Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
I must admit a personal fault. Every time I read this prayer my eyes begin to glaze over. When I read most of the Bible I feel like I am watching an action film. But when it comes to this prayer, my mind turns off somewhat like when you are watching a long documentary and after a while the narration sends you to sleep. However, this week I finally heard what Jesus was trying to say. I suddenly realized that Jesus was warning us that others do not like the Joy of being a follower of Jesus, a Christian. The world finds joy in other people’s sorrows. Schadenfreude (harm-joy) is the experience of pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction that comes from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another. However, I sometimes wonder if other people ever really experience joy when others are joyful. Is there a word for feeling joyous at other people’s joy? Maybe after all the word we should be using that means feeling joy in others joy is being a Christian.
Too often the Christian faith has been seen by the world as a gloomy affair— "Don't do this; don't do that!" Baptists and Methodists weren't supposed to dance or play cards. Presbyterians were so sober and rational that they were forbidden to use organs or sing "enthusiastic." hymns "of human origin." in church. Indeed, a wag said their services were so cold that one could skate down the center aisle in their churches—and this wasn't far from the truth, as I can remember at several churches saying "hello." at the beginning of the announcement or "concerns." period, and no one answered back. Most movies still depict ministers and staunch church members as stuffy killjoys with whom the hero or heroine never identifies.
This is even more reason for the preacher to lift up the verse on joy from this otherwise solemn passage of John. Joy is an essential part of the gospel, from the announcement of Christ's birth— "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people." —Through such incidents as Jesus' rebuking the disciples for trying to keep the children from him, to his describing the kingdom of God as a wedding feast, to the joyful excitement of the women discovering the tomb to be empty. The one who refused to fast or go around and pray with a long face, and who insisted on attending parties with the wrong kind of people—how might he feel in our churches today? Many churches are recapturing the joy inherent in the gospel—witness the prevalence of banners in our sanctuaries, the occasional use of liturgical dance, and the growing number of hymns that have a beat and sprightly rhythm. I have an awful memory of singing "Joy to the World." with organist playing at such a slow pace that the song seemed like a funeral dirge instead of the exuberant proclamation of the gospel that Watts intended. What a sad witness this would make to a newcomer in church! Fortunately, most congregations would not tolerate this today.
John differs radically from the other three gospel writers in his account of the events in the Upper Room on the last night of Jesus' earthly life. This is especially true in his inclusion of the long prayer that constitutes Chapter 17. Virtually a sermon in which Jesus instructs his disciples about his unity with the Father and the importance of unity within their ranks, the prayer is often called Jesus' High Priestly Prayer. Gail R. O'Day assigns it a better name in her commentary in The New Interpreter's Bible—he calls it "Jesus' Farewell Prayer." And so, it is, although, as she points out, it is not like other prayers in the genre in which the one praying is facing death. Jesus sees the awful coming events as fulfilling his call, as revealing his "glory." His is an Easter prayer with little of the foreboding or darkness of Good Friday. Because of this the preacher might lift up a verse that is often overlooked because of all the passages that deal with Jesus' oneness with God and other such profound matters. This verse is v. 13: "But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves." Even The New Interpreter's Bible, usually so thorough in its treatment of individual verses, throws no light on the verse, neither in the "Commentary." nor in the "Reflections." sections.
What seems of little or no interest to a serious scholar should prove of great interest to the persons sitting in the pew— "so that they may have my joy." Just a little earlier, as recorded in 15:11, Jesus had used this phrase following his commandment to keep his commandments and so abide in his love. Because joy has so often been the last thing that people think of when they discuss Christianity, this is a good theme to lift up, even in the Upper Room account when Jesus is preparing his disciples for his arrest and death—and resurrection. Indeed, it is because of the latter that he can bring in joy to such solemn circumstances!
The approach might be called fighting for joy or even better making joy first. There are two approaches that may be combined or used separately in the sermon. The first is to give a practical guide to joy in life. The second is to underline and celebrate the central idea of joy we find in the Christian faith. The best approach might be the combination of these two approaches which would be a practical guide to Christian joy in life using spiritual and practical tools. This third approach is undergirded by the very vibrant theology of joy we as Christians celebrate.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Joy is what makes life beautiful. It’s what gets us through challenges and allows light in to illuminate the shadows. Joy heals our wounds, inspires us to greatness, and fills our souls with goodness. Here are 40 simple ways I’ve come up with for accessing joy daily.
