A New Joy
Posted on June 18, 2018 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s sermon for June 17, 2018 on John 16:12-24
Like many of you, I was disturbed by what I heard last week in Pastor Dan’s sermon. I mean, it was a good sermon, but there was this detail in it that just didn’t sit right. Supposedly, according to Pastor Dan, one cannot find true joy in a donut.
Now that’s a pretty bold statement to make. And I figured it required a proper experiment to trust it’s validity. I couldn’t find a donut on hand in the office and while grocery shopping with Kristen, I wasn’t sure she’d believe that I needed a donut to write my sermon. But, there was a cupcake in the church fridge and I figured that would do.
And, it pains me to say this, but Dan’s right. The delicious high-glycemic cake and sugar-rich frosting melted in my mouth. It was delicious. It made me happy. But it wasn’t joy. I mean, I should replicate the experiment using an actual donut. You know, for the sake of science. But that probably won’t change things. It wasn’t joy. Or if it was, it was a joy that lasted only about seven seconds.
Which is how joy often feels, right? Temporary. Even those deeper joys are often just fleeting.
When I was about 14 years old, my family spent a long weekend in the mountains. My cousin rented this large cabin out near Florissant. It had a huge kitchen, bunk beds, board games. We roasted marshmallows, laughed, sang. It was just a great couple of days. There was real joy together.
On the evening before we left, a few of us sat around the giant fireplace in the living room. Someone said “This has been so much fun.” And then my cousin said “Oh, I just don’t want this to end!” We were all thinking it, but she actively lamented it, over and over. “Oh, don’t do that,” her mother replied, “You’ll ruin the rest of the trip. Let’s just enjoy it.”
The joys of this life can feel so fleeting, right? Little moments that quickly fade. Long summer nights that will soon begin to shorten. Meaningful work that never lasts long enough. That funny thing your kid does, only to grow out it just when you notice it.
But it isn’t just that joy has a short half-life, it also feels like joy is up against a lot in this world. A couple nights ago we went camping and had a great time. I returned tired but with a sense of joy at having camped for the first time with my daughter. I then checked the news and was reminded that thousands of children are being torn from their parents in our name at the border. What does joy say to that?
It’s hard to remain joyful if you’re going to open the newspaper. It’s hard to remain joyful and be engaged in any real relationship – where heartache and distrust and plain-old meanness always seem to lurk. It’s hard to remain joyful and then remember, as one of the Psalms states, how short our span of life is. It can feel like moments of joy are these little bursts of light in an otherwise sea of darkness. I read a book on garbage once – I know, who does that? – and the book said “Remember, everything you own will one day become trash.” Tell me about it.
Now, we respond in various ways to the fleeting, feeble nature of joy. Some, like my cousin, quickly despair that the joys we’re given will never last, and that each joy is tempered with the knowledge that it will come to an end. Others, like my aunt, would rather turn a blind eye toward the prevalent darkness and instead just relish the light as long as it lasts. These may even wrangle that joy down, make it last a little longer. They extend the vacation, capture pictures to relive the moments, try to make their little corner of the world joyous and wall off the rest.
But Jesus, well, Jesus sees the feeble and fleeting nature of joy and does none of these things. He doesn’t despair or ignore the wider world or maintain a tight grip on that little joy. No. Jesus does something new.
The meal is almost over on this last night of Jesus’ life. For three years the disciples have followed him from town to town. Now you might not think of these years following Jesus as ‘joyous’. Unless giving up your home, abandoning your friends, attracting the ire of those in power, depending on strangers for your food, confronting the demon-possessed, and hanging out with twelve guys in the desert with no access to a shower sounds like fun. But despite all that, there was a sense of joy these disciples had. The joy found in meaningful work. The joy found in growth and learning and in being loved. It’s a less obvious joy than a weekend with your family, but it’s a deeper joy than any donut can give.
And it’s ending. In dramatic and traumatic fashion, with an arrest and an execution, this deep joy the disciples have found will come crashing down around them. And they respond in despair. Their joy is ended. Darkness has returned. They were fools to think it wouldn’t.
But back on that last night, when Jesus tells them it’s coming, that their joy will soon be swallowed up in death, Jesus then does something different, something new. He makes a promise. “Very truly I tell you, … you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. … and no one will take your joy from you.”
Jesus doesn’t respond like the rest of us to the fleeting and feeble nature of joy. He doesn’t tell us to lift our chin up or give up. He makes a promise. You will have joy – a new joy, a joy no one can take from you. A new joy, a joy that does not succumb to the weight of this world. A joy that does not fade. A joy that not even an execution could destroy.
And boy this is a joy we desperately need. Because try as we might to be like my aunt, it’s really hard to not feel like my cousin. It’s really hard not to look at the news day after day, or the number on the bank statement, or the fear inside. It’s really hard to not look at this world and think: joy isn’t up to the task. Greif and anguish will get us all. It’s hard not to think that the only sort of joy that could work is a whole new joy. And that’s what Jesus promises. A new joy.
There’s an academic debate about all this. I almost wrote this sermon on it. See, there is a disagreement about when this new joy comes into the world. Some believe in came in Christ’s resurrection, that just three days after it was promised, the disciples receive this undefeatable joy. Others sneer that that doesn’t really help the poor readers of this Gospel throughout the ages who feel the weight of that darkness still. Where’s their joy? Was Jesus’ promise not for them?
I was going to write a sermon on this debate, but it turns out that that’s pretty boring. Delving into an academic debate about the timing of the eschaton – I’m surprise more of you aren’t yawning just at that. It’s boring.
And it also misses the point. The point isn’t to figure out when we receive this joy. The point is the promise. The promise of joy. The promise of a new joy that we have a glimpse of, as taste of now, but that we’ll experience fully in eternity. It’s Jesus’ promise of this joy that cannot be taken, this light that the darkness does not overcome – the point is the promise.
Because if we rest in that promise, then we can re-frame both the fleeting joys and that nearly inexhaustible ugh of life. We see it all differently, when we rest in that promise that joy will come and that no one can take it from us.
I’m reminded, as I so often am, by a scene following the earthquake in Haiti eight years ago. Such devastation has rarely been seen in our world. Hundreds of thousands died. Millions affected. The whole nation essentially crumbled.
And the day after the earthquake, among the rubble, Christian women began to sing and dance. They clapped their hands and sang praises to God. The next day more joined – hundreds marching and singing. It was joy.
These women were not fools. They were not blind to the suffering about them, the suffering they experienced. But they rested in that promise. They refused to let go of the foretaste of the feast to come. They knew that even when the earth shook beneath their feet, there was a joy promised to them that could not be taken. You will rejoice, and no one will take that joy from you.
The point is the promise. Resting in that promise, we are given comfort. Comfort that in the face of mounting despair, darkness will not get the last word, we will one day sing. Comfort that there is a joy for you, a joy no one can take from you.
Resting in that promise, we are given faith. Faith that when the world feels devoid of God, devoid of meaning, devoid of hope, it is not so. Faith that just as the disciples faced those three days between times, we too live between times, and that these in between times are not the end and are not forsaken by God. Faith that there is a joy for you, a joy no one can take from you.
Resting in that promise, we are given courage. Courage to take that eternal joy and be God’s hands and feet bringing it into this time and place. Courage, that despite our struggles, even the struggles that come about because of our faith, because of our love, because of our calling to the neighbor – we are given courage to enter into that suffering, trusting that God will bring life out of death. Courage that rests in the promise that there is a joy for you, a joy no one can take from you.
This new joy is anything but feeble and fleeting. And we get but a taste of this great joy today, but resting in the promise of that joy, you are already given new life. Go live it. Amen.