Trinity 9 2017
It is fitting to celebrate and to be glad. These reasons given by the father to the complaining brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son are valid in our lives in Christ, in His Church. We have to be careful in our position of being “part” for a long time of the temptation to feel entitled to the point we show disdain toward newcomers, toward those that God brings back after they have returned in repentance. We sometimes need reminders that our God is the God that raises the dead, that finds those least expected to be found. Worship, the Lord’s Supper, is our celebration, our time of gladness together as the Body of Christ. This morning, let us see our need to celebrate and to be glad in all that God does, even when it feels a bit unfair. For, as our Collect states, we cannot do anything that is good without God. Often, when we say something is unfair, we forget that WE are all incapable of the perfection demanded by God. Let us see how Jesus is our reason to celebrate, not our works. Let us see how Jesus is our reason for gladness, not our works.
Pride is a Killer of Celebration and Gladness
First, we must be mindful of our prideful tendency to be killers of basic Christian celebration and gladness. Such is a universal outcome of our propensity to sin. We must pray for God to soften our hearts so that we rejoice and celebrate over God’s work in His Church, over one in 100 that returns in repentance and so forth. We must pray that we celebrate with gladness at guests and visitors. We must be careful we do not act as the jealous brother at those coming into our midst. In this care, we need to ask God’s help and grace to rejoice at the expansion of His Kingdom.
The number one reason we sometimes view new people with suspicion, jealousy, lack of celebration, and lack of gladness is PRIDE. This pride is the sort that does not want to lose any control we thought we had with the arrival of the lost sheep, prodigal children, and all others God brings into our midst. Thinking on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the jealous brother most likely feared losing any benefits or attention he might have enjoyed while his brother was away. Maybe, he feared loss of any control he might have had while his brother was absent. At the Prodigal’s return, it meant things would change as they always change when new folks come or people return after an absence. We always need to pray that God would keep our hearts soft and loving toward all the Lord brings in our midst.
The fear exhibited by the brother and sometimes by Christians toward newer people is prideful. As I Corinthians 10:12 reminds us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Pride comes when we become so comfortable that we cease to think about others. Pride comes when we get set in our ways and habits that we have a difficult time with the arrival of new sheep into the fold. Often, it is because we do not want to do the basic Christian things to make others feel welcome. Often, we do not want to let go of habits to the point we make excuses as to why we should NOT be patient and loving while everyone else should be so to us. We must ask ourselves this important question as Christians, “Am I putting myself FIRST or am I putting myself after others in loving service?” Often, this takes a simple question to jar us a bit out of our comfort zones, “What would a first time visitor think of such and such?” We must be prepared at all times to put ourselves last in the name of ministering to each other and visitors.
We must be cautious of our own motivations, especially if we are doing and saying things that complain rather than celebrate, or are doing and saying things out of anger rather than with gladness. As Saint Paul warned us in the Epistle about how the Hebrews of old tested Christ or how they grumbled. As Christians, we constantly need to repent of our propensities to promote our little kingdoms of self over and against others. All of this pride aims to destroy unity rather than perpetuate an environment of godly growth.
Dead, Now Alive
Second, it is truly fitting to celebrate and to be glad in the fact that God finds us and makes us alive. He does not stop with us. No, such proclamations as we read in Luke 15:32 are continuous, for God is always at work bringing people into His Church. “For this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
We in our propensity toward pride and sometimes finding excuses not to celebrate and to be glad MUST be careful when the lost and apostate suffer. As I Corinthians 13:6 states, “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Sometimes, we take the prideful human approach toward our enemies, almost hoping that the valley of dry bones as we read about in Ezekiel 37 will stay dead. Our prayers must be in the will of God, that He is our salvation and rescuer, and that He does not stop with us.
