Yet, We Will Rejoice
December 10, 2018 by Ellie Johns-Kelley
Editor’s note: Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley preached at First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, on Sunday, Dec. 2. The church follows the narrative lectionary, and on this particular Sunday, it focused on Habakkuk, a book rarely discussed in church and not often the focus of stewardship sermons. But Ellie found it to be instructive, comforting and challenging. What follows is an excerpt of this sermon. The sermon focused on Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4, 3:3b-6, 17-19.
Why preach on Habakkuk, a minor prophet tucked between Nahum and Zephaniah a merely three chapters long? It is a book which is scarcely even touched by the revised common lectionary that lifts up a whopping eight verses to be read in public worship. Why include so many verses today in the narrative lectionary?
No other prophetic work addresses the question of theodicy more directly: “Why in a world governed by a good God, does wickedness so often triumph? How do systems of injustice still permeate society? Why does anyone still experience tragic suffering? Why does evil even exist? In Habakkuk, we hear the prophet’s deep laments and his pleas to God to rectify wrongs and restore order – he both questions and challenges God.
I urge you to read Habakkuk in entirety yourself. Significant to this book is that Habakkuk turns us to look at those whom don’t live with abundance yet thank God all the same. Yet, we will rejoice. Yet, we will rejoice testifies to a living God known to the people through the Exodus, with a safe journey through the wilderness into the promised land.
One of my favorite passages from Hebrew scripture is from a contemporary of Habakkuk: Jeremiah 31:34. Dr. Bill Orr, mentor to Mr. Fred Rogers and my Dad, used to call it the passage about divine amnesia. We have a God who remembers our sins no more. Throughout the totality of Scripture, we see God’s legacy of love, God creating the world, creating humanity, claiming us and never giving up on us. God always seeks on humanity being in relationship with God’s self. When there is brokenness, when humanity turns away, God never gives up. God calls us back again and again uttering those words, “I will remember your sins no more.”
The message is simple: go and tell the story. When someone talks about stewardship, we get uncomfortable. The point of stewardship is not to focus on money. It is about mission and ministry. It is about telling the story of what God has done in creating all of humanity in God’s image, calling us good and never giving up on us. It is about responding to God with our joys and our laments trusting God is present and journeys with us in the glee and tumult of life. God is with us in these days of advent as we prepare and wait which isn’t always easy. God guides us in our work for justice and restoration.
The church is not merely where we gather to be the beloved community but the locus where we nurture community and are equipped by honing the tools to build such community in the world around us at work, at school and at play. We are called to nurture experiences of common worth and value –seeing one another as beloved children of God.
As you consider the ways you will dedicate your time talent and resource today, remember God’s love and grace is not about a transaction. It is not based on a tit for tat: if you do this, God will do that. Grace extends out of God’s love for humanity. You have been called to tell the story, to share the Good news to proclaim hope to the captives and to those whose backs are against the wall, to recognize their personhood the image of God in each person and invite them into community. You have been challenged to dedicate your time, talent and resource not as payment but in joyful response.
Considering the statistics, I trust a few of you are tithing time, talent and resource. Those whom tithe never regret it. The truth is the average Presbyterian gives 1.9 percent. If you are like the average Presbyterian or perhaps you are nowhere near the average Presbyterian, I challenge you to commit to giving at a personally meaningful level.
You may ask what that means. My sister asked me to define contributing at a personally meaningful level for her. For Jenny, the question she could relate to was this: “Do you contribute more to Starbucks each week for your venti, black iced tea, unsweetened, no water then you contribute to the church each week?” For others the question may be look at your check book or online statement. Is there an indication that ministry and mission at First Presbyterian Church here in Brooklyn is important to you? The question is to determine what is personally meaningful is different for each of us.
When we are contributing our time, talent and resource at a personally meaningful level, we are transformed in beautiful and remarkable ways. We show up on Sunday morning not to mark checkmarks on the board or to earn our points into heaven. It doesn’t work that way. As I mentioned earlier, we cannot earn God’s grace and love. It is freely given to all humanity. We show up so that we can give praise to God, so we can utter those promises to one another. Sometimes we show up and we are broken and hurting. We can’t even imagine being able to say yet we will rejoice. We may be living in the dark night of the soul.
We show up to hear those promises uttered by others when we do not have the capacity to believe ourselves. We show up to be the ones uttering it, because it may be our neighbor next to us whose heard those promises again and again, yet really needs to hear them today. We show up and see the baptismal font and communion table and are reminded that we have a God whom claims us before we can ever claim God.
We dedicate our time, talent and resources to God and the church and offer ourselves in time talent and resource not to get into heaven or earn points for grace. We show up to praise God, to reorient our lives, to remind and be reminded of the Imagio Dei in each one of us.
We show up and see the baptismal font and are we reminded that God claims us before we can claim God. We gather around the communion table to celebrate with Christ. I challenge you to dedicate your gifts of time, talent and treasure at a personally meaningful level. Commit yourself because you believe in this transformation and you see the First Presbyterian Church making a difference in sharing the light of Christ.
Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley is a Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation. You can reach Ellie and find contact information for all of our MROs, including the one who serves your area, here.