1. Play with kids. 2. Play like a kid. 3. Learn something new (play a new sport or game, learn how to cook a new dish). 4. Get out in nature. 5. Help someone in a small way (by carrying their groceries or paying their toll on the highway). 6. Count your blessings. 7. Spend time with your pet. 8. Travel. 9. Nurture romance (spend time just kissing your partner, buy a surprise gift, write a love letter). 10. Dress up in costume for no reason. 11. Lose yourself in a great book. 12. Laugh and smile, no matter how you’re feeling. 13. Sing out loud. 14. Connect authentically with friends and family, sharing your vulnerabilities. 15. Dance. If you can’t dance, just skip. 16. Pay a compliment to a total stranger. 17. Listen to uplifting music. 18. Serve others. Volunteer. 19. Exercise. 20. Set a goal, then reach it (run that marathon, pass that test, lose those five pounds). 21. Meditate and enjoy the silence. 22. Write a thank you letter or Facebook post to someone for no particular reason other than just to say “I appreciate you.” 23. Get messy (go barefoot, play in the mud). 24. Prepare and slowly eat a healthy meal. 25. Offer to teach someone a new skill. 26. Memorize a poem. 27. Turn your errands into an adventure (by making a game out of finding certain items at the store or spotting yellow cars while driving there), 28. Take a nap, 29. Ask someone for help (and expres, appreciation for their guidance), 30. Watch a favorite old movie for the hundredth time, 31. Discover a new smell (in the form of a candle, flower, or massage oil), 32. Snuggle, 33. Get rid of stuff. (Take it to a homeless shelter. Lighten your load and make someon, else’s life better at the same time., 34. Watch a sunrise or sunset, 35. Make, commitment to change a bad habit, then do it, 36. Create something, 37. Eat a cupcake, 38. Spend an evening by candlelight, 39. Take a walk in the rain, 40. Surrender (give it, up to God). ( MeiMei Fox- https://www.huffingtonpost.com/meimei-fox/happiness-tips_b_2405608.html)
Meditate. Exercise. Call a friend. These are all fairly easy things to do when you’re feeling a bit down and looking for relief. But what about when times are hard? I mean, really hard? How do you find joy when you’re during grief, going through a scary transition, or facing a challenge you’re not sure how to overcome?
Many of us have faced times like these—situations that bring us to our knees, sobbing into a pillow late into the night. In these moments, joy seems like a distant dream. But believe it or not, it is possible.
As Albert Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
No matter how bleak things may seem, often a slight shift in our perspective is all we need to create a cascade effect that changes our internal life first, followed by a quick change in our external reality. (https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-find-joy-when-life-is-hard)
My friend Amy happened to be experiencing joy right when I called. "I just went off the Atkins Diet. It was pure joy to shove a granola bar into my mouth," she laughed. When pressed for further sources of joy, she admitted she finds happiness from a bargain (finding $169 boots for $39) and from preparing a delicious meal.
It's not that I don't appreciate a sugar rush or a great buy, but I'm not sure they bring me joy.
The more I tried to find happiness, the more I found myself in a vast sea of pleasures, thrills, and gratifications. An e-mail chain letter of "natural highs" cited making eye contact with a cute stranger, listening to the rain, and riding a roller coaster. Hmm. Nice, but do they bring me joy? Not really.
I couldn't help but feel that the experience of joy should be something more substantial, something I could sink my teeth—and heart and soul—into. I was looking for some science.
Seek More "Oh Wow!" Times
Ned Hallowell, MD, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, says, "Joy is the intense moments—the moments of success, the moments of connection, the moments of really appreciating beauty and saying, 'Oh wow, I'm so lucky to be alive!' "
Such moments can come to us in bursts of bliss or in the form of more sustaining and hard-won gratifications, according to Martin Seligman, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. "Gratifications are the activities we like doing that absorb and engage us fully."
