August 7, 2016
This week we are using what I have learned is called “The Ritcey” window as our theme point. The Ritcey window was placed in memory of Harris Douglas Ritcey. Doug Ritcey, as he was better known was a bass soloist and choir member at Fort Massey for 62 years. Doug wanted to leave a stained glass window to the church as a legacy gift and it was designed around his favorite hymn, “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky” or what is often known as “Here I am Lord.” The window was designed by Sue Obata and she masterfully captured the essence of that hymn in the details that decorate the central image that is meant to portray King David and Psalm 100. You can learn more about the window on our website (http://www.fortmasseychurch.com/News.html). Doug lived to be 96 years old and many of you spoke to me about him and reported that it was a blessing to have known him. He died on June 10, 2014 at the grand age of 96 years old. I am grateful that the window he commissioned to be designed has inspired today’s service and it’s sermon theme.
When my girls and I sit down to eat we always pray together. And we pray the same prayer each time, “Thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you God for everything.” It doesn’t matter where we are, at home, in a restaurant, and even with friends. If our friends don’t pray, we quietly pause and bow our heads and say our prayer with each other in silence. This is so much a part of our daily practice that my kids will remind me on those days that I forget because we are rushed, or I am starving…. “Mama, don’t forget to say, ‘thank you,’ first,” they will say. Thank you. It is a powerful and simple statement that can change your life.
Meister Eckhart once said, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” The window today depicts King David and his harp. King David is surrounded by angels singing and praising God. The inscription on the window says this, “Serve the LORD with gladness, come before him singing.” This appears to be a combination of translations of the first two verses of Psalm 100. Today we sang it like this, “Make a joyful noise all the earth, worship your God with Gladness!” This is a Psalm of Thanksgiving and when you look carefully it is the only one that you need if you want to know how to show gratitude to God.
Eckhart might have said that saying it is enough, but I’m not convinced that prayer is only about saying the words. I think prayer means that you remain open to the Holy Spirit putting your words into action and Psalm 100 tells us how to practice thanksgiving to God. Listen to what it says:
MAKE a joyful NOISE: be kind, use beautiful words, make incredible sounds. Celebrate with music and noise. There was a point at Berwick Camp this week when some wee ones were marching in front of their mum and they were blowing the most horrific sounding children’s horns, but I’ve rarely seen such joy! Their delight was infectious and suddenly that sound that under different circumstances may have been migraine inducing, became that joyful noise I heard in my heart. Mind you Psalm 100 was well planted in my heart by that point and I’m sure my ears were very thankful for it!
This verse also says, all the earth. It is not just us that are called to celebrate, but all creation celebrates with us. Do you know that there is no such thing as silence unless you are in a vacuum and even then you would hear the sound of your own thoughts. When was the last time that you stopped and really listened to the sounds of the earth. Just like you can see beauty in the everyday, you can hear joy in her sounds too… Psalm 100 calls us to train our ear for that sound!
WORSHIP the lord with gladness. Does the Psalm call us to worship the Lord by putting others down? Does it ask us to worship with sternness? Does it tell us to be seen and not heard? NO! We are to worship God with gladness – with delight. When we worship we should do so with a feeling of joy and pleasure! I have to tell you that I know that this isn’t always easy. We come to worship sometimes with very heavy hearts. But, when we come to worship, God wants us to lay our burdens down and lift our voices and hearts to find a moment of joy. This might feel inauthentic at times. It might even feel like faking it until you make it, but if we are aware that that is what we are doing, then I think that it is not so much faking it as it is practicing it! And isn’t that what we want gratitude to be? – A daily practice?
Come into his presence singing – When we feel the presence of God we should sing, whether that means coming into his presence here on earth or if music should be a part of our passing from this place into the next. I also think that this verse can be read as “Come into God’s presence BY singing” – I encourage you all to sing. Like the children’s horn to my ears, your voice is beautiful to God. And when you sing and make music you lift your spirits. Don’t take my word for it. Scientific research has shown that singing is good for you. In researching for this sermon, I read a number of articles about this phenomenon.
This “TOP-Ten reasons for singing” sums up the research findings well:
- Releases endorphins and increases levels of oxytocin – the “feel good” hormone.
- Improves posture, breathing and blood-flow
- Saves money: our voice is our free human instrument
- Creates new neural pathways and improve brain meta-plasticity
- Wards off age-related decline by continuously ‘exercising’ your brain
- Shown to heal injuries from stroke and improves speech abnormalities
- Promotes social bonding and cohesion; and can help you rediscover your own identity
- Relieves mental health issues; like depression and anxiety by making you feel happier, better connected and supported
- You can connect with other diverse voices and your community by singing
- Studies show that people who sing test smarter, healthier, happier and more creative than those that don’t.
Sounds like some great reasons to sing to me!
The verse then says this: KNOW that the Lord is God. – Don’t you love that it doesn’t say Know who or what God is. It says instead that KNOW that the one that made you is the one that you belong to and that one is GOD. Call that “God” the Psalmist says. This is an instruction for the present age. We are all God’s people. A few weeks ago we spent some time thinking about what it means to be a sheep, and Psalm 100 reminds us again that we are the protected, guided, nurtured and fed people of God. Know that you are special to God.
