IMAGINE: Celebration Sunday
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
May 13/15, 2005
Good morning and welcome to the party as we celebrate God—his character and his faithfulness and his works in our lives and in our church. We just heard about some of the goofy ways people celebrate, but the truth is you and I were created to celebrate…we were designed for celebration.
Celebration is God’s idea. For many of us who were raised up in churches that felt like a funeral every week, we have a hard time giving attention to celebration—but that’s God’s design. One time Jesus was asked by a group to describe the kingdom of God, and he said, “The kingdom of God is like a wedding reception,” and then he went on to describe how God’s kingdom is one big party where everyone is invited, all those who are normally rejected by others, they are all invited to God’s party.
None of us have ever been to a first century Jewish wedding reception, but let me tell you it was quite a blow out. People spared no expense and they worked very hard to make sure it was the party of all parties. That’s why when Jesus and Mary were at the wedding in Cana, Mary panicked for the family who ran out of wine. Jesus’ first miracle was saving a party.
My cousin got married to a guy who is a part of a huge urban Philadelphia Italian family. They had this huge Italian wedding, and that comes pretty close to the way those in Jesus’ day through a wedding reception. Talk about a party. They bring on the food and the music and the dancing…they put everything they can into making it the best party they can. If you’ve ever been to an Italian wedding, you’ve experienced something like a first century Jewish wedding party.
So, Jesus is asked about the kingdom of God, and he says, “It’s like a wedding party, a real blow out, and everyone is invited.” Think of all the ways he could have answered a big question like, “what is the kingdom of God like?” And he says, “The kingdom is a party.” Do we really think that much of celebration? I don’t. Do I really view God’s kingdom expressed in the church as a party? Is celebration really that big of a deal?
The truth is, it is! Celebration honors God and includes everybody, it draws us all together. Just look at the nation of Israel described in the Old Testament. The way God set up the nation of Israel was around the concept of celebration. Israel was the most celebration oriented nation ever, and it was God’s idea.
By the time Jesus was born, let me share with you how much God asked the nation of Israel to spend in celebration. First of all, every week was a Sabbath, where they took a break from work and celebrated God and enjoyed each other. Every week they had a celebration.
Every month was another special celebration, the new moon festival. At every new moon, God asked them to celebrate, and they would gather together with food and fun and honor God for allowing them to experience his grace and his covenant blessing one more month.
Additionally, God asked them to celebrate with multiple festivals and feasts to commemorate what God had done in their history. Their calendar was built around these parties and celebrations. Let me summarize these major celebrations they looked forward to every year.
The Feast of Trumpets. The year started with a new year celebration, the feast of trumpets. They had this big party together to praise God for creation and for a whole new year. We ring in the new year with a ball in Time’s Square, they did so with the blowing of a ram’s horn.
Day of Atonement. A couple of weeks later as the day of atonement, which was the only festival that was solemn in tone. At this time, people would offer a special sacrifice for their sins, and the nation would do so for their corporate sins and the sins of the leaders. Every year they gathered to do this, and on every seventh year a more upbeat celebration was added to remember God’s redemption of the nation from slavery.
Feast of Tabernacles. A few days after the day of atonement, was the feast of tabernacles, which is one of the festivals where people all over the nation traveled to Jerusalem to join in the celebration. This party went on for 8 days, Sabbath to Sabbath, and each family would build a tent / lean-to kind of structure and camp out in their for part of the time. They did that to remember the hardships the nation went through in the wilderness and to remember how God provided for the nation in that time. On the last night of this party was called the festival of lights, where every person lit a torch and marched around Jerusalem. Imagine thousands and thousands of lights.
Chanukah. We’ve all heard of Chanukah, which happened a couple of months later. Chanukah was another 8 day celebration, remembering the dedication of the 2nd temple and his continued protection of the nation. In Jesus’ day, during these days they put lamps out all over the outside of the temple, which would have been quite a site at night as the lights reflected off all the gold and marble. They ate special food, gave gifts, and it was quite a celebration.
The Feast of Purim. A couple of months later was the feast of Purim, which celebrated God’s deliverance when the nation was in captivity under Persia and God protected the race from being wiped out. It was another very special time of feasting and gift-giving.
Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. A few weeks later was the Passover, where as a family you’d slaughter a lamb and eat it all that day. For the next week was the feast of unleavened bread, where you ate only unleavened bread. This feast was to remember how God delivered the nation from slavery in Egypt and how he provided for them in the wilderness.
