A Church with a Story; Happy New Year!

Isaiah 63: 7-9
MATTHEW 2: 13-23

January 1, 2023 – NEW YEARS DAY

When last we gathered in church it was the year of the Lord 2022 … When last we had a Sunday worship service here at St. Paul’s it was Christmas Day 2022. We sang together “Joy to the world, the Lord has come … let earth receive her king!”

And, friends … we did not close the doors of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford New Jersey on Christmas Day 2022 like all too many churches chose to do … All too many pastors did not consider the value of worshipping God on the Sabbath because they felt the unwrapping of gifts was better than offering an opportunity to the people of the world to worship God. Doors were kept locked … and lights were darkened … yet even in a cold sanctuary here on Church Street in West Deptford where the boilers struggled to produce heat … we came to worship … children were in church the last time we met on Christmas Day in 2022, seems like a year ago, older folks were in church too and countless others worshiped with us online because this church of Jesus Christ believes that God matters amidst the world’s ups and downs as does giving of our own time to worship God who loves each one of us!

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford has a history … has a strength … has a commitment to the one we call our Savior, Jesus Christ that we will be the church of Christ as often as we can! That we will worship with joy … did I mention we sang “Joy to the world the Lord has come?” And, we will remember that Jesus did not come to earth to remain a shiny Christmas ornament or a plastic baby in a manger but rather He came to be the teacher of all humanity showcasing God’s expectations to us … and then taking our sins to the cross … and on Easter we know the truth about Jesus Christ .. the Son of God … born in a manger … HE IS RISEN <<He is Risen Indeed.>>

And that is GOOD NEWS … JOY-FILLED NEWS and church as we enter into the year of the Lord 2023 it is about time we share with the world that faith, worship, and church are to be joy-filled experiences! We are overdue! The praising of God should roll off our lips as easily as we make an order for a burger and fries at our favorite fast food drive in.

The psalmist declared LET EVERY LIVING THING PRAISE THE LORD … so on this January 1st HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!! I want to see if you can shake the rafters … SHOUT AFTER ME with joy …. PRAISE THE LORD!!!!

In our reading today from the prophet, we heard these words that are not only a historical statement of fact but in the words of a prophet they are also designed to be words that challenge people who claim to be amongst the faithful ones of God … “I WILL recount the Lord’s faithful acts; I WILL sing the Lord’s praises because of all the Lord did for us!” Did they resonate with you … could those words be considered as documentation of a life’s biography someone might write about you? Are those amongst the words from your personal history that the gatekeeper of heaven will celebrate on the day that your life here on earth has reached its closure and you finally are in the moment where your faith life on earth has taken you?

Do you showcase joy in your faith? In your life because of your faith? JOY TO THE WORLD … well you know the rest … do you REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS AGAIN I SAY REJOICE because of the Lord God who created the heavens and the earth? Do you rejoice in a visible and evident manner because of Jesus Christ not because we have created a holiday with a plastic tree and shiny paper wrapped gifts but because Jesus’ teachings are reflected in your life and because you get that He died for you … and for me … and for every other human because Jesus loved ALL and we are taught to love ALL equally not separated into categories of love, like, dislike, hate, or despised as the world would have us do. Are you quick to tell those who are challenged in loving others that the God of Creation expects us to love ALL of our neighbors … imagine what a better world it would be if we had the courage to shut down the bullies and the name callers.

In 2022, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford New Jersey accomplished some remarkable things for God and Christ. We actually have grown as other churches have closed. We have children in worship EVEN on a Sunday CHRISTMAS morning and children help lead worship! We have people who embrace those who are struggling and we feed the hungry … we cared for those in the Ukraine.

And, just this morning at 930 a man named Ron who loves a woman named Eve was here in church with a few others for Communion … last night Ron and I held each other on my front steps as he cried on my shoulder because his life love’s, Eve’s, prognosis isn’t a good one but Ron repeated what I have heard over and over again … St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford New Jersey is a church where love thrives … a church with amazing caring hearts … neither he nor Eve have been able to attend church in years because of health realities but they hold this church as a special place. Of love!

And, friends … we can no longer keep this loving reality a secret … our joy for God’s love for each and every human being … our worship services that are welcoming to all people … our embracing of children including babies into worship … our love for mission and our open hearts for ALL of God’s people whether they need our help or are worth millions … we can no longer afford in the year of the Lord 2023 to keep what we experience in church as a secret from your world … my world … my social media … your social media … we cannot be quiet any longer because I believe that God has treated the church called St. Paul’s “compassionately and with deep affection!”

As the prophet declared I am here to agree with him that the God of Creation … who sent Jesus Christ to teach us how to live … to save our souls that GOD … YOU KNOW THAT GOD … is declaring in heaven year after year that the welcoming, loving, giving, and missional people of St. Paul’s “are God’s people … people whom God has redeemed … people whom God lifts up … and people whom God is willing to continue to carry us throughout our times” BUT ….

We can no longer be silent outside these walls … we need to declare a for GOD AND CHRIST AND FOR ST. PAUL’s to our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and yes even to our families!!!

When Charles Wesley wrote our opening hymn, he was hoping for a thousand tongues to sing Jesus praise!!! To share the stories of God’s love and grace!! To let others know that Jesus is the name that calms our fears … that cares for us in our difficult moments and gives us reason to rejoice always. So, on this New Year’s Day of the year 2023 I am trying to imagine the impact on this community … in the Delaware Valley … on the State of New Jersey and beyond if only the 200 plus voices who call St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford collectively and independently raised our voices using our social media, our conversations, and our life’s’ examples to showcase first our love for Jesus Christ but reflected in the impact that God and Christ have on our lives.

Just imagine the impact … imagine one of your best friends discovering the pathway to eternity with God rather than the other choice if they continue to avoid church for the rest of their lives whether they have one day or many years. Discovering God through you … through this church.

Can you imagine the struggling people in our community whose lives can be made better if we had another 50 or 75 members of this church who worshiped with joy … used their talents and their gifts for God’s Kingdom through this special place … which is a beacon of Jesus Christ’s love for the world! We can have another 50 or 75 or even more globally if all of us make this the year of the Lord’s Favor … if we commit ourselves to spend waking time recounting the Lord’s faithful acts!!

Casting Crowns’ song Lifesongs features these lyrics, Lord, I give my life a living sacrifice. To reach a world in need. To be Your hands and feet. So, may the words I say and the things I do make my lifesong sing bring a smile to You.”

St. Paul’s is entering our 165th year of existence in 2023. We ARE NOT CLOSING … We ARE GROWING but my challenge on this New Year’s Day of 2023 as we come to the Lord’s Table is to ask you to consider using your personal life song’s daily message for Jesus Christ so that your lifesong will bring a smile to God … and I am asking each of you to consider what you can do to make St. Paul’s a stronger beacon to the world! To use your voices whether they are face-to-face with others or your social media for God and for Christ and for this church so that we remain strong now and into the future. We have a story … we have a new year … let’s build this church’s story for God! AMEN

© 2017- St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, NJ