A Pilgrim People

The pilgrims faced nearly insurmountable odds to cross the Atlantic. They nearly starved the first year, and were saved only with the help of the Wampanoag. Nonetheless, they still recognized God’s goodness with a thanksgiving celebration in 1621. I pray that regardless of what you may have gone through this past year, you still see how much God loves you and give Him thanks.

A Pilgrim People ~ November 24, 2019 ~ Psalm 100:1-5

What is our attitude toward worship? Last night, it was a positive, enthusiastic, encouraging attitude towards worship; but do we willingly and joyfully come into God’s presence, or are we just going through the motions, reluctantly going to church because we feel some sort of obligation? Like as if God is taking attendance? God is not taking attendance.

This psalm that we’re looking at this morning tells us to remember God’s goodness and dependability, and to worship Him with praise and thanksgiving. You see, I believe lots of people have it backwards. Even my own kids, who spent an awful lot of time in church growing up, when they got to be in their teens, they didn’t really want to go every Sunday. And you would hear, “I don’t want to go to church! I don’t get anything out of it.” That’s completely backwards. We’re not supposed to go to church to get something, honestly; we are supposed to go to church to give something. Remember back in the Old Testament, when they showed up at the Temple, they brought with them an animal to sacrifice to give to the Lord. To present Him with something. When we come to church, we are supposed to bring our sacrifices. Our sacrifices can be our money, it can be our voices as we sing the song, it can be our prayers, it can be our attention when we read His Word and listen to the message. But we’re supposed to give God thanks and praise. So, let’s present our sacrifices to God now – the offering of our full attention – as we read His Word and then listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say in the message. Would you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God? Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We are in Psalm 100 this morning.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!

How can you read that sentence softly? “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth.” At the first service this morning, Mike Savery was the one scheduled to do the reading; and I didn’t tell him how to read it. He stood up at the lectern, and went, “Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!!!” And I thought, “Wow! Where did that come from?” It was awesome! Because you cannot just read this.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
(Psalm 100:1-5)

So, enter his gates with thanksgiving, go into his courts with praise. See, we Congregationalists specifically are a Pilgrim people. This holiday is very special to Congregationalists, because the original Pilgrims were Congregationalists. At least, we claim to be a Pilgrim people, but let’s review their story.

The Pilgrims were originally called non-conformists. They were English Protestants who absolutely rejected the idea of being forced to worship in the manner of the Church of England. It wasn’t an option. You see, King Henry VIII had taken England out of the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Now, this was exciting to some people, because they had hoped, “Yes! Now the church is going to be, or can be, reorganized in a fashion more consistent with the Scriptures, with the first century Biblical church. That’s what they were excited about might happen. Unfortunately, Henry wasn’t interested really in reforming the church so much as power. You see, at the time, the Pope was the ultimate authority of the church. Henry changed that – put himself in charge of the Church in England – and it remains so to this day. The head of the church in England, the Anglican Church, the Church of England – in America it’s called the Episcopal Church – is Queen Elizabeth II. She is the head of the church, the monarch of the United Kingdom.

Anyway, so instead of the Pope punishing those who would not worship in the Roman manner, Henry’s new Church of England was now persecuting those who would not worship in the English way. Some people refused. They refused to conform. Non-conformists. And they held their own church meetings in secret, where the final authority was Christ, as it expressed in the congregation – Congregationalists. Well, eventually, because of the persecution of the English church, these men and women chose to flee. They first went to Holland, and then to the British colonies we know as America. They had planned to leave in July, but because of continued problems with the second ship they had contracted, the Speedwell – it kept on springing leaks. They tried to leave Holland in the two ships, and they had to turn around because the Speedwell was leaking. They got the Speedwell fixed, they took it out a second time, went a few more miles, Speedwell was still leaking, they turned around and brought it back. Some historians surmise that the Speedwell was actually sabotaged by agents of the king, but we don’t know that for a fact, it’s just that some people have a pretty good theory.

Anyway, two ships worth of stuff, two ships worth of people are now combined onto a single ship: The Mayflower. And finally, on September 16, 1620, they set sail for America. This journey should have been easy, and less than a month in duration – if you had left in July, when they first planned it. But because of the problems, they didn’t leave until September. That’s the worst time to “cross the pond,” as they say. It took over two months. There were horrific storms. The main mast cracked; they almost lost it all. But no matter what obstacle was put in their face, they bounced back, because they had faith in God.

