January 4, 2015
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-14

This is what God says: Sing for joy.

Well we do. We should also do it more often- and I know it makes my friend Dave Owings nod his head to hear me say that, because he insists on telling me once or twice a month that it IS a good morning. In fact, his exact words are, “Any morning that you’re vertical is a good one.”

But here’s what I know: I grumble a lot, and maybe most of its trivial. But there is real suffering and agony in the world and people in agony cannot shout for joy just because. In fact, the scientists will tell you that shedding few tears has a genuine healing effect. And the theologian will tell you that the Bible is considerably filled with lament.

In fact, I think if we shout for joy without acknowledging the vast measure of misery and torment in the world then, well, we’re being despicable.

But here’s what I don’t hear God saying: Be joyful all the time. In fact, God added a little codicil to the instructions for joy: we are to shout for joy, and then offer up a request: Save us!

So shout, save us- do it with me: SAVE US

Shout, because we need it.
Shout, because trouble is all around.

You know I go inside the jail every week, or almost every week. I take newspapers and magazines and I sit there and listen and hardly ever do I hear good stories.

The stories I heard this week were despicable. But worse than that, I’m certain I don’t hear the worst stories they have to tell, and I’m certain that worse stories abound in Alaska and in the world.

But there’s something else I know: if there is a life that’s trouble-free, I have yet to see it. So if there’s a chance that God will help, then let’s ask.

On that subject then, the next thing God says is that God has a plan, and the plan is this: God will gather up those who need help, starting with the most vulnerable.

God will gather them from the ends of the earth.
No place will be too far
No place will be too remote
No place will be too dangerous
No place will be to hot or too cold
No place will be too high or too deep.
No pace, no life, no situation will be beyond God’s reach.

Is that cause for joy? Then on the count of three, shout praise the Lord!

One…two…three PRAISE THE LORD

Shout for joy, not because things are hunky dory-
But because things are in God’s hand-
Even when it doesn’t seem that way to us.

But here’s what God doesn’t say.
God doesn’t say how long before we see God’s good ending
And countless are the saints who have asked, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

God doesn’t say the road from here to there will be a direct route.
God doesn’t say it will be an easy road
God doesn’t say we will never get tired of shouting for joy for something that hasn’t happened yet.
God just says it will happen, and right now we should shout because it will.

So let’s shout Amen- one, two, three AMEN
Because Amen is about ending, and we’re looking forward to God’s ending of things
And God’s new beginnings.

We look for intermediate things- we pray for intermediate things- and there’s no reason whatsoever that we shouldn’t do those things.
Because sometimes the intermediate things will be good news.
But when they are, they’re a window into God’s last things-
A window into that time when God rounds us up from the most impossible situations
And gathers us at one dinner table
And sets a feast before us
Just like today.

But hear what God has to say about the journey to the table:
We’ll come weeping and
We’ll come praying and
We’ll need God to lead us
And we’ll need a handicapped accessible path
Because otherwise,
We’d be prone to stumble.

It will be, God says,
A journey of tears
And a journey we can’t make on our own.
We’ll need mercy and well need grace
God’s right and left arms
And God promises-
Promises with a great big capitol P-
That mercy and grace will be there.

What that says about us
Is that we are bound to fail, on our own-
We’re bound to mess things up
And indeed we have.
How much suffering in the world is self-inflicted
And how much is family-inflicted
And how much is neighbor-inflicted
And how much simply because we’re selfish
Or jealous
Or afraid
As human beings, or as nations?

A lot. And it’s not easy to admit.
But what God most definitely does NOT say is that none of it matters.
It all matters, every last bit of it
Every last word we just have to get in
And every slight dismissal of another’s dignity
And every miserly moment
Every grudge, prejudice, loathing and scorn.
God never says they don’t matter
Because they do.

But that word- that word of judgment-
Is not the last word.
It’s an intermediate word
Because what God clearly says
Over and over and over again
Is that we are forgiven
No matter how despicable
We might have been
Are still being
Or will be.

God’s forgiveness
Is the first act of God’s gathering us back in
God’s bringing us home
God’s gathering us together at this table.
Is God’s greatest word and best word.

Forgiveness is what the Father had in his heart
Years before the prodigal ever came home.
Forgiveness is what the man who died on a cross
Asked on behalf of those who put him there
When we were unable to see our own depravity
And did what we swore was righteous.

It’s the hardest word to say
No matter what language we speak.
We say it in church every single week
No matter what church we go to
But in the real world
In life
It tastes like poison
And it makes us want to wretch.

But God speaks it
God says it
God sings it
God shouts it
God yodels it
God raps it
God thinks up new ways to make it leap forth
With every passing moment.

The more ways we sin
The more ways God creates
To say, “Your sins are forgiven.
Come home, sit down, and eat.”

Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about a man who ran two marathons every day
until he had finished a run that took him from the far northern end of chili
to the southernmost point.

Two marathons every day.
One every morning
And one every afternoon.
For 63 days, I think it was.

Does anybody want to run?
Not that far,
Not that hard,
Not me.

I suspect that somewhere in the world
There are two, maybe three folk
Who would try it themselves.
But the truth is,
Even they will despair
Somewhere along the way
Because it is a long way.

So when we look at where we are
Forgiveness looks like it’s a long way off.
After all, people are what we are.
Evil at worst, petty at best,
And forgiveness is not in our nature
Let alone in our future.

But God says, “Shout for joy!”
Not because the race is over
But because the race is on.

God says, “Shout for joy!”
Not because our suffering is over
But because it’s end is promised.

God says, “Shout for joy!”
Not because we’ve learned to forgive
Not because we’ve learned to love
But because we are loved
We are forgiven.

God says, “Shout for joy!”
Not because we’re saints
But because we’re claimed
We’ve been chosen
To be recipients of grace
Connoisseurs of mercy
Practitioners of hope.

So shout for joy with a good, loud, praise the Lord!

Then come on in
Sit down
And eat
Because you also were included.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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