April 25, 2010
The world is full of things that bring us joy. This week I stood in the hospital room of newborn baby Clay and felt the joy of the parents, grandparents and friends flowing all throughout the room. There was joy in another room as one was getting released from the hospital and feeling better. There was joy for me in playing with my 18 month old friend Lizzy, even if she is not, as of yet, joyful about having a new brother. I loved hearing about what brings you joy as David interviewed you for our joy video. If you stop and look around your life, even when things seem the bleakest, there is always something that brings us joy.
There is a lot of joy in springtime, especially when we had a winter as cold as the one we had. Even through our allergy sniffles, we are brought joy by the returning of flowers and green yards to our lives. We have left behind the solemness of the season of Lent and traded it for the joy of the season of Eastertide- where we feel a renewed joy about the resurrection of our Christ Jesus. Joy is something different than happiness Dee reminded us a few weeks ago. Joy seems to me to be more of an underlying state of the soul, rather than a temporary feeling like happiness.
Believe it or not, joy actually has something to do with our spiritual lives. In the book of Corinthians when Paul talks about the fruits of the spirit he names joy as one of those eight fruits. In other words, one way that you can tell if a person is filled with God’s Holy Spirit is if you can see evidence of joy in her life.
Joy is talked about in many scriptures. In 1 Samuel, David experiences joy after his defeat of Goliath and victory on behalf of God. The prophet Nehemiah speaks God’s word to his people and says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” As Jeremiah speaks God’s prophetic word he tells the people that God will turn their mourning into joy. If you really want to know about joy, turn to the Psalms, where joy is mentioned 32 times. Psalm 65 in particular is one of my favorites. This psalm talks about how even the non-human things that God has created cry out for joy to God. The psalmist describes the whole creation as joyful when he says, “The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.” Joy seems to be the natural response of any creation our God has given life. Just as we find joy in creation, and creation finds joy in God, God also finds joy in creation. You might remember the creation story in Genesis, as God creates each thing in the world, God declares it good. The earth brings God joy. We, as part of that creation bring God joy.
After Jesus’ death the disciples were having a hard time feeling joy. They were mourning the loss of their leader and that grief clouded their ability to recognize the resurrection right away. They began to hear rumors that the tomb was empty, but they couldn’t be sure exactly what that meant. Sometimes our doubt gets in the way of our joy. Sometimes we allow situations to block our experience of the joy God intends for our lives. Friends I want us to take a hard look at what is blocking us from experiencing joy in our lives. Is poor time management hampering your experience of joy? Is an unhealthy relationship blocking you from experiencing joy? Is an addiction blocking you from experiencing joy? Is an overwhelming experience of depression blocking your joy?
I want to challenge us this morning to unblock ourselves so that nothing will stand in the way of experiencing God’s joy as a community and in our personal lives. If your joy is blocked by anything you can control I urge you to get unblocked. Get professional help for your addiction, or depression, or with your relationship. Seek help in managing your time better or becoming healthier. The youth group urged us to be set free last week. I urge you to free yourself from anything that is holding you back from experiencing God’s joy.
There are things of course, that block our joy sometimes that are beyond our control. Those situations we can handle with prayer and petition to God for Divine help. However, if we have the power to make a change to unblock and set free the joy in our lives, then we should take the steps we know to take to be free. If we don’t know where to start to unblock our joy, it might be time to ask for help.
Jesus came and stood in the middle of the disciples. He knew they were unbelieving, that their joy was blocked by grief and fear so he volunteered a look at his hands and feet. He offered for them to touch him and to know that the resurrection was a reality. As the ancient theologian Ignatius paraphrased, Jesus says: “See that I am not a bodiless ghost!” This was not some manifestation of Jesus, some vision or mirage, this was really him. The same Jesus that hung on the cross was standing among them as the risen Christ. The scripture says they were joyful even in their disbelief. The disciples were having one of those “this is too good to be true moments,” they were joyful, and yet skeptical.
This reaction on the part of the disciples, disbelief and yet joy, says something important to me about our faith. We don’t have to know all the answers to our faith questions to experience God’s joy. We can have joy in Christ even though we have doubts, and fears, and anxieties, and questions. If we are truly on a journey of faith and we realize that during our earthly time we will never be finished with questions- we too can have joy even in our doubt and disbelief. Is that comforting to anyone else? This means I don’t have to wait until I have it all figured out to experience the joy of God. I can be confused, and question like the disciples and still know the joy of loving a resurrected Christ.
Then, Jesus asks for something to eat! This is my favorite part of this story! God’s people are gathered, something incredible has happened and we’re not all sure what to make of it- what should we do? Eat, of course. Jesus makes it very clear that his is a bodily resurrection, not just a spiritual one when he asks them, “Have you anything to eat?” Immediately he is given a piece of broiled fish and begins to eat. Bodies are important to God. God choose to send a human child into the world to be with us- he sent us a body, a life, a human in Jesus. And after his death- it was important that the disciples see his body again. This was a resurrected human body- one that needed food to fuel it. We should never take our own bodies for granted. There is nothing like an ache or pain you experience to make you understand how much you depend on your muscles and bones (just ask the girl who strained her back moving stuff to her new house).
Celebrating these bodies God has given us can bring us joy. We celebrate that God chose to give us the gift of Jesus in a human body. There are other ways of getting in touch with God’s joy as well. Spending time with the scriptures is one way to experience God’s joy. After the resurrection, Jesus opened the disciple’s minds to a new understanding of scripture. If you haven’t read the Psalms in awhile I recommend that book as a place to start reading. In the pages of the Psalms you will read about the height and depth of human emotion, including joy in all of God’s blessings.
Sometimes it just takes a bit of paying attention to look around and notice that there are small things all around us that bring us joy. A baby smiling at us from the church pew in front of us, a really good cup of coffee with a friend, a beautiful day and the chance to get outside in the yard, or a driving rain that nourishes the ground. Our friends and family fill our lives with joy, our church family can be a source of joy. God is continually putting experiences and people in our lives to help us know joy, are we paying attention?
Joy is present in our lives if we take a close look. We can make a choice to free ourselves from the things that block our joy as we choose to let God’s joy into our lives. When we experience God’s joy we are in good company with the ancestors of faith we read about in the scriptures. Like them, we do not have to have all the answers to our God-questions to have joy. I pray that we would leave this place ready to embrace the joy that is all around us. I pray that we would not let anything get in the way of the joy God has given us. And may we take the joy that we’ve been given and share it with the world, that others who are hurting might experience God’s joy as well. AMEN.