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Partial text of today’s sermon on 2 Samuel 6: 12-23 and Psalm 100. I didn’t include the retelling of Francine Christophe’s story but rather included a link to the video of her talking about it. It’s worth seeing.
How much joy do you have in your life? How often are you startled out of your everyday, casual existence and struck by awe and wonder? Teilhard de Chardin is quoted as saying “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.” Recently I read a blog by a young mother who wrote about the aftermath of 9/11. She described in glowing poetry the drive up to her home as she returned from a flight across the country, a home she hadn’t been sure she would see again after these attacks. She talks about the ecstatic joy on her youngest child’s face when he raced to the car, arms open, crying out, “Mom, you’re alive!” It seems he had been listening to adult conversations and trying to make sense out of them, but as children do sometimes he kept his fears to himself as he tried to figure things out. What he knew was that his mother was far away and needed to fly home, and that this was particularly frightening at that time. His joy at being reunited with her was poignant.
For this woman the joy visible on her child’s face was immediately relatable to the joy of Christ’s presence. She writes:
“We pray to be invited to taste not just the joy of those who recognized Jesus, but Christ’s own joy in sharing the news of redemption. I can’t make these contemplations without thinking of the look on my child’s face as he came out the door to see me, and my own joy in knowing that he was again safely anchored by my presence. “ Michelle Francl-Donnay
What keeps us from experiencing the joy of being anchored in God’s presence? Joy is both a hallmark of God’s presence and, often, is somehow uncomfortable, unsustainable. It’s as if we are so certain that we can’t keep it, that we prefer not to have it at all. Experiencing joy is terribly vulnerable. It is to wear your heart on your sleeve and let the whole world know just how much this moment, this person, this experience means to you. Isn’t that what makes geekiness and nerdiness so adorable and wonderful? It’s all about being so passionate, so over-the-top that to those who don’t understand it just seems, well geeky. Brene Brown, a researcher who studies whole hearted living and who inspired this sermon series, says that, ”Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss.” The opposite of joy, she says, is not sadness, but fear.
Imagine the experience of Michelle’s son, his whole world hanging in the balance until that moment he saw his mother again, alive and whole. His joy was unmitigated, unrestrained; it was whole and complete. The travelers on the Emmaus walk say their hearts were burning inside of them. The despair of having lost their teacher, their dear rabbi, was upset, was turned upside down when the realization burst in on them that no one and nothing could ever come between them and Jesus. Fear was cast out in those moments. Fear was completely overwhelmed by the whole hearted acceptance of love.
Adela St. Johns tells us that “Joy is a light that fills you with hope, faith, and love.” It is a step beyond happiness. It is not dependent upon events, time or place, although it may be influenced by them. And…it is not constant. I don’t want to suggest that we’ve found some formula that if you follow it only joy will ensue, but we can choose joy, again and again. Joy is a choice.
If we look at the Greek word for happiness we find makarios, which described freedom from care, a sort of happy-go-lucky wealth and good fortune. Chairos, the Greek word for joy, is more of a culmination of being, a good mood of the soul. It implies a process which arrives at a place of joy, not a condition which may exist one moment but be gone the next. We can be intentional about viewing life through the lens of joy and this practice is gratitude. The two go together.
The difference between these two words implies that even Job at the height of his troubles, could have felt joy, could have abided in joy, and that perhaps this carried him through. Viktor Frankl describes people he met in concentration camps who abided in joy; who gave graciously of whatever they might have and that this abiding in joy sustained them, gave them meaning and purpose. So, yes, joy is not a constant but is a process which is not dependent upon external things.
Our scripture today talks about David bringing the ark home, seeking the blessing of God’s presence. In Christianity we tend to hold one or two hours on Sunday as sacred time, whereas in some other faith traditions, there is a tendency to hold a space as sacred, but what happens when you invite God, very God, into your home, into the whole of your life? This part of the story speaks of David dancing before the ark having already made the decision to bring the ark home, but just prior to this David had been in fear of God, had been angry because Uzzah had been struck dead for touching the ark in order to keep it from falling. David had left the ark behind, not wanting to be exposed to the uncontrollable power of God, but those he left the ark with experienced renewed blessings because of God’s presence, and David wanted that.
