Who Stole Your Joy?

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. –John 15:9-17

Easter6 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 5-13-12

Children’s Time: When you’re happy how do you show it? A smile? A laugh? Fist pump? Jump up and down? Woo hoo! (show pic of the kid at the Red Cross). This guy’s pretty happy – what is he holding? New shoes! He could really use them. See how beat up his old shoes are? These were given to him by the Red Cross – they help people in times of crisis or war. But this boy is also an orphan (meaning his parents are both dead). Even in sad times we can find joy, pure laughter-filled joy. In our lesson today we heard from Psalm 98: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth!” What are some joyful noises? Singing? Laughing? Saying, “I love you” to your mother? Let’s be people who make a joyful noise this day!

Intro: Grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

There once was a couple who wanted to join a church – but they were a pretty strict church.  At the new member class, the minister said that one rule they had to follow was “No hanky panky for month!  No hugging or kissing or holding hands! You must put God first in your life.”  Well they all agreed to give it a try and a month later they came back.  The first couple said they did just fine with that.  The second one, too, although it was a challenge.  But when the minister asked the third couple, they sheepishly looked at each other and said, “Well, we didn’t make it.”  “Why?” asked the minister.  “Well,” said the husband, “we were at Safeway getting groceries and my wife asked me to go pick up some apples.  But instead I decided to pick on her, and got to tickling her.  And she started giggling and we were holding hands and… well, one thing led to another and we just couldn’t do it.”  Well, I appreciate your honesty,” said the minister, “but you won’t be able to join our church.”  “That’s okay,” said the husband, “we can’t go back to Safeway either.”

…So, who stole your joy today? Who made the rules that rob you of your bliss? The scriptures are loud and clear this morning: Jesus came that our joy might be complete!  And by the power of the Holy Spirit… it can be so.

So, the Spirit is on the move in our lessons for today. And when that happens, all I can say is, “Buckle up, you’re in for the ride of your life!” When the Holy Spirit is the driving force in our lives we can either resist such change in fear – go along with it begrudgingly – or hang on and enjoy the ride!

Let’s start with the first lesson from Acts 10:44-48. So, when Gentile outsiders were hearing the Word, and being filled with the spirit, Peter knew that this adventure to which he’d been called was way beyond his control. This God who had called them to be the church until Jesus’ return – had bigger things in mind than a few hundred souls based out of Jerusalem. Peter had the dream (in Acts 10) of all those forbidden foods being lowered on a tablecloth and the voice from heaven saying, “Get up and eat.” It was food that was declared unclean by the law of Moses in Leviticus. But God had other things in mind. “Go to the house of Cornelius” (I guess they ate that kind of food at his place).

So Peter goes and preaches to them about Jesus, and before he’s even done praying God bursts into the room with the punchline of the Holy Spirit – filling the place with laughter and speaking in tongues – with lives transformed and ready to follow Jesus.

The status quo was given notice that day – there’s a new spirit in this town – and all these folks who weren’t Jewish / who weren’t circumcised or learning the 10 Commandments – they’re suddenly “in” and a part of this family of God – brothers and sisters in the faith. And ever since then they are now a part of us. And Peter must have been standing there in awe – in this strange land – with it’s weird food and foreign customs – wondering, “What in the world is God up to? Can we really let these guys into the kingdom?”

But he must have caught himself in that moment with the wisdom that it was not for him to decide who was in and who was out. Instead he simply says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” And Cornelius and his family were welcomed with open arms that day into the church of Jesus Christ.

They say that the Spirit is fine for getting a movement started – for stirring up a revolution. But for the established church? Not so much. “We’re fine, thank you.” This drove the religious leaders crazy back then (and still does to this day!). The way this Jesus Movement was taking root, making all things new… doing it right now. And it wasn’t just the Jewish leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees). No, in the very next chapter when Peter goes back to Jerusalem, the first thing they asked him was, “What happened? Why did you eat with them? And let them into the church?”

But the church is operating out of a long tradition of praise and joy. Check out our Psalm for the day (98) we read that even creation itself is in on fire with this joy – the doxology of praise:

“Let the sea roar and all that fills it
Let the floods clap their hands
Let the hills sing together for joy”

Even in adversity – or tragedy – or being taken from your homeland and sent into exile… the seeds of joy are there. The spirit of the Lord helps us carry on.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! We, too, can know such joy. In our 2nd lesson from 1John we read: “Whatever is born of God conquers the world.” There is no need to be beaten down by the “world” (the “domination system”) around us that says we don’t count unless… or we don’t measure up because… or we’d better get in line or else… when our freedom is in Christ crucified and risen from the dead! There is love and there is peace in knowing to whom we belong. As Allen Sager once put it: “If you count in the eyes of the CEO of the universe, that’s all that matters.”

And in our gospel today, Jesus underlines all of this, “I have said these things to you so that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be complete.”

If Jesus wants this for us who are we to turn away from it?  What did the blind man do when he was healed by Jesus?  Did it show on his face, as he gazed into the faces of those around him for the first time?  What did the man born lame do when Jesus said, “Take up your mat and walk?”  He probably had a dance in his step as he made his way down that street.  What did the disciples do when Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana?  Lord knows, God must have a sense of humor for that story – not only did he reveal his son’s glory, but no one went thirsty when Jesus was around!

Now, this isn’t just a sermon to say, “Hey, live a little, why don’t ya!” (okay, maybe I am saying that a little).  And that minister wasn’t all wrong to ask his members to put God first in their lives.  How might people who are experiencing pain and hardship hear this message. This very Mother’s Day, for me, is a bitter sweet day, since mom died from cancer in 2010.

But that’s when I remember one thing she taught me. Actually, I think she learned it from Jesus, who said: “Love one another as I have loved you”

There is a reason for joy – to revel in this life, even as we strive to put God first in our faith.  We may not always be able to see that joy – be we are always invited to the table – to lift our voices in song and dance! To join our hearts in one cosmic doxology.  Let’s close by singing that together:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
Praise God above ye heavn’ly hosts
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Amen.”

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