Every person I know likes to celebrate milestones in their lives. Let's face it, we were made to cherish special moments with the ones we love. For many of us, we remember the moment we got engaged, or when we said "I do" at the altar and or when we danced with our spouses at our wedding reception. Or we will never forget the moment we found out we were pregnant or the exact minute when our children were born. We often mark special moments in our lives like baby dedications or bridal showers, birthday parties or 50th anniversary surprises. We honor our own Easter and Christmas traditions and gather around the dinner table to share a meal, reflect upon memories shared and look forward to memories yet to be made. We get the word out about high school and college graduations and plan gatherings around job promotions. In truth, we were made to be celebrants!
The fact of the matter is, our lives are worth celebrating, aren't they? Every milestone is an opportunity to remind one another that God is good, that God is up to something, and that God, too, celebrates with us as we honor special moments with the ones we love. Though the last year and a half has postponed much of our celebratory plans, God's people have creatively found ways to give God praise through our fellowship nonetheless. And let's face it, no pandemic can keep us from commemorating how good God has been to us and how the Lord has met us in our deepest moments of grief and sorrow. God always longs for us to find joy in community by remembering all that our Savior has done for us. God wants us to honor the marker points of grace where he showed up in our past so that we can glorify him in the present. Remembering is to celebrate God's goodness, and one of the best ways we remember God's goodness is through a congregation's acknowledgement.
How do we know God is in favor of our communal observances? Well, let's face it--Jesus loves to celebrate! He invented festive celebrations! We can plainly see Jesus' love for a wholesome party right there in the Gospels. Why else would he tell us about a shepherd rejoicing over finding a lost sheep, and a widow finding a lost coin and a father finding, once again, a son he thought he'd lost forever? Jesus believes that true life is worth celebrating, especially when we experience the overwhelming amount of grace that God has lovingly poured into our hearts over the years. And the one thing that Jesus believes is always worth celebrating is God's active Kingdom work! When we observe Jesus' parables, we find much of them to be about the healing, restorative characteristics of the Lord's reign where love, justice and humility dance about and find their home in every heart! In our observations of God's in-breaking Kingdom we see that lost people are found yet again, those last in line now find themselves at the front of the line, and there's always enough hope to go around as the Kingdom Word takes root, germinates and blooms in the hearts of the faithful.
Jesus once told a parable about this life-giving Kingdom ethic through the lens of the tax-collector, Matthew: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46, NRSV). First of all, it's important to note that a jeweler specializes in all things jewelry, knowing the prices and costs of gems and other fine pieces. This describes the merchant in this parable. But when he came across a pearl of the utmost value, nothing meant more to him than getting his hands on it. Therefore, he sold all he had in order to buy the pearl of the enormous price tag; though it cost him everything, it would be easy to think about his responses to his inquiring customers and friends, "Ahh, but it's so worth it! Look at its beauty! Look how refined! There's nothing else like it in the world and I'd sell it all over again just to have it in my possession!" Like the pearl of great price, Jesus is telling those who have ears to hear that the Kingdom of God is worth sacrificing everything to have it. Jesus gave it all for us, and we give our rights to ourselves in order to have Jesus lead and guide our lives, too. Jesus is our pearl of great price--he showed us that love offers itself on behalf of the world, and that kind of Kingdom is the one worth valuing, worth honoring, worth cherishing, and worth celebrating.
Well, did you know that the traditional wedding gift for a 30th anniversary is the pearl? How appropriate that our church, United Baptist, is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 3rd. All of our years together as Christ's body parallels this parable about the pearl of great price! During our 30 years as a church, Jesus has been worth all the worship planning, all the choir rehearsals, all the business meetings, all the committee/team meetings, all the missions work, all the time and all the effort in order to inform our congregation and community that UBC exists to 1) love God with all of our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to 2) love neighbor as we love ourselves. In this way, we've practiced what it means to chase after the Pearl of Great Price, our Jesus Christ, in ways that imperfectly mirror our Savior's chase of Calvary's cross so that he would be crucified, die and be raised in order that we might find true life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
So please worship with us on Sunday, Oct. 3rd, as we celebrate 30 years as God's people of United Baptist Church, glorifying and worshiping our Pearl, Jesus Christ! It will be a day to cherish indeed, especially as we hear God's word through one of our own, Rev. Russ Reaves! Additionally, may we dignify our Lord Jesus through our worship and fellowship and by sharing "pearls of wisdom" at our luncheon which follows in the Fellowship Hall on this festive day. On Oct. 3rd, as we remember the mission projects, the Trunk or Treats, the creative ministries and all the congregations, missionaries and emergency aid we've been able to give (by God's grace) both near and far, let it be said of us that none of the efforts we made, or the sacrifices we've offered have been in vain. Instead, may our Pearl, who's life is priceless, be honored and praised for the amazing gifts he has given to us in numerous resources, gifts, and in the friendships we share with one another. There's more ministry to share along our young church's journey, but Sunday, Oct. 3rd is a good time to pause and give God the thanks for 30 years of committed ministry to Jesus and his Kingdom. "To God be the glory, great things he hath done..." Let our rejoicing begin and may its overflow be manifest in the ministry that will continue in the years to come.
The best way to claim our Pearl is to keep chasing after him, day after day, in selfless, sacrificial acts of love. Let's thank God for 30 years, and may we, United Baptist Church, walk in thanksgiving as we serve one another and our community in the decades that follow!
After all, Jesus is worth it all. And he gave it all to prove that we are worth it...too.
Let's celebrate the Pearl of Great Price together on Oct. 3rd, dear United family!
><> John 3:30 <><