Celebrate and Praise

Celebrate and Praise

David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

2 Samuel 6:14-19 (NRSVUE)

Huddlers (which are our children and families) were given horns to blow in worship when they heard the word trumpet. They shouted “Alleluia!” when they heard the word “praise” and waved scarves in the air when they heard the word “dance.”

Okay, so each week this fall, we are thinking about worship and taking time to reflect on why we do what we do here in Oldtown. Two weeks ago, we talked about what it means for something to be holy or sacred. Last week, we reflected on the importance of hospitality and welcome. And this week, we are going to wonder about what celebration and praise mean to our worship.

I have to tell you, I have been so excited about our Celebration & Praise Sunday for quite a while, now, because we have so much to celebrate here in Oldtown. I knew that our Celebration and Praise Sunday would also be the Sunday that we started Household Huddle again, so more of our young people would be joining us. And we are just coming off a summer when we saw unbelievable generosity from our congregation! You all worked together to lead two worship services while I was away. Through donated food, we fed a multitude of families this summer, and through continued giving to the church, we are in a good place with our church budget. So a Sunday to focus on Celebration and Praise was going to be easy!

Now I have also learned that whenever I think something is going to be easy, God usually steps in and reminds me of who is really in control. As I started preparing for today’s worship last Monday, I started getting CODE RED calls on my phone telling me about flooding on Old Post Road in North Attleboro. Then I got a late-night call from Ed saying that the church had no power and that there was no way to stop the water that was coming in. The next day we found out that Old Post Road would be closed between Mount Hope Street and Allen Avenue for the unforeseeable future. And on Wednesday, more CODE Red calls about flash flooding came in, and there were even tornado warnings, which caused us to cancel Wondering about the WORD on Wednesday night.

Throughout the week, I received calls from parishioners and friends about people having surgery, and others receiving tough reports from their doctors and more and more positive covid tests. There were people struggling to make ends meet, and still others homeless and in need of a place to stay. By the end of the week, grief was setting in as one of our families had to say goodbye to a beloved pet, and then I got the call that we had lost one of our own with the passing of Janice Tondravi. Enough already, God! But that wasn’t the end, because then the threat of Hurricane Lee came blowing through on Saturday. It was not quite the week I was imagining when I thought of a week of celebration and praise.

But in some ways, it was the perfect week for us to begin to truly understand what celebration and praise in worship are really about. Because when we celebrate and praise in worship, we are not celebrating and praising ourselves and the situations that we are in. We are celebrating and praising God. Did you hear that, folks? In worship, we are not celebrating and praising ourselves and the situations that we are in. We are celebrating and praising God!

This weekend, from Friday through Sunday, our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana, also known as the Jewish New Year, is a time to remember and give thanks for God’s great gift of Creation. Jews often eat challah, which is a type of bread, or apples dipped in honey as a way of beginning the year in sweetness, joy, and celebration. And they blow the shofar or a ram’s horn, which is like a trumpet (Huddlers BLOW!) as an act of celebration and a reminder of God’s covenant with Israel. This joyous celebration happens in the midst of storms, illness, loss, and struggle. Because the celebration and praise are for God, not for what is happening in our individual lives, in the news, or in the world around us. And the same is true for our worship. We sing and pray and praise God, not ONLY because of what we have received (though giving thanks is always a good practice!), but we celebrate and praise out of our love for God, knowing that we can never fully understand who or what God is.

The Hebrew word for celebrate comes from a root word meaning “to laugh” and God wants us and our worship to be filled with a holy joy! Just think about the joyful celebration as David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Scripture says there was dancing and shouting and sounds of trumpets. Not quite what we see, hear, and experience in many of our New England churches today. Often, we are inhibited in our worship by what others might think of us. What will people think if I say “Amen” too loud or if I dance or raise my hands in prayer and praise?

Erma Bombeck once wrote of an experience she had in church. She said that in a few rows in front of her sat a mother with a normal five-year-old boy. Normal, meaning he couldn’t sit still. As he squirmed and looked over the pew at those behind him, he was smiling. Then Erma heard the mother sternly whisper, “Stop smiling! Don’t you know that we’re in church?” But friends, isn’t worship all about praise and celebration and joy? Sure, there should also be a sense of reverence and respect, but when did we become the “frozen chosen?” When did we lose our longing for joy and celebration and praise?