They spied land on November 9. It was Cape Cod. They rejoiced and were led by elder William Brewster in Psalm 100 as a prayer of thanksgiving. I actually did not know that when I started writing this, but it was a neat little tidbit to learn. Psalm 100 was the first Scripture that they read when they saw Cape Cod. They’re journey was not over, however. They were attacked by members of the Nauset tribe. They responded with musket fire. They went back to the ship; they continued around the coast, around the peninsula. Eventually, they made their way to an abandoned village called Pawtuxet, and there they started to build Plimoth Plantation.

But by now, winter had set in, and illness struck. They didn’t have as much supplies as they expected, because they only thought the journey was going to take 30 days; but it took 66. So, they were rationing. They were weakened. Illness struck, and it was devastating. Half of their people – half of the Pilgrims – died before spring came. They stayed on the ship[ while they built the great house on land, and they would ferry in the dead bodies at night and secretly bury them on burial hill in the cover of darkness, because they didn’t want the natives to realize how many of them were dying.

But spring came. After making peace with the local Wampanoag tribe, they begin to build a community. They begin to plant. Unfortunately, the land around Plimoth consists of shallow, sandy soils over bedrock. Southern England and Wales, where they’re from, has a deeper, finer textured, loamy soil; and so the seeds that they brought with them in the sandy soil at Plimoth. Without the help of the Wampanoag showing them local techniques, Pilgrims surely would have starved to death. They were faced with starvation; God made sure they would bounce back.

Because of the help, their season was successful, and we remember that harvest and subsequent celebration as the first Thanksgiving.

Now, I thought to myself, at any point in that story, many people I know, perhaps including myself would have given up. I mean, we like to call ourselves a Pilgrim people; and yet, today, if we get five inches of snow, we shut the city down! They cancel all the schools; everybody buys all the bread and the milk at Stop and Shop! I don’t know why during a snow day everyone likes to make French Toast; it makes no sense to me. But we panic when we get storms today! It’s sad, really. The Pilgrims would laugh at us! The Pilgrims were persecuted for their faith. They faced nearly insurmountable odds crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They were attacked by hostile native tribes on Cape Cod. Half of them died the first winter. They nearly starved to death. And yet, after all of that, they still recognized God’s goodness with a thanksgiving celebration in 1621.

It’s so easy to enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise when things are going well, isn’t it? When I have a job, and all my bills are paid and up to date, and my family is healthy. Sadly, I feel like sometimes God can’t win, because all too often, when things are going well, God is the last person we remember to thank. And when things are not going well, God is the first person we tend to blame. “Why did you allow this to happen to me, God?” It’s like He can’t win. And things aren’t always going to go well. Romans 8:20 says:

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse.

All creation was subjected to God’s curse. See, many of us think in the story of Adam and Eve, you have Adam and Eve, they disobey the Lord, they eat the fruit, sin enters the world, and those who were supposed to be immortal – live forever – are now mortal. They’re going to die. We call that “The Fall.” Well, it wasn’t just Adam and Eve that fell. All of God’s creation fell. In the Garden of Eden there were no hurricanes. There were no blizzards. There were no mudslides. There were no tsunamis, or floods. None of that existed in paradise. It does now. Stuff happens, because the world fell. Against its will, all of God’s creation.

So, living in this fallen world amongst fallen people means that not only are people going to let you down – friends and family – but your ship, your Mayflower is going to encounter storms on the Atlantic. You will be attacked by hostile people. Illness will be a reality.

I mean, storms sometimes hit, you may lose your power for several days. And we freak! You’ve got to go with me to Plimoth Plantation to see how they survived the winters. Maybe a tree would fall on your house. It’s the worst thing that ever happens! Maybe your car would break down, or maybe you get hit and get into an accident. Or maybe a thief breaks in and steals your cell phone or your pocketbook. Not because of anything you’ve done! You just happen to live in a fallen world, full of fallen people, just like the rest of us. And nobody wants to suffer, I understand that. Jesus didn’t want to suffer! Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus said, “Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.” Jesus was all in if there was a different way to complete God’s purpose, His mission, that didn’t include Him getting nailed to a cross. I am figuring, Jesus is like, yeah, I’m all over that. If there’s some other way to do this, let me know. But He was obedient. He had faith and trust, and He said, “But Your will be done, Lord, not mine.”

See, it’s in those moments, that our faith and our trust in the Lord is revealed. The goal of a Christian should be to be more Christ-like every single day. We should want to love like Christ. We should want to forgive like Christ. We should want to serve like Christ. Well, if we’re going to live like Christ included in that list is suffering. If Jesus didn’t escape it, why do we think we would? You can’t always win! I’ve been a Jets fan for 35 years. We’ve only had one winning season out of the last nine. I’ve been waiting to get back to the Superbowl since 1969. You can’t always win! And if you only become a fan just because they’re winning – it drove me crazy in the 1970s when Terry Bradshaw was winning all these Superbowls, all of a sudden, there’s all these Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Well, where were you guys three or four years ago!? It’s easy to jump on when everything’s going well. It’s tougher to be a real fan.

