JOY AND SHOLOMPosted: April 21, 2013
SLIDE 3: HAPPY!?
When I have worked with young people, I have often asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Over and over again I get the reply, “I want to be happy!” Happiness as a goal in and of itself is elusive. The more we try to focus on happiness, like a bar of soap in the shower, it slips away from us.
SLIDE 4: THE ENTERTAINMENT YOU DESERVE
Some young people think they can achieve happiness by having “fun.” I am all in favor of fun. Most churches don’t have enough fun. But like happiness, when we pursue pleasure and excitement as the primary goal in our lives then nothing is fun. Some people in our contemporary culture have adopted as their primary goal in life to be entertained. Have you ever seen the ads for cable companies, or video games or gambling casinos or resorts claiming to be the entertainment you deserve. But a life spent drifting from one entertainment to another is empty and shallow. I am reminded of a very liberal Southern Baptist preacher I met in Plattsburgh, New York, Ernie. Ernie was so far out on the left wing of the Southern Baptist Convention he probably fell off. Ernie claimed to have the distinction of pastoring the Northern most Southern Baptist Church in the Continental United States. At one clergy meeting we were discussing how shallow the culture of perpetual entertainment had become. And Ernie said, “we’ve become so shallow, why we are so shallow, we are as shallow as the dew on the Sahara Desert at high noon.”
SLIDE 5: JOY IS NOT HAPPY, HAPPY ALL THE TIME
Joy is not happy, happy all the time, and that is why I chose as the sermon title joy and shalom. Joy is an essential spiritual practice growing out of faith, grace, gratitude, hope, and love. It is the pure and simple delight in being alive. Psalm 63: 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. 5 My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips, 6 when I think of you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. Joy is our elated response to feelings of happiness, experiences of pleasure, and awareness of abundance. It is also the deep satisfaction we know when we are able to serve others and be glad for their good fortune. Joy includes a sense of gratitude toward something greater than ourselves, and a sense of meaning that we derive from a purpose that is greater than ourselves. Humility then is part of joy. We invite joy into our lives through worship and praise.
SLIDE 6: JOY IS A MYSTERIOUS MIXTURE
Joy as I have said, is not happy, happy all the time. As C.S. Lewis’ wife Joy said shortly before her death from cancer in Shadowlands, “the joy now is part of the pain then – that’s the deal.” Joy is mature enough to include pain and grief. Sister Miriam Therese Winter captured the mysterious mixture of joy, sadness, pain and challenge in her song: “I Saw Rain Drops on My Window”:
SLIDE 7: VIDEO I SAW RAIN DROPS ON MY WINDOW
I saw rain drops on my window, Joy is like the rain.
Laughter runs across my pane, Slips away and comes again.
Joy is like the rain.
I saw clouds upon a mountain, Joy is like a cloud.
Sometimes silver, sometimes gray, Always sun not far away.
Joy is like a cloud.
I saw Christ in wind and thunder, Joy is tried by storm.
Christ asleep within my boat, Whipped by wind, yet still afloat,
Joy is tried by storm.
I saw rain drops on a river, Joy is like the rain,
Bit by bit the river grows, ’til all at once it overflows.
Joy is like the rain.
Let me suggest five steps on the path of joy. First is the practice gratefulness. Brother David Steindl-Rast offers us some suggestions for improving our gratefulness.
SLIDE 8: GRATEFULNESS
Gratefulness can be improved by practice. But where shall beginners begin? The obvious starting point is surprise. You will find that you can grow the seeds of gratefulness just by making room. If surprise happens when something unexpected shows up, let’s not expect anything at all. Let’s follow Alice Walker’s advice. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
To expect nothing may mean not taking for granted that your car will start when you turn the key. Try this and you will be surprised by a marvel of technology worthy of sincere gratitude. Or you may not be thrilled by your job, but if for a moment you can stop taking it for granted, you will taste the surprise of having a job at all, while millions are unemployed. If this makes you feel a flicker of gratefulness, you’ll be a little more joyful all day, a little more alive.
Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all. It never ceases to amaze me that my body both produces and destroys 15 million red blood cells every second. Fifteen million! That’s nearly twice the census figure for New York City. I am told that the blood vessels in my body, if lined up end to end, would reach around the world. Yet my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through this filigree network and back again. It has been doing so minute by minute, day by day, for the past 75 years and still keeps pumping away at 100,000 heartbeats every 24 hours. Obviously this is a matter of life and death for me, yet I have no idea how it works and it seems to work amazingly well in spite of my ignorance. Gratitude is a first step to joy.
SLIDE 9: OPTIMISM
The second step on the path of joy is to cultivate optimism. Look on the bright side, not naively, but trust that life is good as it is given. I am reminded of the observation that a pessimist will complain about the wind; an optimist expects the wind to change which it will eventually; but the pragmatist adjusts the sails. In this season of resurrection I want to remind all of us that faith is a choice. We can choose to live our faith as if life sucks and then we die, or we can live our lives as if the best is yet to come. Jesus wants us to live our lives as optimists.
SLIDE 10: LET THE DAY’S OWN TROUBLE BE SUFFICIENT FOR THE DAY
So don’t worry. God will take care of us even as God takes care of the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. Don’t give into anxiety by borrowing trouble ahead. As Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
SLIDE 11: PURPOSE
The third step on the path of joy is to embrace a purpose larger than ourselves. If all we live only for ourselves, then life is indeed dreary and meaningless. As I learned from my father, if we are alive, we have a purpose. And the secret of life is finding our purpose. If we listen, God will disclose to us our purpose. Often our purpose is something we might rather not do. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsamane did not want to be tortured and crucified. Yet he remained faithful to God’s will. He trusted that beyond the darkness there would be light. If we want to find joy we have to listen and embrace our purpose.
SLIDE 12: LIVE IN THE MOMENT
The fourth step on the path of joy is to learn to live in the moment. The present moment is all we have, and what joy there is can only be found in the present moment. If we constantly put off our opportunities for joy, then joy may never come. As Bob Neuschaefer reminded us over and over again, travel while you can – seize the day. God gave us the Sabbath because we were not made to work all of the time. I have a Prayer of Confession that encourages us to live in the moment: From slavery to schedules, lists, and deadlines, from the tyranny of telephones and the rule of wristwatches, from bondage to busyness, to all things that simply must be done before we stop to think or feel or care. Good Lord, deliver us and make us free to be human. Stop and be human and experience joy in the present moment.
SLIDE 13: SHALOM
The fifth step on the path to joy is shalom. You know how we all join hands and sing shalom at the end of the service? Shalom is a Hebrew word that means peace, reconciliation, restoration, completeness, wholeness. The concepts of forgiveness and grace are part of shalom. Shalom means being at peace with God, with ourselves and with our neighbors. Shalom means not giving other people free rent in our heads — giving up both our guilts and our grudges. Shalom is letting go of our worries as well as the wounds of the past. Shalom implies a deep spiritual healing that may involve claiming and healing our woundedness. In shalom we open our hearts to be healed by God. Singing shalom at the end of the service, joining our hands and feeling at one in community and with God is a beginning, but only a beginning. Practicing shalom means letting go of our resentments, our fears, our wounds, and allowing God to bring reconciliation, restoration, wholeness and peace to our lives. What would we do if we weren’t afraid – shalom. Embrace shalom. Embrace joy.