Where to Look
Whether your joy—let's call it "high happiness"—comes in the rush of a sugar high, the glow of professional accomplishment, or deep spiritual fulfillment, whether it trickles in small pleasures or flows in a deluge of delight, most would agree that we want more of it.
But you won't find joy from the lottery tickets tucked in your wallet. Nor will you find it in wrinkle-removing plastic surgery. Studies have shown that money and beauty are not reliable or substantial sources of happiness. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, of the University of California, Riverside, life circumstances only account for 10% of happiness. Half depends on our genetic "set point," which is kind of like the weight our body bounces back to after that crash diet. About 40%t of our happiness is influenced by what we do deliberately to make ourselves happy. And being happy is the key antecedent to joy. "You can't be joyful all the time," says Lyubomirsky, "but people who are happy are going to be joyful more frequently." (https://www.prevention.com/mind-body/how-find-joy-every-day)
Here's what experts believe you can do to increase the joy, both large and small, in your life:
Notice what's right Experts agree that optimistic people are happier people. Those who look on the bright side experience more happiness than those who try to "see things as they really are," according to Lyubomirsky. It's a process scientists call reframing: If you try to cast negative events in a positive light, and you see the silver lining, you can turn a bad situation into a joyful one.
Take my friend Carol. Shortly after she got married, she complained that her work-at-home husband didn't know how to do laundry. Whites, colors—they were all washed together. Then a coworker pointed out, "He's just trying to help." When Carol spoke to her husband about it, he told her, "I want to do my fair share to give you more time to relax." She's learned to overlook the mistakes and enjoy their extra chore-free time together.
"If you only focus on what's wrong, you will not experience joy. You will experience discouragement, depression, low self-esteem," explains M. J. Ryan, author of 365 Health and Happiness Boosters. "But when you focus on what's right about a situation—the exact same situation—you're increasing the possibility that you will experience joy and high happiness."
Remember the kid you were In just one lazy Sunday afternoon, I watched my two children create joy for themselves again and again, first in a game of hide-and-seek, then whirling around to Carole King music in princess costumes. It was smiles, giggles, belly laughs. "Joy is one of those exuberant feelings we see in children," says Pamela Gail Johnson, founder of a group called Secret Society of Happy People, a website she started to provide a forum for those who want to encourage the expression of happiness. "As adults, when do we lose that? That experience of being in that natural high?"
It's a question Hallowell explores in The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. "I wanted to look at the sources in childhood that lead to joy in adulthood," he says. "If you have this feeling when you get up in the morning of 'can-do, wanna-do,' you have friends you look forward to seeing, you have activities you look forward to doing, you can usually trace those things back to childhood," he explains.
Hallowell discovered that the capacity of adults to experience great joy and enthusiasm about life has its roots in how they did things as children. He cites five basic steps that should ideally take place in a child's development to help ensure future joy:
Experiencing unconditional love from key adults
Discovering one's passions through play
Practicing those passions
Mastering them, thereby reinforcing confidence and self-esteem
Experiencing recognition from the outside world
"It's never too late," says Hallowell. "If you're willing to set aside your sense of embarrassment and to play, then you can rediscover the childlike qualities that are strongly associated with joy."
Spend time with your buddies Although a rich social and romantic life does not in itself guarantee joy, it has a huge effect on happiness. A study of college students showed that the happiest among them were more social, spent less time alone, and reported strong, supportive relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. (Check out these 8 Friends Every Woman Needs.)
Really rest Peace, quiet, and solitude can also create joy, and some research suggests that we may have an inborn need to "zone out" once in a while. In an exploratory study, researchers observed three babies who turned away or blocked their eyes in response to overstimulation. Mothers who recognized this behavior and gave their children needed downtime had happier, easier babies.
Play to your strengths. The best way to achieve flow is by identifying your strengths and virtues and then using them, says Seligman. First, you have to find out what they are. Then, he says, "You have to recraft your work life, your love life, and your leisure to deploy those strengths and virtues as much as possible."
