Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 110; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
First, I’d like to thank Ben for preaching the sermon I had planned to share with you last week before I unexpectedly had to be absent.
The theme of that sermon was “Press on to know the Lord.”
As God’s people, we are to press on throughout our lives to grow in our knowledge and love of God,
for that knowledge and love of God brings us peace
and God’s peace brings us into a deeper knowledge and deeper love of God, a never ending circular exchange,
an eternal turning toward love that is essential to our spiritual growth.
As we receive God’s peace, as we come to know God’s love more and more personally, we also find that our hearts fill with joy.
And that is the theme of today’s sermon! Rejoice!
To rejoice in God is our reason for being!
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.”
Today’s psalm says,
“Be joyful in the Lord all you lands; worship God with gladness and come before God’s presence with a song!
Know this: God, the creator of all that was and is and is to come, has made us, and we belong to God.
We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, go into God’s courts with praise, give thanks to God and call on God’s name.
For God is good, God’s mercy is everlasting, and God’s faithfulness endures from age to age.”
One of the main reasons we gather here at St Peter’s every Sunday is to rejoice, and to give thanks, to praise God, and to call on God’s name.
Don’t you love to hear someone who loves you call your name across a crowded room of unfamiliar people? Or to hear someone who loves you call your name when you are lonesome?
Soon after my father died, I heard my father’s voice one night, calling me by a pet name he used for me as a child. Just hearing his voice call me brought me the comfort that a child knows who lives in complete and loving security.
To hear someone who knows and loves you calling you by name can be a holy and life giving experience!
Let us remember that God also loves to hear us call God’s name!
When we call on God’s holy name in our worship together, we give God immense joy!
And I encourage you in your private prayers to call on God’s name with delight, remembering that God does truly delight in hearing your voice calling God’s name.
Sometimes we think like this– “God must get tired of hearing me AGAIN, God must be tired of my incessant prayers.”
God never gets tired of hearing us. God delights in our calling to God! God delights in our thanks and praise!
And God also welcomes our prayers of lament and sorrow, for we know, as the psalmist did, that God is good, God’s mercy is everlasting, and God’s faithfulness endures from age to age.
We know that in God’s own time, God will turn our weeping into joy.
The old Shaker hymn that we just sang a few minutes ago is a song of deep rejoicing. The Shakers were known for their ecstatic dancing. I can imagine the Shakers dancing to this wonderful hymn we just sang as they rejoiced in the freedom and the delight they experienced as God’s people.
(Get some people to volunteer to be dancers and Larry will play his guitar and we’ll dance to these words.)
“Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, tis the gift to come down where we ought be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight.
“When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed, to turn, turn, will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right.”
Our lives become simple and free as we turn and turn and then at last come round right.
So we rejoice as our lives grow and flourish in ways we could have never imagined on our own because we are planted deep in the knowledge and love of God.
The delight that the Shakers took in their right relationships with God and with one another contributed to their enduring contributions to American history.
On the PBS website about the Shakers, we learn that “the Shakers arrived in America on the eve of the Revolution, having left England in pursuit of freedom. They were gathered into order as a practicing religion in 1787, just as the new United States found its form with the drafting of the Constitution. That same year Shaker women were officially given equal rights, and in 1817 the Shakers’ southern societies freed the slaves belonging to members and began buying black believers out of slavery. The Shakers were celibate, they did not marry or bear children, yet theirs is the most enduring religious experiment in American history. Seventy-five years before the emancipation of the slaves and one hundred fifty years before women began voting in America, the Shakers were practicing social, sexual, economic, and spiritual equality for all members.
The Shakers were ordinary people who chose to give up their families, property, and worldly ties in order “to know, by daily experience, the peaceable nature of Christ’s kingdom.” In return, they were welcomed into “holy families” where men and women lived as brother and sister, where all property was held in common, and where each participated in the rigorous daily task of transforming the earth into heaven.”
Simplicity in living. Humility in their relationships with God and peace in their relationships with one another. Delight in their freedom in God. What a witness to God’s love in this world!
Paul wrote to the Romans that we have peace in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the peace that we receive when we know that God dwells in us and that we dwell in God. As NT Wright says in his commentary on Romans, God’s presence “in our hearts will someday flood our entire beings.” That is our hope of sharing in the glory of God.
So, Paul goes on to say, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, that ability to stay put without dismay. And endurance produces character. Endurance helps us to become firm and steady.
And the firmness and steadiness of character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.
Our love for God keeps getting stronger and richer and deeper, pouring into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
All good news!
All cause for rejoicing even when our lives turn in ways that bring suffering, for we can rejoice in knowing that God uses those challenging and suffering times in our lives to burn away the things that distract us from God.
God keeps us turning, turning till we come round right.
You may be thinking that wait, the main point of today’s lessons is that we are the workers who are to be sent out into the harvest. That we are the ones to whom God has given the authority to go out and to bring in the harassed and helpless people who have no one to lead them, no shepherd to protect them, no one to love them.
That God has chosen us to be the workers, just as Jesus chose the twelve and gave them authority to help the kingdom of God become more visible on this earth through their going out to cast out demons and to heal.
And yes, you would be right. The main point of today’s lessons is that God has brought us out of slavery as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt,
that God has borne us up on eagles’ wings as God bore those Israelites on eagles’ wings, and brought them out of slavery into freedom, brought them to God’s very self.
God bears us up on eagles’ wings, brings us to God’s self, and when we still can’t figure it out, sends Jesus to show us in person how to live in obedience to God, how to love God, how to love those around us. Jesus shows us how to be free because we belong to God.
And God pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we have the endurance, character and hope to do what God calls us to do.
But the beginning of being chosen is to rejoice, to glorify God, and to delight in God forever.
That’s the starting place for all witness—delight in God.
So may we rejoice in the Lord always as we press on in gratitude to know ever more fully the Lord who has chosen us.
May we rejoice as Jesus teaches us.
May we rejoice as the Holy Spirit helps us to keep turning and turning and turning toward God.
May we rejoice as we turn toward this world with love. May we rejoice with one another and rejoice as we do our own parts to press on and to keep turning the world toward God by putting the love that God has poured into our hearts to work,
until at last, in turning, turning we all come round right
and rejoice together.
McCann, Clinton J. Jr. Commentary and Reflections on Psalm 100 in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol IV. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1996.
- Thomas Wright, Commentary and Reflections on Romans in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. X. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2002.