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December 18, 2018

“Joy: Maintaining Divine Worship”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Isaiah 12.2-6

Philippians 4.4-7

December 16, 2018

Our theme this Advent has been a longing for God – or, as it is said in Spanish, an anhelo for God. Advent is an interesting time in which we remember Christ’s birth and also look forward to his return. We know that the incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us, means that God took on human flesh to be with us. Yet, there are many times in which we can look at the world around us and wonder where God is, and long for God. Today our scripture passage reminds us to rejoice! How can we read the news and rejoice? How can we look at the world around us and rejoice? How can we long for God and rejoice?

The third Sunday in Advent is known as the Gaudete Sunday, which in Latin means rejoice.[1] Therefore we change the color from purple, typically known for repentance – what John called us to do last week – to pink, and we rejoice. We rejoice because of what God has done, is doing, and will do. This letter to the Philippians reminds us that God is near. In a time of anhelo, we remember that God is in fact near. One commentator I read this week said that “God is still nearer than our enemies can ever get.”[2] I believe we need that reassurance when we are longing for God and wondering when God will return. What would happen if we viewed the world through this lens? What if we read the newspaper remembering that no matter what happens, God is closer than we think?

Paul writes to the Philippians a word of comfort and love. As many of the communities that Paul wrote to, this one was in a time of crisis. No church is without conflict, even the early churches. There is division among the leaders, Euodia and Syntyche.[3] Paul is supportive of the leaders and of the community – not taking sides or telling anyone who is right or wrong. Instead, Paul reminds them to stop the division, remember to be joyful, and find unity in their joy.

I especially love Eugene Peterson’s translation of the beginning of this passage in The Message. “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want God’s children holding grudges…remember – their names are also in the book of life.” What a reminder. When looking at a disagreement, we must remember that the other person is also a child of God, and their name is also written in the book of life.

Paul goes on to write that rather than responding with anxiety we should respond with prayer. Before jumping into the spiral that anxiety likes to take us down we should first pray. Prayer can cleanse our hearts and minds and give space for a solution or resolution to appear. When anxiety churns within us we can easily be consumed by it. Prayer gives us the space we need to see the path ahead more clearly. One writer states that “joy brings patience – not resignation or inactivity.”[4] Our waiting is never wasted time or idleness. Our waiting is a time of making space for that which we are waiting for, opening us up to possibility. Paul reminds us to show gentleness to one another, the pray, and be open to the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.

Now, joy is not happiness. To have the joy of God does not mean one walks around with a smile plastered on one’s face every day and has no worries or troubles. The joy means that even in the depths of heartache and pain there is hope and love that one day the anhelo, the longing, will be over because there is a promise. Barbara Holmes writes about this mistaken identity of joy, especially in African American churches. She tells of how many people believe that black Christians are always happy because of their charismatic worship or enthusiastic singing. Instead, she writes, “worship is a deep longing.”[5] There is the anhelo again. The joy and enthusiasm shown in worship is a product of that longing, that understanding that even when times are tough God is present and will be there. It is an expression of faith and hope.

Each week in Advent and for the first two Sundays in January we include the Great Ends of the Church with our lectionary. The Great Ends come from our Book of Order and are the ways that the church is called to be Christ’s disciples in the world. These are printed in your bulletin at the end of the service. This week we focus on the maintenance of divine worship as one of the purposes of the church. When it comes to worship the church must attend to details such as how often communion is served, who is present at baptisms, and what hymns are sung. Yet the deeper questions are also addressed. What is the purpose of worship? Is it joyful? Does it show a longing for God? Is it scriptural? Is our worship inclusive? Does our worship extend beyond these four walls? The other two Great Ends of the Church that we have already addressed are the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the realm of God. Does our worship meet these goals? Are we praising God by promoting social righteousness in the world? Are we exhibiting God’s realm in the world through our words and actions?

Our second scripture passage comes from the prophet Isaiah who knew both the depths of humanity and the heights of joy in God. The prophets knew worship – they lived worshipful lives, listened to God, preached God’s word, and recited the psalms.[6] Isaiah was prophet during the exile of the Israelites to Babylon. The exile was a horrific time for the Israelites because they were taken from their homes and had to live in a strange land where they did not fit in with the cultures and mores and religious practices. The book of Isaiah spans the beginning of the exile through their return. This chapter is interesting because it is placed in the midst of their exile, yet is quite hopeful. Many scholars agree that this chapter was edited and that it was written after the exile, but put back into this chapter to offer hope to the reader.[7] Perhaps sometimes we edit our own stories this way. In difficult times we remind ourselves of ways God has intervened in the past to bring hope and remind us of our faith. In Advent we remember that we are in that chapter that is being edited as we go along – the longing for what is yet to be, but trusting in God.

Presbyterian minister Roger Gench tells a story of when he was a child and was learning how to play Monopoly with his dad and brother. For the most part they followed the rules, but Gench’s father would give twice as much money as was necessary. So, as they passed GO, his father would give them four hundred dollars instead of two. This meant that the brothers had more money to buy up all the property and his father often lost the game. Gench reflects that this scenario rings true for our own world and time. Our world is often greedy and competitive, snatching up whatever is nearby and not being considerate of others. Yet, God is like the father, generously giving and giving, even when we do not deserve it. Isaiah preaches of salvation – a gift that is given to us by God, even though we are sinful and do not deserve it.

As we go into the world, be fed through worship. Be fed by God’s generosity, and may it give you joy to spread to a world that is hurting. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 17.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Allen Hilton, “Philippians 4.4-7” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 65.

[4] James H. Evans Jr. “Philippians 4.4-7” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 64.

[5] Evans, 64.

[6] Craddock, 15.

[7] Craddock, 16.