I’m a real fan. To my detriment, I’m a real fan! If I’m a real fan, if I’m a real Jesus follower – I’m not a real fan, I’m not a real Jesus follower if I’m just hopping on the bandwagon when we’re doing well, winning a bunch of Superbowls. That’s called being a “Fair Weather Fan.” Now, Jesus talks about that a little bit in Matthew 13. He tells this wonderful parable. He says:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
(Matthew 13:3b-9)

And He goes on to explain the parable this way:

“The seed that fell on the footpath [that was eaten by the birds] represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it [or choose not to understand it or agree with it]. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

When the going gets tough, they get going. That’s a fair-weather fan, that’s what Jesus is talking about. I don’t want to be a fair-weather Christian, hopping on when life is all rainbows and puppy dogs, and walking away when the storms of life are raging. I want to have a Pilgrim faith!

See, we remember these stories of faith. I mean, do you know any story about a person who spent years preparing for a journey, and then chose at the last minute that it looked too hard, so they decided to go home? Nobody tells those stories! We don’t remember those who gave up. They don’t inspire us. Those who do inspire us all have one thing in common: perseverance and faith.

I talked a couple weeks back about a book that was printed in the 16th century called “Fox’s Book of Martyrs” – stories of faith about people who did not give up. Monica Oga. Monica Oga’s grandmother was dying, and all she wanted was to return to her home in the village of Godagodu, Nigeria. Oga’s younger brother, Zwandian, urged them not to go. Militant Muslim Fulani herdsman who had been radicalized by the Islamic terrorist group Boco Haram had attacked the village just six weeks earlier. But wanting to honor her grandmother’s request, Oga and her mother decided to take her back to Godagodu. On October 15, 2016 (just three years ago), Zwandian’s fears were realized when the militant Islamic Fulani herdsman returned to Godagodu, shooting villagers and setting homes ablaze. Oga, her mother, and her terminally ill grandmother hid in a small room inside their home as the sound of gunfire and shouting grew louder. They waited in silence hoping the attackers would soon pass. Then, during a pause in the gunfire and shouting, Oga’s grandmother coughed uncontrollably, alerting attackers to their hiding place. Five men barged into the room and surrounded the women, pointing their weapons and shouting threats. Oga and her mother begged the men to spare their lives, to allow them to care for Oga’s aging grandmother in her final days. Finally, the attackers agreed to a compromise: they would only kill one of them.

“Are you a Christian or a Muslim?” they asked Oga.

“I’m a Christian,” she responded.

When the attackers could not convince Oga to convert to Islam, they ordered her to lie on the ground in front of her mother and grandmother. One of the men raised his gun and shot her in the head, and the attackers left the house. Oga was one of over 20 Christians killed in the attack. Adding to the family’s anguish, Oga grandmother died two days later, grief-stricken from seeing her granddaughter murdered. In the years leading up to Oga’s death, anti-Christian violence had escalated in Northern Nigeria, leaving children without parents, husbands and wives without their spouses. But amid the ongoing persecution, Christians in Nigeria are taking comfort and finding strength in the Lord.

“We have our consolation in Jesus Christ,” Zwandian said. “Whatever happens in this life, our faith in Him, my salvation in Him, our belief and trust in Him will always help us to overcome.”

That is a Pilgrim faith.

Remember the story of Peter walking on the water? If you go online and google Peter walking on the water and click images, almost all of them will be an image of this: not Peter walking on the water, but Peter already having sank in the water. When he stepped out of that boat, he had a Pilgrim faith, and he was walking on water. When he began to doubt – “This isn’t supposed to be happening!” – he took his eyes off of Jesus, and he started to sink. But as he sank, he yelled out one of the shortest prayers in all of Scripture: “Lord, save me!” Three words. And Jesus reaches down and saves him.

We’re not always going to be walking on water. We’re not always going to have a Pilgrim faith. But all we have to do is say, “Lord, save me!” Call upon Him. Ask Him to come to your aid. He will respond. My faith, your faith in times of struggle will not only get us through a difficult situation, but it may also lead someone else to a relationship with Christ. I hope that regardless of what you may have gone through this past year, or what you may be facing soon, that you can still see Christ’s hand reaching down for you; that you still understand how much God loves you, and how He will be there for you, and give Him thanks. That even when you walk through the darkest valley, He is close beside you. God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So, we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge. We don’t care, because we are a Pilgrim people, and we will proclaim it with me: We will:

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness, come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
(Psalm 100:1-5)

Let us be a true Pilgrim people. Would you stand and pray?