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Sermon for Nov. 4, 2018 -- Plenty to Celebrate

“PLENTY TO CELEBRATE”

-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 11-4-2018 Pardeeville

(1Chronicles 16:23-31 and Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

          Today we take our third and final look at the mission statement of our church.  We’ve already talked a bit about being a caring community of God’s people.  Just as the early church community cared for each other, we do the same things today.  We gather on Sunday morning as a community of faith to hear God’s word, to remember the needs of each other, to pray for the things that are on our hearts be they near or far, for those we know by name or those whose names we will never know and, on Communion Sundays like today, we break bread together. 

          Last Sunday, we explored what it means to live by Christ’s teachings.  There is much that Jesus taught us during his public ministry.  These things are recorded in the four Gospel accounts.  But they all converge in what Jesus told his disciples when he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  So we do the best we can to do just that, expressing love for all people and for creation.  We also spoke about reaching out to share the love of God…going well beyond the walls of our church and being proactive about it.  The reason we continue to share Christ’s love so willingly with others is because we have understood how important that love has been in our own lives.  So we seek to help those who are hungry or thirsty…those who are strangers, those who are immigrants, those who do not have warm clothes to wear with winter coming on, those who are sick and those who are prisoners.  These are the things that Jesus taught us to do.

          Which brings us to the closing phrase of our church’s mission statement:  “Celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ through worship, prayer, thought, and action.”  What does this mean for us and why is it important for us to include these words in our mission statement?

          Worship is one of the central parts of any community of faith.  What we heard this morning in the two scripture readings are events of communal worship in the Old Testament.  Gathering regularly for worship was as important to them as it is to us today.  The reading from First Chronicles describes a worship service that took place the day the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem.  So we know that this was a big day…a very special day…a day of celebration.  The verses we heard this morning are part of a longer prayer of praise and thanksgiving that David offers to God as a part of the worship service that day.  Did you notice the tone of David’s prayer?  It’s joyous!  It’s upbeat!  This is truly a celebration of what God has done!  The passage begins by encouraging the entire world to give thanks to God.  It’s certainly a happy day for the Israelite people, what with the Ark of the Covenant now in Jerusalem and all that…but David invites everyone and everything on earth to give thanks to God…for God’s majesty…for God’s strength…for God as creator.  Even the way in which David ends his prayer oozes happiness and joy.  “Let heaven celebrate!  Let the earth rejoice!  Let the nations say, “The Lord rules!”  Why?  Because God is in charge and that’s a wonderful thing!

          The worship service in First Chronicles is all about praise and thanksgiving to God.  The worship service in the Deuteronomy passage is about gratitude to God.  The journey of the chosen people, forty years in the desert, is almost over.  The Promised Land has never been closer.  The chosen people are on the verge of crossing the Jordan River and setting foot in the land that God promised to Abraham a long, long time ago.  Everyone but Moses, that is.  He won’t be making that final part of the journey.  So he gathers the people together to address them one final time.  His speech is part direction on how the people are to act in their new land and part reminder of what they’ve gone through on the way.  Truth is…they’ve gone through a lot!  It has been a long and arduous trip to say the least.  There have been times of great hunger and thirst which have generated complaints both to Moses and to God.  There have been several occasions when just returning to Egypt and checking in as slaves again seemed like the best course of action to take.  And don’t forget all the other misguided moments of the chosen people recorded in the book of Exodus.  But through it all, through the whining and the complaints and the mistakes, God remained faithful.

          Moses reminds his people how marvelous their release from captivity in Egypt was.  He says to them, “Don’t you remember that the Egyptians made us slaves?  Don’t you remember that God heard our cries and brought us out of Egypt by a strong and powerful hand?  And now God has led us to a land that we can call ours.”

          So they are all gathered together.  They are about 39 years, 11 months and maybe a couple of weeks into a forty year journey.  Moses wants to give them a ritual to perform when they take possession of the Promised Land…a way to show their gratitude to God for all that God has provided.  This will be a time of great joy!  It’s going to be a celebration!  At last, they are going to make it!  Everything God promised to Abraham so long ago will soon be a reality.  God has fulfilled the promise.  So, as the people prepare to enter the Promised Land, Moses asks each person or family to bring the first fruits of what they’ve grown in the new land and offer them to God in gratitude.  What a wonderful thing it is just to be able to grow something!  It’s been quite a while since the chosen people have stayed in one place long enough to do that!  Moses adds, “As you hand your offering to the priest, remind yourselves that you have arrived in the land that God promised to Abraham.”  Then another important thing:  Don’t just think about arriving in the Promised Land…say it out loud…say it so you can hear it and so that others around you can hear it!  And notice that Moses asks the people to do this in the context of worship.  The offering they bring…the first fruits, not just any old thing the land has produced…are brought to God in gratitude for all that God has done.

          In looking at this final phrase of our church’s mission statement, I was drawn immediately to one of the words.  It’s a word you don’t find in a lot of mission statements and, though I haven’t read a zillion of them, I don’t recall ever seeing this word in the mission statement of a community of faith.  That word is “celebrate”.  You see as your mission to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ.  Some mission statements might use the word “share” for this activity…or the word “tell”.  You truly are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and telling others about it.  When you describe this action using the word “celebrate” though, you are adding a completely new dimension to the activity.  To choose the word “celebrate” is to bring the same sense of praise and thanksgiving that David used in his prayer the day the Ark of the Covenant came to Jerusalem.  This word echoes the sense of gratitude that Moses shared with his people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.

          To celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ among ourselves and with everyone else implies the emotion of joy in being able to do so…dare I say enthusiasm as we witness to and share the love of God?  It’s not some dreadful obligation we’re being forced to do.  It’s an activity we enjoy.  It’s something we are excited about.  This is something we are eager to communicate.  So congratulations to the person or group who dared to use the word “celebrate”.  It’s precisely the right word!

          So what about the good news of Jesus Christ?  Other words that could have been used for good news are “Gospel” and the terrifying word that comes to us from the Greek…“evangelism”!  And evangelism is a word that conjures up some negative images, some things that make us uncomfortable.  Evangelism is the guy on your front porch, dressed in a blue suit, carrying a huge Bible, asking if you are saved.  Evangelism is the preacher on television that claims that if you will just send in enough money, your life will turn around.  These examples of evangelism give that word a bad rap. 

          What if we were to redefine what evangelism means for us today?  Evangelism is the way we reflect God to others.  It’s not proud or boastful.  It’s not done intentionally to “hook” someone.  Evangelism is the way we show our faith in our daily lives which means it can be a part of everything we do.  Evangelism, for this congregation, is celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ both by what we say and by what we do…and we’re doing that all the time!

          By using the words worship, prayer, thought, and action in our mission statement, we are describing to ourselves and to others how we go about celebrating the good news of Jesus Christ.  What we are affirming is the rhythm described in our affirmation of faith this morning.  There is a connection between worship and mission.  We come to the church on Sunday morning to offer our worship to God, to pray for ourselves and for others, and to receive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our thoughts.  We then use what we experience here as we go out to take action.  Worship leads us to mission and service which in turn lead us back to worship.  That’s how it works and that’s what we’re saying in our mission statement.  As we say our mission statement together later in the worship service, let the words drive you to greater service in Jesus’ name…in joy…in thanksgiving…and in gratitude to God.  Thanks be to God!

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