Feast of First Fruits. 50 days after Passover was Pentecost, or the feast of first fruits. This was a party to celebrate the harvest. On that day, the poor could glean food from the corners of land owner fields to provide for the season for them. It was another special feast day and quite a party.
When you add all this up, it is really amazing how much the nation spent time in celebration together. Every week was a Sabbath, every month a new moon festival, and throughout the year special celebrations, several of which lasted a week or more. In fact, when you total up the days, it meant that about 95 days a year were spend in celebration…that means that about one out of every four days was a party.
Think about that. 25% of the time, they were in some kind of celebration mode, gathering together to honor God and enjoy each other. Because of that, there was in rabbinical Judaism (time of Jesus) a story about a man who hated celebration, the kind of guy that thought parties were a waste of time, and he dies and goes to heaven. When he gets to heaven, God sends him back down to earth because he didn’t fit in. God sent him down to learn how to celebrate so that he would be more comfortable in heaven.
No wonder Jesus describes the kingdom of God like a party, and in the early church they continued that tradition. In fact, by the second century it was discussed as a real problem because their calendars were so full of celebrations in the early church…they had these discussions about maybe having too many of those.
As I looked at all this during this week, I was really convicted personally. I’m not a good celebrator. I never have been. When something good happens, there is always some new challenge around the corner, so there is really no time to celebrate. That’s over, and now there is something new in front of me. I’ve always been like that. I never even wanted to go to graduations in college and graduate school even though I worked hard and earned these awards they give out, but the awards didn’t mean anything once I got them because there was always some new challenge out there to focus on.
But as I looked at this week, I realized that God designed us for it and it honors God when we do it. When I pray for God’s help, and he enables me to do something, if I do not celebrate I take honor away from him. It’s like me saying to God, “You didn’t do anything special.” I mean, let’s say you chose to give me a car, a brand new really cool car and you are so excited to give it, and I just take the keys from you and never say anything about it…just drive off and never say anything, never acknowledge what you’ve done. How would you feel? You didn’t give it to me just to be acknowledged, but if you arne’t acknowledged it is just not right. That’s they way I treat God when I don’t celebrate. I’m acting like he didn’t do anything worthy of me mentioning it.
As a church, I think we could do better on this celebration thing. I think we could do better expressing the kingdom of God as a party to which all are invited. In fact, imagine what would happen of that’s the way people in our culture thought of church. When we gather together, we should come with a spirit of joy and celebration, and Jesus in that parable where he talks about the kingdom of God as a party says we should invite every single person we can think of to join in because all are welcome.
So, this summer we want to do a special kind of celebration. Summer is a time of enjoyment, of bright sunny skies, and we want to celebrate God and his love for us, and enjoy these weeks of summer. So, next week we are starting a series on the book of Psalms, called, a;lskdjfsla. And we are going to do church a little differently for those weeks. We want you to come as casual as you want to come with a celebration spirit and we are going to do some things in the services and after services to just enjoy God and each other. We are going to have fun, and when we do we are going to realize that God is honored when we do.
Also, today we want to make this very practical, so we are going to give you as you leave a celebration guide that you can use at home to honor God together in a special way. If you are single, gather together with a couple of friends and go through the guide. If you are married without kids, either do it together or invite some others to join in. As families, do it with your kids. Over the next couple of weeks, take a night to party together in a way that honors God and focuses on his character and his works on our behalf, and just enjoy being together…turn off the t.v. and all gather together in one place and just be together.
We’ve got more to talk about in this celebration topic, but one of the ways we celebrate God in music…so we are going to do that. Let’s prepare ourselves to honor God, to acknowledge him and thank him and celebrate him. Let’s stand and sing.
Songs / etc.
When we celebrate, what do we celebrate? We primarily celebrate two things: God’s character and God’s works on our behalf. When you look back at biblical celebration, that’s what they celebrated.
What is more typical I think for me at least is to celebrate good circumstances…meaning when times are great I celebrate…but biblically it is not so much great circumstances but a great God that we celebrate. Certainly we need to celebrate good circumstances, but what about when our circumstances stink? Then we celebrate God’s character, recognizing his sovereignty and his goodness and his love even when it is expressed in ways that are less than comfortable and hard to understand.
It is like Job, after his family and his health and his wealth are all taken from him, and he says, “Still, I will praise God.” Or like James who says we are to rejoice when trials come our way or Peter who says the same thing realizing that it is in those times where we grow the most spiritually.
