We have looked at the word JOY from the perspective of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.
We’ve used the acronym Jesus Others You to help us remember that we are to mirror Jesus, serve other’s, and do the work God has called You do. But it’s not just our work of faith that brings us joy, it’s also knowing God is working through our faith that allows the world to rejoice.
Like we learned last week, our goal is to “provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.” As we move into chapter three Paul writes about finding joy in past accomplishments, like planting a church in Philippi.
But in our reading for today, I want to look at how he finds joy by looking forward towards the future.
C.S. Lewis once said, “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour.” A Buddhist might say, at sixty seconds per minute. A Canadian might say something similar but in metric. And I’m not sure how to calculate that. But I do know when it comes to thinking about the future many people get anxious while others remain apathetic.
In ten days, America will vote for the future of our country. Some of you are nervous about who will win and what that will mean. Others have given up caring because they believe no matter who wins nothing will really change. Whatever happens on November 3rd Paul letter reminds us that we don’t have to let that steal our joy which God has given to us in Christ Jesus.
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. - Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)
It’s not been easy for Paul to know Christ and live out the power of his resurrection. He has been beaten more times than he can count, he’s been arrested, ridiculed, shipwrecked, and now he sits in prison awaiting what will be his death sentence. In spite of all this, Paul presses on. “Forgetting what is behind him and straining towards what is ahead…the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” This is similar to the “running a race” analogy that Paul used in another letter to encourage the Christians in Corinth to “Run in such a way as to take the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24)
As a kid I used to run sprints, which meant I ran at full speed for just a short distance. I was pretty good, and won a lot of blue ribbons to show off. If you’ve ever run like this, you know that going at a breakneck speed will only take you so far. You run out of track as quickly as you run out of gas.
I believe Paul is telling us that we need to train for the long haul. Like a marathon runner who pushes through the pain by visualizing and staying focused on finish line. As Christ followers, this doesn’t mean we look only towards the rewards of heaven when we die.
Running is an active sport that requires us to be very present in the moment. If you run on the street, you have to be mindful of the traffic. If you run on trail there is the uneven ground, rocks and other obstacles to look out for. Faith is the same. We live it here, in the present where there are many challenges to face. Christ has called us to be mindful in the world if we are to live out the gospel in such a way that people get a glimpse of God in their lives.
We also need to be faithfully present because this is where God meets us to strengthen and encourage us beyond the sprint - to go the distance to where the fullness of God’s glory is reveal to us.
In March, and after a 35 year hiatus... I took up running again. Only this time with a slower pace and a more purposeful goal of going longer distances. Although I never run as far as I’d like, I still I press on...pushing myself to reach smaller goals I’ve set for myself.
There are days when it’s hard to breathe or too easy for my legs give out. I have a choice, I can allow myself to stop (which sometimes I do) or I summon the strength to press onward. On those days when I have to stop and walk home the joy is sucked right out of me. But on those days I push on, when I come running down the alley, panting and sweating in full stride, I fully rejoice because I made it home alive.
Through his struggles, the pain and anguish that Paul endured, he kept his eye focused on the goal; running a spiritual race totally committed to winning the prize. Paul could have given up, dismayed that he hasn’t yet reached his goal. But he knew that this isn’t a foot race or a presidential race. It’s a holy race. One where God is always a step ahead leading the way to the finish line.
As the psalmist once said, “The signposts of GOD are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of GOD are right, showing the way to joy” (Psalm 19: 7-8, MSG)
Paul has a reason to rejoice. There’s holiness in his dissatisfaction because, as Mark Driscoll Tom Holliday pointed out, “God is making stuff happen... even in our times of wait.” While Jesus was in a tomb for three days, God was busy changing the order of the entire world through his mysterious resurrection. Leaning into the power of Christ’s resurrection, Paul rejoiced knowing God was working on the signs that will point him to the finish line.
Whatever trials we are facing we can rejoice too by looking forward to the goal Christ has set before us. Take a moment to think about what has God placed in front of you to help you push our faith onward and upward towards Christ. Maybe it’s a person you’re angry with or don’t see eye-to-eye. Maybe it’s a situation that is difficult too handle. In those moments, you must never lose sight of what God is working out in and through you. God is always one step ahead.