Seligman's advice reminds me of Jill, a food service worker. Feeling very unfulfilled in her current job, Jill decided she was going to change her work style by tapping her greatest strength: her people skills. She made sure her interactions with her cafeteria customers were the social highlight of their day. She addressed everyone by name, took special orders with a smile, and used friendly chitchat to distract them from their workday. "Once you identify your strengths, you can transform a tedious task into an experience that brings flow much more frequently," explains Seligman. (https://www.prevention.com/mind-body/how-find-joy-every-day)
Inger Osteraa has been fighting a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for nearly 2 decades. Since 1985, her body has been frequently peppered with tumors that have fractured her spine and nearly shut down her liver. At various times, some of the top doctors in the US told her she had "just months to live." Now free from cancer for nearly 3 years, the 67-year-old Osteraa reflects on how, even in the face of this deadly disease, she never lost her ability to experience joy.
"When you can hear the minutes ticking, and you know the buzzer is going to go off at any minute, and your time will be up, you see things so clearly," she says. "You just know without a doubt where your values are and why you're alive, and you're so grateful for each moment."
At one point, when she thought she had only a short time to live, she planted bareroot roses with her toddler grandson, even though she knew they wouldn't bloom for months. Connecting to nature and to someone she loved "brought me tremendous joy," she says.
Osteraa now gets "unbelievable joy" every afternoon by going outside to read with her legs resting on her 125-lb dog, Clyde, something she says takes her back to the joy she felt as a young child growing up in Norway when her dog would pull her on skis through the woods. (https://www.prevention.com/mind-body/how-find-joy-every-day)
Identifying himself with God his Father, Jesus himself possessed the joy described by the 14th century Meister Eckhart, "Perfectly to will what God wills, to want what He wants, is to have joy."
Russian writer Feodor Dostoevsky, whose characters faced many varieties of the solemn harshness of life, recognized the joy Christ came to impart when he wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, "Cana of Galilee…Ah, that sweet miracle! It was not men's grief, but their joy Christ visited. He worked his first miracle to help men's gladness."
Evangelist Billy Sunday saw the need for a joyful faith when he made this observation about so many of the churches of his time, "The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.
Even in the midst of Nazi dominated Germany, many of the policies of which he was fighting, pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, "God cannot endure that unfestive, mirthless attitude of ours in which we eat our bread in sorrow, with pretentious, busy haste, or even with shame. Through our daily meals He is calling us to rejoice, to keep holiday, in the midst of our working day."
The word joy is found 164 times in a concordance of the Bible, and the word rejoice is repeated 191 times. Truly the Bible is a book of joy and gladness because it is a record of God's relationships with man and of man's continuous search for communion and fellowship. (Kirby Page, Living Joyously)
American Beauty is a film in which there is no joy in the Burnham family. Lester draws a good salary but hates his work. His wife Carolyn has drifted away from him in her quest to become a successful real estate agent, and their daughter Jane despises them both. It is the boy next door who brings a touch of joy into Jane's life. Put off at first by his constant videotaping of her, he shares with her a video he made of a plastic bag tossed about in the wind and shares with her his feeling that there is a benign force in the universe. Lester also discovers something akin to joy, though he is like a Flannery O'Connor character in that it is only at the moment of his death that he discovers how precious and beautiful life is. None of theirs is the full joy Christ imparts, but I think the Galilean would say that they are on the right path.
Joy is something that has to break forth into the open. It cannot be contained, as we see in the delightful film Dancing at Lughnasa. The five Mundy sisters live in poverty in Ireland while the Spanish Civil War is raging. They have little to be joyful about, the chief breadwinner losing her job as a schoolteacher, and the opening of a glove factor nearby threatening to destroy the home piecework of the other sisters. And yet one afternoon they hear an infectious tune on their radio, and one by one they move from tapping their toes in time to getting up and dancing around the cottage, and out into the front yard. They circle about with joined hands in total abandonment of their cares and the bleak prospects of the future. For a few brief moments they are free—and joyful. In a religious sense this is the joyful abandonment that Sidney Carter captured in his popular hymn, "Lord of the Dance." Christ is the Dancer of Life who invites us into the fullness of the joy which he shares with the Father, and which no gloomy scribe or Pharisee can squelch.
