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A Note on Reconsecration

 

Exodus 24:3-8

 

I: — What did people do before the invention of dry-cleaning? How did they ever remove stains? They didn’t. Stains worthy of the word “stain” were simply indelible.

Blood stains. Bloodstains are fixed fast in clothing. When Moses assembled the people before him, gathered blood in a basin and flung the blood out over the people, he knew what he was doing. He knew that every morning when the people put on their clothing the bloodstains would remind them.

Remind them of what? Of the promise they had made to God with their neighbours as witnesses. They had already received the Ten Commandments, the ten “words” that had forged their identity and would form their obedience ever after. On the day they received the ten “words” they had pledged themselves in gratitude to God for releasing them from slavery in Egypt, for rescuing them when they were on the point of annihilation at the Red Sea, and even for the freedom that the Commandments themselves provided them. On this occasion they had pledged their heartfelt, grateful service to God. But pledges and promises are easy to forget. Zeal evaporates. Commitment wanes. Dedication dribbles away. For this reason Moses assembled the people before him for a service of rededication, reconsecration.

The service was graphic. Since sin isn’t a trifle and can’t be pardoned cheaply; since God isn’t naïve and can’t be approached presumptuously; since the Holy One is just that – holy – and his creatures are defiled; since…; all of these considerations were gathered up in a sacrifice of oxen whose blood was reserved. Half of the blood was thrown against the altar, the altar being the symbol of God’s presence among his people. The other half of the blood was thrown over the people, the sign that they owned the sacrifice that admitted them to God’s presence and allowed them to survive in God’s presence. As the blood seeped into their clothing they renewed their pledge and promise to God, crying out together, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”(Exod. 24:7)

Those people never got the bloodstains out of their clothing. Every morning they clothed themselves with the sign and seal of their reconsecration to the Lord.

 

II: — Actually the sacrifice that Moses had offered was an anticipation, a foreshadowing, of that one, effectual sacrifice that the Son of God himself would make, a sacrifice of such a nature as never to have to be repeated. On the eve of this sacrifice Jesus called out, “Father, the hour has come.” It was that “hour” of which he had spoken again and again throughout his earthly ministry. Now he was consecrating himself to the Father with utmost intensity. “For their sake (i.e., for the disciples’ sake) I consecrate myself”, he cried, “that they also may be consecrated in truth.” (John 17:19) Jesus consecrates himself to the Father in order that his disciples may consecrate themselves too.

To consecrate, in scripture, is to dedicate or set apart a person to a sacred purpose related to the service of God. Jesus dedicates himself to the service of his Father so that his disciples will do the same as they discern the particular service to which God has appointed them. You and I are disciples too. Then our Lord has done as much for us in order that we might consecrate ourselves to God as well.

Today, in our annual service of Sunday School Teacher Dedication, we are recalling our Lord’s consecration to the Father’s appointment in expectation that these teachers will consecrate themselves (or reconsecrate themselves) to the service to which God has called them. And yet this service is more than a service of reconsecration for Sunday School Teachers, with the rest of the congregation looking on as spectators. Today’s service is a service of reconsecration for everyone of every age and every situation. To be sure, what the eighty year-old brings to the service is different from what the eight year-old brings. The eighty year-old brings her mature experience of the God who has confirmed himself in her life time without number. The eight year-old brings the curiosity and the mental pictures that flood her whenever she hears the word “God.” But under no circumstances must we ever say, “Eight? Only Eight?”

 

III: — To say “only” would be to sneer at the One whose hand has been on these children in Streetsville since they were born, even before they were born. It was as a mature man, gripped by a vocation he could neither doubt nor deny nor escape, that Jeremiah heard God say, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5) Let’s be sure we note the precise details here: before Jeremiah was born God knew him, God formed him, God consecrated him, God appointed him. To be known by God is to be given an identity before God, an identity that no occurrence in life, good or bad, can alter or affect, never mind destroy. To be formed by God is to be given that bodily existence that is crowned with the ineradicable image of God himself. To be consecrated by God is to be set apart for a specific purpose. To be appointed by God is to have that specific purpose named. All of this transpired before Jeremiah was born.

