July 16, 2017


At first, the two Scripture readings for today
         seem to have little in common.
But let’s look a little deeper.

In the first reading from Jeremiah 31,
         the Prophet is reminding people of the “everlasting love of God.”
                 The people have separated themselves from God -
                          - but not from God’s love.

It was not the best of times -
         - the people had a string of kings who were not the best - 
                 They had been enslaved by the Asyrrians
                         and now were under the tyranny of Babylon;
                                  they were being crushed and oppressed.
It was a time without hope . . .
         . . . and yet God loved them enough
                 to offer them hope through the prophet Jeremiah.

God is promising to restore them . . .
         “I will turn their mourning into gladness;”
         “I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”

And when God brings that to pass,
         God expects the response of the people to be:

                They will “gather on the heights of Zion;”
                 “they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord”
                          “Then young women will dance and be glad,
                          young men and old as well.”

God is promising to deliver them from their bondage
         and to set them free.

                 In return, God expects the people to be thankful;
                          To be so filled with joy that they dance with joy.

Then we turn our attention to the second reading of the morning.

         John records a very important teaching from Jesus.

Once again,
         the people have separated themselves from God.
                 This time they are under the tyranny of Rome.

Their King - Herod - is a mere puppet of Rome
         and the scribes and pharisees are not as Godly and spiritual
                 as they could be.
                          So the people are suffering once again.

 God has once again come to His people . . .
         . . . this time as one of us -
                 - fully human and fully divine in the person of Jesus.

As part of His teaching, Jesus uses the illustration of a vine.
         It is a pretty stark one, at that.

In no uncertain terms,
         Jesus says that if we “bear no fruit”
                 We will be pruned from the vine - cast out.

Now, those are harsh words.
         There is no room for interpretation here.
But Jesus follows this stern warning with words of hope:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

And what Jesus expects - what God incarnate expects -
         is that our joy will be complete
                 and that our joy will cause us to bear much fruit.

Both pieces of Scripture are directed
    to people who have strayed from God
         and who are being held in bondage.
             The people of Jeremiah are held in physical bondage;
                 The people Jesus addresses are held in the bondage of sin.                                
In both . . . God offers to deliver His people from bondage
    and expects their response to be joyful.


OK, let’s get down to business.

Have you ever wondered “What makes God happy?”
    Chances are, none of us has spent much time
         considering how God “feels.”
    Unless, maybe, we are thinking about what makes God “mad.”
But don’t you suppose . . .
    . . . that if we are made in the image of God
         our feelings mirror the feelings God is capable of?
             Maybe even a reflection of what God feels?

We know from Scripture that God has feelings of anger,
    and God is capable of wrath,
        and feelings of sadness.

But what do you think
    would make God clap His hands and dance for joy?

 Here’s what I think . . . what I believe.

I think there was a great feeling of sadness
    when Adam and Eve disobeyed God
         and had to be removed from the Garden -
             - and the presence of God.

 I think it took a lot of anger
    for God to flood the earth
         and to curse Pharaoh so badly
             that he released the people of Israel.

I’m not sure how God felt with the birth of Jesus,
    but I do know that at Jesus’ baptism God said:
         “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
I don’t think God was very happy
    when they nailed Jesus to a cross . . .
         . . . but I am absolutely certain
              that when Jesus uttered His last words from that cross:
                 “It is finished.”
                     That God indeed clapped His hands
                          and danced for joy!
Not because of the pain and suffering of Jesus -
    - and not that all of that was now over.
         But because NOW we have a way to have our sins forgiven
              and to be reconciled to God!

And what do you think God expects from us?
         Joyful worship!


I just spent 10 days with our 6 year old -
    - very precocious - granddaughter.
 As smart as she is,
    she wrestles with abstract thought.
         That’s normal for a six year old.

But . . . is it normal for a spiritually maturing Christian?

When I say we should take great joy
    in our salvation -
         - our deliverance from sin and death;
              do you really grasp the full thought of that?

In my younger days,
    when I had a lawn in Oklahoma,
         it just so happens that the lawn needed mowing
              during the hottest months of the year!

I used to look forward to completing that task
    because I would jump in my old pickip
         drive over to Rickert’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice
              And get a large Pena Colada with cream!
Now that’s joy you can taste!
    There is nothing abstract about that!

You can identify with that
    because you have expereinced something similar.
         - A cold slice of watermelon on a very hot day
         - a great hamburger when you’re famished
         - a slice of hot apple pie with ice cream melting on it
              for no special reason.
Every once in a while,
    God manages to influence me enough
         that I preach a good sermon -
              - one that causes someone to change their life -
                 - to grow closer to God.

 There is a quiet sense of great joy in experiencing that -
    - although I would be very hard-pressed to explain it to you.
Then there is the matter of having our sins completely forgiven.

That should be an occasion for boundless joy!
    There should be singing and dancing
         and shouts of Hallelujah!

 I’m afraid our salvation is such an abstract thing
    that we have forgotten how to dance with joy!

Intellectually, we know that Jesus died to set us free;
    we know that God called us to accept that gift in faith,
         we accepted the call,
              we claim the promise of salvation
                 we even recite the creeds that remind us.

But is it too abstract for us to grasp?
    Has it become so abstract that it no longer causes us joy?
O God, I hope not!


One of the four major divisions
    in the Presbyterian Book of Order is the Directory of Worship.

Here’s what it has to say bout Christian Worship:

Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory
and power to the triune God. In worship the people of God
acknowledge God present in the world and in their lives. As they
respond to God’s claim and redemptive action in Jesus Christ,
believers are transformed and renewed. In worship the faithful
offer themselves to God and are equipped for God’s service in the

Did you catch that phrase?
    “Christian worship joyfully ascribes all praise and honor, glory
and power to the triune God.”


So exactly how does God expect us to worship?

Surely God knows our hearts and our situations
    and God understands that we cannot live in this world
         of great trials and tribulations
              and come through the doors of the church
                 week after week
                     filled to overflowing with joy?!

Surely God understands that sometimes
    it is all we can do to dress ourselves
         and make an appearance?
And the answer is “Yes!”
    God fully understands.

What God desires is that we do not attempt this on our own!
    God wants to be a part of the burdens that afflict us.
         God invites us to cast our burdens on Him
              so we can cathc our spiritual breaths
                 and experiece at least a moment of joy.

The purpose of worship is to hit the reset button in our lives,
    to re-orient ourselves with God at the very center;
        to reset our spiritual compass
              so that we follow Jesus.

We gather to respond to God’s gift of salvation -
    - salvation that came through Jesus -
         - at a great cost to God.

We gather to be renewed by the Holy Spirit -
    - to have the fresh and fiery winds of the Spirit
         wash through our souls
              and breathe renewed life into us.

Will that happen in every worship service?
    Probably not.

We are sinful and fallen creatures -
    - even though we are forgiven and acceptable to God -
         - and we bear the scars of our sins.

So, from time to time
    we will limp through a worship service together
         doing our best to honor God.
              May God forgive us if we don’t do our best.

And on occasion,
    it will seem like there is very little to celebrate . . .
         . . . because the pressures of the world
              have caused us to treat our salvation as an abstract.
                 Hopefully, God will understand.

                     I know God will continue to love us.

 But here’s a promise I make to you . . .
    . . . as long as God continues to inspire me
         and as long as God allows me to preach from this pulpit
              I will offer Christ to you!

I will do my best to speak for God
    and to do my best to equip you to do the work
         God has called us to!
And let everything that is said and done here
    - this day and far into the future - be to the Glory of God!

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