ENTER his gates thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Whether the imagery is the familiar pastoral image of the sheep and his shepherds of the analogy of the King in his court, we have the choice to enter into the kin-dom of God thanks to free-will. If the the Holy Spirit leads us to that place and we enter in, we are commanded here to enter giving thanks and blessing the name of God. But where is this place? Like the being in the presence of God, I think that this realm is both earthly and divine. Jesus would later teach us that the Kingdom of God is here and now. We are called to walk here and now with an attitude of gratitude that allows us to see the abundance already in front of us. There is nothing more we need. We have enough. We are enough. There is nothing to strive for or stress over when we foster this kind of thanksgiving.
When we reach the courts and the gates we can stop running because we have arrived exactly where we are meant to be. Now we are called to GIVE thanks to God, and BLESS God’s name. But how do we do that? What do you give someone who has everything? What do you give God? Let’s come back to that in a minute.
The Psalm concludes with the reason why we should MAKE NOISE JOYFULLY, WORSHIP GLADLY, KNOW GOD, ENTER IN, GIVE THANKS AND BLESS. We should do all of these things because, the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness is to all generations. God is Good, God’s love never falters, it remains forever and across all time. Sounds like a good reason to me! In five short verses, the Psalmist tells us how to practice thanksgiving. MAKE NOISE JOYFULLY, WORSHIP GLADLY, KNOW GOD, ENTER IN, GIVE THANKS AND BLESS. Sounds easy right? But it’s not easy. That’s why it is a practice. That’s why we come together as a community of faith to worship, too sing, to learn. So that we can practice our gratitude to God.
Now what about giving thanks. How can we do that? How can we GIVE anything to God to say thank you for everything that God has done in our lives? We find an answer in Isaiah 6. Here, Isaiah learned how to praise God with a grateful heart.
“I, the Lord of Sea and Sky” was Doug Ritcey’s favorite hymn and s mentioned parts of it are represented by various elements of the design so artistically woven by Sue Obata. The hymn itself was written by Daniel Schutte in 1981. Dan is a Roman Catholic composer and liturgist originally from Wisconsin. He is aware that this window stands here and was grateful to hear from Ruth that his song inspired both Doug’s life and this piece of Art. The hymn was uniquely written as a call and response with the verses being God’s call and the chorus being our anticipated response. It echoes the words of Isaiah 6:8 when the Lord calls and Isaiah answers and is thus commissioned to his life as a great prophet. God calls all of us to do God’s work in the world.
God calls us in many ways. Some of us are called to care for the sick, some of us are called to feed the hungry, some of us are called to educate our children, some are called to deliver the word, some of us are called to touch and to heal. Some of us are called to lead the rest of us to make a joyful noise! There are so many different ways that God calls us into ministry. And we are all ministers. When we attend to the needs of the other, when we look after one another, when we help each other in the name of God then we are ministering to the people of God.
And if you don’t believe me, don’t worry Isaiah didn’t believe God either. He said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” He felt unworthy to serve God. He knew God, but he wasn’t sure. So God sent angels to cleanse his lips and assure him that he was ready. This is the same for us. I heard the call to ministry for a long time, and sometime I might tell you my call story, but for now know this: It took a LONG time before I was even willing to discern the call and it took many ANGELS coming to assure me that I was worthy before I considered taking on this work. God will be patient and God will send helpers because God needs us!
You are each made for something special. There are no small works and to each person is allotted a unique gift that God wants you to share in the world. I love that Dan Schutte includes the doubt in his chorus. We don’t see it in Isaiah 6:8 because by then the angels have come and Isaiah is feeling a little more confident than maybe you or are may be when we hear God calling. But in the hymn we hear, “Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?” My friends, let me assure you, it is you. The Psalm tells us what we should do and Isaiah’s commissioning story teaches us how to do it.
It isn’t easy to stand before God and feel worthy unless we have done the work of practicing gratitude. Without gratitude we run the risk of living in scarcity where nothing is ever enough. Taking the time to say “Thank you” every day for what we have, for what has happened and for who we are can be as powerful as the angel bringing the hot coal to Isaiah’s lips.
It can burn away the fear, loosen the doubt and steady our hearts to be brave enough to say “yes” to God.
So, start looking for the blessings in your life. They are all around you. They are in your struggles as much as in your joys. They are sometimes even found in the things you didn’t get that you thought you really wanted. If you don’t know where to start with this then it is time to make it intentional. Keep some paper by your bed and each day, morning and or night while sitting in your bed, write down the three things you are grateful for that day. Before you know it you will have a book full of blessings. Our sense of real worthiness can be found in recognizing those blessings, big and small. Then we will be ready to listen, to see and to respond when God calls us. We will understand what it means to MAKE a joyful NOISE, we will find the way to WORSHIP GLADLY, our hearts will KNOW GOD, we will have the courage to ENTER IN, and will we finally know what it is to GIVE THANKS AND BLESS GOD’s holy name.
This is how we can give thanks to God that has everything. I believe that God is waiting for us to truly know that we are worthy, so that when we hear the call, we can stand before the Lord of song and confidently respond. “Here, I am Lord, Send me”.
Are you ready?
Thanks be to God. Amen.