Fairhaven Sermon 5-5-2024

Fairhaven Sermon 5-5-2024
Fairhaven Sermon 5 5 2024

In this week's sermon by Rev. Peg Bowman reflects on the joy of Easter and the importance of living in God's love. She highlights that joy is a recurring theme in the Bible, often tied to music and singing. She finds beauty in the concept that the entire creation, including atoms and elements, resonates with God's song. She relates Psalm 98's call to praise God to the intrinsic joy of God's creation. Furthermore, she emphasizes that God's love was extended to the Gentiles, recounting the story of Cornelius' conversion in Acts, which marked a significant expansion of God's family.

Rev. Bowman draws on the Gospel of John to illustrate that Jesus' teachings, though given before his crucifixion, encourage deep joy and friendship with God through love and obedience to His commandments. This joy is not just a fleeting emotion but a promise of deeper fulfillment that aligns with God's nature and His desire for all His children. She concludes that living in God's love and obeying His commands allows Christians to bear fruit, spreading joy and kindness in a world often plagued by falsehood and pain.


Well, good morning. This morning we are still in the season of Easter, but not for very much longer. And we have a number of other special days this week and next week. So today, of course, is Cinco de Mayo for those of you who celebrate.

Yesterday was Star Wars Day, which explains our prelude this morning. And then we have some other religious days, Thursday being Ascension Day this week, the day when Jesus returned to heaven. And we would normally observe that on the following Sunday, but the following Sunday is Mother's Day, so that will be our focus next week. And then the week after that is Pentecost.

So the joy of Easter is still with us, but not for a whole much longer. So we're going to celebrate, continue talking about Easter today, and plan to wear red a couple weeks from today. So there are three scripture readings for today from the Psalms, the Acts, and the Gospel of John all lead us to the same place, and that is joy. More specifically, bearing fruit, the works of love for the sake of joy.

And each reading comes at it from a different angle, but joy is the destination. So I'd like to start with Psalm 98. The psalm starts out with the words, Sing to the Lord a new song. It's a cry of joy because God has done unbelievably wonderful things, victory and vindication in the sight of all the nations.

And while this victory had a specific meaning when the psalm was written, these verses also describe the victory of Easter, written a thousand years before Easter actually happened. So they're prophetic in a way. And the psalmist says, Make a joyful noise to the Lord and break forth into joyous song. Have you ever noticed that when the Bible talks about joy, it almost always talks about music and singing? There is a joy that I think that can really only be expressed through music.

And I take our pianist Beatrice as an example. First off, she's a joy to listen to, isn't she? And as a musician, although I can't play anywhere near as well as she plays, I know the joy that she feels when she plays. She takes joy in sharing the thoughts of the composer. She takes joy in the instrument itself.

She takes joy in the sheer beauty of music, and she takes joy in sharing it with all of us. And that joy is contagious. Psalm 98 says, Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all the earth. And God created all of creation for joy.

God created every living being for joy, both for God's joy in creating and for our joy in being created. And this is what life is all about, both now and in eternity, joy. So the psalm talks about expressing joy through songs, through praising God with the lyre that is stringed instruments, and melody and trumpets and horns. And this gets loud, right? And then the psalm calls on the earth itself to sing for joy.

The sea and the world and the floods and the hills, everything on earth. Now, this is speaking metaphorically, of course. At least that's how we would normally think of it. But it depends on who you ask.

From a religious standpoint, the ancient Jewish understanding was that creation itself is alive. Not quite in the sense that you and I are alive and breathing, but that the world is a living thing capable of praising God. And this is one of the many reasons why many Jewish people support environmental causes, because they conceive of the earth as being a living thing created by God. And then from a scientific standpoint, and this, by the way, is not my own idea.

Somebody told me this back in the '80s as a theory. And this past week, I checked it out. You've got to love Google, right? You can look things up. Anyway, I just found out this past week that scientists are actually working on this.

Check this out. We all know that everything that exists is made up of atoms, right? The ultimate foundation, the reality of our world. And we know that atoms are made up of a nucleus with protons and neutrons in the center, and orbiting around the nucleus are electrons. And we know that everything we see, everything around us is made up of these things.

We got that in high school science, right? I'm taking you back a few years. Anyway, here's the thing. Everything we see and perceive as solid is actually at its foundation always in motion all the time. And motion causes sound.

And if we have the right kind of receiver, we'd be able to hear it. That's the theory that I was taught back in the day. This week, I Googled that idea, and it just so happens that there's a university in Sweden that has been researching this very thing. And they put forth the idea that atoms do indeed make a sound, but the sound is so high, it's 20 octaves higher than the highest note on the piano, which is way too high for human ears to hear.

Now, I can't say I entirely understood this article that I was reading, Scientific Digest, or a little over my head, but I ran it past my brother, the physicist. And he read the article and explained it to me a bit, and I won't go into all the details, but he said that the idea was intriguing. In other words, it has his attention, and he will be watching in the future for any further information. Personally, I kind of like the idea that God's creation is singing, and that God, unlike us, can hear it.

