Sermon – Why are we here? – Sunday, November 10, 2013

November 10, 2013 by
Filed under: Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary, Sermons 

This sermon was preached on Sunday, November 10, 2013 at Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church in North Plainfield, NJ as part of my Pastoral Care internship.

Audio: 

First Reading – Psalm 145
Second Reading – Luke 20:27-38

“Why are we here?”

It’s Sunday morning again.  We just had the time change last week, so it’s still a little light out in the morning, but it’s getting darker and darker as the days go on.  Some of us have tough work schedules, and Sundays are our only “real” day to relax.  Besides, the Giants game starts at 1.  So why are we here?

That’s the title that I chose for this week’s sermon.  Why are we here?  What draws us to come to church on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or whatever day of the week we attend?  What draws us to our own personal spiritual practices?  What draws us to attend committee meetings or to teach Sunday school or to help out with a charity event?

So WHY are we here?  What is the reason?

As I talked about with the children, Psalm 145 is a psalm of praise.  It even says so.  If you look in the Bible, you’ll see that just above the first verse it says “Praise.  Of David.”  In fact, the Hebrew word for psalms means “Praises”.  Among others, the last 6 psalms in our Book of Psalms are psalms of praise.

As Presbyterians, we are part of the Reformed faith, and as PCUSA Presbyterians, we have a Book of Confessions.  Several of the confessions in that book have a statement like this one, which comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism (which some of you may have learned in Sunday School or Confirmation):

Question:  What is the chief end of man?

Answer:  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

(This was written in 1640, so please excuse the masculine language for us and God.)

So, Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

We are called to glorify God.  And not just now, but forever.  We are told that “one generation shall laud your works to another” and that “all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever.”  There’s a long list of verbs in the passage:  to extol, to bless, to praise, to laud, to declare, to speak praise, and join with all flesh to bless.  These are what the psalmist would have us do for God.  And as I told the children, these psalms were written to be used in worship, so these are what we sing that we will do.

And we do that in worship.  We sing praises to God, as we did and will do in several of today’s hymns.  We do that in proclamation.  Our reading of scripture and the words of the preacher speak of God to us and others.  And it’s not just those of us up here at the microphones – as we confess, as we pray together in unison, or as we pray silently while one leads we are showing others here and elsewhere what God’s message looks like.

We do that with our hands and our feet and our voices, when we help others, inside and out of the congregation.  And I’m going to talk more about that later.

We do this, because God asked us to.  Told us to.  Commanded us to.  This is what God created us to do.

So that’s WHY we are here.

The next question is … why are WE here?

And to a certain extent, this is something that we have to each answer individually.  Speaking for myself, I could easily say that I’m here because this is my Field Education assignment.  But that’s too simple.  I could say that I’m here because I’m in seminary, or that I want to become a minister, but that doesn’t explain the time before I started seminary.  My story began long before that, and although my own story involves 15 years away from the church there was clearly a time when I was an adult and not forced by my parents to come to church, but I come anyway.

Most of you are in that situation – you don’t have to be here.  Now, don’t get up and leave – this argument is coming around to the point here in a minute.  Most of you are here voluntarily – you decided to be here.  Some of you might be here because your parents are here, or because someone that you love is here.  But you’re here.

Most of you are now or were at some point members of a church, for many you were or are members of this church.  In order to become a member you made a profession of faith in one form or another.  You said in front of the Session, or the church council wherever, or the congregation that you believe in Jesus Christ, and that you accept the teaching of the church.  You agreed to participate in the life of the church.

So that’s probably why you are here, and that’s why I am here.  But why are WE here?

God calls us into community.  The Israelites were a community of faith.  Jesus created that community of faith in Him, a community that was sent into the world to proclaim the gospel starting with Pentecost.  We worship God in community.  We mourn in community.  We pray in community.  We celebrate and we play in community.  We eat in community.  We work in community.  And we go out into our community as a community of faith, working and playing and meeting and supporting our community as a group, and as a part of the greater church.  We teach in community – through our bible study and Sunday school and youth group, and through scripture and preaching.

And we live that community every Sunday.  And all week long.  On special days.  When hurricanes and cookie walks happen.  When Christmas and Easter happen.  When we need, and when others need.

We are part of a community.  We’re part of the Watchung Avenue Presbyterian community.  We’re part of Presbyterians in the Plainfields.  We’re part of Presbyterians everywhere.  We’re part of this neighborhood around Watchung Avenue itself, and all of North Plainfield, and the surrounding area.  And we are identified by our faith in Christ, a faith that is strong enough to get us up on a Sunday morning in whatever weather to come here.

So that’s why WE are here.

Now, why are we HERE?

In 1916, a new independent congregation of the Presbyterian church was chartered here.  In 1907, this building was built.  Before that, in 1893 the mission that was meeting here affiliated with the Crescent Avenue church.  The Crescent Avenue church in turn traces its history back farther, to Scotland, to Geneva, to Rome, to Jerusalem.  And why?  Why are there Christians all over the globe?

Jesus calls us and called us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  His apostles began that, following the message of scripture to proclaim the gospel and ensure justice, and take care of those in need.  And to do that we need a presence in every place.

And so we are HERE, in North Plainfield.  And we as Presbyterians, and as Christians as a whole are here in the Plainfields.  To proclaim the gospel, work for justice and peace, and to take care of those here and around the world who are in need.

In this building?  Yes.  We do that with the Y, and we do that with Headstart, and we do that with other groups that use our space.  We do that with our special events for the presbytery and the general public.  But also so much more than what we do this building.  We walk for hunger.  We grow food with our Catholic neighbors.  Many of us serve God by helping others in some other way in some other charity, or through our occupations.

The psalm talks about God upholding those who have fallen, giving them food, and watching over those who cry out.  God could do that by pointing a finger – ZAP.  But God also can, and does do that with the help of his creation.  That’s us.  God also hears their cry and “saves them”.  That’s us too – whenever we hear the cry of pain, we take care of people’s needs.  We hear their cry for spiritual food, and we give them scripture and preaching.  We hear their cry to be with others, and we give them community.  And sometimes we are them, and our cries are heard and we are fed and cared for and taught.

When Hurricane Sandy hit last year, we sprung into action.  First we did what we needed to, checked on our homes and our own families, but quickly we turned to checking on each other.  All of the members of the church.  Some folks offered space in homes that still had power and heat.  Some folks came and checked out the church building.  A lot of people made phone calls to each other to make sure that everybody was OK.  And then we turned outward as a church– to see what the community needed.  We put together a meal for those needing food – because of trouble getting food or because of missing paychecks.  And we did not lose our community.  We got lucky – we got our power back about an hour before worship on that first Sunday after the hurricane – but we were ready to worship over in the fellowship center in the cold, if that’s what needed to happen.

That’s why we are HERE.  And this is WHY … WE … are HERE.  To praise God.  With our voices, with the work of our hands and our time and our talents and our treasure and our faith and our love.  To bring God’s message to all who need it.

To bless God’s holy name for ever and ever.

Amen.

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