Sermon Message for Saturday, July 31, 2021 & Sunday, August 1, 2021
Prayer For Illumination: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 122:1 (p. 616), Colossians 3:15-17 (p. 1184), Ephesians 4:2-6 (p. 1175)
Sermon Message: “Church Gratitude”
Every once in a while, I have the honor to speak at another church. Mostly I cannot because I am here at this church each week. However, I well recall going to a humble, little white-framed church in a small town near Blairsville, PA, to share a Sunday message. It was a warm Sunday morning, kind of like today. As I pulled up and started to get out of my car, another family had pulled up near me. Their ‘kid’ had jumped out of the car and did this sort of ‘dance’ as he began waving to folks, “Hey, I’m here! We made it! We’re all here for church this morning!” I smiled at that little fellow and his joyous enthusiasm for ‘coming to church.’
Kids are pretty neat. When my daughter was little and we went somewhere, she would often times ask, “Are we there yet?” I’ve met some folks who answer their kids by saying, “Five more minutes. Just five more minutes.” Half an hour or an hour later, the kids ask the same question, “Are we there yet?” and get the same answer, “Five more minutes. Just five more minutes.” I tried something ‘different’ with my daughter. I used this same response with our grandchildren, leastwise until they all became able to ‘tell time!’ What I would say to them is this: “You know how long it takes us to get to the store?” “Yes.” It will take that long to get where we are going. OR if we were traveling far, I’d say something like, “We have to get hungry and stop for lunch and then again for supper before we get there.” This helped them, in another way, to ‘tell time’ and remain somewhat more patient and understanding until we arrived.
Psalm 122 can be considered a ‘song’ from the Bible. Many of the psalms were sung. Some still are. Psalm 122 is a song of arrival. It’s a song of someone who has been looking forward to that arrival for some time. It’s also a psalm about going to church and about gathering with God’s people for worship each week. It’s about ‘being glad to go to the house of the Lord.’
Ever ask someone why they don’t go to church? They’ll give you all sorts of reasons. “It’s boring. I have better things to do. I am busy. It’s my day to sleep in. We have sports on Sundays. We like to keep Sundays for family time.” People give lots of reasons for not going to church, but there is this one real reason, actually it’s quite a huge reason, why we should all go to church, and that is God.
Psalm 122 is the song of a person who decides to go to church and worship God.
Some statistics are not well known and even far less publicized. MANY people have discovered the joy of Christian worship. Going to church is one of their highest priorities and one of the high points of their week. Listen and hear the following ‘quiet’ yet remarkable statistics: There are more people in church on Sunday morning than people at all the football stadiums combined in the afternoon.
There is a common denominator among church-going Christians. The common denominator is this: ‘Church is viewed as a gift.’
Lots of folks have gratitude for the church. My research indicates that as many as 9,000-11,000 people travel through Coraopolis each day. Regardless of the statistics, there are lots and lots of folks who drive past our church each and every day. There remains a gratitude for this beautiful church building, how it is ‘kept up’ but also for the significance and symbolism of this Christian Church. Every now and then some parent will tell me their child gets ‘all excited’ about coming to church here. I am certain you have special and sacred memories associated with this church and furthermore with the ministries we’ve shared.
Many are aware that you cannot be a growing Christian without also being an active part of Christ’s church.
Today’s scripture lessons begin with Psalm 122. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote this Psalm. David further remembered what it felt like to be around people who just didn’t care about God or God’s ways. Back in Psalm 120 David reflects upon his distress from being around people who having ‘lying lips and deceitful tongues.’ “Too long” he writes, he has lived among those who hate peace. When he is invited to go to church with others, he is therefore glad to go to the House of the Lord.
Surely you have lots of reasons to look forward to gathering for worship each week. It’s good to be with people who have learned to trust in God’s providence and care. It’s so good to worship God with his people. Here we meet God, and God meets with us, together.
If there is a spirit of ‘church gratitude’ inside of you, then don’t be shy about inviting someone to church. Perhaps even a member who you have not seen here in a while. Do not be condescending, condemning, critical, or judgmental when you invite someone to church. I ask you to instead reflect upon this: many a church invitation has resulted in salvation and a life changed for all eternity. Perhaps the person you invite will someday say, “I am so glad someone said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
This Word of God from Psalm 122 is not just about inviting someone else to come to church. It’s about mutual encouragement, encouraging each other to gather for worship, whether you do that in person, by a phone call, a conversation, an email, a text, or posting on Facebook. It’s about looking forward to worshipping with God’s people.