He had to face his fear. He had to acknowledge his mortality and his vulnerability before he could invite God fully into his life, but when he did, when he did, he danced ecstatically! When he did he showed no shame, he was over the top exuberant, he was filled with joy and happiness! Happy and fulfilled he went home to bless his family.
I sort of wish the story had stopped there, a happy ending for everyone, but that’s not the end of the story maybe because if it had ended there it would not have involved the whole complexity of our lives. Have you ever seen preschoolers give a dance recital? It’s so refreshing and amazing! One of the cutest things ever, because often there are one or two who have no shame, who show up fully as exuberant and out there as they can be! But usually we learn to check ourselves somewhere along the line, we learn to hold back a little until we know it’s safe and even then, well being as fully passionately present as a child is just really vulnerable so we don’t go there, we hold back a little. Because if we don’t there is always Michal to remind us, “Look at you out there, dancing like a fool! Nearly naked!” We have all had these Michal people in our lives haven’t we? The ones who remind us that being filled with inexpressible joy is, well a little silly and over the top and people are going to notice.
We recognize this belittling, this shaming as a wound that is all too common. Today I want to look at Michal. I want to look at the lack of joy, creativity, and abundance in her life. Michal, the daughter of a king who went mad and tried to kill her soon to be husband. Her bitter response to David’s open show of joy and exuberance betrays a deep wounding. I want to invite you to go a little offscript and wonder with me, a midrash-like pause to wonder what Michal’s childhood would have been like, who she might have been. To wonder what might have happened that brought such bitterness, such gall to her when she witnessed unbridled joy. Just take a moment and think about that, there are no right answers; midrash invites us to consider the unwritten implications of the text.
You see, Michal’s bitterness left her barren. It left her empty. Brene Brown tells us that, “Until we can tolerate vulnerability and transform it into gratitude, intense feelings of love will often bring up the fear of loss.” Something was triggered in Michal, some memory of loss or pain and it’s easy to imagine this given that her father Saul had gone mad in his later years, soothed only by the sound of David’s lyre. She could not tolerate vulnerability and could not transform it into gratitude.
We live in an age when scarcity and fear of scarcity is advertised, promoted! You’ll never be good enough, thin enough, rich enough, smart enough, successful enough…it goes on and on. There isn’t enough and you can’t be enough. This fear of scarcity drives some incredibly unhealthy behavior. It increases our anxiety and fear separating us from joy, from gratitude.
We are encouraged to believe that there simply isn’t enough to go around and what we have everyone else wants—but is this true? “My grace is sufficient” God tells us. How do we manage to rest in this sufficiency? If we can rest in this sufficiency will it allow us to feel safe enough to be vulnerable? To dare? To go on great ventures?
“My grace is sufficient for you, there is enough. You are enough. Do not be afraid, be grateful instead.” Our psalm reminds us that we are the Lord’s and he has created us, that he will be faithful to us all the days of our lives. There is enough, you are enough.
This year we have been working on revitalizing the church. It’s a process that conventional wisdom tells us takes about five years, only we don’t have five years. Our finances are tight and we knew that, at best, we had two years but this month we are having to face the possibility that we won’t have two years. The culture of scarcity in which we live suggests that we will lose. Our faith, however, suggests that, no matter what happens, God will be with us. We get to choose which voice we listen to. Joy is the result of a choice, the choice to practice gratitude every day.
As we face the possibility that this church may not continue as we know it and have experienced it, can we rest in God’s grace, God’s sufficiency? Can we turn away from the culture of scarcity and acknowledge that God has and continues to provide us with many, many good things. We have enough, we are enough. Can we pause and admit that, although change of one form or another is coming, nothing need ever separate us from the ones we love and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God? Can we dare to be curious about what God is saying to us, and wondering about what might come next? Knowing and trusting that there is a next, even if we don’t see it just yet?
For my part I am committed to being here and being with you throughout whatever comes. I have committed all of my resources to being the best pastor I can be. I am not tucking away savings or preparing to leave. I firmly believe that God is not done with this little church although he may be asking us to do something entirely different and new. I don’t know what that might be but today I am resting in deep gratitude for all of you, for this ministry, for the beauty of Jasper, for the invitation to this ministry. Today I choose joy.