Paths of Grace: Joy
Transcription of Sunday, September 10, 2017 sermon. Audio here.
This is the hurricane edition of the sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost.
This is our final week of exploring God’s paths of grace. Today’s the best one of all because we follow out Lord down the path of joy.
In this morning’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah spoke of this reality: “With joy you shall draw water from the wells of salvation.”
In the Psalm, Psalm 118, the psalmist invites us: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
In the epistle reading, Philippians 4, Paul commands it. He writes, “Rejoice in the Lord! Again, rejoice!”
In John chapter 16 verse 22, Jesus promises, “You will rejoice and no will will take your joy from you.”
My fear is that some of you have gotten lost. Some of you have gotten off the track. Some of you have wandered off the path of joy. I can see it in your eyes. I can hear it in your voice. You sound just like Jeremiah who said in Lamentations 3, “I have forgotten what happiness is.”
Like a thief in the night, it seems like someone has stolen your joy. What happened? Who sucked all the happiness out of your life.
At this point it would be good for us to talk about the differences between joy and happiness or gladness. Are those two different things? Are those different emotions. We could spend time pointing out differences, but in the bible, especially in the Old Testament, Hebrew poetry likes to express thoughts in parallel, these two concepts are joined together. Like we find in the Psalms and Proverbs. Solomon’s wise words in group joy and gladness together.
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice (Proverbs 23:24,25).
Those two ideas have more in common than differences, so we’re just going to treat them as the same thing as we talk about the path of joy.
We’re going to jump onto the path of joy at a very familiar place: the Christmas story. Everybody loves to celebrate Christmas. Why not start in September? By the time October comes you’re going to be preparing for Christmas anyway, so we’re really not that early. We know that outside the city of Bethlehem as the shepherds are watching their flocks, an angel appears and brings them “good news of great joy.” You know what those words are: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” The good news of joy is a divine gift. It’s a gift from God. He’s given us his one and only son to be our Savior. It is also a human response to what God is doing in our lives, a source of joy for us.
I am so thankful that I have the privilege of doing this every day. I get to be a messenger of that good news of great joy. I’m not an angel, but I’m a pastor I get to bring that divine gift in word and sacrament so my audience can respond with joy.
It is Jesus who brings joy. The presence of our Lord brings joy into our lives. Jesus was accused of bringing too much joy. Jesus had too good of a time in the presence of “sinners,” the people he wasn’t supposed to be hanging out with. In Luke 7, Jesus said the son of man came eating and drinking and you say, “Look at him, he’s a glutton and a drunkard.” He brought too much of a good time.
It’s not surprising. That’s what Jesus was used to. Heaven is filled with rejoicing when people respond to the Word of the Lord, when one sinner repents and when the lost is found. Luke 15 is filled with stories Jesus gave to help us understand this. First there is a shepherd who leaves the rest of his flock to find one lost sheep. When he finds him he brings him back home and he’s filled with joy and celebrated with his friends. The second story is about a woman who loses a coin and spends all day cleaning every nook and cranny of her house to find that coin. When she does she calls her neighbors together and they rejoice and celebrate because what was lost is found. The third story in that chapter is about a man with two son who loses one of them. One takes his inheritance and blows it but comes home. When he does the father says, “We have to celebrate! We have to rejoice, because my son who was lost has been found!” That is what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s about joy.
It even happens at the cross. In Hebrews 12:2 we read, “For the joy set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross.” Because of the joy beyond his agonizing suffering and death. Jesus suffered and died to pay for our sins. Not even suffering and death could rob Jesus of the joy that he had experienced in heaven and brought into this world, because he knew he was doing all of that to save us.
It really does make sense when you think about it. If there is nothing in all of creation, not death or life, not the past or the future, not angels or demons — if there’s nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love, then Jesus’ promise is the real thing: “No one can steal your joy.”
It can be hard, maybe even impossible, to find the words to describe this joy. To a lot of people who haven’t tasted it, who haven’t heard it, who don’t understand it, who haven’t received it, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical. When I thought about this, I came up with an idea for this morning’s children’s sermon. I would have brought a bag of Almond Joy candy bars. On the outside of the package it still says, “Indescribably delicious!”
Peter writes, “Though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible. Sometimes it’s hard to find the write words to describe what that joy is like. But for our benefit, the scriptures are filled with pictures of those who experience it.
The first picture is Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet. Hannah didn’t have children for quite a while. Her husband’s other wife did, but she didn’t for the longest time. And she prayed and prayed and prayed, and told God if you will just let me have a son, I will dedicate him to you for his entire life. God hears her prayer. God responds and lets her have a son. Can you imagine how that felt? She sings a song in 1 Samuel” “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in your salvation.” She was filled with joy because blessed her with a child. All of her shame and guilt was gone, as God stepped and lifted her up and rescued her from her hopelessness and gave her the gift of his joy.
The next story from Luke 1, part of the Christmas story. It precedes the birth of our Lord. It has to do with that time when Elizabeth is pregnant and Mary has heard that she will be the mother of her Lord and Mary goes to visit her in Judea. Elizabeth is about six month pregnant with John the Baptist. She and her husband never had kids, they probably weren’t going to. But God said you’re going to have a son and he’s going to prepare the way of the Lord. Mary comes to see her and s soon as she greets her the baby in Elizabeth leaps with joy. Leaps with joy inside of his mother because the Lord has come into his presence. When the Lords shows up it gives us that gift of joy.
The third picture is a picture of the resurrection. In Matthew 28, it’s dark before sunrise, the women go to the tomb where Jesus was buried. They are going to finsh preparing his body for burial. When they get there the stone is rolled away and the angel says, “He’s not here, he’s risen,” the tomb is empty and they ran from the tomb with fear and great joy. Fear, because the dead have come back to life. Joy, because there Lord wasn’t gone but back!
Jesus’ promise to you is that no one will take your joy from you. Doesn’t matter what the situation is or what the circumstances are, no one will take your joy. A great example comes from Acts 16 when Paul and Silas find themselves in prison because they keep telling people about Christ. They are ruining people’s fortune-telling business. In Philippi, they are thrown into prison, put into stocks. What do they do all night? They sing hymns and rejoice! The situation doesn’t take away the reality of their Lord, his presence, his resurrection, and his salvation.
That’s why James can say, “Count it all joy when you experience trials” (James 1:2). There is nothing that can take that joy away from you.
As long as I can, I promise to bring you Jesus, because I want to make sure you never lose your way and never lose your joy.