Now, when I run I look for certain visual markers, like traffic lights and streets, that let me know how far I’ve gone or how much further I need to go. For example, the last mile of my runs are often on a beautiful tree lined street. No matter on how far I’ve gone that day, I always narrow my focus on this small beige square in the distance. It’s the wall of an apartment complex near my house. When my breathing becomes harder, and my legs throw a temper tantrum, I focus on that square, knowing the bigger it becomes the closer I am to ending the pain and suffering that I have imposed on myself.
Paul encourages his friends in Philippi to keep their eyes set on something – the everlasting joy of being forever with Christ. With Christ in our sights, we can kept living out the gospel knowing it only brings us closer and closer to our goal. The more Paul remained focused on that prize the easier it was for him to find joy and rejoice...even in his own pain and suffering.
The same is true for us. In the most difficult of circumstances, Paul committed to the race by committing to Christ. So should we. These three verses provide us with a good reminder of why we are running this race in the first place. If we choose to follow Christ with heaven as our prize, then we have commit to live a heavenly life here and now...one that mirrors Christ. We must be committed to the race of ... giving people a glimpse of good living and the living God. Yet we have to also remain very present in this moment where the world has its sights set on knocking us down, leaving us to feel dismayed and dissatisfied.
Think about how hard you strive to do the right thing while constantly battling pushback from others. It can be frustrating and make you want to give up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to quit and walk away. But we can’t. We have to keep running the race.
Maybe you feel unsatisfied with your faith journey because you feel like you’re doing nothing more than running on hamster wheel, going nowhere. You struggle to live into your Christ-likeness, and yet still heaven feels so far away.
No matter how hard you work for peace and justice and equality, people continue to hate and harm one another. No matter how much time you give at the food pantry, how many bags of groceries you put together or how much money you raise, people are still going hungry in your community. Yet, we have to keep running the race.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this sermon series...when life kicks the joy out of you, God kicks it back in. God is working for our victory. So let us not to lose hope, but instead rejoice knowing this is a spiritual journey, a holy marathon. It’s a divine race where God is one step ahead of us being victorious with and in and through you.
By allowing God to be present in us, we receive God’s trophy, the prize of Christ. And so we have to keep running the race. Because we’re not running for our glory but so that the glory of God may be seen in us. Paul had a heart to honor God’s glory, it was the goal he focused on. A goal so great that nothing, not even imprisonment or death, would stop his commitment to running that race and moving closer to Christ. Thus Paul rejoiced constantly.
Tom Holliday wrote, “Paul pressed on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called him. He had a visionary commitment and the vision wasn’t based on what he could do. Paul’s commitment was based on the understanding of Christ’s vision for his life.”
I believe God has a specific purpose for your life. So keep running the race. I believe you’ve been called for something greater. But you have to keep running for it to be constantly revealed to you. You may not see it yet, and you may not believe you’re experiencing it right now, but never forget that God is one step ahead preparing the way for your victory.
Stay focused on the goal. Stay committed to it like Paul did. If only because God is focused on and committed to you.
One last thing for us to remember. Joy is not automatic. It is a discipline, a daily choice we must make faithfully. We have practice it and exercise it so we can build up the spiritual muscles and endurance we need to find joy in all circumstances . This is especially true at the end of life’s race when we lean in and bust through the tape at the finish line - completing the race and claiming our prize that is Christ Jesus.
Let us pray:
God we ask for the strength to keep running this race, we ask for the patience and peace we need to deal with the obstacles before us. Help us to see with your eyes, the road ahead and the prize that awaits, as we run this race for your glory and your honor. Amen.
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the word joy. And what that means to us and how we live our lives. You might recall that I mentioned my joy is sometimes connected to the outcome of certain sporting events. Actually, just one...the NBA Championships. And only when the Lakers are playing. This year they were there. And they won. And I’m still rejoicing.