People who have walked with God a long time know that. They can look back at their life and realize that the best times were really the hardest times. I had lunch with a friend here at Fellowship a couple of weeks ago, and he was telling me about how hard his last two years were—in every way. Most people would have gotten bitter and angry, but he didn’t. He knew that as hard as it was that it was in the workshop of suffering that God does his best work, and sure enough looking back he was able to say, “This was the best two years of my life, but also the hardest.”
When we are going through difficulty, though, it is hard to see it. We can see it later, but in the middle of it, it just feels bad. Some of you are going through difficulty right now, and you cannot celebrate your circumstances…they stink. But you can celebrate God’s character.
Later in the service, we will announce the number that has been raised in the Imagine Campaign, that God has provided through the sacrifice of a lot of people here at Fellowship. What if that number is below the goal? Will we celebrate? Let’s say I announce, “We raised twelve dollars!!!” There would be some disappointment probably just because we didn’t make the goal, but at the same time we trusted that God would provide exactly what we need to do exactly what he wants us to do. So, if it is twelve dollars or many millions of dollars that we announce today, we are going to celebrate, because we serve a great God…and that is what we celebrate…not great circumstances but a great God.
Blessed Be Your Name is a song that profoundly states that simple truth, and I want us to sing that to God today, to honor him and remind us that we celebrate him, in both good times and bad, it is him that we celebrate—not circumstances.
Blessed Be Your Name
We are talking about celebration, and how the kingdom of God is a party and it should feel like it in the way we do church. And today is celebration Sunday, where we are focusing on celebration…a few minutes ago we talked about celebrating God’s character regardless of circumstances…but another object of our celebration that honors God is celebrating his works on our behalf. When we pray and God answers in a big way, we need to celebrate in a big way and remember what God has done for us. The feasts and parties we mentioned about Israel earlier were all ways to remember God’s mighty works for the nation, and they passed those stories down to their kids. Listen to Psalm 145, where we are commanded to praise God for his works and remember them:
3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works. [a]
6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
We need to celebrate God’s might works and pass them down. When God is doing something in our lives, we need to share it and pass it on. That honors God. I want us to do that now. Some of our pastors are out there with microphones, and I’m going to ask a couple of you to share with us what God is doing in your life. To start us off, we’ve prepared one person to get it rolling, but please be bold enough to honor God this way. I know it isn’t easy to raise your hand for a microphone and share, but if God is working in your life, sustaining you or teaching you or growing you or stretching you, you need to share it.
Thank you for sharing! Wasn’t that great to hear. And we are in a season in our church where God is very much at work. What God has done in this Imagine Campaign is something that we always need to remember, because he is the one who is doing this. He uses us and involves us, but it is his work.
In a few moments we will share the number, but what you need to realize is that the number was not our biggest request of God. Yes, we were praying that God would help us raise 15 million dollars which is what it will take to allow us to relocate our church, but even more than that we prayed that God would use this process to do some big things in the life of our church.
My biggest prayer has been that this would be a time of great spiritual growth for us as a church, that he would stretch our faith and challenge our commitment and clarify our vision and grow us spiritually. And let me tell you, he has! I’ve heard from hundreds of people how their faith has been stretched and how they have had to reprioritize their life around God’s kingdom in a whole new way through this Imagine process. It has forced us to be even more clear about our vision, which is leading to even greater unity around a common purpose and common mission. When I looked out at that land event and saw our church praying together and looking to God together in a fresh, expectant way, I knew that God was at work and that he will respond to everyone of those prayers that were uttered on the land. Whatever the number, our biggest prayer request has been answered and is still being answered. We need to thank God for that, so let’s do so in song just a little bit more…okay! Let’s say, “blessed by your name!”
Okay, so now we are ready to share and celebrate what God has done. Remember we celebrate God’s character and his work, so whatever is raised we are going to celebrate big, and I want you to be prepared to do so. That’s why we have the streamers and the confetti…because we are celebrating God here—whatever the circumstances and whether we hit the 15 million dollar goal or not—we are celebrating him and his work.
So, you ready? [share the number]
Comment about #
We want to celebrate God’s provision and celebrate God, so I want you to join in as John leads us in a responsive reading.
Reading / Song
- Let’s continue the party, and remember why we are doing this (kingdom of God is a party to which all are invited)
- Let’s also be careful, because our enemy is not happy…will bring opposition (morality, marriage and family, unity, doubt)
- A couple of announcements: VBS registration and Sermon Series
- Keep this as quiet for two days as you can…don’t tell people in MC
- Stephen ministers and meeting you