned up. This has to happen; the heart and the mind to be pure.

But we also have to consecrate our time. One of the experiences that I have had being here is that this is an incredibly busy group of people; me included. And think of how often we use our busyness as an excuse for things that we don't do in our spiritual life. I am too busy to read the scripture. I am too busy to pray. I am too busy to be available for this thing, this burden that God is putting in my life. God I am too busy. We've got to design some margin in to our lives, some elbow room. And so that is going to mean that we are going to have to say no to some things. Some of us are going to have to say no to some things at work. Some of us are going to have to say no to some things at home.

For example, TV and video games. Now let me make a confession here. This is hard. My daughter and son-in-law don't have cable and they don't have rabbit ears. They don't have an aerial. They don't get broadcast TV. So I go to their house thinking, what a cool way of freeing up life so that TV doesn't grab you and strangle you. Well, I get to their house and they have one hundred million DVD's. We are stepping on DVD's. We are storing DVD's. We are finding duplicate DVD's. I watched more TV that week and when I wasn't on the TV, I had my computer with me and I didn't do a lick of work on it. I played games on that computer for a week. Now, I don't feel that guilty about it, because it was my week off. But if that intrudes in to my daily life too much, it's got to stop and it's not easy; TV, video games, Internet and things like that.

What about sports and activities? These are good things. We want to be involved in these things, but I have seen families driven by the commitments they make and their children make and all they do for a period of six or eight years is chase their kids around frantically sweating as they drive the SUV from event to event. Is that the life God is calling you to? Is that more important than the spiritual and emotional space than the family time? Than the availability to others? It's a question that you have to ask. Consecrate your time.

Consecrate your money. I just want to hit one issue on that one. Get out of debt. Debt is a huge issue for us in America right now. We've got to consecrate our money. We've got to get to the point where we earn more than we spend or spend less than we earn. And when that happens we are no longer receiving the help of others. We have the elbow room. We have the extra. We have the grace back in to our lives that we then can give to others and be used of God. Do you know one of the number one reasons people can't go in to the mission field now is debt. It's not that they are not willing. It's not that they don't have the right gifts. It's not that they don't have the right education, it's that they have $60,000-$100,000 worth of debt and there is no way they can raise the money to serve in another country and pay off the debt at the same time. We've got to work on that. Consecrate your money.

We've got to consecrate our gifts. God has given us gifts. Those gifts are useful in our personal lives. Those gifts are useful in our work lives, but those gifts are given by the Holy Spirit for kingdom life, which includes family life and work life. God wants to use gifts in you for things that bring specific glory to Jesus Christ in the church, in the workplace, out on the street, in another country, God wants to use your gifts. Are we learning what they are and are we making them available to God, consecrate your gifts.

All of these things require a response from us, our will. God leaves a foundation, but we have to get engaged in it and I want to give you a New Testament verse that talks about this sort of consecration. It comes in the Book of 2nd Timothy, Chapter 2, Verses 20 and 21 and it says this:

"In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work."

There are all kinds of things that clutter up life, just like they clutter up our house, that room that has been collecting things for years, there comes that day that because of the birth of that new baby, we go in to that room and we start getting rid of the things that aren't important. We get rid of the things that are standing in the way of something that's much more important and we need to do that with our lives. Cut the clutter. Clean out the corners. Consecrate ourselves.

This is a good year to do that, because I believe that God is going to be working among us. 2007 our verse is "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you." God is going to do amazing things among us. I am convinced of it, not because we are worthy, not because we are skilled or because we are great, but because it's time. We are living in that time when God is going to do something among us. We will see God's grace and power in ways that we haven't seen before. Lives will be changed. Our lives will be changed as we engage with God in this. And what's most important and most exciting is in new and deeper ways Christ will be worshipped and obeyed and God will do this, not us, but we do have a responsibility to consecrate ourselves, to be prepared, available, ready to use when this happens, to be in the right place facing in the right direction with our eyes and hearts open, ready to respond, ready to follow, ready for someone special. Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you. Let's get ready.

Let's pray. God, as we head towards this time of communion, we pray now that we will be mindful of our own consecration, our own dedication to you, and that you will be showing us day by day, step by step, what needs to happen in our lives. For we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

con·se·crate (transitive verb): to dedicate something or somebody to a specific purpose.
  • Sanctify
  • Purify
  • Make Holy
  • Dedicate
  • A Heart Issue:
    • Attention on God
    • Draw Close
    • Pay attention
    • Be available
    • Be Ready
  • Are you spiritually ready?
  • 2 Timothy 2:20-21

© 2007, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145