If you read my Tidings article — which you should have because we mailed Tidings to this month to everyone! — then you know I encouraged us to make School Year’s Resolutions this fall. While many of us are no longer anchored to the school schedule, the church very much does operate according to the rhythms laid out by the academic year. We call it the program year. Basically, we’re like network TV: After a summer of occasional events and relaxed Sundays, we return to our regular programming. PW Circles are back, as are Sunday morning classes. Youth Group and Children in Worship resume. The choir and the ringers get back to rehearsal. Just this week I thumbed through the September Tidings, and I was awed by all the opportunities we have to serve and grow. They can be overwhelming, particularly when we add those to all the other aspects of our lives — work, family, relationships, activities, homework, and recreation.
So, let me offer one more encouragement: Don’t let the fall happen to you. Become the boss of your fall. Make some School Year’s Resolutions, and make sure that you include intentional space for growing in faith and being Christ’s hands to serve. Intentionality will make all the difference, and you’ll never regret taking time to grow closer to Jesus.
We also use the fall to focus together on a new theme. This fall worship will focus on this theme: God is…I am. From the very first pages of the Bible, we learn that God created humans in God’s image. Humans are stamped with God’s image, the flesh and bone realization of God’s creative word. Like a potter forms clay, God shapes humanity and gives us a special purpose within the creation. We are cultivators and caregivers, responsible for shaping the creation. God us made us to have an intimate and reciprocal relationship with God. We bear God’s image, each and every one of us.
So our series for the coming weeks will take a look at things the Bible says are true about God — that God is a creator, wise, relational, purposeful, and so on — and then apply those attributes to what the Bible says is true about us. In essence, to know God is to come to know ourselves. The deeper we dig into knowing and loving God, the more we can come to know and love ourselves. So, if knowing God isn’t enticing enough for you, stick with us out of self-interest! Knowing the One who shaped and fashioned us is one of the chief purposes of life, and it comes with the bonus of growing in our self-understanding.
So, this week I thought we’d begin with a trait that is both true and enjoyable. God is…delighted with me, so I am…designed for delight. Say it with me: God is delighted with me, so I am designed for delight.
The psalms are a great place to find the whole range of emotions. From joy to sorrow, from anger to peace, the psalms are the prayerbook for life, so it should come as no surprise that we begin in the psalms to find delight. As many psalms do, this one begins with praise, a hallelujah to God. I know in our world of busyness and practicalities, there are plenty of times we wonder why we gather to worship. Why stop our lives for an hour on a Sunday morning to sing, pray, give, and hear God’s Word? And on this Sunday, when we’ve upset the whole apple cart and asked everyone to come at a different time, to find your pew with someone else in it, to experience different music, the “why” might be ringing in your heads all the stronger. But the answer is that God created us for worship and delights in our worship, that we become more fully human by dedicating our time, our voices, our hearts, and our minds to the gathering of God’s people. It’s a drum I’ve been beating more and more loudly over the past year — the gathering of God’s people for worship together matters to God, matters to those who worship with you, and should matter to you because God made you for this!
So, we gather to praise God, but listen closely to the final two verses of our psalm reading: “[God’s] delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Did you hear that? God’s delight isn’t conditioned by performance.
Like many of you, my life is filled with watching performances right now. We always keep seats in our cars because we know that almost every night we will be sitting in the bleachers at the pool or finding a spot next to the tennis courts. Now, parents and grandparents, we go because we want to see our kids do their best, but, really, aren’t we there as an expression of love? Aren’t we there because we take delight in watching those we love do something they love?
In general I am not someone who is deeply in touch with my emotions, but if you get me around sports, I get choked up. Weird, I know. I just love watching a kid swim hard and set a personal best in the pool. I struggle to talk when I watch a soccer team finally piece together the passes and the movements they’ve worked on all season to bury an important goal. So, if you want to see me with tears in my eyes, find me at a sporting event. I’m a sucker for delighting in improvement on the field. And before you think this is exclusively the domain of athletics, I do the same thing with the arts. But my delight isn’t conditioned on winning the game or on nailing the solo. It’s in the fact that they’re putting themselves out there and just going for it — even if they finish last or flub some of the notes.
