Friday, October 30, 2015

Joyful Hearts (II Chronicles 7:1-10; Philippians 4:4) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

There is a story about a young pastor of a strict fundamentalist church in the south,  who was preparing for Sunday morning worship.  It was a severely cold winter morning.   He discovered that an overnight snowfall had made the road to church impassable, so he decided to skate down the river to church on the ice.  He arrived just in time for the worship service, but he faced the church elders' disapproval, because he had participated in a sporting activity on the Sabbath.

After being questioned by the church leaders, the pastor was finally allowed into the pulpit.  Why?  Because the pastor had assured the elders in no uncertain terms, that though he had skated on the Sabbath, he had not enjoyed it.

When do you feel joy?  Where do you feel joy?  Is joy a part of the Christian Life?  Is there joy in following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

I believe the answer is yes!  Because at the core of the Christian faith is the gospel, the good news, glad tidings.  Good news is at the heart of the Christian religion.   Jesus at the beginning of His ministry preaches:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”

That's why we experience joy in our faith in God.  This is glorious news.   The God of creation, the author of life, is for us and not against us.   God is not an impersonal, capricious and hostile force, but a personal being, and God's sacrificial love , enlivens and transforms .  God's salvation, God's saving love in Jesus is astonishing news.

Recall some upbeat praises from Scripture:  “Make a joyful noise all the lands, serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence with singing.”  “This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.”  “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances.”  The apostle Paul was in a prison cell in Rome, when he wrote:  “Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say Rejoice.”  Now what is that all about?  How is that even possible in prison?

In our O.T. Lesson we find ourselves at a spectacular event, the dedication of the temple built by King Solomon.   He organizes a national festival and offers sacrifices to God on behalf of the people of Israel.    And after seven days of celebration, we read:  “Solomon sent the people away to their homes, joyful and in good spirits, because of the goodness that the Lord had shown to David and to Solomon and to his people Israel.”

Yes, the people knew that the reason this temple was being dedicated, was because God had made it possible.  The Jews were filled with joy because of the goodness that the Lord has shown them.  Joy arises when we know, when we recognize, when we praise God for His goodness.

Joy is a response to God's goodness in our lives.   Are we speaking of escapist joy, a joy which pretends that there is no tragedy or suffering, no disappointment or failure in life?  Or a joy that depends upon our circumstances, that everything around us must be perfect?  No.  Mother Teresa speaks of deep joy in her ministry of mercy to the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta.

Joy is the assurance that sadness, tragedy is not the last word.   Joy means that the resurrected Savior holds out his hand and offers a new beginning for every disappointment in life.   We can rejoice even in a world where there is pain as well as happiness.  The late author Lewis Smedes writes:  “Joy is the feeling that it is all-right with us, even when everything seems all-wrong.”

Joy is a gift to faith from God's Spirit.  It is an aspect, a dimension of faith, that comes from the Holy Spirit.   Joy arises when we experience Christ's promises fulfilled.  Joy is heartfelt delight, gladness in God.   Joy comes when we experience the awe-inspiring presence of God, that is, when we encounter God.  Joy is that realization in your heart that you truly belong to God, today and forever.    Joy is knowing that our salvation is God's gift of grace.  Christ has made us acceptable before God and clothed us in righteousness so we can indeed stand before the holy God.  Joy is any moment which opens our eyes and ears, hearts and minds are open to the amazing surprises of God.

Joy means we do not have to look to the future with dread, or with a tragic sense that we will never see our loved ones again, because we live with the knowledge that the future belongs to God and that the victory has already been won, the assurance of resurrection and a destiny in glory.  The joy of faith is a foretaste today, of the eternal joy to come, when Christ's welcomes us into His eternal Kingdom.

I think these are amazing words from Jesus when he says:  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”   The joy we experience is the joy which enters our hearts through the Spirit at our conversion.

But there is more.   We experience spiritual joy not only from encountering God and hearing and accepting God's good news, God's word of forgiveness, love and acceptance,  but further, joy comes in generously sharing that gospel, in embodying that gospel, and reaching out with that good news, by the power and grace of God in the world.  Is that possible?

