Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Joy Happens When Jesus Happens


Grace and peace to God our father and mother, and from our crucified and risen Lord Jesus the Christ. Amen.

According to the songs we all know, “if you’re happy and you know it, (clap your hands)!” But what do we do when we are joyful? What should I do when “When I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart?” Sing? Dance? Shout?

What comes to your mind when I say “Joy”? How would you fill in the rest of the sentence, “Joy is….”?

Joy is… spending time with the people you love, like having dinner with the whole family around the table.

Joy is… working at a job that pays the bills and provides a sense of meaning and accomplishment, or getting accepted into the school you wanted to go to.

Joy is… hearing a child call your name for the first time.

Joy is… a cat on your lap with a good book and a cup of tea. Or coffee.

Sometimes joy is… just getting the laundry finished!

Joy is… seeing my younger sister graduate from college a year ago last May. Joy is also my sister’s middle name. We used to tease her about it sometimes when we were kids, and say that she should not be “Katie Joy” but instead “Katie Not-A-Joy.” I think she might have forgiven us by now. Perhaps if we had grown up on the East Coast, surrounded by so many of our Jewish neighbors, we could have teased her by calling her “Katie Oy” like “oy vey.”

The world around us, especially lately, seems to contain so much more “Oy” than “Joy.” In the last few weeks alone, there has been an earthquake in Nepal that has killed thousands and displaced thousands more, the community of Baltimore has been reeling from injustice and chaos, and just last weekend three people died in a shooting at a park in Menasha, Wisconsin. And in our own state capitol, right in our own backyard, six people so far have been murdered, and the year isn't even half over. Just what IS joy in a world full of all these troubles?

This is not to mention the personal tragedies and struggles we each experience every day – depression, fear, betrayal, worry, pain, abandonment, and illness, just to name a few. Exhaustion rules, event-crammed calendars reign, and energy recedes ever faster. Just what IS joy in a life full of all these troubles?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus told his disciples. He said this back in John chapter 14, at the start of his goodbye speech, his “last lecture” if you will, on the night that he was betrayed.  This was just hours before the disciples would scatter in fear, abandoning Jesus to be arrested, falsely tried, and sentenced to die by crucifixion. On such a night, love and joy seem terribly out of place. You might say, in fact, they seem nowhere to be found.

Love and joy seem nowhere to be found when your rabbi and teacher says things like he’s leaving you, and that the world will hate you in his name.

Love and joy seem nowhere to be found when Jesus tells you that the greatest love, which he commands you to emulate, possibly might mean laying down your life.

Love and joy seem nowhere to be found, in a world where at birth one twin dies and the other is born healthy, and meanwhile at home there waits two cribs, two car seats, and endless double sets of tiny baby clothes.

Love and joy seem nowhere to be found when Mom can’t recognize her family anymore, and Dad is faced with the reality that he can no longer care for her by himself.

Do love and joy have any place in such a world filled with these troubles?

Is Joy just a “churchy” word that we use to decorate Christmas ornaments and hear in grand Easter hymns? Or is there a possibility that Jesus might be on to something, that joy can also be found in the everyday, mixed up together in the pain and troubles of the world?

My maternal grandpa died last July and my paternal grandpa died the September before that. While we were in Wisconsin celebrating the life of Grandpa Myron, we stopped by the care center where Grandpa Raymond had spent the last years of his life, being visited by his kids, grandkids, and great grand kids and spreading joy and smiles to all the nurses and staff.

Out on the patio there where Grandpa liked to sit is now a tomato planter and a plaque with his name on it, given by the family in his memory. Seeing that planter, with the leafy plants little green tomatoes, brought me so much joy. It could not bring him back, of course, but my heart felt a little fuller knowing that just a little part of Grandpa lives on in that small but tangible way. My joy that day was seeing that death had been robbed of its power through ordinary things like kindness and memories and little green tomatoes.

This is the joy that Jesus has given to us, the kind of joy the world cannot give -
Joy is… that the savior of the world chooses to break bread with the rich and the poor, the power-full and the power-less, with the healthy and the sick, with insiders and with outsiders, with men and women, old and young children.

Joy is…that Jesus chose to be his disciples a rag-tag band of perfectly flawed human beings, though they be betrayers, deniers, and abandoners.

Joy is…that Jesus chooses US to be his disciples– a rag-tag band of perfectly flawed betrayers, denies, and abandoners.

Joy is… being chosen as children of God, and through us our faith is conquering the world in a revolution of peace and love and understanding.

Joy is… having your sermon interrupted by the Holy Spirit and with a crazy, loud, spontaneous baptism of a whole bunch of people, as we heard that Peter experienced in our first reading.
Joy is … seeing the beautiful image of God in the faces of people of all faiths, races, cultures, languages, and sexual orientations.

Joy is… just when you thought that death had won, that divorce and depression and destruction has the last word; joy is that NEW LIFE HAPPENS.

Our joy… is not complete without Jesus.

It may have appeared a little odd to go back to the night that Jesus was betrayed, essentially back to dark Maundy Thursday, during the celebratory season of Easter. But we know that you cannot have one without experiencing the other. New life cannot happen apart from death. Resurrection cannot happen without crucifixion. Easter cannot happen without Good Friday. Joy cannot exist apart from being open to the possibility of pain. Love cannot endure without anything less than everything you have.

The reason that we have no need for troubled hearts in this troubled world and in our troubled lives is not because Jesus makes the lives of his followers into cupcakes and lattes. Just look at the lives of Peter, James, John, Paul, and the rest. Their preaching of the joy of Jesus brought them prison, pain, and persecution. Nor does Jesus call us to willfully ignore the troubling realities of the world around us, or when tragedy strikes in our lives.

Instead, we know and trust that, as the psalmist says, “Weeping may linger for a night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5) Or put another way, by the musical Les Mis, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” One translation of Psalm 30 continues: “At night I went to bed weeping; in the morning – a cry of joy. I said in my contentment, ‘I will never stumble.’ God, only by your resolve do I stand on a mountain of strength (from The Complete Psalms translated by Pamela Greenburg)…  You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (Back to NRSV)

Do not let your hearts be troubled, for Jesus for Jesus has sent his joy to you, to be with you in the darkest nights of betray and troubles, so that your joy may be whole and that through him, you may be made whole.  Amen.

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