Sunday, October 7, 2012

Declare His Glory - Psalm 96:1-9 - October 7, 2012

Over the course of my summer time away for sabbatical I had the opportunity to visit or worship with congregations working diligently at being church for and with one another across language and culture.  One the churches in the suburbs on London had people from at least 20 nations worshiping side by side.  Another had peoples from 38 nations worshiping and being church family together. Still another in Birmingham had at people from at least a dozen nations.  Some in the congregations were born and raised within the shadows of their church home.  Others came from African, the Caribbean, the Middle East, India, or Asia. There was some many cultural and language differences between the people that you know that there must have been moments when various members wondered whether it was worth all of the work required to be a church family across all of the boundaries.  But, the people keep trying.  They keep reaching out.  They keep worshiping together.  They keep loving and caring for one another.  My time with these church families inspired me.  I felt like I had tasted just a bit of heaven in my time with them.

I really enjoyed last Sunday evening’s Global Picnic.  Somewhere around 240 people gathered across language and culture to share a meal, conversation, and a time to play with one another.  We talk a lot about being family together. Last week’s covered-dish picnic was a great example of moving from talking about being family to becoming family; to move from being friendly with one another to becoming friends.  While the conversations were sometimes awkward and often difficult, I witnessed something happening among us.  I watched as trepidation and cultural fear gave way to smiles.  I witnessed God doing something in our dining hall.  I watched and could not help but think that I was witnessing a bit of heaven on earth. We are headed in the right direction – together.

As much as I enjoyed the picnic, it is when we worship together our oneness in Christ Jesus is most evident.  We all know that our languages and cultures are all different and that our skin has distinctive tones, there is one faith, one hope, and one baptism that we all share as children of God through faith in Christ. We do not give up what makes us unique and special when we come together, but when we work and worship together we understand that in God is at work in all of us  In that spirit, there are some passages that beg to be preached on a day like this one.  Psalm 96 is one of those. It is one of the great missionary passages that invite us all to come together across language and culture to declare God’s glory to the world.

The Psalm begins: Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name; The Psalm presumes the presence of God in the midst of worship.   We are invited to sing!  While our favorite songs might be different, and the rhythm of our music is distinct, together our songs sing out in praise to God. Together our songs bless God’s name.

The Psalm continues; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. This call resonates across Scripture. In Isaiah 52, verse 7 we hear; How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Many congregations use this passage as a part of their Christmas worship services because we hear the proclamation of good news of great joy for all peoples from the angels on the hillside outside of Bethlehem. This is our shared story and our shared call.  We are called to work side by side proclaiming God’s good news story to our community.  We have been content for each congregation and language gathering to do its own thing in sharing Christ with those around them.  But, we can both learn from and be strengthened from one another. I want to call us to discover ways we can work together, side by side, to proclaim the good news to those in our community.

But our call to work together does not stop there.  The continues: 3 Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. This echoes the call of the Great Commission to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  This call to share the story of Jesus among the nations and His wonders among all people is a call we share together – across language and culture – as the children of God.  In our context, it is an invitation for us to explore how we can live out this call side-by-side.  Each of the congregations and language communities that worship within these walls bring different stories, different experiences, different gifts, and different skills to the Great Commission task.  We have much to teach one another.  We have much to learn from one another. I truly believe that together we can do a better job of taking the story of Jesus to the nations than any of us can alone.  In the next few weeks I am asking for Brian, my wife Beth, and to meet with a representative from UMBC, the Sudanese Christian Fellowship, the All Africa Baptist Church, and the Hispanic ministry and mission voices from the traditional First Baptist family to look at how we can intentionally work together in doing global missions.  I dream of a time when our mission teams look like the whole of us.  I dream of a time when we are supporting the same missions causes in our prayers and our offerings.  I dream of a time when we can celebrate what God is doing in and through our efforts together to declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.

The Psalmist sings out and reminds us what we have to declare: 4 For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. 6 Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. We join together worshiping and serving an amazing God.  He is not a God made from human hands or dreamed in the human imagination.  God is the God of all of creation; who made us in His image; who breathed into us life and living soul. The God of heaven and earth is our God.  The God of love and grace is our God.  The God of the cross and the Easter resurrection is our God.  The God of our salvation calls us his own through faith in Jesus Christ. God deserves our praise across all language and culture. 

The Psalm, as translated in the New King James Version, continues;
7 Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
9 Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.
I celebrate that our worship this morning is a product of Bruce and Kim working closely with our global church leaders to plan a worship that is meaningful for all of us.  Each congregation brings our best to this moment so that together we worship with shared joy at God’s feet.  I am thankful for this development because it means that we are choosing to be a worshiping family together.  It means that over the course of time each of our congregations will have an opportunity to shine in bringing its gifts to worship.  It means that over the passage of time other leaders will take the opportunity to open God’s words for us in a message born out of their understanding of God’s word born out of their unique experiences with God.  These global worship services are and will continue to be a centerpiece of our shared faithwalk together as a family of faith across language and culture.  We will all be stretched and grow in our understanding of God.  We will all be strengthened in our walk with God because of what we learn from one another. Our shared worship experiences and testimonies of God’s work in our lives will invite us to give God the glory due his name.

Our shared call to declare God’s glory together transcends our moments together in this room. Whether we are worshiping together in this room or apart in rooms across this building, we are to be one at God’s feet and let our songs of praise ring with a shared heart for God. Being a family of faith with and for one another is not to be a once every other month experience – but instead calls us to grow together, to serve together, to do missions together, to worship together, because we come to understand that we are better together then we can ever be in our cultural isolation.

We serve a great God that draws us together from across the world and across language and culture as His children.  May we learn to work and worship together in a way that brings honor and glory to God’s name.  May we together declare God’s glory to our community and the world. 

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