Before Jeremiah alone was born? Of course not. Scripture says as much about Samuel, about Paul, about John the Baptist. In other words, this is the truth for every human being. I was fourteen years old when I became aware of my vocation to the ministry. But I have never assumed that the day I became aware of my vocation is the day God thought it up. The children whom our Sunday School teachers are to teach in the coming church-year: before these children were born God knew them, formed them, consecrated them and appointed them. The fact that these children aren’t yet aware of their vocation doesn’t mean that God hasn’t yet appointed them to it. He has.

Needless to say, one person’s vocation isn’t a carbon copy of another’s. Needful to say, any person’s vocation can assume different expressions in the course of life as God directs us here or there, uses us in this manner or that, summons us to attend to developments that no one could foresee. Plainly, then, what matters above all else is that we never trifle with or disregard that Spirit-sensitivity wherein we daily discern the tasks to which God summons us. Since it matters above all else that we never trifle with or disregard such Spirit-sensitivity ourselves, it matters above all else that we foster the environment, the atmosphere in which others will abhor trifling with or disregarding the selfsame Spirit-sensitivity needed for their obedience to God.

 

III: — In other words, we must always endeavour to provide the environment in which our Sunday School children come, little by little, to discern and own all that God fashioned for them before they were born. We adult believers are to provide such an environment. Our faith, our manifest possession at the hands of the gospel, our prioritizing of public worship and private prayer, our unselfconscious dinner-table conversations where as much is caught as taught; above all, our glorying in our own vocation – it’s all to provide the atmosphere in which a child’s faith may germinate and thrive.

Whenever I think of such an atmosphere I think of the development in Corinth which Paul addressed forthrightly. Different individuals had come to faith in Jesus Christ after they were married. They were now believers but their spouse was not. What were they to do? There were some “hardliners” in the congregation there who said, “Since light has nothing to do with darkness, and since those who lie down with dogs get up with fleas, the believing person should leave the unbelieving spouse.” Paul disagreed most emphatically. He maintained that the believing partner should continue to live with the unbelieving spouse, for in doing so the believing partner would provide the atmosphere, the environment, in which the unbelieving spouse might come to faith. Listen to the apostle’s exact wording: “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:14) The apostle isn’t pretending that the faith of one spouse can be transferred to the other or credited to the other. At the same time, if the unbelieving partner is ever to be “infected” with faith, there has to be contact with someone who is currently contagious. Therefore the believing partner shouldn’t abandon the spouse who hasn’t been faith-infected – yet. It’s the same with our Sunday School children. The teachers who have consecrated themselves to the service of the Sunday School children are doing so for the sake of those children in order that the children eventually consecrate themselves to the service of God. To this end teachers provide the atmosphere wherein faith can be quickened in children, vocation discerned, God’s appointment owned – and all of this not once but many times over in the course of the child’s development. That to which God consecrated and appointed children before they were born they can come to know and own only after they’ve been born. And they will come to know it only as they are consecrated by that environment in which faith and discernment and obedience are the atmosphere inhaled and exhaled week after week.

Several years ago on Teacher Dedication Sunday I preached a sermon, Where Are They Now?, in which I spoke of the Sunday School teachers I had had as a youth. I can still recall every one. I can still recall the idiosyncrasies of each; I can still recall what I gained from each. How is it I can recall all of this? How is it I can do so with merriment and gratitude? It’s because they shaped me profoundly, and shaped me profoundly, I am sure, even when they were scratching their head and wondering if anything was “getting through.” We must never underestimate our influence with young people.

