Nehemiah 8: 5-6 & 9-10
JOHN 15: 7-12

November 14, 2021

Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say rejoice!Joy to the World, the LORD HAS COME … let all of us receive our king!

Church, we live in a time when the world around us is UNHOLY … the question or the challenge I want you to consider this morning as we move closer to that one calendar day when most Americans pause around a table for a pseudo prayer of thanks … is to consider whether you are choosing the world. Does the world’s temporary system of success or failure … one side versus the other energize you when you wake up every morning? Is there a lust for riches or a personal alignment with individuals whom you are convinced are the most powerful or who will run over those you don’t like. Are those your choices?

I ask because it is abundantly clear that for a significant number of our neighbors if not the majority that is where they align their lives. The statistics are clear … less than half of our American neighbors choose to identify with a faith connected to any God much less the God of Creation who gave us Jesus Christ as our Savior. Fewer than half of American families have introduced their underage children to any concept of God other than a mysterious name at the Thanksgiving Table; clearly not at Christmas time when the moaning about ships not docked is the message of so many outspoken voices who would never dare suggest that all of us must love God and love all of our neighbors.

As you heard today’s Old Testament lesson read did the declaration of Ezra who wrote Nehemiah jump out at you? “The joy of God is your strength!” Since you are with me in worshiping God today either in person or online I am thankfully assuming that you believe the statement from our reading that THIS DAY IS HOLY to our LORD matters for your life. And, worship is a priority not something to be saddened about because it is taking away an hour from your weeks.

If you want to give that some consideration to the debate outside the doors of places of worship then perhaps you should consider the symbiotic love relationship that God expects us to have with God. Yes, there is an expectation that people of faith need to … actually people of faith it is clear from all of Scripture … people of faith MUST LOVE THE LORD OUR GOD with ALL of our heart, soul, and mind if we are people of faith; if we are believers in Jesus Christ; if we one day will see the Kingdom of Heaven …

WE MUST LOVE THE LORD OUR GOD and through that love it should be easy to join in Paul’s exclamation to the Grecian churches of Philippi and Thessalonica and I would be willing to state in other letters we never recovered of his directive, REJOICE in the LORD …. AGAIN, I say … church do you say it with me … can you REJOICE IN THE LORD … let’s hear it REJOICE IN THE LORD. There I heard it again.

But, the subtle message from Nehemiah is that our strength … our ability to withstand the challenges of the evil unholy world that pressures us with increasing regularity … it seems … is that “The joy of God is our strength.” God rejoices when we come home to God; Scripture reports on the celebration of the angels at just one person arriving to the most important truth that exists … knowing that God is real! Jesus Christ came to teach us and bring salvation! The Holy Spirit is ready to take up guide responsibilities!

God’s joy … if you think about it … if the Creator finds joy in you and you and you and in me, Dave Delaney, because of our faith walk that should gives us incredibly reliable strength for life … it should be how we find those green pastures and still waters for peace and renewal. When we embrace God … follow Jesus …. And allow the Holy Spirit to work it is then and perhaps only then that we can find true joy but more importantly we will be able to live a life full of goodness and mercy for all the days of our lives reflective of God’s expectations not the world’s.

When I arrived at this church more than 5 years ago I found a man whom I love as a dear brother. A man of faith with a desire to connect people of faith regardless of the labels we put on our church buildings. To him Christians need to live, act, and relate as Christians not as competitors claiming to outshine other church attenders by who we welcome and who we reject. He has experienced rejection because of his skin color … he has experienced challenges and prejudicial treatment that this skin of mine has always protected me from. He was slammed by COVID and now has to go to dialysis regularly but my friend Pastor Derrick Gatling never ever stops listening for the Holy Spirit’s call and this week he challenged his church family over at First Jericho Baptist Church in Deptford but he also challenged every pastor he knows to join with his church …. Can we begin to act as Christians online. Starting for just seven days?

SEVEN DAYS of JOY and THANKGIVING. SEVEN DAYS WHEN we promise not only to ourselves but also to God that we won’t put hateful memes on our Twitter and Facebook pages that we actually control. SEVEN DAYS when we won’t try to align one group of God-loved human beings against another group of God-loved human beings. ONE WEEK when we don’t gleefully put down some politician or some human through the safety of our phones and computers but instead we insure that each post we list celebrates God or gives thanksgiving for something or expresses joy or shows love for all humanity or even encourages connection with smiles.

