A Spirit of Applause at Grace Baptist Church, Richmond VA

A Spirit of Applause
Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

Worship the LORD with gladness; come into GOD’s presence with singing.

Know that the LORD is God. It is God who has made us, and we are God’s; we are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture.

Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise. Give thanks to God, bless God’s name.

For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.


I was in one of those big box stores this past week. I saw a young child sitting in a shopping cart. She was maybe three years old. Her father was pushing her down the aisle that contained all the stores Christmas decorations. There were decorated Christmas trees, a life sized bell ringing Santa, and an inflatable Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. It was so large that it could be perched on your rooftop.

As the father and his child made their way down the aisle, they would stop at each piece of décor. The father would whisper a few words to his daughter. I am not sure what he was saying, but it made her happy. They would both smile and shout “Merry Christmas,” and then the young girl clap her hands in delight.

Young children so easily express that gift of applause.

Music plays and a child will clap her hands to the beat of the music with exuberant happiness.

She will see a playmate at the daycare and will applaud in joyful anticipation of the games they will play.

Or maybe the applause will be in response to the taste of chocolate ice cream; or a big bundle of cotton candy; or a visit to see grandma. Young children so appreciate life that they will applaud almost anything.

Unfortunately, as they grow older, people lose that spirit of applause. They lose an appreciation for the amazing blessing of life.

This morning I’d like for us to recapture this spirit of applause. I think it’s a good Sunday to do that. Just days ago we gathered with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Next Sunday, we will begin our Advent journey toward Bethlehem. Today we are gathered on the last Sunday of the church year which we call “Reign of Christ Sunday.” This is a great occasion to pause and reflect upon the presence and blessings of God’s grace in our lives.

Are you familiar with the term “pack rat”?

A “pack rat” is a person who loves to pack away every piece of belonging that crosses their fingertips. Very little is thrown away. Instead, almost everything is packed away in boxes, basements, and attics.

Pack rats try to rationalize their behavior. To rationalize means that you are telling “rational lies” to justify some sort of behavior.

“That item has sentimental value!”

“This item reminds me of an important incident in my life. To get rid of that would be a denial of my very heart and soul.”

“I can’t get rid of that! I might need it again one day!”

“Pack rats” – the world is full of them. In fact, I have a confession to make. I am one of them. I’s a card-carrying member of the “pack rat” society.

Now my massive collection of junk has not really been a problem till recently. For a variety of reasons, we have decided to downsize. Our house is under contract. Just yesterday we signed a lease for an apartment. We will be transitioning from a home with 2200 feet into an apartment with just under 1000 feet.

My lovely wife Jeana said, “We are not taking all this junk with us, are we?” Now, I have been married long enough to recognize a rhetorical question when I hear one. What she meant was,
“We are NOT taking all this junk with us, are we!”

So, we’ve been downsizing. We’ve taken boxes of stuff to a local thrift store. Furniture is being taken to a consignment store. Truck loads of stuff have been taken to the dump.

But shssssh! Please don’t say anything, but some of the stuff has been slipped back into boxes to be taken to the apartment. (I know she is here, but I doubt she hears me. She usually sleeps through my sermons).

So, we have been packing and repacking. Along the way I have come across some personal treasures. I’ve got some things that I just can’t part with.

I found the February 1982 issue of the Baptist Campus Ministry Newsletter for the Florida Baptist Convention. In that newsletter, you will see my picture along with 18 other students from across Florida, selected to serve as Student Summer Missionaries. My assignment was to work in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

I found some old report cards from my seminary days. I found pictures of the people and churches I have served. I found a file with articles, sermons, and Sunday School literature I’ve had published. I couldn’t get rid of that stuff.

Then there are the books. I had already downsized my library substantially. But still I have 57 boxes of books.

One prize possession for me was a worship bulletin and cassette tape of the sermon preached by Dr. Don Musser, one of my professors from college, on the day of my ordination.

None of these items would mean much to any of you. They are my treasures, my memories, my experiences.

You probably have your own scrapbook, photo album, or treasure chest in your house.

When was the last time you opened your treasure chest? When was the last time you looked back to remember the ongoing blessing of God in your life?

I’ve been going through my boxes. I have been looking at my treasures. Along the way my heart has applauded with praise.

Sometimes God was center stage, doing all the acting. At other times, God was somewhere in the shadows, directing my path with whispering prompts. But God has always been there. Whether on center stage or off to the side, God has always been an integral part of my life. This is a good day to look back and recognize that even when I was not paying much attention to God, God was still paying attention to me.

So I have my mementos. I have my treasures. I have those things that remind me of God’s abiding grace.

Let me ask you: What are the treasures of grace in your life?

What are the mementos that inspire you toward a spirit of applause?

In Psalm 100, we hear what might be the words of another “pack rat.” It sounds like the words of one who has gone through the scrapbooks of life, coming to a point of applause.

“Enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving. Enter into God’s courts with praise. Give thanks to God and bless God’s name, for God is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

In many of your Bibles, you will find a “subtitle” for each of the Psalms. Editors added these subtitles later as a way of providing context for the readers. In most Bibles, the subtitled for Psalm 100 identifies it as “A Psalm for the Thank Offering.”

What we have in Psalm 100 is a song that was sung by the people when they gathered to bring a “Thank Offering” to God. You can read about it in Leviticus 7.

