Saturday, October 08, 2011

Rejoice in the Lord

There has been an interesting thing floating around Facebook the past week.  It was a sign that read, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”
A friend of mine responded that she would be a lot skinnier!
Yah, I would be a lot skinnier, too, but I also would be sitting on the floor, or maybe even on the grass.  I would be twiddling my thumbs being totally bored.  Or maybe I wouldn’t even have thumbs to twiddle.  I would be walking everywhere, barefooted.  But I would have a parking place at Meijer, near the door, to park my non-existent car!
Part of our problem as people in America is that we forget how truly blessed we are.  We bemoan our situation while talking to our friends and family around the world as we sit in our kitchens drinking our coffee from Brazil.  We get so used to having the miraculous around us that we forget that each of these people and each of these things are a real gift.
As I said, one of the downfalls of being so richly blessed is that we forget what we have and we begin to look for more.  We begin to look at the blessings of others and want those blessings for ourselves.  But the problem is that when we look at the blessings of others, we stop rejoicing in the blessings that have been given specifically to us.
Probably most of you know that I have had some trouble rejoicing the past few weeks and months.  My former congregation closed.  An opportunity for a congregation fell through due to bigoted thoughts on their side.  Nick’s daughter has had some major medical problems which entailed trips to Tampa.  Now we are looking at moving, again, which is always so much fun.  And in the midst of all this “Yuck” stuff, Paul, in the epistle reading, is telling me to “rejoice.”  And to make the situation worse, not just to rejoice, but to “rejoice always!”  In the midst of moving and family hardships, I am supposed to rejoice.
I look at Facebook posts from friends and see pictures of their trips to Italy.  I hear about seminary classmates with thriving congregations.  I hear from former congregants about how wonderfully the congregation is doing.  All these things come into my life and seem to point out how I have failed, not how I should be rejoicing.  But even with the world showing me my failures, Paul is telling me that I need to REJOICE!  And Paul is not just telling me, Paul is telling us all!
Being part of a small congregation can also have that feeling.  We hear how good the large churches are doing.  We hear how these large congregations have all kinds of programs and all kinds of people.  We hear how they have building funds and too many kids for the Sunday School program.  We hear these things and then we look around as see the remnant gathered here and wonder how we should rejoice.  We gather here and wonder why we should rejoice.
But like I said, rejoicing is a tricky thing!  We are so often surrounded by so many things to celebrate that we become complacent.  We forget that, for us, this congregation IS the right size.  We forget that we have gifts to offer that larger congregations do not.  We offer care and support at a level that is not possible in a larger group.  When someone is gone, it does not take a couple of weeks to notice!  We are able to respond quickly and we are able to respond with our whole heart.
The world tells us that “bigger is better,” but Jesus seemed to like the smaller, more intimate groups.  He surrounded himself with his twelve friends and this small group changed the world.  Jesus did not go out and build a mega-church with a professional choir and a youth program staffed by child psychologists, he worked with the people who were around him and helped each use their gifts for the glory of God!  He taught them to truly rejoice in what they have received.  He helped his followers to find the blessing in what was there, and then helped them to work toward God’s vision of the Kingdom.
In my former congregation, I kept hearing people bemoan the fact that “we are too old.”  Which was quickly followed by, “We need young people.”  We were being the church with the older people, and we were doing okay.  We were not doing “Mega-Church wonderful” but we were surviving.  But, in terms of the Facebook post I mentioned earlier, we were not thanking God for the gifts we had.  We were not rejoicing in the Lord!  We had something there that the world needed!  It may not have been all the new and improved gadgets.  It may not have been a ton of kids running up and down the aisle.  (Although a few people would have had a stroke if that happened!)  It was not the Mega-Church model that is lifted up as the way things are supposed to be.  But what we did have is what I called “Grandparently Wisdom.”  We had a view of community that is becoming more and more rare.  We had something that we could provide to the world; something that the world was sorely lacking.
Here at St. Swithin's, we also have “Grandparently Wisdom!”  And that is something that we can share.  We are exactly what God wants us to be.  We need to rejoice in that!  We have a loving community that supports each other.  In a world where indifference and self-service is the norm, we can show those around us a different way.  We can rejoice in our small congregation!
But we need to NOT get caught in the opposite trap; we need to rejoice in what we have and in what we are, but we need to remember that God is not done with us yet!  We also need to be rejoicing in what we are becoming!  We can be given the gift of a guitar, and we can rejoice in that gift, but unless we spend time practicing, the gift is not going to come of much.  We can enjoy our own music, but it is in sharing that music that the gift grows and the rejoicing is spread!
That is the balance point we need to find:  We need to rejoice in what we have and what we are, but we also need to rejoice in what we are becoming!  We need to learn, daily it seems, to rejoice in the giftedness that we are while waiting in anticipation of what God has in store.  Will I ever be Howard Hughes rich?  Probably not.  But I am also not starving.  Will I ever be Robert Schuler famous?  (Just a side note, how famous is Robert Schuler?  The computer did has his name in its dictionary.  My last name it claims is misspelled.)  Probably not, but I have good folks who tell me that I have touched their lives.  Will St. Swithin’s ever be a Mount Hope Church?  Probably not, but would you really want to?  Will St. Swithin’s ever be St. Peter’s downtown, again probably not.  However, we are not called to be those things. We are called to be St. Swithin’s and to be the best St. Swithin’s we can.  We are called to pray; to pray for ways of bring the gift that is the congregation of St. Swithin’s to the community.  Paul tells us, “if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Focus on the great gifts we have been given!  It is in celebrating our giftedness that we spread Christ’s love to the world.  And it is in seeing our rejoicing that attracts the attention of the world.  Our society is craving joy.  It has bought the idea that joy comes from money or power, but Christ tells us that true joy comes from love; God’s love for us and our love for one another.  This is a gift we can give, no matter what our age, no matter what our financial situation.  Loving is something that we all can do and something that we can all strengthen.
Rejoicing in the Lord becomes self-reinforcing.  The more we rejoice, the more things we find to rejoice in!  The more we rejoice in the wonder of the world, the more wonder we find.  As we thank God for the gifts in our lives, the more gifts we find waiting!  We can look at others and long for the gifts they have, but we then lose sight of our own giftedness.  I am about to break into a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” here.  “You see George; you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?”  When we long for what is not, we neglect what is here.  When we forget to rejoice in the Lord, we miss the great love that surrounds us.
We are lucky that God continues to bless us, even when we don’t rejoice in our giftedness.  God continues to shower us with gifts, even when we long for the gifts of others.  But know that as people and as a congregation, God is here and God is at work!  You are exactly what you are to be, but thankfully you are not all that you will be!  We can rejoice in the lives that we have and with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we can let our requests be made known to God.  

No comments: