Sermon prepared by Rev. Fred Heslinga, Essex, Ontario
THE GOAL OF JOY
Joy. It is a major goal of life. The constitution of the United States promises to protect the basic right of every citizen to pursue it. As long as you don't interfere with the right of someone else to do the same, go for it. We have several basic needs as human beings; the need to satisfy hunger, the need for intimacy. We seek to fulfil the need to be loved, the need to belong, the need to have an ultimate purpose, the need for a sense of self worth. We also have the more immediate needs connected with those mentioned. Some of you need a job or maybe a better one. A friend or two is what you yearn for perhaps; an apartment of your own to establish your space, better grades, or a few dollars to spend.
One way or another, any one of these needs when met also fills to some extent our need for joy. If fact when we are not able to meet that need we will often risk our health and our life in order to feel joy even for a short time. We will do strange things, dangerous things, spontaneous things and exciting things to get the feeling. Joy is a big goal that is behind so much of what we do.
Like all things that are important to us we want to also share that joy. At least those of us who are sensitive to others will want them to have the same experience. When you are walking two inches off the ground because of a new relationship you can't wait to tell your friends. You want to share your new found joy. Some of the things or experiences themselves that bring joy you will want to share with those close to you so that they can also have the feeling.
We are therefore going to centre our thoughts on two areas. What does it mean for you and me to have joy? That's the first one. The second one is a natural. Once you have it--really have it--you can't help but share it.
HAVING THE JOY
Before you can share anything, you have to have it yourself. Joy is no different. How can you expect to share joy when you are 'down and out', restless and unhappy? You can't share any joy. You end up sharing your unhappiness. Soon others feel the same way you do. Thus having the joy yourself is the first thing we want to explore.
When you try to have joy you soon discover that it isn't so easy to get it. It's kind of slippery. You think you have it for a moment and then it slides through your fingers. You go to a lot of effort to get it and then come to the conclusion, "Is this all there is?" Many attempts to find joy have been a terrible experience. A moment of delight and even ecstasy can soon become a nightmare.
Something else happens too when you try to go for joy. You can't get enough of it. You need more and more of what you are taking or doing to get the same feeling. It is something like a pain reliever in that sense. After a while you need several tablets to do the same job. Just one isn't enough. There is something about trying to pursue joy that makes you dissatisfied. You get this feeling that you still don't have it completely. If the feeling of joy is achieved through rather hurtful or addictive ways the ‘high’ is quickly lost and you are in worse shape than ever. You need even more of the same just to pull you out of the dumps.
Three times Mohammed Ali was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world--a feat that has never been matched. His picture appeared on the front cover of Sports Illustrated more times than any other athlete. At the height of his popularity he was "floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee". Everywhere he went reporters, trainers and staff followed him. Whatever happened to Mohammed Ali? What is he doing today? Gary Smith, a sportswriter went to find out.
During their visit Ali showed the reporter the barn, his training gym next to the farmhouse. In the barn on the floor leaning against the walls, were pictures and framed newspaper articles from his prime. There were photos of the champ punching and dancing. There was also a picture of Ali holding his championship belt high in the air. "The thriller in Manilla" a framed poster read.
As the sportswriter examined the pictures he couldn't help but notice the white streaks across them--bird droppings from the pigeons who had made his gym their home. Despondently Ali then walked over to the row of pictures and one by one turned them face down. He then walked to the door and stared out at the countryside. "I had the world," he mumbled, "and it was nothing. Look now.” He had lost it. Or did he ever have it in the first place?
Another writer, Max Lucado of San Antonio, Texas introduces us to a fellow by the name of Robert Reed. I'm sure you have never heard of him. Robert's hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can't bathe himself. He can't feed himself. He can't brush his teeth, comb his hair, or put on his clothes. His shirts are held together by strips of Velcro. His speech drags like a worn out audio cassette.
Max once heard Robert say, "I have everything I need for joy". He graduated from high school. He attended Abilene Christian University. He taught at a St. Louis junior college. He ventured overseas on five mission trips. His disease didn't prevent him from becoming a missionary in Portugal.