On special occasions, the people would gather in the temple courtyard for a great festival. There was singing, fellowship, celebration, and praise. It was a time to remember and show appreciation for God’s blessings. In those gatherings, the words of Psalm 100 were sung by the people.

It was not outlandish or extravagant. It was a simple time to express gratitude toward God for God’s blessings and grace.

There were significant movements in the festival. We learn that the meal was made of meat and grain. This was to remind them of the time when Able (a Shepherd) and his brother Cain (a farmer) were still united as brothers.

Before Cain killed Able, one brought an offering from the flock, the other from the field. Then jealousy arose which was followed by violence as Cain killed Able. But in this thanksgiving festival, the offering of grain and meat were brought together to hearken back to a day before jealousy, anger, rage, and murder. It was to remember the time when the community was united, and to look forward to the time when it would be united again.

We share in that hope and dream today.

We look forward for a time when Cain and Able will be reconciled and once again embrace.

We look forward to a time when swords will be transformed into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

We look forward to a time when the lion shall lay down with the lamb and there will be no more talk of war.

We look forward to that time when these hopes and dreams will become reality.

Understand, this is bigger than our politics. It’s bigger than Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. It’s bigger than how we voted in the last election.

We long for a day when there is no more war, no more terrorism, no more mass shootings, and no more crime.

We long for a day when people will stop drawing lines of division according to race, color, or national origin.

We long for the day when there will be no more talk about “illegal aliens” because we will all live under God’s providence as neighbors and friends.

We long for a time when there are no more divisions between the rich and the poor, the Palestinian and the Jew, between this group or that group, between “us” and “them.” That’s our dream. That’s God’s dream for us.

The “Thank Offering” was about the blessing of what had been. For the goodness that should be celebrated. But for us, it also looks forward to what will be again under the “reign of Christ.”

I have a recurring dream. It comes to me when I am feeling torn by some type of stress, conflict, or controversy. In my dream, there are people present from every period and place in my life. There are classmates and instructors from my high school, college, and seminary. There are people from every church I’ve served. Many of the people in the dream are dear friends. But some of them might best be classified as enemies. Then there are those faces I do not recognize – Anglo, African-American, Arabic, Hispanic, and Asian. In this dream, I am serving Holy Communion. In that dream, all of the torn and broken pieces of my life are coming together under the influence of God’s grace.

That is our vision as Christians. It is a dream made up of the same stuff that Jesus came to reveal as integral to “God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.”

And I like to think that was something of the hope that inspired the ancient community as it gathered. They set aside what caused division, and they look forward to the goodness of Divine unity.

Hear the Psalmist again, “The Lord is God. God made us all. We belong to God. We are God’s people!”

When they gathered to bring the “Thank Offering,” the bread they brought was unleavened. It was a reminder of the Passover. It was a reminder of the Exodus. It was a reminder that God had delivered them from captivity. It was a reminder that they were set free in a land of promise. They came with unleavened bread. It was a reminded of God’s gift of deliverance.

Has anyone here experienced God’s gift of deliverance?

In the past year, is there anyone here who can testify that God has delivered you from some great difficulty?

Are there those here who can say that God has redeemed the bad and blessed you with good?

Is there anyone here today who, upon taking an account of your life, can now proclaim with gratitude that “God is good!”?

You lost a job and were unsure how your make ends meet, but now you can testify that God provided a way. “God is good.”

You drove home after a visit to the doctor’s office, tears streaming down your face. The diagnosis was bad and the prognosis was worse. Yet today you can say that have been delivered from despair and you know “God is good!”

You stood near the casket of a loved one and wondered how you would make it another day. But you’ve made it another day and many more after that. You’ve been delivered through your depression and now you want the whole world to know that “God is good!”

Some of the items I found in my collection of stuff came during times when life seemed a bit rough. They came from times of struggle, brokenness, difficulty, doubt, and despair. I’ll bet you’ve had those times in your life. During the “Thank Offering” the people came to praise God with gifts of unleavened bread, which served as a reminder of God’s presence and deliverance.

That’s why the church gathers for “reign of Christ” Sunday. This is an occasion to go through treasure boxes of our lives, discovering that God has always been with us. God is with us, unchanging, ever-loving, and full of grace, goodness, and never ending kindness. God has been with us. God is good.

That our song! That’s what prompts our spirit of applause.
If you don’t think it’s too presumptuous for me as a guest preacher, I’d like to give you an assignment. It is not that difficult. In fact, I think you will enjoy it.

Sometime in the days ahead, I want to invite you to go through the treasure boxes of your life. They might be real boxes. They might be boxes of memories that you hold in your heart. Go through those boxes – and as you do, look past the pain and pleasure; look past the hopes and the fears; look past the plenty or the poverty. Life is filled with these ups-and-downs. Look past all those things.
Beyond and behind it all, find God. God is there! Find God and when you do, ask yourself…

“What is it about God that makes me want to clap my hands in child-like delight?”

“What is it about God that helps me to recapture the spirit of applause?”

“What is it about God that causes my heart to overflow with thanksgiving?”

When you have answered that question, clap your hands, sing, and shout. Maybe even dance. Can if suggest that in a Baptist church? Or maybe you’ll just want to grab your Bible and read aloud the words the Psalmist gave us.

“Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving. Enter God’s courts with praise. Give thanks to God and bless God’s name. For God is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever; God’s faithfulness extends to all generations.”


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