Their hard-earned victory was exactly what our city needed. Before the coronavirus shut down the county, before fires destroyed millions of acres of our state, before people filled our city streets to protest racial injustice, Los Angeles suffered a massive lost on January 26, when Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and 7 others tragically perished in a helicopter crash. So yeah, this particular championship is just what we needed. It resuscitated joy back into the heartbeat of the city.
Before Kobe left the NBA, he spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers: winning 5 national championships, 7 MVP awards, 2 Olympic gold medals just to name a few. Afterward, he would go on to win an Oscar.
The night he officially retired from the purple and gold, Kobe did what Kobe did best. He put it all on the line – scoring 60 points alone for one last win over the Utah Jazz. It was a bittersweet, joyous occasion. Whether it’s leaving a career or giving in to sobriety, saying goodbye to something that has defined you for so long is often bittersweet.
When I left advertising, I was ready to pursue something new. Something that would challenge me creatively but would also be so fulfilling that I’d want to get up every day to do the job. Despite its challenges, ministry has brought me more joy than I ever imagined. I get to pray at work. And talk about God without being labelled that weird Jesus freak everyone tries to avoid. Even though many of you still try to do that. I’ve since learned that ministry can be emotionally and spiritually difficult job. But to live my faith out loud is a happy reward.
A recent study has shown that people who retire often struggle to find joy in their lives. In fact, 40% suffer from depression – triggered by feelings uselessness or insignificance, believing that they have nothing left to contribute to the greater good of the world. As we will see in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, that’s not the case. In fact, we all have something to do and to contribute and in doing it we will reap the benefits of true everlasting joy.
What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure. Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing. - Philippians 2:12-16
Right out of the gate, Paul tells us we need to get to work. You got to keep on doing what you’ve been doing…living in obedience…be energetic…but have reverence…no bickering, no second-guessing. No matter where we are employed, the goal of our labor should always be as Paul puts it to “provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God.”
What does that job look like to you? Showing up to church on Sundays? Being kind and getting along with everyone? Or being generous with your time and money? Volunteering or going out of your way to help someone in need?
For Paul, this meant getting up every day to live his life in accordance to God’s will; mirroring his life on that of Christ so others can come to know God’s glory. This is what it means to be faithful – to act on your faith that you have in Christ. This also means we can’t sleep in or take an early retirement. We have to get up every day and punch the clock for Christ.
The gospels only give us a small glimpse into the life of Jesus. What we know about his ministry is that he didn’t spend a lot of time sitting around quibbling over who was the greatest shooting guard in NBA history. He knew it’s Kobe. Whenever Jesus tried to rest or even retire for the night, people would come begging for help. And every time he saw them, Jesus had compassion for them.
Jesus spent his time living out the gospel – loving, healing, feeding, caring for God’s children so God’s glory could be seen, and God’s grace be given.
A couple of days ago I was talking with my mom about Medicare and Social Security. She said she didn’t get a lot because she only worked for a year or so. I told her that was not actually true. She worked tirelessly to keep our home and family running. Yet she still had time to run for public office, volunteer for numerous political campaigns, cheer at our sporting events and so much more.
Although my mother brought her own flavor to a conversation, it was always seasoned with the gospel. She knew her job wasn’t just a housewife or mother. She was also a beloved child of God who still shares the good news by living the gospel as best as she can be.
This reminds of me of a story in John’s gospel when Jesus is walking in the temple and a group approached him and said, “Tell us plainly, are you the Messiah?” This is a title given to God’s anointed savior. Jesus answered the men, “I’ve told you already, and yet you don’t believe. The works that I do in God’s name reveal who I am” (John 10:22-30).
What does this say about us? How does our work describe who we are?
Jesus worked out the gospel by bringing the good news to others in the way he lived out his faith and faithfulness to doing God’s will. This tells me that if we want to have real joy in our lives, we have to take the gospel, the very gift of our salvation, and put it into productive use. When we live short of all that God has given to us our joy is short lived.
Kobe Bryant took his gift to create multiple championships. He worked out constantly to keep his body in optimal health, and to stay at the top of his game. As students of Christ, we must constantly work on our spiritual health and wellbeing. We have to work out, what God has worked in us.