In one of his public appearances from a wheelchair, the audience watched his stiff fingers force open the pages of his Bible. He could have been a real tear jerker, but pity and even sympathy was the last thing he wanted. He held up his bent hand and boasted once again, "I have everything I need for joy."
How can it be that one time ‘Mr. Big’ never found it while this physically broken man was held together with joy? It seems that the more we go chasing after it in our very human and often sick ways, the more it escapes us.
C.S. Lewis arrived at a point in his life where he came to the conclusion, "Joy, itself, considered simply as an event in my own mind, turned out to be of no value at all." Not that Lewis didn't experience or desire joy. In fact the book of readings from which this quote is taken is called, "The Joyful Christian". He experienced true joy by not pursuing it at all. In the same reading he states, "To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian." At first he catches us off guard when we hear his confession, until we think about it for a while. He is not giving up on joy. He has it and so he doesn't have to worry about it or chase it anymore. Joy is given to him.
Perhaps you have been wondering what John 15, our scripture reading has to do with joy. It sounds at first like a ‘kill joy’ more than anything else. There are several instructions here, with painful consequences if you don't follow them. You have to love, and we all know that true love is hard work. "Lay down your life for your friends", we read. What joy is that? The requirement to bear fruit and become a disciple of Christ is not exactly what we had in mind. We are used to a quick fix that will take all our troubles away and sweep us up into some euphoric state even if it is only for a few moments.
Yet John 15 has everything to do with joy. Jesus says, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." We experience joy by not pursuing it at all. It is ‘a given’ when we pursue other goals in our lives. Joy never was an end product. It is a by-product. Joy is one of the desired results when we focus on something other than joy. As soon as joy becomes our ultimate goal we will end up without it. High achievers who made joy the big personal goal of their life never made it. Those who make their goal the kind of things Jesus talks about in John receive joy as a gift.
This new way of experiencing joy is quite foreign to our way of thinking in this part of the world. We are all suffering the results of trying to survive a very self centred life. The feeling of joy is all important and any quick way to get the feeling as briefly as it lasts, has become a way of life. The end result is that none of our basic needs as human beings are met at all because we have become attached to the feeling instead of a quality of life that results in the feeling.
You want joy? Forget about joy itself for a while, Jesus is saying. "Remain in me and I will remain in you". "Bear fruit as the branch that is part of the vine". "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love". "Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has on one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command." Then you will have your joy. It is given to you as the friend of Jesus Christ. He has targeted you and appointed you to bear fruit that will last. Be his disciple and he will give you the joy.
Joy happens when you participate in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Here joy is so much more than simply a desired pleasure in response to an external stimulation. It is more like the undertow of life than the waves that the wind can whip up on the surface. The joy of the Lord is a gift that lasts whatever is happening to you right now. As soon as you and I try to chase it down as an end in itself, as a quick fix short cut, there is no chance of experiencing it. You will experience a brief moment of pleasure perhaps. You will sense a ripple of delight on the ocean of life. Yes, you may be able to accomplish a certain amount of happiness. But the strong undertow of joy that is strong enough to take you through anything will be out of reach. Mohammed Ali found out how ‘out of reach’ it was in spite of his attempts to discover it throughout his fighting career. Robert the cerebral palsy victim was the one who experienced the lasting joy. He did so by making discipleship his goal in what some would call the most joyless of circumstances.
If it is true joy you want, give your life away to Christ. He is the Christ who lays down his life for you to make you his friend. He is the one who now turns you into a productive disciple. Be a follower of Jesus Christ and you will have your joy as his gift to you.
SHARING THE JOY
We have taken up most of our time to think about having the joy. That’s not so bad because once we have it as followers of Christ we can't help but share it. We share it in a very profound way. It is much more than letting a feeling of joy we have rub off on someone else. It is more than trying to project our joy on to someone else. In fact forcing it on someone can be quite offensive. "It's fine for him or her to feel that way but I don't" is often the response. Once again, in sharing the joy we don't focus on the feeling so much as on the action that results in the feeling.