Gratitude is sometimes forgotten or forsaken. Folks drive by this church and assume this building has always been here and always will be. Members remember this church across their lifetimes and may simply project it will always be here, long after they are gone. A precious few recall when there were hundreds attending worship here each week. Some are growing in their abiding ‘concern’ with the limited number in attendance each week.
God has preserved this church and ministry for reasons. While it is a symbol to the community, to those who drive by and a significance to all who have benefitted from our shared ministries and missions, that gratitude is important, yet not sufficient.
God has called upon you and several other ‘donors’ to ‘keep up,’ improve, ‘fix up’ and maintain this church; the ‘main-stay’ for this church continuing on is divine worship. Each week. Every week. When folks fail to worship, this will fail to be a church.
What’s your motivation for going to church? There’s an old joke about the mother getting her son up on a Sunday morning. “Time for church,” she says. “But I don’t want to go to church,” her son replies. “No one likes me there, and the people are all mean to me. Give me one good reason why I should go.” The mother replies, “I’ll give you two good reasons. Number one, you’re 54 years old. And number two, you’re the pastor!”
Last Saturday I officiated a funeral for a lady who lived in Winchester, Virginia. Her name was Virginia Dickson. 104 years old. Years and years ago Virginia Dickson played the organ and piano in this church occasionally. Her children, some who are now in their 70’s and 80’s, asked me if it would be ‘alright’ to come into this church sanctuary and just ‘see’ where Mom used to play the organ and the piano all those decades ago. Friends, there was a sense of wonder and delight as Virginia’s family stood in our sanctuary with humble gratitude. They rejoiced.
Look forward to coming to church. Pause as you enter here. People do not climb a mountain only to immediately turn around and go back down. They pause and take in the moment as well as the view. Pause when you come here. We come here to anticipate worshipping God together with his people. Some call this ‘church gratitude.’
Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” How you enter worship matters. It shows your attitude towards God and his people. When you’ve been looking forward to worship all week long, you will enter worship with anticipation and joy.
Remember, the church is not the building. It’s the people. And one of the benefits you reap from weekly-gathered worship is enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship. As we read in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” I remain humbly amazed and spiritually grateful that the church welcomes and invites so many people from such different backgrounds for worship. We worship together as different age groups, social and economic backgrounds. Some sinners and some saints. Jesus Christ and divine worship are the ties that bind us plus the gratitude that forms us into a church. We all come from different backgrounds, places, and situations, but we have a unity because we are all members of the one body of Christ. We are not merely members of a church; we belong to God! As Romans 12:4-5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
At church we all learn to get along with each other despite our differences. As long as we keep the main thing the main thing, we will get along just fine. And what’s the main thing? Worship. Praise. Christ. God.
Across the years some have inquired of me, “Rev. Tom, where do you get the inspiration for sermons you share with us week after week?” I am glad to share with you at least a partial response to that inquiry: I feel your prayers and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration as we worship each week. THIS is vital to me. During worship there remains a flow of inspiration. This contributes to weekly sermon planning. There are lots and lots of reasons why I feel glad to come to the house of the Lord.
Church gratitude has provided us with quality memories, sustaining grace, prayer, fellowship, and love. Yet there is something more, actually quite meaningful, associated with our coming together each week. We receive direction from God’s Word.
Church gratitude involves enjoying the closeness of Christian fellowship, experiencing the unity that comes from praising God together, AND receiving direction from God’s Word.
Weekly worship is full of God’s word. It is in our Bibles; it is in our songs; it is in our prayers; it is in our preaching and teaching. Colossians 3:16 gives the following instruction to churches gathering for weekly worship: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
God gave us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. In turn, Jesus has given us the gift of the church. ‘Gifts’ were never meant to be placed on a shelf or set aside, but to be used, shared, and enjoyed. Do you love the church?
Cherish the gift of this church and your church family. Cherish and give thanks for Jesus Christ who owns and heads up this and every Christian church community. The church is presented to you not as an obligation but instead as an invitation. Here we receive God’s gift, this building, this faith, our church family, compassion, kindness, communion, faith fellowship, and love. Many have and many shall come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the giftedness of this church and you, the people of God. Church gratitude between heaven and earth. Amen.