I did something shocking with what follows; I pretty much read it verbatim!…er as a sermon that is!
Celebrating enjoying the journey
Psalm 126; as well as Ph 4.4; 1 Th 5.16; 1 Pt 1.6; Eph. 5.20; Rom. 5.3-5; Ps. 13.5; 118.24
Where we are [I actually stood on a chair and invited the congregation to join me in celebrating the Hurricanes recent victory…silence!] We understand celebrating, don’t we? It’s what you do when you’re team is winning, when you’re bank account is filling up nicely, when you’ve bought a new house, or gained new friends, or even when someone has recently joined the Church. We celebrate because we have done well, or someone we like has done well, or even when people think highly of us. And yet it would rarely occur to us that we should celebrate persecution, or slander, or violent opposition. It would be like cheering when your team is losing catastrophically!
I mean that’s illogical, right?
There’s a passage in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” where in exasperation he says to his impoverished nephew; “What right have you to be be merry? What reason have you be merry? You’re poor enough.” To which his nephew Fred responds, “Come then, what right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” To which Scrooge’s best reply is, “Bah!” Followed with, “Humbug!”
This morning I want to briefly confront the “Bah! Humbug!” that too many Christians carry around in their heads when it comes to celebrating with all their hearts on all manner of occasions. I want to assert that we are rich enough in God’s generosity that our celebrating should be almost constant and extravagant.
God’s Word on this By Scrooge’s assessment we Christian are absurd and probably insane for insisting on praising God and celebrating our faith even though things are less than perfect in our current lives, and yet our Master tells us “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. [Matthew 5.11-12 CEV]
The snatches of scripture from Paul’s letters (and Peter’s) take a similar line. Hear what a succession of them say to us; that even in the worst of times we find the faith and strength to worship and honour God with our tongues and our hearts because of all that Jesus endured and did for us even when it was far more than we deserved.
In a way there is a marvellous logic to this seemingly contrary piece of advice. When things become unbearable for one reason or another to lift up our hearts to God, remembering in praise all that He has done in the past, in our present and what He promises for the future, takes our minds away from the transient sufferings that we are currently struggling with. Our point of view is transformed from one that is firmly anchored to this our problems, drowning in the storms of depression and conflict, to a point of view that sees things from God’s broad and global perspective. Then we begin to find the journey worthy of celebration as we remember God’s persistent interaction with us and for us throughout all that we have walked through.
So what do you do about it?
Celebrate! Enjoy the journey and stop fretting about the destination – that’s already in God’s hands no matter what happens to you…you’re destiny is in God’s hands, continually being shaped according to His perfect plan.
Look at what God has done for you, for His people, as recorded in the pages of the Bible. Who does He say He is? Who does He say you are? How has demonstrated that?
Look at what God continues to do in the world of nature, or Creation – including the volcano in Iceland and the seasonal changes of the face of our world around us.
Are Christmas, Easter and Pentecost ever so far away that we are unable to see what we have to praise God for, to enjoy very evident presence in every way in the life of His Son’s Body, the Church.
When someone does something remarkable, when you discover something new about Creation, or about God’s self-revelation, or about a friend (or even an enemy) give thanks to the God who provides us with every good thing and keeps finding ways to remind us that He is with us on this journey, that we are never alone, will never be forsaken.
Look for signs of God at work all around you, in the beauty of the created order, in the kindness of ordinary people, in stories of heroic generosity, in the simpleness of children and of all small things. We can also be liberated from the bondage of our circumstances by reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit is actively involved with us, that Jesus is aware of what is happening to us, that His plan includes our happiness in the faith for which He claimed us. Not only that, but others are also with you in your day through prayer, holding you before God, asking for your safety and your joy in believing.
Consequences People who are excited about the journey they’re on, or the relationship they’ve been drawn into, want others to join them, to share in the wonder of what they’ve found. If we resolve to enjoy the journey we will discover a motivation for sharing the good news of God’s love that we’ve found with anyone at any time.
So a church where people are praising God because He fills there lives with such joy on the road of faith is a church where witness and service are natural and entirely expected, the astonishment of God’s loving interaction with His loved ones becomes common place and yet never fails to delight. Faith fuels praise, which fuels faith and faithful action, which fuels praise, which fuels…ah you get it!
Look around and be willingly amazed at what’s happening in God’s good world around you, worship Him, and ride the glory train all the way to heaven.
…for lazy people I’ve included the celebration texts:
Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18
Always be joyful, and never stop praying. Whatever happens keep thanking God because of Christ Jesus. This is what God wants you to do.
Ephesians 5.20 (ESV)
…[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
1 Peter 1:6
On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while.
Romans 5:3-5 (The Message)
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
I trust your love,
and I feel like celebrating
because you rescued me.