Hymn writer Maltbie Babcock (see the discussion of his hymn in the illustrations for the next section on Psalm 104.) loved life in general, and sports in particular. A Presbyterian clergyman, he stated, "The Christian life that is joyless is a discredit to God and a disgrace to itself."
Samuel Dickey Gordon made a helpful distinction between happiness and joy: "Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Happiness is the result of what happens of an agreeable sort. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross."
Kirby Page agrees with Gordon, when he wrote in Living Joyously. "The word `joy' is too great and grand to be confused with the superficial things we call happiness. It was joy and peace which Jesus said he left men in his will."
Within the Roman Empire, Jesus knew that his followers would not receive any special protection from those who hated them. In contrast, the president of Zimbabwe recently passed some special laws to limit the rights of those who are opposed to him. The legislation was prompted by the fact that President Robert Mugabe's
motorcade is frequently the target of protesters. With a collapsing economy and widespread food shortages, there are many people who are quite upset with Mugabe's handling of the nation's affairs. The newly imposed regulations provide that "on the approach and during the passing of a state motorcade, a driver shall not make any gesture or statement within the view or hearing of the state motorcade with the intention of insulting any person traveling with an escort or any member of the escort." Mugabe, who has been in power for over 22 years, usually travels around the capital in a convoy of at least 20 cars and motorcycles.
During his final meal with the disciples, Jesus tries to prepare them for the hostility they will face from the world around them. Unfortunately many children face a form of hostility almost every day. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the biggest threat to them is not some foreign enemy but the school yard bully. Six out of every 10 American teenagers say they witness a case of bullying at school at least once a day.
We live in a communication age. Back in the 1970s, CB radios were all the rage. But within about ten years that fad ran its course as people discovered that they and passing truck drivers did not have much to say to each other. Today we communicate by phone, fax, e-mail, pagers, text messagers, and a host of other methods. Yet, for example, if you ever watch someone send instant messages, you discover that an hour can quickly go by, but there is often little in the way of substance that is being shared. We seem to be so fascinated with our ability to communicate that we do not give too much consideration to the fact that we don't have much to say to one another. Jesus, though, encourages us to fill that void by communicating the truth of the gospel to those around us.
Jesus' goal was not merely to assemble twelve religious individuals, but to create a spiritual community that was equipped to carry the message into the world. Some current popular spirituality writers, however, discount the role of organized religion. For instance, Deepak Chopra, a bestselling author and a favorite speaker of many sales executives, contends that organized religion cannot provide the spiritual comfort that people are searching for. He states, "Organized religion is about judgment and rules, guilt, fear. Spirituality is about freedom from above."
Although many church members cling to the idea that the United States is a Christian nation, that belief ignores reality. Many Americans are not merely lapsed Christians. Rather they are practitioners of faiths that are at times quite opposed to Christianity. One such competing faith is the Wicca religion. Wicca has been having increasing influence on college campuses. The University of Arizona and Lehigh University now include Wiccan holidays on the official school calendar, right alongside traditional Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas. Wicca is basically a neo-pagan nature religion that affirms the existence of magic and of gods and goddesses. Because Wiccans tend to practice their religion autonomously, it is difficult to estimate how many followers of that faith there are.
One of the reasons that the disciples were so deeply affected by the words that Jesus spoke to them was that Jesus himself believed those words and allowed his own life to be shaped by those words. In the field of advertising, marketers have learned that consumers are much more convinced when a real life person who actually uses the product offers an endorsement for it. According to AdWeek, the method of using testimonials is linked to the old adage that the best advertising is word of mouth. People will tend to pay attention to recommendations coming from people who know firsthand what they are talking about. One example of that is the Hair Club for Men commercial, where the man says, "I'm not only the president, I'm also a member." Apple computers recently ran a series of commercials featuring customers who had switched from PCs to Apples. Various consumers explained the difficulties they had with their PCs, and how the Apple machines run so much better.
Sometimes people have a difficult time expressing their joy in the right way. Last year a groom in Jordan was so elated because it was his wedding day, he grabbed an automatic rifle and began firing it. In the process of doing that, he accidentally shot and killed two of his wedding guests and injured two others.