God is delighted with you. The psalm is clear in that. God’s delight isn’t merited; it’s all grace. God’s delight isn’t in the strength of the horse. It’s not in the speed of the runner — as beautiful as strength and speed are. God’s takes pleasure in you, in those who recognize that God already delights in them and who are willing to turn that pleasure back into praise.
There are two words describing delight in these verses. The first is used at the beginning of verse 10. It’s hāphētz, and it means that God gives delighted attention. Like the parent watching her child work through her homework, God gazes at you with delight. The second occurs both in verses 10 and 11. It’s ratzah, and it means to be pleased with or to accept favorably. God takes pleasure in you, and this pleasure is magnified when you reflect that pleasure back to God. That’s worship. That’s recognizing that your life is a gift to be lived from a place of constant gratitude.
So, God is many things, and we’ll get to those in the coming weeks. Today I want you to let this reality wash over your burdened, tired souls: God is delighted in you. God’s delight is not because you’ve done something particularly wonderful with your life or that you’ve been the best at something. No, God’s delight is in you because God made you, loves you, and delights in you, and God takes pleasure in your efforts at offering your lives in praise to God.
Since God is delighted in us, then what are we? We are designed for delighting in God and taking pleasure in the lives God has given us. How often do you come to church expecting the pastor to tell you to take pleasure in something? I can recall preaching a sermon early in the pandemic asking you all to celebrate something. That was hands-down the biggest response I’ve gotten from you when I’ve said you should do something. You heard me, and you celebrated. So, maybe this church is already a bit more ready to accept delight than others. Still, it’s something that is hard to live.
Why is it so hard to live with the understanding that God already delights in us and desires us to delight in our lives? Well, because life is filled with hardships and challenges. As humans, we have a tendency to encounter hardship and grow bitter at life and at God. Why would God allow bad things to happen to me? Why wouldn’t God do something to fix my problems? Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi provides an antidote to that kind of thinking.
To frame our reading, we need to know two things. Paul writes this letter while he’s in prison (that’s hardship, right?), but it’s known as his letter of joy. Second, the verses right before our reading are Paul encouraging two women of the church, Euodia and Syntyche, to settle their differences and learn how to love each other as sisters in Christ. Delight comes even in the midst of our broken hallelujahs.
What is Paul’s prescription for us? Rejoice! It’s a command. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” In other words, live with delight. Soak in the sunrises and sunsets. Be grateful for the breeze that cools you just so. Enjoy the relationships you have. God is near to you…there…in those moments…and beyond.
Then Paul offers two other remedies. Be gentle. So much of life has become about raging against this person or that idea. Sure, there is plenty in this life that is worthy of our ire, but are we letting our gentleness be known to everyone? Jesus offers blessing to the meek and says that they will inherit the earth. And the final remedy is prayer, which like praise, turns our attention, affection, and even afflictions back to God in trust.
Rejoice. Be gentle. Pray.
No matter the circumstances. No matter how good life is…or how terrible. Rejoice. Be gentle. Pray? Why? Because in doing those things, we are reflecting a part of who God made us to be back to God.
God is delighted with you. Do you believe it? Can you accept that as a baseline for your life, come what may?
And if you can, it’s your life’s work to live each and every day as a sacrifice of praise to God. Let worship be worship. Let your life be worshipful. Let your life be attentive to delight, and as you do that, return your praise to the One who made you for delight in the first place.
It’s like a flywheel. The more we engage in this cycle of properly directed delight, the more our delight grows and the more we become the kind of people God created us to be.
Followers of Jesus should be delightful because God is delightful.
That’s who we are because that’s who God is.