Rather, our call as Christians in a world dead in sin is to “pray without ceasing.” Our call is to repent where we have become calloused to the point we cannot celebrate and be glad. Our call is to pray for the grace to love both friends and enemies alike to obey God to proclaim to them to “hear the Word of the Lord.” Our worship is full of such proclamations, a conduit for all present to hear God’s Word. God is the one that brings the dead to life with His Word. We are called to out of love to pray for His Word to work in His time. We must be mindful that we take advantage of every occasion of worship to listen and to give visitors a welcoming place and environment to sit with us to listen to God’s Holy Word. A celebrating and glad Christian is one that willingly goes out of his or her way to accommodate each other and total strangers. This is part of the purpose of our worship, to hear God’s Word. We must constantly ask God to help us to have a heart of celebration, gladness, and hospitality to all … of putting self-last for the sake of others.
What Celebration and Gladness Looks Like
Lastly, after the cautions of pride and the purpose of God to bring the dead to life, to find the lost, we must ask, “What does proper celebration and gladness look like?” First, it is to remember that it is not about “me.” As Paul David Tripp wrote, “Corporate worship is a regular gracious reminder that it's not about you. You've been born into a life that is a celebration of another.” It is about Jesus Christ through celebrating all He has accomplished for us. It is about Jesus Christ through being glad at His love for us that died in our places. This celebration and gladness in Jesus Christ is manifested in all we say and do. Such culminates in worship as His Body the Church. When we make it about self, we quickly lose our joy. When we make it about self, we kill the joy of those around us.
Our Psalm this morning provides 5 verses with a blueprint for proper celebration with gladness. These are helpful for us when we feel like complaining or grumbling.
First, in verse 1, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!”This is connected with the second part of verse 2, “Come into His presence with singing.” If you notice, this celebrating and glad noise is NOT conducted within an insular space, with no room for outsiders. Rather, such is with the expectation of “all the earth!” God works patiently within us so we increasingly respond with celebration and gladness as He increases His Kingdom.
Second, in verse 2, “Serve the Lord with gladness.” When we default to serve self over the needs of others, our gladness is absent and our service to God is nonexistent. Serving God with gladness is to rejoice at even the return of 1 out of 100. It is to ask God to help us to be soft of heart to serve, to celebrate, and to rejoice at even the smallest of graces.
Third, in verse 3, “Know that the LORD, He is God.” As our God and knowing such, we celebrate. It is not a bare assent of agreement that He is God. No, it is very personal and real, to the point we say or sing as the last part of verse 3 states, “It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” While this world and sometimes we in pride act as if the weakest and most uncomfortable to us are not worthy, Jesus Christ died for the forgotten, the weak, the downtrodden; all those the world despises.
Fourth, as we read in verse 4, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!” In Christ, we enter worship, careful to avoid two pagan extremes of this world. The first extreme is such that destroys joy through seeking to keep out people like the Prodigal Son to the point it seems we are entering a sanitized library or museum. This is nothing more than self-righteous hypocrisy. The other extreme is that of chaotic noise that lacks godly order. The worship of the pagans on hilltops was like the noise of war as Joshua commented to Moses when they came down the mountain to see the Hebrews worshipping an idol. This occurrence was also mentioned in our Epistle, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’”St. Paul in I Corinthians, in the context of our lesson today, dealt with elements of this Church that strived for chaos and discord in worship to the point it resembled more of what one found in a pagan temple than the true and joyful noise of worshipping God in spirit and in truth. As St. Paul wrote about worship and life in the Church in I Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Decently and in order does not mean dead silence on one extreme. Decently and in order does not mean the deadly noise of war on the other extreme. Order and decency in worship is to speak and sing loudly with thanksgiving, understanding, celebration, gladness, and praise to God.
Fifth, as verse 5 states, “For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.” No matter how often we in our propensity to sin tend to shun celebration and gladness, God is good, God’s love endures forever, and He remains faithful in the face of our lack of faithful love. His loving forgiveness revives us to celebrate with gladness.
Every time we are brought to our knees to repent for grumbling in pride or have killed joy, we experience anew the dead being made alive through His enduring love. All of the Christian life is full of the occasions He bestows upon us to celebrate with gladness to come into His presence with singing. Let us ask for God’s grace to help us rejoice with celebration even at the one out of many that He revives. Help us, O Lord, to be a people that celebrates, and that is glad through all our circumstances when we come to worship. We celebrate Jesus. We are glad in Jesus. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” Amen.