We share the joy by picking up on the command that Jesus gives. "My command is this: love each other as I have loved you." Treat each other with respect and integrity. Even if we don't particularly like each other we commit ourselves to each other’s growth, development and care as the Lord enables us. It may inconvenience us. It may change our plans. It may deprive us of personal pleasures. It may test our patience and even what we see as personal rights and privileges. It will stretch us. But it will also let someone see Christ. He is the one who finally brings true joy. We can become the vehicle that lets a friend, neighbour, classmate, or co worker experience the joy for him or herself.
The apostle Paul, when he shared the joy of the good news experienced resistance, persecution and considerable hardship. Yet he claims “I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” (2 Corinthians 7:4) James, another follower of Jesus who shared the joy writes in his pastoral letter, “consider it pure joy, my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2,3)
There is no immediate delight in sharing the joy. There is no guarantee of a short term reward or some kind of quick gratification. Sharing the joy will stretch any follower of Jesus. To share the joy may take us to unfamiliar places or people. These places or people may challenge our comfort level. We may witness a level of life and need that calls for our time, energy, and patience. There will also be considerable indifference and even hostility when we share the joy.
Yet folks who have taken the steps to share Christ’s compassion in faraway places or right at home have no regrets about doing so. They catch the vision of demonstrating the care of Christ, not hesitating to go back to do more of the same. They do so, not because they thrive on inflicting hardship on themselves. Rather they are compelled to share the joy of the new life that Christ brings. They want to share it whatever the results or even the cost. They want to share the joy because Christ shared the joy by laying down his life for you and me, his friends. The letter to the Hebrews puts it well. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross...” (Hebrews 12:2). We don't usually see suffering on a cross as an event which results in joy. In Jesus’ day it was a symbol of failure and defeat. There was nothing positive about it. Those crucified with Christ were anything but examples of excellence. Yet that cross represents the way back to joy for all of creation and God’s people. Christ’s sacrifice has created a community worldwide that is made up of people who have new life with God. When you are a friend of God, you have the joy and you will want to share it.
As friends of God who now know his business, you will practise the kind of self giving love of Christ. This same self-giving love of Christ in us will inspire others, and result in all the joy that comes with being Christ’s followers.
Thus to have the joy is to share the joy. You want joy? Concentrate not so much on joy as on being Christ's follower. You will have your joy forever. You want to share the joy, truly love one another much like Christ loves you. It will inspire others to follow him. As they pursue the road of friendship with Christ they will also begin to experience the joy of the Lord as their strength.
Writer Eric Hoffer once stated, “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness”. Close observation teaches us that the happiest people seem to be those who have no particular care for being happy except that they are such. The gospel tells us today that as devoted and obedient followers of Jesus Christ, joy is God’s gift. Joy becomes complete in and through Christ as we share the new life He brings. Amen.
Order of Worship
OUR APPROACH TO GOD
*Call To Worship: Psalm 95:1-7
*Gathering Hymn 246:1,4 “Come, Thou Almighty King”
*God’s Greeting: Let us pray. May grace, mercy and peace be to us from the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Opening Praise: 237 “We Praise You, O God”
THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD’S GRACE
Prayer of Confession
Let us pray. (From Psalm 139, verses 1-4 and 23, 24) “O Lord you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going our and my lying down. Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way I me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Assurance of Grace: Isaiah 40:1-5
Response: 250 “I’ve Come To Tell”
Rededication: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hymn of Dedication: 264 “Lord, I Want to Be A Christian”
GOD SPEAKS TO US
Prayer for the Word:
Let us pray. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts
glorify Your holy name and bless our lives. Amen
Scripture: John 15:1-17
Message: “Having the Joy You Share”
Prayer: Gracious Lord of all our joy and peace in believing, centre our lives on you. We want to experience the true joy that comes as your gift to us in all circumstances. Thank You, most of all for Jesus Christ. Thank You for the Savior who moved into our struggles, disappointments, suffering, and even death so that we could receive the full joy of life with You. Amen.
OUR RESPONSE TO GOD’S WORD
Response: 478:1,2,3 “Tell Out My Soul”
The Prayers of God’s People
Offering with Offertory Music and Prayer of Dedication
WE LEAVE TO SERVE
*Closing Hymn: 291:1,3,4 “May The Mind of Christ, My Savior”
*Benediction: Let us pray. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen
*Doxology 622 “Magnify The Lord”