A while back, I finally got around to reading the most recent book written by one of my favorite authors. You could say that this author has been my companion for forty years and more, his writings shaping my thoughts and increasing my faith, helping me see God in the midst of ordinary days and experiences, to see how extraordinary the ordinary run of days can be, his words often finding their way into my sermons because they were words that said best what I wanted to say. Needless to say, I eagerly looked forward to reading his new book.
But as I got into it, I was disappointed because much of what I read I had come across before in his precious writings. With each page I wondered if I should read on, but I did. Finally, I came to the last page and the last line and that one line made reading every page and line that came before well worth it because what the author wrote was something he had never before written, something so true and so powerful that it stunned me, and what he wrote was this: “Joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms.”
It is simply the best definition of joy I have ever read. Joy is knowing that God is with us in all things, ready to catch us if we fall, lifting when we cannot lift ourselves, leading us through what happens and out the other side. Joy is knowing that we are not alone, that God is there not simply when things are going well but even when, especially when, things are at their worst. Joy is knowing that God is there in the news of the day, in what happens day after day, working his purpose, seeking to rescue this shipwreck of a world, wanting to deliver us unto new life and hope. It is what the psalmists meant by joy, what Jesus meant by joy, and what Paul meant by joy. Underneath everything are the everlasting arms.
Or to put it all another way: joy is experiencing the faithfulness of God to us. And if you wonder what is meant by God’s faithfulness, well, Paul gave us a big clue when he wrote about God remaining faithful even if we are unfaithful. God’s love for us, Paul was saying, remains unchanging and in his grace and mercy and forgiveness God will save and deliver us as he promised. Or think about the way my favorite author does. He writes about the times when from somewhere comes a strength beyond our strength, a love beyond our ability to love, a hope beyond our capacity to hope — times when what we most needed came and it carried us through what we didn’t think we could make it through. Of course the best way to understand God’s faithfulness is seen in Jesus: Jesus is God’s faithfulness.
And even though we each can only answer for ourselves, I believe we all of us, in some way or other, at some time or other, have experienced God’s faithfulness. But it may be that we see God’s faithfulness to us only in looking back over our lives and realizing how we have made it to this day. And the same is true for us as a congregation. In looking back, we will see God’s faithfulness to us, that’s for sure. At least, when I look back and think of all the changes and challenges, the wonderful accomplishments and painful failures, what it took to become what we are today, there isn’t a doubt in my mind as to how we have come to this day and why we are still here: the faithfulness of God to us. And yes, the faithfulness and commitment of members down through the years has much to do with it as well. Of course. But underneath everything there have been and there are the everlasting arms.
And it is this faithfulness of God that is at the heart of our Stewardship Emphasis this year. At the heart of our loving God and the neighbor, committing ourselves to Christ and Christ Our Hope, giving of ourselves to God’s purpose in this place, is our responding to God’s faithfulness to us with faithfulness to God.
Ninety years or so ago, a man by the name of Thomas Chisholm tried to express all this in a hymn. “Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord, unto me,” he wrote, and then he sang about new mercies every morning, how from the hand of God came everything he truly needed, that God’s compassion was unfailing, that from God came strength for today and hope for tomorrow, the gladness of God’s presence. We are singing Chisholm’s hymn Sunday after Sunday during our Stewardship Emphasis because he got it right: Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord, unto us.
Commitment Sunday, the Sunday on which we bring to the altar our pledge card, is November 11 and I pray that we will make it a day of great faithfulness on our part and a day to be filled with joy as our commitment proclaims that we know that underneath everything are the everlasting arms.
God be with you,