Jesus sought to lead the disciples into the truth. The problem throughout history has been that instead of focusing on the truth about Jesus above all else, we have a tendency to give center stage to lesser truths, often allowing our disagreements over those truths to escalate into various stages of conflict. Miroslav Volf, a professor at Yale, contends that "it could be that we feel compelled to abandon talk about the truth because we are afraid to renounce violence." (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996) p. 272)
In a world that is often hostile toward and uninformed about Christianity, we cannot assume that people will figure out the meaning of our faith simply by observing our actions. "Evangelism rarely happens by osmosis. A prevalent myth in many churches is that if you give non-Christians a chance to rub shoulders with Christians, they'll catch a dose of the gospel." (Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson, and Heidi Rolland Unruh, Churches That Make a Difference (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) p. 63)
A British marketing group has come up with an innovative way of getting the word out to people. The advertising agency, Cunning Stunts, plans to start renting advertising space on the foreheads of university students. One of the company executives said they came up with the idea when they realized how much coverage students receive in the newspapers when they take part in protests. With this plan, companies will benefit from increased exposure to the public, and students will be able to supplement their meager incomes. Logos will be semi-permanently tattooed to the students' foreheads, and they will be paid $6.85 an hour for three hours each day, the amount of time it is assumed that the students will be out and about in public. A men's magazine and a digital TV station were among the first to sign up for the ad campaign.
An Episcopal church in San Francisco came up with a creative idea of how to come into contact with people in the surrounding world so they might have an opportunity to share with them a word about Jesus. But not everyone in the church reacted to the idea with joy. The congregation had dwindled down to about 80 members,
causing many in the church to wonder how much longer they would be able to continue as a parish. The pastor then came up with the idea of opening the church's doors every weekend for an all night dance party. The result was that hundreds of people showed up each weekend, and dozens had begun to join the church as members. Some in the church, however, did not approve of the element of people that the dance parties were attracting. The congregational leadership eventually forced the pastor to resign, bringing an end to the dances, and causing those hundreds of people to look elsewhere for a place where they would be welcomed.
When we associate our name with God's Word, we are led to live according to the truth, whether we want to or not. An 18-year-old boy in Connecticut pleaded guilty late last year to criminal mischief for vandalizing a farmer's field. The boy was identified because in the course of his vandalism, his Bible fell out of his truck and was found by police, a Bible with his name boldly inscribed on the cover.
According to theologian David Tracy, a degree of hostility is necessary in order for religious life to flourish. He suggests that "the religions live by resisting."
"A readiness to suffer for the sake of the truth permeates the whole fabric of biblical teaching. It is not an optional part of the curriculum for equipping the faithful. Rather, it is what is meant by taking up the cross and following Jesus." (Thomas C. Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2003) p. 50)
"Truth will prevail." (Plato)
"When in doubt, tell the truth." (Mark Twain)
"One joy scatters a hundred griefs." (Proverb)
"Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy if I could say how much." (William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, II:1)
"Few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation or creed." (Bertrand Russell)
Out of every disaster emerge stories of heroism that bring tears of joy. The sacrifice of so many firefighters and law enforcement personnel to save others from the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center is a prime example.
The grief of loss is sometimes overshadowed by the joy of memory. My father died at age 90. I had the privilege of talking to him by telephone as they were taking him to surgery. I said "See you soon, Dad!" "That will be great!" he said, and those were the last words he ever spoke to me. I did not tell him I was running to catch a plane as soon as I hung up; he died while that plane was in the air, I learned when I called my mother from the airport after landing. While I was sorry to miss seeing him one last time, I was filled with joy that he was free of pain, and left so many great memories for me to savor. Just so, the disciples were sorry to see Jesus go, but the memory of his love filled them with joy.
church in Berlin and finding his poetry was gaining him wide admiration, he lost his position when he could not obey an edict of Elector Frederick Wilhelm I to cease all discussion of the differences between Lutherans and Reformed Christians. Gerhardt refused to accept the strict doctrinal position of his superiors, preferring instead to continue a dialogue with leaders of the Reformed Church. His inner faith in Christ saw him through this and many other trials.
