Rev. Nick Reed
Let Us Rejoice
I want to give you a glimpse into the life of the Reed household, specifically a glimpse into our meal time prayer life. In our family we have a process for prayers before a meal. Maybe it started because we were competing who prays or no one wanted to volunteer, but in our house we rotate who leads the prayer. The one leading the prayer gets to chose which prayer we all participate in. There is the gold standard, God is Great, God is Good. There are those singing prayers like Johnny Appleseed that we sing when you want it it rain. Then there is the parent favorite on a loud weekend night…silent prayer. Throughout the week all of those will probably make an appearance.
But there has been a new front runner in our family prayer time. It is something that our 5 year old Charlie learned at school. At school before a meal, his teacher will just say “Are we thankful?” Who knows how every one answers, but I am sure the goal is everyone says yes. So at our household, the prayer leader asks, “Are we thankful?” We all say yes, but we took this spoken “prayer” to a new level. The prayer leader then gets to take turns and point at each person at the table and ask a follow up question. “What are you thankful for?”. At our house you get range of responses to the follow up question, “I am thankful for family, for unicorns, for God, for teachers, and the universe.” While the responses are simple, there is something joyful about saying out loud what you are thankful for.
Wouldn’t it be great to practice this prayer at church and share what we are thankful for at church? The last few weeks during the minute for stewardship, we have heard from people sharing what they are thankful for in regards to the ministries of this church. If they took the next step and took turns pointing at people and asking the follow up question, “What are you thankful for?”, what do you think your response would be?
Maybe it would be things like: I am thankful for a community of faith that prays and cares for me as a struggle with an illness. I am thankful for a church that is committed to serving others through ministries like Bravehearts, PCM, and the Prison Birth Project. I am thankful for a church that is committed to children and youth ministries. I am thankful for a church that laughs together and cries together. I am thankful for a church that has set aside a space for worshiping God, so that whether through scriptures, hymns, or the sacraments I am always reminded of God’s love for us through Jesus Christ .
When it comes to church, we are surrounded by an abundance of blessings that we are thankful for. The greatest blessing we are thankful for and celebrate every day is the blessing of God’s love for us through Jesus that endures forever. A love that is so eloquently praised and given thanks for in today’s Psalm. While we might remember this Psalm for a few of its classic lines like “This the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”, and lines like “God is good, God’s steadfast love endures forever.”; this Psalm is a song or prayer of thanks and praise for God’s sovereign love that is the midst of human need. t While the primary focus is on God, there is also the reminder that humans are seeking something to counter the world of struggle that they live in. “Open the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them…I thank you that you answered me and have become my salvation…Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!…Give us success”.
No matter how persistent the reality of our human need, the Psalm clearly states in its opening and closing that God’s sovereign love is the reason for our actions of thanks. “O Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever!” This is the good news of God’s sovereign love that we celebrate every Sunday at worship in the shadow of the cross. God’s love for us through Christ endures forever because the tomb was empty and there is nothing that will every separate us from that love; not even our own persistent human need. So if this is the day the Lord has made, a day that consists of steadfast love that endures forever, what are we to do next? The Psalmist reminds us that we are called to no only give thanks but to rejoice! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
For us Presbyterians we believe that we respond to God’s gift of steadfast love and salvation through Christ not because we have to, but our responses to God’s steadfast love is a way of saying thanks and showing our gratitude to our loving God. In our worship service after we hear the Good News proclaimed we have a time to respond to God’s faithful and steadfast love. The most well known movement of worship in this time of responding is the offering. A time to give thanks to God for the many blessings that we are thankful for in our life and faith and to say thank you to God by giving our time, talents, and gifts.
Today during our offering we will have a special dedication for those time, talents, and gifts we want to give to God and this church in the upcoming year. In those time and talent sheets and pledge cards there are lots of opportunities to commit to and give to our community of faith. In light of today’s passage and today being dedication Sunday I wanted to share a fresh perspective of stewardship that I came across a few weeks ago.
I read an interesting article from a church website called patheos that had the title “Your church does not need volunteers.” You may think, what an odd example to bring up on dedication Sunday, but I was so intrigue by the argument being made by a pastor of a church. While the headline is attention grabbing, the author wants to reframe how we think about serving in our church. In the last few decades the term volunteer is used by a lot of churches, and while that is not a bad thing, the Rev. Erin Wethen a disciples of Christ pastor argues it might be misleading for church members. She argues “to volunteer” means that you are an outside resource, stepping in to help an organizing in need and that the term is secular and corporate in nature. By using the term you could run the risk of setting up a culture in which we think we can swoop in and give and dart out again feeling we have done our part. By doing this she proclaims (and I love this quote), “We do a disservice to our faith and the gospel itself when we reduce the work of the church to something you can mark on a time card.”
She argues that instead of calling it volunteering, we should call it serving, call it discipleship, call it preisthood of believers, mission…Then she closes her article proclaiming “whatever we do (or call it), we should remember that we don’t just belong to the church—it belongs to us.”
The church belongs to us because God called us to this place; to worship, to give thanks and praise, and to find a group to respond to God’s steadfast love with. In the spirit of reclaiming volunteering and commitment and with the guidance of Psalm 118, I would like to throw out another word besides volunteering, serving, or discipleship to describe our gratitude to God’s steadfast love. Rejoicing. If this is the day the Lord has made, and we are to rejoice and be glad in it, then maybe everything we are doing to say thank you to God is the act of rejoicing.
What if we rewire our thinking about the way we do stewardship and instead of thinking of it as checking boxes or filling out pledge cards we think of those acts as ways of rejoicing for God’s sovereign love? Maybe we rebrand the act of passing the offering plate across the pew and call it our time of “rejoicing”. Instead of calling it our time and talent sheet and pledge card we could call it our “rejoicing possibilities”. Maybe we even change the name of volunteer to “rejoicer”. We could even get some bright color t-shirts that say “rejoicer” on them. Imagine the conversations among committees and session. Instead of saying, “hey we need another volunteer to serve on this committee or take on this task.” We say, “hey we need another rejoicer to come rejoice on this committee or do some rejoicing.”
While I exaggerate this approach, I hope the point is made that we were called not just to volunteer or serve but rejoice together for God is good, God’s steadfast love endures forever. As we rewire our minds to think about our discipleship commitment in terms of rejoicing, we have lots to be thankful for and lots of things to rejoice. We can be thankful that we are part of church that belongs to us, that celebrates God’s love for all people and all of creation, a church that dedicates ourselves to being a worshiping and nurturing community of faith which loves God with heart, mind, soul, and strength; and a church that loves our fellow humans as we love our ourselves…a church that gives special attention to those whom Jesus called the least of these – the poor, hungry, sick, lonely, imprisoned, and oppressed.
We can give thanks and rejoice for the greatest blessing in our life and faith; that God is good, and God’s love through Christ endures forever. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen