Real Joy For Challenging Times


Every now and then when I read the lectionary scriptures assigned for a particular Sunday, I scratch my head and wonder: What was the person thinking of who put these scriptures together to be read on that particular Sunday? This Sunday’s assigned Epistle and Gospel texts fall into that category.

The Epistle reading is one of my favorite passages from Philippians that tells us to “Think on These Things.” (Things that are honorable, lovely, pure, gracious, and worthy of praise.) Thinking on these things gives us “Real Joy for Challenging Times.”

The Gospel reading is one of my least favorite parables of Jesus, “The Parable of the Wedding Banquet.” It’s a story of invitations to a wedding feast and all the excuses people give for not showing up to the feast. In it there is violence, which in turn, begets violence. It’s not a nice little neat story.   It makes me wonder if Jesus really told this story or was Matthew, the tax collector, smoking something when he later recalled it and put in print.

In “Lessons from a Wedding Reception,” Bruce Goettsche asks, “have you heard (or used) some of these excuses? “We need our Sunday recreational times. Sunday is the only time we have to spend with our family (and apparently we don’t want to spend it in worship.) Sunday is the only day we have to sleep in. I would get up and go to church, but I have a busy day ahead and need my rest. My spouse is not supportive of my faith or doesn’t like my church.” Yet, we expect God to be there at our beck and call during our challenging times of life. Goettsche’s point in asking these questions was the same one I tried to make this last Wednesday night. We discover God’s grace that comforts, strengthens, and sustains us in challenging times from being fully present among God’s people in worship and also reading and getting to know God’s word.

As most of us know, here in Alabama, football is a religion. Last Saturday as I was preparing for “Re-Affirmation of Wedding Vows” for Corey and Dwight at the University of Montevallo, Dwight’s brother and sister-in-law were deeply engaged with their Ipad and Iphone listening to the Alabama game. Okay, I kept running over to check on the game also. We did turn it off when it was time for the ceremony to begin.

That incident reminded me of a similar event early in my pastorate here at Covenant. I officiated a Holy Union on the day of the Iron Bowl, the Alabama – Auburn Game. (What was I or they thinking?!) Someone brought a TV to the church so folks in the wedding party could watch the game. The whole wedding party, minus the bride, was glued to the screen watching. When the time came for the ceremony to begin, I had to interrupt them and hurry them into the sanctuary. During the ceremony, I noticed a man in the congregation with a device in his ear and learned later that he was listening to the game the whole time using an earphone that was attached to a small radio.

There was no way he could have been listening to the ceremony since he was intently listening to the game. He may have been present, but he wasn’t really there. It’s a good question for us. Even when you don’t make excuses and show up; are you really there or are you just going through the motions? If you’re present for the banquet, “The Lord’s Supper,” are you fully present, listening and challenged by God’s Word? If you’re fully present and fully committed to be a participant in worship, word and the meal, “Thinking on These Things,” you will discover “Real Joy for Challenging Times” of your life.

Join us this Sunday for worship at Covenant, I will be preaching on “Real Joy for Challenging Times” based on “Philippians 4:4-11.”


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