Yesterday we finished our two weeks of Serve at Home. Five teams worked five shifts at four work sites and accomplished a prodigious amount of work and left behind a bunch of blessings. My thanks go to our Serve volunteers who organized and coordinated all this work, and to our congregation who responded so well and did so much. As Molly said, “What an awesome church.” Glory to God. Why do we do things like Serve? Jesus said it is more blessed to serve than to be served and He set that example for all of us. We serve because we want to be Christ-followers. During these past two weeks you noticed the email devotionals were prepared by the Serve volunteers and followed the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are Jesus’ definition of what a Christ-follower is. These eight beatitudes are a bold declaration of what it means to be a Christian and how we can be supremely happy, of how we can live a supremely blessed life. These Beatitudes test and challenge the reality of our Christianity and our views of what will make us happy. There are several lessons that can be drawn from the Beatitudes. Let’s consider five this morning.
Psalm 100 is the psalm from which Serve took its theme statement this year, verse 5. It also has a verse that has Serve written all over it. Serve the Lord with Gladness. This Psalm is much beloved, one of many favorites in the Psalter, often referred to as Old Hundredth. It is an exuberant Psalm, it stirs the soul to sing and praise God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Worship the Lord with gladness. Come into His presence with singing. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. It is also that Psalm of encouraged to all the bad singers in the world, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” It has four stanzas but two parts, that form an AB AB pattern, 1 and 3 go together and 2 and 4, back and forth. Praise God, know God, praise God, know God. The two are inseparable. You can’t praise what you don’t know, and to know God truly leads to praise. You could call it doxology and theology. Great doxology always flows from great doctrine. God has revealed Himself to us in such a way that He may be known with our heads and praised from our hearts. Our singing is grounded in the knowing. Satan knows God, but Satan doesn’t sing. If our knowledge of God doesn’t lead to worship, it is worthless. And if our singing is without knowledge it is just noise, it doesn’t glorify God.
“When you come together.” Five times Paul says this in our text. When you come together. How much have we longed for that, and many of us at home still long for that. We feel it in our souls, that the way things are just isn’t how they should be. Where two or three are logged in together just isn’t the same as where two or three are gathered together. The novelty is wearing off of Sunday mornings in pajamas or sweatpants, with a cup of coffee, trying to sort of sing along and praying the sermon will stop buffering. We are thankful for the gift of the internet and live-streaming and for Rob Hilverda, but this is not what it means when Paul says, “when you come together.” Online church is better than no church, but it is a poor substitute for the real thing. And even for us gathered here, it still is lacking something when everyone isn’t here, we are split up between two services, the “As” never get to see the “Vs”, we have to sit apart and go outside without chatting in the narthex. And communion will be yet another adjustment. I have to keep reminding myself that countless millions of Christians have suffered far greater inconveniences and for far longer. We should be slow to complain, but we also should not just settle for this without praying for a time when we will all come together. May we long for and pray for when we can all come together as the church. One of the great mysteries of our faith is that the living God of the universe desires and seeks to have fellowship with His people and one of the great symbols of the fellowship is the joyful experience of sitting down and eating and drinking in the presence of God.
The word normal is getting used a lot these days. As in getting back to normal, the old normal, the new normal, and when will things ever be normal again. There is no question the novelty has worn off this whole crisis and we are all ready to get back to normal. It’s normal to want to get back to normal, especially when we are in the midst of something stressful and especially when there is no end in sight, no date to look forward to on the calendar. If there was just a date, even if it was October 1st, we could endure this a little better. Why is normal such a big deal, why do we want to get back to normal? We like normal because we know what to expect, we know what to do, how to act and feel. Its familiar, easier, comfortable, like an old sweater or old pair of slippers, like comfort food. But the question I want to explore with you this morning is, do we really want to get back to normal, do we really want to go back to our old ways? How was normal really working for you? How were your priorities, how were your important relationships, what was out of balance, how was your prayer life, were you distracted with all kinds of distractions?
40 is kind of a scary number. It is one of those numbers of Biblical proportions, like Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness. In the Bible 40 is a number of testing, preparation and completion. We figure since we have completed this wilderness wandering now we are ready for the Promised Land of marital bliss. We’ve been told the first 40 years are the hardest. Since I am preaching on my 40th anniversary I thought I would take it as an occasion to offer some Biblical reflections on marriage and the secrets of long marriages. But what about those here who aren’t married? The teaching in Scripture about marriage and family has many applications. It is not just limited to those who are married. Our understanding of these parts of God’s Word will help us in all your relationships. So on many levels it is valuable for all of us to be a part of biblical conversations about the home. Being married and having kids are two of the hardest things you can do. Especially when you factor in how long it lasts. Marriage is one of the most sanctifying things anyone can do. Having kids is another. Those two things expose your heart, your sin, your selfishness like few other things. This doesn’t mean you can’t be sanctified if you aren’t married or don’t have kids. God is very creative and can accomplish that in a thousand ways. A roommate, health issues, a job, a boss, parents, siblings, the driver in front of you, the list goes on and on. Whatever it is in your life that God is using to sanctify you, that thing is being used by God to make you more like Jesus. We can resist and rebel, or we can submit and cooperate. Marriage is a spiritual battle ground. Instantly after the first marriage Satan was there to destroy it. He is the enemy of all marriage because marriage is a reflection of Jesus and His Church.
Healthy families live together, laugh together, cry together, help and support each other. Healthy families love each other and love to be together. One of the metaphors in Scripture for the children of God, for Christians is a family with God as our Father and we as brothers and sisters to each other. One of the dynamics of a happy and health family is the desire to come home and to be with our brothers and sisters.
When I think about 2020, my mind starts to swirl. Just think of all the new words in our vocabulary, words we didn’t know or use in 2019. Social distancing, new normal, flattening the curve, 6 feet apart, face masks, covid-19, coronavirus, epidemiologist, CDC, aerosol, reopening. Think of the news headlines just in 2020. Australian fires, African locust, worldwide coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse, murder hornets, racial injustice, riots and violence, autonomous zones. Truth is stranger than fiction. When I think about 2020 the phrase that keeps coming to my mind is, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” So I decided to turn to that Psalm this morning.
How many times in your life have you heard this benediction of Paul spoken at the end of a worship service? Countless times, times beyond number. If you are over 50 it is safe to say you have heard it and read it thousands of times. What difference has it made in your life? What effect has it had? Are they just nice sounding words, a good thing for a pastor to pronounce before you go home? So what? Have you ever given those words a second thought, actually contemplated them. And here is a strange idea, have you ever spoken them or prayed them or wished them for someone else? Let me tell you why I was prompted to take up this text this morning. I have had a growing burden in my heart for our flock these past three months. I have had a burden for our senior saints who have been isolated from family and friends. I have had a burden for our families, and especially moms who have had to become instant teachers and homeschool kids every day. I have had a burden for our high school seniors who have missed out on all the things that make senior year special. We have come to the end of the school year, to the start of summer and I want to speak life and hope and encouragement to all of us. Then when I realized this was Trinity Sunday I thought this text is the perfect blessing we all need in the midst of the stress and craziness of life. This text is a Trinitarian blessing, a triple blessing. And what could be better if I wanted to give a blessing than to give a triple blessing. Consider this a three scoop blessing, a Neapolitan. Some is good, more is better and too much is just right. Can I get an amen? So senior saints and high school seniors, moms and stressed out parents, those of you feeling isolated, those of you bummed by all we are missing out on and all that has been canceled, those trying to do work in very different ways, those of you weary of the news, those wondering about the future, those weary of doing worship on a screen, receive God’s triple blessing.