I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Carry the light-giving message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”
Paul worked out his salvation by mirroring Christ. So did all the Apostles, and all the saints before us. What they all showed us is that this job is what Henri Nouwen described “a daily work out of our salvation…to make our own lives available to others as sources of new life and joy.”
Just as Jesus pointed out to the men in the temple, our true identity cannot be reduced to a job title. I couldn’t say Kobe is the greatest basketball player of all time if he never played the game. Likewise, the gospel has to be lived out, it has to be experienced.
Salvation is not just a theory or religious concept. It’s a reality we live in and live out daily. The early church grew exponentially because they experienced Jesus firsthand through the works and words of the Apostles. This experience was passed down through the generations. To this day, people will continue to experience the everlasting joy of Christ through us.
That’s the church’s job. And by your faith in Christ, you are a part of his church. It’s in our living out the gospel that people will come to know who we are, and what we stand for or believe in. We need to get up and work out the Christ in us everyday. We need to let Christ’s joy be felt in the way we love God, love others, and serve both.
That’s the mission of New Church Sherman Oaks. We chose it because we believe Jesus meant it when he said, “They will know you are mine by the way you love one another.” As the church we carry on Jesus’ legacy. We become the visible presence of his love; the very place where joy is born. We invite you to join us in this mission, and to be a part of this good news.
Like Erma Bombeck once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’”. Will you be able to say that?
Lebron, Anthony Davis, and the LA Lakers bench did this last Sunday. They used all that they had. And now they rejoice. Kobe used everything God gave him, every time he stepped on a basketball court...or a boardroom. And of course, Jesus left every last bit of himself on the hard wood of that old rugged cross.
Today it’s our turn. God has employed us to be more like Jesus, who through his righteous works of love was raised up and became one with God.
Like Jesus, we too will find our truest joy being one with God allowing God to work through us. And when God works through us life's most difficult challenges can be overcome. Joy can be had. Like Paul realized and shared with us, in Christ God has given to us all the abundance of life so we can pour out our life generously for others with great joy.
Whether you’re retired, unemployed, or overworked this is the goal. You might be student or in the midst of changing careers, but Christ is still calling you because there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Whether you are facing difficult challenges and overwhelming uncertainty – the work you do in Christ’s name is never done in vain. But done in glory of the One has given us everlasting joy through our glorious salvation.
Let us pray:
“God, help us to make the choice to live for your glory, to grow to be more like Jesus. Knowing that you will work out what we can’t work in. Help us to pour out our lives; recognizing that you are working in us with what you’ve already given to us in and through Christ Jesus. Amen.”
Bible. Philippians 2:12-18; (The Message).
Cook, John, ed. The Book of Positive Quotations: 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Fairview Press, 1993.
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
Mahan, Michael. "How to find more meaning at work." Relevant, Jan-Feb 2016: 38-39.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Nouwin, Henri. Bread of Life. New York: Harper-Collins, 2007.
In an article written on Paul’s letter to the churches in Philippi, Mark Driscoll described like I often see Jesus - as “a rebel, an outlaws, a renegade, and sanctified troublemaker.” This could easily define Jesus as well. But how odd is it that is not the image we have of him. Promoting people to be rebellious against the system isn’t what most of today’s churches like to be about. We don’t like to define trouble-making as a holy act. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus did.
There are other similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both were single, homeless, lived on the welfare and charity of others, and yes each one was hated and rejected by his own religious contemporaries. In the book of Acts, we learn how Paul was run out of nearly every town he visited, and often took a good beating with him.
Again, this isn’t what ministers like to preach about. We like to focus on the kindness and the goodness, and of course the love. But believe it or not, in the first century, that was the stuff rulers considered to be seditious and subversive.
With all that Paul endured to share the gospel of Christ, he did so knowing God could not be beaten or defeated – the cross of Christ was his proof. When most of us would have thrown in the towel and walked away from God and our faith, Paul stood firm in his. He wrote this letter to his friends so they would do the same. He encouraged them to complete his joy by sharing in the Spirit of compassion and sympathy for one another.
