CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – On June 3, the congregation of Park Royal United Church, will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the construction of our church.
While we will certainly give thanks for the gift of this building, and all that this facility has allowed us to do together over the years, in reality, we will be gathering to celebrate the many people who have, by God’s grace, brought purpose, meaning and acts of devotion to life in that place since 1958.
To disclose the whole story, the congregation was actually formed a year before the building was completed, so in 2016 the decision was made to have a full year of anniversary commemorations. Our theme ‘Choosing Celebration’ has been our joyful declaration. We remember Paul’s words to the people of Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. ... The Lord is near.” (Phil. 4:4)
These are wonderful, optimistic words, but heeding them sometimes feels like a great challenge. While we want to respond appropriately to Paul’s invitation, we are not so naïve as to think that all of life is rosy and joy-filled.
look at the state of the world, the plight of many people who face poverty, wars, displacement, racism, illnesses, fear and we recognize that there is much that pulls us away from the desire to rejoice and celebrate. We watch the news and feel despair and sadness, wondering how people could be so cruel to one another and we wonder what we can do in response to the evil we see demonstrated all too often. It doesn’t take much effort to recognize that this world can be a harsh and difficult place. Consequently, it is easy to focus on the negative and to be brought down by what we hear and observe.
However, Paul calls upon each of us to rejoice in the Lord – always. At Park Royal we have declared that we are going to “choose celebration”. How, then, do we reconcile these, apparently opposing realities - rejoicing and sadness, celebration and struggle, hope and despair?
Paul was no fool, and his words did not emerge from a privileged, sheltered life. Paul knew what it was like to be persecuted and rejected by others; he knew the pain of suffering, the uncertainty of captivity, coupled with a death sentence because his faith and his devotion to Jesus threatened and offended the ruling powers of his day.
When Paul writes that we are to rejoice in the Lord always, he is challenging his readers to make a choice. You can let this world get you down, for it has that potential, or with God’s help you can face the challenges of the world with hope, trusting that God will help you cope with whatever comes your way.
As Paul said, ‘The Lord is near.’ We rejoice, not because we are delusional about life, but because we know that God is with us in the midst of life, whatever it might bring our way.
We choose celebration because God is the source of strength we need in times of weakness, the inspiration we seek when the way is confusing or hard. We rejoice because God is a never-ending source of love and mercy and grace when we seek God’s ways and open ourselves to God’s Spirit.
We at Park Royal are “choosing celebration” because we have recognized that God is good and God is with us, come what may. Sure, it is great to have a functional building, but what really inspires us is knowing that God loves each one of us and God is only too willing to guide us and support our living.
This is why we rejoice and celebrate.
May you know the same joy in your life.
Rev. Kevin MacKenzie is with Park Royal United Church. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.