Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 23, 2022
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 98; John 15:9-12
Today marks the end of our 2022 Stewardship Campaign, the theme of which has been “Together for Joy.” “Together for Joy” is a phrase found in Psalm 98. The people of Israel find reason to sing to the Lord a new song, to make a joyful noise, to remember God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and to call all the earth to join the celebration—together for joy—all this even though they repeatedly face difficult, even harrowing times—enslavement in Egypt, the destruction of the Temple, and the Exile in Babylon. They suffer heartbreak and disorientation, grief, doubt, and loneliness. After what we have been through in the past three years, we know a little about such grief and disorientation, don’t we?
And yet, God’s Spirit has never left us. God guides us through “the valley of the shadow of death” just as God has always guided God’s people. Psalm 23, the most famous of the Psalms, is a song of comfort often read at funerals. But if you read it closely, it is also a wilderness song, a song of difficult days: “the valley of the shadow of death,” “evil,” “enemies,” even the “rod and staff” signify troubles, since shepherd’s rods are for warding off predators, and their staffs are for helping rescue lost sheep trapped in some way. In other words, Psalm 23 is a song of comfort in the midst of difficulty, a song of hope in the midst of despair.
Our ancestors found—even in the throws of enslavement, exile, and what felt like defeat—new ways to sing to God, new ways to stay together as a community, new ways to praise God, who never promises to shield us from the valley of the shadow of death, but rather promises to be with us, to give us strength, and to shepherd us as we move through it. And so, they sang new songs, songs of comfort and hope, praise and thanksgiving.
The saints of First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta have found new songs to sing, too—through online worship, through hybrid offerings like Generations of Faith that are attended in person and virtually, through hosting a Presbytery meeting for the first time in years, through a Coffee Corner that provides more opportunities to fellowship, through stepping out on faith to replace a leaky roof and update bathrooms that need our attention so that the sacred space that blesses us may bless others in the future. We are blessed to be a blessing—that is who we are and that is who we will continue to be and become.
Now more than ever, we need to reach out and lift each other up. Now more than ever, we need to find new ways to be “together for joy.” Now more than ever, we need to be the church! The church was made for times such as these—times of difficulty and struggle. Not a stroll along a sunlit park, but a pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death. And not a whimper or a whisper of silence, but a new song sung out loud, in harmony with all creation, as the seas roar and hills sing together for joy!
With great anticipation we look forward to what God is calling us to do in the New Year. Will there be challenges? For sure. Yet, like our ancestors in the faith, we will press on. We will remain faithful. And we will seek the face of God, come what may.
And this is why all of us, as a community, share our treasure and invest in our mission as a church. Now more than ever, our generosity can and will make an enormous difference. In a time of difficulty and despair for so many, we are a community of light and hope. In a time of injustice and struggle, we are a community of love. In a time of silence and isolation, we are a community of gathering, a community of song, of new songs and new ways of singing, new ways of being God’s church for God’s world, together for joy.
Over the last three weeks, we’ve been urged to prayerfully ask what God’s hopes are for our 2023 giving, to ask God to make us part of this church’s great outpouring of generosity. Together and on our own, we have prayed the prayer provided in the stewardship campaign letter. Let us pray that prayer again:
Great One, for you the floods clap, for you the hills sing. You know my situation better than anyone. Take my credits and debits, ins and outs, my pluses and minuses, surpluses and lacks, and show me how to use them to join the great chorus of Creation. Amen.
The ocean roars, the floods clap, the hills sing—and the people pour themselves out in praise. If you haven’t already, you are encouraged to complete your Pledge Card. (Extra copies are near the offering plates.) Then in a moment, you will be invited to bring it forward. Join me now in our responsive Prayer of Commitment of Pledges found in your bulletin:
A PRAYER OF COMMITMENT OF PLEDGES
Creator of all, the earth is yours, the world and all who live in it.
You have entrusted us with gifts—time, talent, energy, money—and asked us to use them to build your kingdom. With thanks and praise we respond to your call.
We bring our offerings, returning your generosity, paying it forward.
We offer ourselves, our lives, our prayers, our hopes and fears, our financial resources, and our time. We commit ourselves to work for your world, to love and serve wherever you call.
We ask your blessing on your church, as we seek to follow you with heart, mind, and soul.
Take, multiply, and use our investment in your future so that all may come to know of your grace, mercy, and love. Amen.