Take a moment to think about all the vitriol and anger, the false narratives and deceit we encounter every day just on social media. How does it make you feel? Not very happy I’m sure. But happiness wasn’t Paul’s goal, was it? He didn’t confuse joy with happiness. Instead equated joy with Christ Jesus.
In the beloved comic strip Peanuts, Charles Schultz wrote, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Many of us know what that kind of happiness feels like. However, this is not joy. Joy is not something that chews up your favorite pair of shoes. Or digs holes in your backyard.
In the 80’s Bobby McFerrin penned the catchy song, “Don’t worry…Be Happy.” If only joy were that easy. Simply because Paul equates joy with Christ that alone should give us all something to worry about. Living out the gospel is not easy, but necessary in order for our joy to be complete.
Not to bash on the church too much, but for decades ministers have watered down the bible's definition of true joy; reducing it nothing more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, or a carefree attitude of delight. The problem with that is people realized they don’t need the church to find that warm puppy feeling. And when they fall short of not worrying and being happy in the world...the church often gets the blame.
Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind. But joy is deep within the heart, in the very essence of our being. It is a longing and a treasure that God buried deep within us. And Jesus is the key to unlocking it.
In his spiritual biography aptly entitled “Surprised by Joy,” C.S. Lewis described joy as “an experience no one would ever exchange for all the happiness in the world.” And for good reason. Like I said last week, joy doesn’t come from power or possessions but from a person: Jesus Christ.
We may not have him physically here with us today, but we do have his Spirit in us and with us every day. You see, joy doesn't just come from having Jesus over to the house for dinner. We unlock our joy by being united to him; sharing the same Spirit. Because of this, Paul can sit in a prison awaiting what will be his death sentence, and find joy knowing he is connected to his friends in Christ by “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord.”
What does this say to us today? It tells me that we need to push ourselves beyond the current political climate and the media madness to be reunited in Christ and reaffirm our Christian commitment to one another; by seeking to bring God's justice and reconciliation and peace to the world by being little Christ’s in our communities.
True joy is found not just in believing in Christ Jesus, but also when you live as he lived; love as he loved; sharing the same Spirit, showing the same compassion and sympathy for others. Thus, Paul tells us to “Do nothing out of selfishness but in humility count others as better than you.”
When asked in an interview what kept her humble, the late comedian Phyllis Diller sharply quipped, “Mirrors!” Oh, the uncomfortable truth in her statement. Mirrors don’t lie. Especially as we grow older.
In maturing our faith, Paul calls us to mirror Christ – to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus so that others can come to see God’s glory and find their joy.
When you look in a mirror, what do you see? Do you see the same faith, the same righteousness, the same love as God’s most beloved child?
Do you see a rebel or troublemaker who turns the ways of the world upside down by putting the interest of others before your own?
Imagine what our country might be like if our leaders looked in the mirror and saw Christ. Imagine if just once they adopted the mind of Jesus, “who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant; humbling himself to the point of death.”
Imagine what your world, your life, you joy would be like if you made others more important than yourself. Not equal, but more important. It might be easy for me to give up my place in line at the store or let someone take the last donut from the box.
Yet I know how much harder it is for to allow someone’s opinion to be above my own when it comes to discussing politics or religious ideology. But that’s what we are called to do. Jesus wants us to make other people’s health and wellbeing more important than our own. Even when our beliefs are vastly different, we are called to be like Christ who said “I did not come to be served but to serve.”
That’s what Joy is all about. And why it can be hard to find. It doesn’t mean we will be happy all the time, but we will have reason to rejoice because we are doing the will of God for the glory of God.
I want to leave you with something I learned in Sunday school as a kid that I think help you to mirror Christ. It’s an acronym for the word J-O-Y.
J stands for Jesus. Jesus is first because Jesus is the most important person in this equation. He is the one we are shaping our lives to be like.
O is for others. As in Jesus made other people more important. So that’s why we should too.
We share the gospel with others by living the gospel like Jesus did.
Lastly, Y is for you. You are also important. You are the one bringing joy into the world. But here’s the hard truth.
Joy can seem elusive these days because we like to put ourselves first. We go for what we want, often at the expense of others. That kind of joy is short lived. Self-centered people are eventually abandoned or voted off the island, because they suck the joy out of everyone else.