I mean, just think about that, you know? And I've also been told that the great conductor, Leonard Bernstein, once said that when he was talking about the creation story back in the book of Genesis, he said that he believed that God did not say, Let there be light, but he believed that God sang it. Wouldn't that make perfect sense? That we, what we see in the atom, is an echo of God's song, that all of creation created by God's song is now singing back to God. Isn't that a cool concept? So the psalm ends by promising that this God, who is so full of music and song, will one day judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity. And then we turn to our reading from Acts, where this godly righteousness and joy makes itself known in a brand new way.

Now, this passage, we're actually coming in in the middle of the story, so I need to back up because the story, the part that we read started out with the words, While this was happening. So while what was happening, we need to go back and take a look at that. So very briefly, the backstory. The apostle Peter was visiting a friend named Simon in Joppa, and one afternoon Peter was praying on the roof of the house when he had a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven with animals on it, some edible animals, and he heard a voice saying, Rise, Peter, kill and eat.

But Peter looked at the animals and he recognized them as animals that Jews are not allowed to eat. They were considered unclean. So Peter said, Lord, I have never eaten anything impure or unclean. And the Lord answered, Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.

Meanwhile, nearby in Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and he was a sympathizer with the Jewish people. He gave generously to the local synagogue, and he had a vision of an angel who told him to send for a man named Peter who was staying in Joppa. So he sent a couple of servants and one of his guards, and they went to find Peter, and they brought Peter back to Cornelius' house. And by the time Peter got there, Cornelius had gathered his entire family, all his servants, all his relatives, all his close friends, into his house.

The place was packed with people, and he asked Peter to tell everyone the message that God had given Peter to tell them. And here's where we pick up the story. While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word, and Peter was astounded, because up to that point, the Holy Spirit had only ever been poured out on Jewish believers. Up to that point, God had always been the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but now that was all changing.

Peter says, Can anyone withhold the water for baptism for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And the whole household was baptized, and there was great joy, and people stayed there celebrating for days. This is huge for us, too, of course, because if these Gentiles can receive the Holy Spirit, that means so can we. This event makes room in God's kingdom and in God's family for all believers everywhere who receive the Holy Spirit, no matter who they are, no matter where they're from, and no matter what they've done in their lives. If they've received the Holy Spirit, then they are members of the family of God, no exceptions.

And there's a postscript to this story. When Peter got back to Jerusalem and the Jewish believers gathered together, they were very upset with him. Peter got an earful, and they said to him, You went in to the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them? I mean, this was so forbidden by any Jewish teaching. Jews and Gentiles never ate in the same building.

In fact, a Jew was forbidden by Jewish law to even walk into a Gentile's house. Peter answered by telling the elders in the church in Jerusalem the story of what happened and how the Holy Spirit had fallen on Cornelius and his family and his friends, just like the Holy Spirit had fallen on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and how the whole family had been baptized, and they were now believers. And the church's answer was this. They praised God and said, Even to Gentiles, God has granted repentance that leads to life.

And they celebrated. It's more joy. More joy. More joy.

And then last but never least, we come to our passage from John. Now, this reading is part of Jesus' final teaching to the disciples before his crucifixion, so it's kind of a heavier reading. But Jesus is doing some really high-powered pastoral care here, and he's just told them that he's about to die, but he says the disciples will not be abandoned. He says there will be a road to deeper intimacy and deeper friendship with Jesus.

He says we'll still be together. If we love one another and live in Jesus' love, we will live in Jesus, and Jesus will live in us. And Jesus' whole message leads to joy. He says that your joy may be complete.

Jesus talks about God's love and his own love and the Holy Spirit's love. That's that amazing relationship between that three-in-one God whose nature is love and joy. This kind of love and joy in life is what every parent wants for their children. It's what our heavenly parent wants for us.

Jesus says the way to become part of this love and joy is by obeying the commandments. Now that might seem to be kind of counterintuitive, right? Obedience to commandments leads to joy? What does this have to do with love and joy? Here's the thing. The result of doing things God's way is joy, even in the middle of hardship sometimes. It is Jesus who says, I chose you and I commission you to bear fruit that will last, specifically, works of love for the sake of joy.

Another benefit of obeying God's commands is that it puts us in a position to strip away all the deceptions of the world. We talk a lot these days about fake news and how to sift through what we hear. Love seeks a world in which complete joy is not just for a privileged few but for everyone. So doing what God commands proclaims our love for God and for every person, no matter who or where they are.

This is why the gospel is so countercultural. Human cultures do not put a high value on obedience. Human cultures do not put a high value on God's word. But when we do things God's way, acts of love shine in the darkness of the world around us and they bring joy.

Jesus then wraps up his teaching by saying that when we follow his commands and demonstrate our love for one another, we are no longer his servants but he calls us friends. We are chosen by God and chosen by Jesus and we have received the Holy Spirit. We are no longer strangers. We are part of God's family.

And as God's family, we bear fruit, fruit like kindness and nurturing and meeting each other's needs and joy that will last forever. Seek first the joy of God's kingdom. Amen.