I am asking that you add the hashtag #LoveLivesHereGiveThanks to show that there is a reason for your changed approach to social media, at least for a week. And, then tag both our church and Derrick’s church. JUST SEVEN DAYS starting today (Some of you might have to delete a post that you showcased before coming to worship God today.).

And, so … today I am issuing that challenge to you whether you are here in our beautiful sanctuary or whether you are worshiping online with us. Can this be the week when you verify to those who know you that you take this loving God thing seriously? And, that you are willing to obey God and Jesus rather than the political chants of this nation.

That you actually hear and understand what Jesus meant in today’s Scripture lesson when he said, “You remain in my love IF YOU KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.” Ok, I am going to read that again in case someone in our midst was distracted for a second … JESUS CHRIST who is the reason that individuals associate themselves with the adjective Christian declared shortly before going to the cross, “Remain in my love! IF YOU KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS, you will remain in my love, just as I kept the Father’s commandments and remain in His love.”

And, then friends here’s the reflection all the way back to what we learned from Nehemiah. The Son of God, the Messiah, Immanuel, Jesus the Christ continues saying to people associating themselves with him … just as you and I are this morning …. Jesus declares not with a statement of ‘you can do this if you want but if you don’t it’s ok with the BIG GUY and me’ but this is a MUST, a REQUIREMENT, an EXPECTATION of God’s … Jesus declaring, “I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete” that means you and you and you and me … remember REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS … Jesus is talking about our choices and our potential to live a life with joy. Jesus finishes that statement by stating, “THIS IS MY COMMANDMENT; love each other as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends IF … IF … IF you do what I command you.”

My high school class is starting to prepare for our next reunion. And, I am on the committee. This week I had the chance to talk with my class’s other DOUBLE D, Dave Duncan, down in Nashville. Dave is an amazing musician who has had some success but as we talked he said, “I don’t have a lot of money but in this life is it money we need or do we have to care about others.’ He then proceeded to let me know he’s ok and happy but he said something profound just the day before Pastor Derrick issued his challenge. Dave said, “After all these years, I just wish that everyone in this world chose to value each other.” He told me how he treasured the Gospel music that the students at Fisk University have sung for years. He said, “The people of Tennessee have wasted their time trying to bring down people like those students but year after year great joyful songs to God ring out in the heart of a land where Confederate flags of slavery and hate are still flown … students of faith drowning out the negative voices with songs of faith.”

And, this week in a ZOOM meeting my friend Nancy Naylon Murphy who has been my friend for 61 years told our group how lucky we are that at the end of the day we care about each other not about each other’s politics, success or lack of success stories, or how we look. Nancy a year ago brought another class member whom I have been counselling to know Jesus Christ. And, his joy is in the Lord now. And, God celebrated when Mike knew the truth!

So, here we are … a little over a week from Thanksgiving. Advent about to start. Christmas Eve worship services awaiting the question of who will come to church for God and Christ? A church service on December 26th that many have told me no one will come to because after all we just had Christmas … that’s right, we do live in an unholy world that tells us to skip Church when you have had too much time in church … why worship God the day after Santa has filled the home with gifts if those darn ships ever are allowed in with presents awaiting the kids … who cares about God’s gift when some computer chip will make my kid’s toy work all year until it breaks …

And, then we have the challenge of how are we going to take this church forward to insure that in 2035 St. Paul’s of West Deptford is a place where the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated as the essential Christmas story … where giving thanks is giving thanks to God … where people who love God with their hearts, souls, and minds are showing their love for neighbors by feeding the hungry and caring for the broken from this building because they believe. If 50% of our nation and more than 50% of our families are dismissing God today …. Are we willing to be the difference makers starting with our social media and then doing more using the gifts God has given to us? SEVEN DAYS.

Are we ready to rejoice in the Lord allowing God’s joy in our faith to strengthen us? It’s a choice … your choice; my choice; our children’s choices; our neighbors’ choices but if no one is sharing the story of faith by living it out as people who value what God expects then what is it anyhow?

Ezra stood above the people and unrolled the scroll. The people stood up and Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all of the people answered AMEN AMEN then they worshiped the Lord! REJOICE ALWAYS in the LORD; AGAIN, I SAY REJOICE! AMEN


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