Monday, May 14, 2012

Joy... Full Joy... to make us Joyfull...

Sermon preached for Easter 5B, on Sunday, May 13, 2012.

    How many times don't we find ourselves sad when we should be happy? Holidays that shout joy are also times of sorrow, loneliness, and despair.  How many family gatherings have their joy tempered by those who are missing from the event?  Where is there a joy which is not in some way diminished by sorrow, a happiness without regret or distraction, and a contentment that is not disrupted by some discontent.  We struggle in the midst of joyful moments thinking how much better it could have been or how much fuller the joy if this person could have been there.  In this mortal life all our joys seem to be tempered with this sadness, where what might have been seems intent on overcoming what was or is.
    The only full joy we know is Christ.  Apart from Christ, our joy is tempered with sorrow and temporary – for the moment.  A full joy comes not from having all we want or seeing things headed our way or achieving great things.  Full joy is the gift of God in Christ Jesus.  Here in the Gospel Jesus tells us that His joy is in us.  St. Paul echos these words when he writes: Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross...  What joy?  The joy of what that suffering and that cross would accomplish.  Our redemption is what fills Jesus with full joy.  Now He opens to us the same possibility for joy.  As His joy is complete in us and our redemption, so is our joy complete in Him, our Redeemer.  The joy that does not lack and does not leave us is the joy of what His steadfast love for us as accomplished and the faith that rejoices in His gift and grace poured out for us and for our salvation.
    Because this joy is Christ and His gift, it remains with us through all the changes and changes of this mortal life.  We are kept in joy by the Word that always delivers what it promises and by the Sacraments that impart to us the very thing of which they symbolize and sign.  We are not alone.  Christ is with us.  Not because we feel particularly holy today or because things are really going our way – we abide in Christ because Christ has come to us and made His dwelling place with us through the means of grace.
    Full joy is found only in Christ. It is not the fruit of accomplishment and it is not the result of success - though these can bring us momentary joy.  This joy flows from His love for us.  The fruit of His love poured out for us on the cross and planted in us in baptism is joy.  This joy is also what faith manifests to the world.  We show it forth not in the form of smiles that cross our lips or laughter that wells up from inside.  Our joy in Christ is shown to the world in exactly the same way it was shown to us – in a love that delights in serving.  We show Christ’s love to the world by loving others in His name, by serving our neighbor as He has served us, by the sacrifice of self for others as He has sacrificed for us, and by showing mercy where justice would expect contempt, anger, or condemnation.  Our joy is not in getting all that we want but in loving others in Christ’s name as He has loved us.  The joy of the Lord manifest itself in the form of a servant love that mirrors and reflect back the servant love that saved us by His suffering, death, and resurrection.
    Christ’s joy is not a distraction from the troubles of this mortal life or compensation for what we must endure here.  Even in the midst of disappointment, trials, and sorrows, we are in full possession of this joy because we have Christ, just as He promised.  The joy He gives is the gift of Himself – rich with forgiveness, always welcoming the lost, sharing and carrying our burdens, leading us through the valley of the shadow and even through death itself.  Our joy is not a gift separate from Christ but the gift of Christ whose love ever surrounds us and holds us steadfast in His grasp of grace.  Joy is not a choice to be happy but the recognition that flows from our knowledge of His choice to come among us filled with love, mercy, and grace.  When faith allows us the privilege of knowing the wondrous love that has redeemed us, joy is the Spirit driven result.
    This joy does not depend on feelings which come and go but is steadfast and enduring - just as the love which gives birth to this joy.  As we learn of and trust in His unchanging love for us, we are kept in the grasp of His grace through all the changes and chances of this mortal life. It is the wonder of the cross, where love is fully revealed, that gives us this complete and enduring joy and it is in living out this cross shaped life that we manifest this joy to the world.
    All other joy is tempered by sorrow and temporary – the high points always balanced by the low points, the things we have by the things we lack.  It is amazing how we settle for the passing consolation of thinking that things could be worse instead of knowing the full joy of Christ and His gifts of forgiveness and life and salvation.  Because we possess in this present moment the full treasure of what His love and suffering won for us, we are kept in joy.  With the vision of these eternal gifts always before us, we are fully anchored from life's storms and no one and nothing can steal the joy, contentment, and peace which is Christ’s gift to us.
    This joy is not theoretical but practical.  It flows from His choice to seek us out from our lost condition, to save us in spite of our sin and rebellion, to redeem us by bearing the full cost of our debt, and to bestow on us all that is eternal.  We have the kingdom of God.  As Christians we too often turn the kingdom of God into one more goal or burden or cause laid upon us –something we must earn, accomplish, or achieve.  Our joy comes from knowing this kingdom as gift and grace and blessing.  As one hymnwriter put it, "the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom..."  This is what the Spirit teaches us and this is the source of our joy as well as its goal – the kingdom of God.  Or, as another hymnwriter has put it, if this is what God has given to us, “how can we keep from singing?”
    Holidays, family events, and earthly joys are always mixtures of sorrow and happiness, of what is and what is not.  Take today.  Mother's Day is both the joyful recollection of what Mom has done for us but it comes with the acknowledgment of all our failures as sons and daughters.  We joyfully acknowledge what a mother's love has accomplished in us while at the same time realizing that when we appreciate this gift most, it is often too late to express our love and gratitude.  So what are we to do, live with the occasional joy of a moment more joyful than sorrows?
    Jesus offers us real joy, holy joy, full joy, complete joy.  This joy cannot disappoint us.  It is more than mere memory but the promise of an eternal future prepared for us.  It remains in us even when sorrows and struggles come and go.  We meet this joy in the gifts of grace spoken of in the liturgy.  The joyful word of the invocation which points us to our baptism and the new life born of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working in water.  The joyful word of the absolution which lifts the heavy burden of our guilt and failure and leaves it all at the foot of the cross.  The joyful word of the Gospel, the living voice of the Good Shepherd calling to His sheep whom He knows and who know Him.  The joyful and visible word of the bread which is His body and the wine His blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins.  As if we could not hold anymore joy, as we are sent back out into the world as His servants in love, we have the blessing and benediction of His joyful face to accompany us in the places where fulfill that baptismal calling.  It does not matter from when we came or where the path of our future lies, joy accompanies us because Christ is with us, doing for us what He has promised, both now and forevermore.  Amen.

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