In 1931 Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught a confirmation class of rowdy boys in Wedding, a working-class district of Berlin. Bonhoeffer himself belonged to the old German aristocracy. One of his grandparents had been a piano-pupil of Franz Liszt, the piano virtuoso of his era. Bonhoeffer’s father was a neurologist, professor at Berlin University’s Faculty of Medicine and director of the Berlin Neurological Hospital. His older brother was chief lawyer for Lufthansa airlines. The pastor in Wedding had died unexpectedly. The confirmation class was without a teacher. Bonhoeffer was asked to fill in. In 1931 Germany was economically destitute. These boys came from families who had nothing. The first time Bonhoeffer walked up the stairs to the second-floor room where the class was to be held the boys threw lunch-box remains down the stairwell at him. At the end of each class-period the boys went home to an urban squalour that only inner-city slums of the depression era could produce. In order to be closer to the boys Bonhoeffer moved out of his own home and rented a room where the boys lived. When he saw the deprivation the boys lived with daily, Bonhoeffer put aside his holiday plans (overseas travel) and instead took the class on a two-week holiday to the Harz Mountains. It was the first time that most of the boys had seen anything but asphalt and grime. Listen to what Richard Rother, a member of that class, had to say about their teacher:

In the course of time we…confirmands from the slums of Berlin were scattered to the four winds. We were shocked and deeply moved to hear that our pastor had to die a cruel death as a martyr in the discipleship of Jesus Christ in April 1945. [Bonhoeffer was hanged three weeks before the Americans liberated his part of Germany.] The gratitude which I feel for having had such a pastor in our confirmation class makes me write down these recollections.

Richard Rother, conscripted in 1943 (twelve years after the class), survived the war. He wrote this tribute to his teacher 33 years after his exposure to Bonhoeffer.

 

V: — There is one more matter to be discussed this morning. What is the qualification for consecrating ourselves to the service of God? In his second letter to Timothy the older man, Paul, writes, “If anyone purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:21-22) The key to consecration is shunning youthful passions.

 

We must be sure to understand what the apostle means by “youthful passions” and why they are to be shunned if we are serious about consecrating ourselves to God’s service. “Youthful passions” are the vehement, intense preoccupations of young people. A facial pimple is sufficient ground for suicide. A phone call from the class beau brummel precipitates mania. Not being asked to the highschool prom is the end of the world. “Youthful passions” are the passionate, exaggerated, horizon-filling, life-consuming preoccupations of younger people who attach utmost passion to what is decidedly less than utmost important.

Young people do this? Adults do it too! Middle-aged people do it; elderly people do it. All of us tend to attach utmost passion to what is far from utmost important. All of us attach utmost passion to what is frivolous, froth, fleeting, shallow, unsubstantial, inconsequential. Our new car has a disc-player that can find musical tunes by key signature. Wow! The Dow-Jones average shifted a smidgen and the value of our RRST went up $9.43. Awesome! The apostle insists that the key to consecrating ourselves to the service of God is the shunning of “youthful passions” regardless of our age. Since nature abhors a vacuum, even as we shun youthful passions we are to aim at righteousness, faith, love and peace.

Then with single-minded heart we (not just Sunday School Teachers but all of us) are going to preoccupy ourselves with our Lord Jesus Christ, his consecration of himself for our sake, our consecration of ourselves for our children’s sake, and all of this in order that together we shall renew our promise to God; we shall resolve to discern afresh our vocation, knowing that God has appointed each of us to a particular service; we shall endeavour to provide that environment wherein the children entrusted to us are “infected” with that Spirit which brings them to recognize their Lord, love him, and obey him in that service to which they were appointed before they were born.

The moment of reconsecration is upon us. I don’t have basin of blood that I can fling over you. I do have a basin of water. But to fling it over you would be politically incorrect in a world whose deity is politically correctness. Therefore I shouldn’t fling it – should I.

“All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” “For their sake”, says Jesus of his people, “I consecrate myself.” For the sake of our children we are going to consecrate ourselves, afresh, right now.

 

                                                                        Victor Shepherd
September, 1998