Because of your hard work and because of God’s ultimate leadership, we have reason to celebrate this morning. We celebrate this morning that many individuals and families in this room are better equipped to use one of the most powerful tools given to us by God. Did you know that since we began Financial Peace University nine weeks ago that families in this body have retired thousands of dollars in debt? In addition to the amount of debt retired, they also saved thousands of dollars. For the first time in their adult lives, many people have an emergency fund so that when emergencies happen (and they will), they will not have to run to a credit card. After this week, we will have the exact figures in place, but beyond the numbers, husbands and wives are talking to each other about money. A subject that once caused so much tension in their relationships now has become an important point of conversation. I know of families in this body who have decided to set aside money each month simply to bless those around them, beyond their tithe. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. We live in a society that has made money and possessions “lord.” Yet, we are surrounded by people this morning that have declared: “Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives. And money is simply a tool we will use to give Him glory.” So, church, there is certainly reason to celebrate this morning!
Speaking of celebration…
There have been many times throughout history when the people of God celebrated. The Psalms are filled with words of praise and celebration. The people of Israel celebrated when they escaped the clutches of Pharaoh. They celebrated again when the Temple was completed in Jerusalem. There is a passage in the New Testament, one with which we are quite familiar. Acts Chapter Two records a time of celebration in the early church. Jesus had come and gone and Peter had preached his sermon at Pentecost. In a single day, 3,000 people were added to the church! During this season of time, people were living in a state of celebration! So, we come to this passage:
A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43–47)Did you notice that during their celebration that they also denied the lordship of money and possessions? Peter and John and Barnabas and Mary, these earliest disciples of Jesus had come to grips with a new reality. The Messiah had just visited earth! God had proven once again that He was more than capable of providing salvation for His people. He had brought salvation to His people after the Flood, through the Exodus and each time Israel was delivered from her enemies, but nothing like this!
God came to earth in the form of a human being. He was born. He lived a full life. He died. And He was raised. The reason these people could give away their possessions was because they had come to believe something very important about God. They finally understood this truth: God would take care of them! Their money could not free them from sin. Their possessions could not buy their freedom. Only God has the power to deliver salvation and God just did it. Church, that is reason to celebrate!
I love celebrations. Birthday parties, anniversaries, Thanksgiving! One of my favorite times of celebration is just after a new baby is born. I still think that some of the happiest moments of my life occurred when my children were born. Like those that celebrated in Acts 2 that was one of the times when I realized God was a good God! I looked into they eyes of my two new baby girls and I knew that God was responsible for this! That was a time to celebrate. Many of you have experienced that same kind of celebration.
But not everyone has…
The two most difficult sermons to preach each year are the sermons I preach on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Now, that might sound strange to some of you, even blasphemous! I mean, who wouldn’t want to preach on those Sundays? The opportunity to talk about the way God has gifted us with mothers and fathers, the opportunity to thank God for those blessings in our lives. The reason it is so difficult is because not everyone views those days as times of celebration. I told you a few moments ago about the joy I felt in the hospital after my girls were born. Hospitals are interesting places. There is a lot of joy that takes place in the maternity wing of a hospital. But if you travel from that waiting room, which is overflowing with proud fathers and gloating grandparents—if you travel just a few steps in any other direction—you’ll find the bruised child who is recovering from the wounds given to her by her father. If you travel still further, you may happen upon the woman who has just experienced her third miscarriage, and the words of the doctor who just left her room may still be hanging there in the air: “You will never be able to have children…” I have found that celebrations are wonderful and difficult at the same time. Because the reality is: not everyone is ready to celebrate! While this one is experiencing great joy, another one is experiencing tremendous sadness. As you emerge from the dark night of the soul, your neighbor is just entering the dark valley of despair. There are some here this morning that are ready to celebrate their deliverance from debt. Others are still struggling to keep the light bill paid and food on the table. While some are celebrating; others are still waiting for a reason to celebrate!
Church, that really is a description of our lives all of the time…
Listen to these words from Isaiah:
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together,
and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
just as the water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1–10)This text is traditionally read around the time of Advent. This passage records the words of Isaiah as he waited for the Messiah. “One day…” he said. “One day a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse…” “The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him…” “On that day, the wolf will lie down with the lamb…” “On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal for all people.” That day will be a day of celebration! As Isaiah and Zechariah and Hosea and David, as they all waited for the arrival of the Messiah, we also wait for His second arrival. So, we all wait for celebration! If you are struggling this morning, perhaps caught in the despair that comes with debt, take heart, Jesus is coming soon! If you are experiencing great joy, the kind of joy that comes from being debt free, hear this good news, a greater day is coming.
Scholars have suggested for centuries that those living between the 1st and 2nd arrivals of Jesus are living in the “in-between times.” From where we stand, we have reason to celebrate. But, from where we stand, there is still sadness and death and trials. We have experienced the salvation of God, but we have not yet experienced it fully. It is not uncommon in this in-between time for there to be at the same time reasons for celebration and reasons for mourning. This ambiguity reigns in the in-between time. And I have to imagine that that ambiguity reigns even in this room this morning. On this “Celebration Sunday” all of us have something in common. So, may we all celebrate together the victories that are possible this side of the cross today. And may we all look with great expectation to a greater celebration tomorrow.