Well, speaking of joy and celebration and praise, as I announced earlier, our own Janice Tondravi passed away this week. For me, Janice and her deep faith were the epitome of joy, celebration, and praise. Janice lived an amazing life! For years, I simply knew her as a quiet little old lady who would occasionally come to church. But little by little, she connected to more and more people here in Oldtown. Janice had a light that shined from within her and a gentle sense of kindness and compassion that she shared with everyone she met. Now, life was not always easy for Janice, but she always had a smile on her face and a kind word to share. She loved greeting people at the door and handing out bulletins here in Oldtown. She loved working on mission projects. She had a fervent prayer life. She was passionate about our prayer shawl ministry, sending prayer shawls around the world
to those in need. And she would do absolutely anything to help a child in need. Janice often told me that having children as a part of our worship here in Oldtown is what made worship feel real because our young people not only give us joy in the moment but hope for the future.

Now, one thing that you may or may not know about Janice is she loved balloons. Whenever we had a fair or an event here at the church, Janice always wanted to have balloons. Because, as she would say, balloons make people smile. And they bring joy and celebration to ordinary moments. So this morning, in honor of Janice, I brought a balloon to worship. Now I know, some may say, a balloon in church. Is that appropriate? Well, first of all, this is Oldtown, and we often do unexpected things here. And second of all, hold your horses because I have a reading to share with you–a reading that I have treasured for a very long time. It was originally written by Ann Weems, but I have changed a little bit of it to better fit us here in Oldtown. I have always loved it because I think it speaks to the importance of intergenerational worship. And I think Janice would agree with me because it is titled “Balloons Belong in Church.”

I took to church one morning
A happy four-year-old boy
Holding a bright blue string to which was attached
His much loved orange balloon with pink stripes…
Certainly a thing of beauty
And if not forever, at least a joy for a very important now.

When later he met me at the door
Clutching the blue string, orange and pink balloon bobbing behind him,
He didn’t have to tell me something had gone wrong.
“What’s the matter?”
He wouldn’t tell me.
“I bet they loved your balloon…”

Out it came, then — mocking the teacher’s voice,
“We don’t bring balloons to church.”
Then that little four-year-old,
his lip a little trembly, asked: “Why aren’t balloons allowed in church?
I thought God would like balloons.”

I celebrate balloons, parades, and chocolate chip cookies.
I celebrate seashells and elephants and lions that roar.
I celebrate roasted marshmallows and chocolate cake.
And I celebrate children… especially those
Who laugh out loud
Who walk in the mud and jump in puddles
Who put chocolate fingerprints everywhere
Who scribble in church
Who whisper in loud voices and sing in even louder voices

I celebrate children
Who are so busy living they don’t have time for our adult hangups
And I celebrate adults who are like little children.
Who aren’t afraid to stop, to reflect, to question, to doubt.

I celebrate the church.
I celebrate the times when we, in the church
Answered the cries of others
And offer a true warm welcome to all.

I celebrate that God calls us… when we think we’re not enough.
And forgives us even when we don’t deserve it.

I celebrate worship that fills my heart to overflowing
And my eyes with tears of sadness and joy and awe all at the same time.

Where did we ever get the idea that balloons don’t belong in the church?
Where did we ever get the idea that God loves the color gray and the sound of Sh-h-h-h-h

The Scriptures say there’s a time to laugh and a time to weep.
It’s not hard to see the reasons for crying
In a world where people’s hatred for each other is so manifest.

So here in church, let’s celebrate!
Bring your balloons and your butterflies, and your bouquets of flowers…
Bring your torches and hold them high!

Dance your dances, paint your feelings, sing your songs, whistle, laugh.
Life is a celebration, an affirmation of God’s love.
Life is distributing more balloons.
For God so loved the world…
that’s a cause for Joy.
Surely we should celebrate!
The good news is that God loves us unconditionally!
So, where in the world did we ever get the idea that balloons don’t belong in the church?

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, no matter what you face in the week ahead, remember that the more you learn to celebrate and praise, the more you find in the world around you to celebrate and praise. It’s like working a muscle or practicing an instrument. There is a learning curve, and it takes a while sometimes, but before you know it, you’ll find the grace of God and reasons to celebrate in the darkness and the light and everywhere in between.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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