A sermon by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va. June 1, 2014. Psalm 100 Ten or so years ago, we had a group of friends over for dinner.  After dinner, all of the children decided to form a marching band.  They rounded up toy instruments, kazoos, toy drums, spoons, — anything they could get their hands on — and they began marching around the house singing different songs.  As they stomped and sang, the clanging of their instruments and the cacophony of their voices were punctuated by squeals of laughter.  The kids had a terrific time. While the parents had a hard time maintaining a conversation, we were all charmed by seeing the joy on each of our children’s faces.  A postscript to that story is that one of the children in that make-shift band is now a member of the University of Virginia marching band, but I don’t think Beth and I can claim credit.  “Make a joyful noise to the Lord” says the Psalm writer.  The Hebrew word for “noise” is ruwa, meaning to shout in applause, to cry out in triumph.  It is an energetic word that comes straight from the heart.  Verses 1-3 of Psalm 100 were probably sung by worshipers approaching the temple for worship.  I can imagine a band of Israelites, like that band of young children years ago, marching up Mount Zion toward the Temple gates playing their instruments and shouting and singing for joy because they were going to worship God.  It was probably hard to carry on a conversation that day, too – but maybe nobody wanted to talk. I can also imagine God, like a parent, being charmed by seeing the joy on each of worshippers’ faces as they sang “It is God who made us, and we are God’s children, God’s people, the sheep of God’s pasture.”  There’s something beautiful and heart-warming about seeing and hearing children sing in worship.  I’m always glad when they sing.  When we were in Farmville, Beth worked with the children choir.  She used to joke that their singing in worship was a no-lose proposition.  If they sang well, everyone was happy.  If something went wrong, everyone was still happy.  We love them enough to see cuteness and charm over musical perfection.  When children make a joyful noise, it is a good reminder that worship is ultimately not a performance in which we are the audience.  No, God is the audience who receives our worship.  Preacher Kory Wilcoxson tells the story of Gary. Gary and his family were faithful worshippers, and had their accustomed spot in the pews. People in that church went out of their way to avoid sitting in the two or three rows in front of Gary and his family on Sunday mornings.  You see, Gary, who was in his 50s, was mentally disabled, and had the mental capacity of a six- or seven-year-old. He also had one of the worst singing voices you can imagine. His singing was slurred and never anywhere close to the right key. And he didn’t have the social development to recognize his lack of singing ability. So he just sang loud. Very loud. One Sunday, without thinking, Kory sat down in front of Gary. As soon as the opening hymn started, he realized his mistake. He steeled himself for a service full of Gary’s singing, settling into a spirit of annoyance instead of thanksgiving. And then he realized his bigger mistake.  Kory realized what an asset Gary was to worship, what a gift his voice was to their congregational singing. Because Gary was singing not from his mouth or his vocal chords, but from his heart, and every word he sang was a word of sincere praise and thanksgiving. In his child-like innocence, Gary didn’t care what he sounded like or what others thought of him. He only cared to let God know of his love and thankfulness in full voice.[1]   Here at University Baptist, some of us are classically trained singers while others can’t hold a tune in a bucket.  But making a joyful noise is not ultimately about how beautiful a sound that comes from our mouths and vocal chords.  Some of us may be able to harmonize melodies, but I hazard to guess that all of us experience some disharmony and dissonance in our lives.  Some of us may be able to sing on key, but we are all out of tune with God and with others.  We may approach the gates of worship wearing our best, but God ultimately sees our brokenness and inability to be righteous.  We may arrive at the courts of this sanctuary and sing hymns with an angelic voice, but God’s Spirit ultimately hears the cacophonous cries of our heart.   Yet, we are invited to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and to enter God’s courts with praise.  We are invited to give thanks to God and to praise God’s name.  Why?  Because the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  Even though God hears the dissonance in our lives, God’s goodness welcomes us to work toward harmony.  Even though we are out of tune with God, God’s love embraces us so that we may be on the same wavelength with God.   Therefore, we worship the Lord with gladness and come before the Lord with joyful songs, because in worship, our Lord hears not only the singing that comes out of our mouths and vocal chords; our Lord hears the singing from our hearts.  And every word we sing can be a word of sincere praise and thanksgiving.  In our child-like innocence, we don’t need to care what we sound like or what others think of us.  We only care to let God know of our love and thankfulness in our full voice.    In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp argues that thanksgiving is the entryway to joy.  She notes that at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, even though He was moments away from suffering and death on the cross.  The Greek word for “thanks” is eucharisteo, from which we get “eucharist,” a word used by many Christian traditions to describe the Lord’s Supper.  In the heart of the word eucharisteo, is charis, the Greek word for “grace,” but it is also related to the word for “joy.” [2]  At the heart of thanksgiving beats the rhythm of grace and joy. The most joyful people I know are those who do not focus on the negatives of life.  Instead, they are able to see and be thankful for the grace given to them even in the midst of great trials and suffering.   At the Lord’s Supper, at the Eucharistic Table, we are reminded once again that we have been given great grace by our Lord Jesus Christ.  We can be thankful because we are an imperfect people saved by a perfect God.  We can be thankful because we are a faithless people forgiven by the faithfulness of God’s Spirit.  We can be thankful because we are a broken people mended by the broken body of Christ.  Therefore, as we prepare to receive the bread and the cup, let us proclaim “Ruwa!” and make a joyful noise to the Lord!  Amen. [1] http://revkory.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/this-weeks-sermon-make-a-joyful-noise/ [2] http://www.thehighcalling.org/culture/eucharisteo-conversation-ann-voskamp-%E2%80%93-part-1

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