As you leave here today, remember that Joy is Jesus. Joy is living for others, serving and caring for them as Jesus did. Joy is about you and what you can do and what you achieve when you initiate Christ’s love in the world.
Living in the likeness of Christ, we become something greater than ourselves. We become the face of hope, the heart of love, and the hands of generosity.
We become the true Spirit of God’s grace bringing tenderness, compassion, and sympathy to others in the world. We become a church of rebels, outlaws, and trouble makers sanctified by Christ and made holy before God who exalts us to our rightful place as beloved children united in Divine glory.
Let us pray:
Beautiful creator, fill us with your joy until it overflows through us. Let us rejoice in Christ’s name in all that we do - in all the love we show, and grace we give, so that others will see your glory and rejoice. Amen.
Bible, The. Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSV).
Driscoll, Mark. Preach it, Teach it. Nov. 4, 2007. http://www.preachitteachit.org/fileadmin/SiteFiles/LegacyUploads/20071104_the-rebels-guide-to-joy-in-humility_en_transcript.pdf (accessed April 6, 2016).
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
Sproul, R.C. Can I have Joy in my Life: Crucial Questions Series No. 42. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2012.
Last week, I had the pleasure of having our entire family together for the day. As we were sitting around the table having lunch, my mind drifted through a sea of memories. The day each of them were born. The many road trips we’ve been on. The countless giggle fest we’ve endured.
And then there was the night, right before Fiona went off to college, when we all dressed in each other’s clothes then filmed ourselves imitating that person. Lately, it’s been my go to thought whenever I feel like I’m lacking joy in my life.
What about you? What makes you rejoice? Or what do you think about when you hear the word ‘joy?’ Is it a particular place or person or happy memory from your childhood that evokes a warm feeling in your soul? For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the word “joy” and talk about what it means to us as we face the difficulties of life. How can we, as followers of Christ, bring joy into the world today?
The word itself is in the Bible nearly 200 times; many are found in Philippians – a small letter Paul wrote to encourage his friends in Philippi to seek joy in all situations and circumstances. Given the circumstances our country, and the situations our churches, businesses, a civic leaders are facing, this seems like the perfect word and the right place to settle down for a while.
I invite you to read it in its entirety each week because I’ll be skipping over a lot of it. It’s a short letter and should not take you that long to read. Today we begin with Chapter 1 verses 1-11
To his friends, Paul is praying for them with joy in his heart knowing that they share the gospel - the redemptive love of God - just like we do. Even though we are not together in the physical sense, we are always together in Christ. Because we have Christ, we always have a reason to rejoice with one another.
Having only three letters, ‘Joy’ is a pretty big word. It’s the catalyst to countless loves songs and poems. It’s the one emotion that drives us to work harder, encourages us to love better, and motivates us to look beyond ourselves. Many of you find joy being with your kids or grandkids. Or spending a sunny day at the beach. Or curling up in bed with a good book.
For me, it’s hearing the laughter of my children playing together; enjoying a delicious meal with good friends; and of course, cranking up my guitar amp and stomping on the distortion pedal until the walls of our house shutter and shake.
The problem with finding joy in earthly things is while they might make us feel good, the effect is often temporary. I know my kids will find something to fight about. That good meal will come to end and we’ll have to say goodbye to our friends. Like a good book or a perfect day, we want our joys to last. But no matter how good we have it, or how badly we want it life always seems to find a way to kick the joy out of us.
Paul knew this well. As we heard from our reading, he wrote this intimate letter, not from a tropical beach or a private golf resort, but from dark and dank prison. I’ve watched enough episodes of Game of Thrones and Orange Is the New Black to know how hard it is to find joy behind bars. But if the Apostle Paul can find it in a dreary cell, then what’s stopping us from finding it in our own pit of despair?
Unlike happiness, joy is not contingent upon our circumstances. Regardless of our situation, Paul reminds us that we can rejoice. Yes, when we receive bad news, we can find joy in it. When things don’t turn out the way you intended them to, you can still rejoice.