There was a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a metro-transit operator named Linda Wilson-Allen. She loves the people who ride her bus, learns their names, waits for them if they're late and makes up the time later on her route.  A woman in her eighties named Ivy had some heavy grocery bags and was struggling with them. So Linda got out of her seat to carry Ivy's grocery bags onto the bus. Now Ivy lets other buses pass her stop so she can ride on Linda's bus.

Linda saw a woman in a bus shelter. She could tell the woman was new to the area and she was lost. It was almost Thanksgiving, so Linda said: "You're out here all by yourself. You don't know anybody. Come on over for Thanksgiving and kick it with me and the kids." Now they're friends.  Linda has built a little community of blessing on that bus. They bring her potted plants and floral bouquets. When people found out she likes to wear scarves to accessorize her uniforms, they started giving them as presents to Linda.

Driving a bus can look like a thankless job: cranky passengers, engine breakdowns, traffic jams, gum on the seats.  How does Linda have this attitude? "Her mood is set at 2:30 A.M. each morning when she gets down on her knees to pray for 30 minutes. There is a lot to talk about with the Lord,' says Linda, a member of Glad Tidings Church in Hayward. When she gets to the end of her line, she always says,That's all. I love you. Take care.’  People wonder, Where can I find the Kingdom of God? I will tell you where. You can find it on the #45 bus riding through San Francisco, behind the wheel of a metro transit vehicle.”

God in Jesus brings joy to our hearts and Christ calls us to share our Joyful Hearts, which is our stewardship theme for this coming year!   I am filled with joy as I reflect upon our ministry here at PBPC.  We honor God by sharing in the work of His Kingdom through the ministries of our congregation.   Like our mid-week Youth and Kingdom Kid’s programs, where children and youth from the preschool, community and our congregation are growing in their Christian faith, like we heard from their testimonies at the youth service this summer.  This program is led by  Robert Gerow and his dedicated volunteers.  And our wonderful Pre-school under the capable leadership of the director Brigitte together with her dedicated teachers.   Our Preschool now has an enrollment of over 50 children and babies.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual and social foundation for children and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

We rejoice in our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry, reaching young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.   Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the talented leadership of Esther Jordan and our organist Anne Bay.   We enjoy the music of handbells from our Crusader's and Silver Bells which enhance our worship under the leadership of Esther and Tammy McEuen.

We see God at work in our prayer and healing ministries in worship with Helen Sterling and in our congregational care ministry under the compassionate leadership of Mavis Qualsett, which brings Christ’s love to members and friends.  We offer Bible study and Christian education opportunities for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.

It is a joy as a congregation to reach out in the community as we participate in events such as Pacific beachfest and Graffiti Day dedicated to cleaning up Pacific Beach.  What a joy to see young families and children enjoying Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry, which for over 6 years has reached families in our preschool and new families in our community including military families.

God has long blessed the community through our congregation's Sunday Night Ministry, by providing means for nearly 100 homeless people each week for over two decades under the leadership of Dolores Shoemaker.  We also serve nearly 300 homeless people through our mail service, where we provide our address and a way for homeless people to receive anything from checks from the government to personal mail from families.  I often hear people say:  “God bless you, thank you for this mail service,” as people pick up their mail under the direction of our office manager Meri Murch and the office volunteers.

I know people experience the joy of the Lord through the mission projects we support as a congregation.  We provide clothing and food, volunteers and financial support for CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Voice of the Martyrs, Urban Youth Collaborative, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and international missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.   We are greatly blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes money to our ministry.

God’s Spirit is among us, guiding us and empowering us and inspiring us.  It is a joy to serve and God is bringing joy to others through our service.  I want to both personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your generous commitment and support this year.  God's love is generous and God calls us to give generously.  We are asking for your prayerful and generous support of your time, talents and money for this coming year, as together we reach people for Christ's Kingdom.

Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life, your growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.   And be confident that Christ will continue to use you for His work and glory in this church, and in our community and world.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering, God honors.  Commitment Sunday is Sunday, November 8.  Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.  Amen!

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