Ido not always enter worship in a joyful manner. At times I come to worship with a heavy heart or a broken spirit. Some Sundays I enter the church with sorrow because of the pain of the world or burdened by my sin.
On the Sunday after 9/11 my wife and I worshiped with a congregation located just a few blocks from the Pentagon. We brought feelings of fear and extreme anxiety. What does this mean? How could this happen? Will attacks like this happen again?
As we waited for the service to begin, a man seated near us uttered these words aloud, “I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer today. It will be impossible for me to pray for forgiveness, and I hope we do not sing ‘Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee’ . . . I am not joyful and I do not have a forgiving spirit.” On that day he did not agree with the psalmist. But we are not to confuse “joyful noise” with experiencing the pleasures of life or being entertained or being remembered by someone.
Yet in times like the one I cite above, we need the reminder of the psalmist who calls us to praise. We make a joyful noise and come with gladness and singing. Why? We belong to God.
In verse 4 the psalmist enjoins us to enter, offer praise, give thanks, and bless. And verse 5 offers the reason for our celebratory attitude: God is good, offering us an enduring steadfast love and faithfulness. God desires our well-being.
Those who come with this joy share the conviction that love will ultimately win. If we believe this affirmation, we can enter the sanctuary and make a joyful noise no matter what our life circumstances. We are the sheep of God’s pasture.
God of wonder, help me to experience joy that is holy and everlasting. Amen.
The universal rule of God, expressed in Christ the Shepherd-King, is a dominant theme in all the texts assigned for the week. Both Old Testament texts dwell on the nurturing, protecting role of the Shepherd-King, whose people we are. Ezekiel 34 gives the shepherd’s guiding and defending role a political twist by condemning the succession of shepherd-kings who have neglected and exploited the flock. Both New Testament passages celebrate the victory of Christ: the enthroned Son of Man of Matthew 25 separates the flock, and the risen Christ of Ephesians 1 is seated by God “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” Christ guarantees God’s completed reign.
• Read Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. How does it feel to be compared to sheep with God as the shepherd? What would the sheep expect from the shepherd? What would the shepherd expect from the sheep?• Read Psalm 100. How would a total stranger know that your faith in God brings you joy?
• Read Ephesians 1:15-23. Would you say that you love God more with your mind or with your heart?
• Read Matthew 25:31-46. What is required for you to be so attuned to others that you would recognize the Christ in them? How will you ensure that Christ’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven?
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