Long before the U.S. government eased travel restrictions to Cuba, I snuck into Havana for a few days. There I saw first hand how badly the embargo had hurt the people. Buildings were crumbling and cars cobbled together with whatever parts they could find. Food was scarce. And yet, despite their severe poverty there was a sense of richness among them; a Spirit of joy filled them.
I could feel it in the air, and see it on their faces as it flowed out of them through music, laughter, and dancing. They had nothing, but yet had everything they needed to rejoice. Like Paul, they focused on what was good in their lives and what brought them true joy.
Henri Nouwen said, “Joy doesn’t simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it everyday.” We have to wake up every morning and choose to live as God has called us to live – as little Christs in the world – rejoicing in the glory of God’s love and grace in all that we do.
Paul tells the Philippians that true joy is not found in earthly things. Nor is it found in power, or prestige or having many possessions. True joy, the kind that never fades or leaves you, is found in a person. Can you guess who that is? Jesus Christ.
In Christ, God's abundant joy is made manifest for us. It’s how we see and feel God’s glory even when the world seems grim and gloomy. As the ancient psalmist wrote, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy…” (Ps. 16:11). You see, we don’t find joy because life is happy and good, we find joy because God is great – meeting us where we are to heal us, and comfort us, and to love and care for us no matter what.
In Christ, God’s greatest joy is given freely to us. This joy was not born in a palace of plenty, but in a dirty stable to poor family in need. This joy was not always revered but often rejected, even to the point of death. But as it was revealed to us on that first Easter morning, this is what we know. God’s joy is eternal. It does not die. It faces the most dire situation and comes out victorious.
We must never forget that whatever difficult situation we’re facing nothing is too difficult for God. And no matter how tough our circumstances may be God is tougher. As the pandemic and unrest in our country wear us down, the joy of Christ Jesus fills us back up. When everyday life kicks the joy out of us, God kicks it back in. Sometimes its hard to see this while we’re suffering the aches and pains of life.
Thus, Jesus tells not to give up. To keep doing what we are called to do. In John’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have have kept my father’s commandments and remain in his love. I tell you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Given the uncertainty we’re facing these days, it’s imperative that everyone who take the name of Christ must remain faithful to the mission of Christ. We must remain obedient to our call to love God and each other. If we do that, Jesus said our joy will be complete. And not just our joy, but the joy for the world around us.
If you’ve ever been in a room full of giggling kids, you know how contagious laughter can be. The same is true with joy. So this is what I hope you will do today. Rejoice. Share your love and joy. Maybe it’s a little bit, or a whole heck of a lot, but let it be seen. Let it be felt. Share it.
Jesus taught us that when we give of ourselves to others, to ensure that no one is without, our joy will be complete. Whenever we seek justice, promote peace, walk humbly – sharing the gospel with our words and deeds, we can rejoice because this is God’s joy in us overflowing upon the world. When we share our joy with others, those feelings grow and expand across time and space.
This is the power God has given to us through Christ, God’s greatest joy. When we come together, as one people and one body, to break bread and share in this holy meal we find our joy knowing that God is with us and in us and all around us.
Therefore let us rejoice, with all the saints before us, knowing what God has done for us through Christ Jesus. In remembrance of him, and for the sacrifice made on our behalf, it is my great joy to welcome you to the table of God’s blessing.
Together, with the churches all around the world, we gather to celebrate and rejoice in remembrance of all that is good and holy. Whether you are filled with faith or with doubt, you are invited to share this meal with us. This is God’s table, and no one will be turned away.
All we ask is that you to come with an open heart and open hands to receive God’s blessing through the One whom all blessings flow.
Let us prepare our hearts in prayer:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, we are given this assurance that no matter how far you think you have strayed from doing what is right, you are never beyond the boundaries of God’s love.
(Pick up the bread)
“The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” The bread of life and the cup of salvation.
Let us pray. Lord Christ, by your Holy Spirit you have fed us and nourished us in this sacred meal. Bless us now with joy-filled hearts and send us into your world, to love and serve you in the way Christ taught so that all eyes might see your glory. And rejoice in your holy name. Amen.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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