"Faith is not the clinging to a shrine, but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Audacious longing, burning songs, daring thoughts, an impulse overwhelming the heart, usurping the mind these are all a drive towards serving
who rings our hearts like a bell." (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Samuel H. Dresner, Editor, I Asked For Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology. (New York: Crossroad, 1991) p.15.)
Our family was traveling home from vacation on a winding parkway in New York State when a tremendous thunderstorm seemed to come up out of nowhere sending torrential rain down around us. My six-year-old son panicked, beside himself with fear of the rain and storm and began screaming. His four-year-old sister calmly looked at him and said, "Luke, calm down, it's just like the car wash." Her quiet trust in the fact that her world was safe calmed her brother, and this phrase has become a byword in our family whenever anyone is in danger of becoming too frightened.
There is a difference between mere belief and faith. I have numerous times set a chair before my congregation and said that belief says "I believe that chair will hold me. But faith." I say as I sit down in the chair, " is sitting in the chair."
Faith and trust always seem to involve a moment like the one when you are learning to ski, and for the first time you develop the courage to point your skis straight down the "fall line, "the straightest path down the slope. Until you take this risk, you get no forward momentum, but you are safe. The problem is, until you point those skis straight down, you're stuck: you're not going anywhere! You have to believe that the edges of your skis will carve an arc in the snow and slow you by turning you across the slope, but you don't move at all until you overcome your fear and point down that fall line!
Sometimes folk have trouble living into exuberant expressions of joy. In the hit independent movie of 2002, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a young Greek woman from an immigrant family falls in love with a man from a stereotypical uptight White Anglo-Saxon Protestant family. The Greek family invites the man's family to dinner to meet them before the wedding. When the man's family arrives, expecting a quiet little dinner, they are greeted by a huge gathering with music and dancing on the front lawn and the whole extended Greek family singing, laughing and eating with abandon. Although invited to join in the fun, the WASP couple could only sit stiffly on a couch looking afraid of the joy around them.
"Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to_a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeathes it." (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. (New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973) p.47.)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
People: Or sit in the seat of scoffers.
Leader: But their delight is in the law of the Lord,
People: And on God's law they meditate day and night.
Leader: They are like trees planted by streams of water,
People: Which yield their fruit in season.
Leader: Their leaves do not wither,
People: And in all that they do, they prosper.
Wonderful God, forgive us when we are joyless Christians, forgetting that in your Word and Spirit we have the joy of Christ. When we seek the joy the world offers, we confess that we find it hollow and fleeting. We confess that sometimes we accept lies as truth, preferring what appeals to us and tickles our ears to the genuine joy of your truth. Sanctify us by your Word, that we may know the joy that is your gift in Christ. May we yearn for your loving presence, and not be downcast or discouraged when the world rejects us, for we know that you have called us to new life in you. Amen.
In gratitude for the gift of Christ, and with him the gift of eternal life, we render unto you O God, the tangible evidence of our devotion. So bless these gifts that they may enable your Church to embody your love, as we express in practical mission the purposes of your Son our Savior, that they may believe in him, rejoice in his gifts, and together we may celebrate his blessings, in the name of the Risen One, even Jesus Christ. Amen.
O God, who has called us all into ministry in your name, we pray you to raise up from among us servants gifted by your Spirit. Just as in days past you chose Matthias to fill out the complement of the Twelve, so we need new leaders, chosen and called by you, to lead us into new forms and styles of ministry. Open our eyes to see among us those you may be calling. Help our congregation to be a nurturing body, in which those whom you are calling are enabled to recognize their call, develop their gifts, and respond to your vocational pattern for them. Grant that we may have eyes to see them among us, ears to listen to their dreams, and hands to assist them in their quest.
Give us, O God, a discerning Spirit, able both to see and act on our awareness. Make us a people of prayer, so that we can support those whom you call in the same Spirit that sustained Christ and the Twelve. May we attend to the voice of your Spirit, listening for the direction only you can give. Forge us into instruments of your peace, that we may enact your purpose, relying on the guidance of your Spirit, in the name of Christ, Amen.