Monday, May 11, 2015

Complete Joy

    I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
    down in my heart; down in my heart
    I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
    down in my heart to stay.
    And I’m so happy; so very happy,
    I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart.
    And I’m so happy; so very happy.
    I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart.

    Isn’t it so easy to sing and lie at the same time?  I mean, I remember singing that song when I was a kid, and we’ve sang it here in Sunday School.  If memory serves me right, we also sang it at one of our Wednesday evening worship services during Lent.  It’s a catchy tune with some other cool verses, but I wanted to focus on this verse in particular because I want to do a couple of things this morning in my sermon: 1) I want to make the case that everyone longs to have some sort of fullness of joy in their lives.  2) I want to attempt to show that nearly everything we try to find joy in will leave us unsatisfied.  3) I want to try and show how Jesus is the only one who can make our joy complete or fulfilled.

    First, I believe every human heart longs for joy.  In our day and age, we often call it happiness, however.  Whatever word you use, I will define joy in this manner: a state of well being and contentment.  Gerhard Kittel said this about joy in his Greek theological dictionary of the New Testament: Joy is not just inward.  It has a cause and finds expression.  It thus aims at sharing, especially as festal joy.  It is a disposition of the whole man.  This is the point when the heart is called its organ.  So, again, joy is a state of being that is caused by external circumstances.  This means the state of joy is brought about by how you and I engage something outside of ourselves.

    And here is the kicker: how many people do you know who have such joy?  How many people do you know who have such contentment?  How many people do you know who walk around–not with giant smiley faces all the time, but a sense that they are well–they are complete, and that nothing can get under their skin?  How many people do you know who exhibit such a thing?  My guess is, you, like me, know very, very few.  Heck, I can’t even look in the mirror and say that the guy looking back at me has this kind of joy in his life.  This is why I said, I could do a pretty good job of singing and lying at the same time.  Such joy tends to escape me–a lot, but I know that I am not alone.  It tends to escape a lot of people these days.  For every exaltation you hear, you hear ten times that many complaints.  For every good deed shown by the news media, you get a hundred deeds meant to frighten and scare us.  Seriousness dominates our society and our conversation.  People get in trouble for playing practical jokes.  It seems like many are walking around with a perpetual chip on their shoulder ready to take offense at the latest thing you say or do.  Would such things be happening if people were full of joy?

    And even in the church–yes, even in our congregations, do you see many of us walking around with a sense of contentment and well being?  Do you see many of us who have a deep sense of peace about us–who are absolutely joyful with their place in this world and with their particular status?  Oh, and here is the rub: do you see many Christians who try to strictly adhere to following the moral commandments exuding a sense of joy?  Do you see many Christians who are working diligently for peace and justice exuding a sense of joy?  Really, no.  In fact, usually even amongst us who follow Jesus and work to follow His commandments, we have little to no joy.  We may have fleeting moments, but we do not have that continued state of well being and fulfillment.  Why?

    This is one of those issues that make non-churched people scratch their heads in bewilderment.  We sing of joy in the church but then act like everyone else in society.  Since there is no visible difference between those who attend church and those who don’t, some wonder, “Why the point?”  What’s the point of attending church?  What’s the point of believing in Jesus?  I can do good things–bear fruit without giving up my time or my particular belief system.  Why should I change?

    Here is why, I think.  If you try to get your joy from anyone or anything less than Jesus, eventually you will be disappointed, and oftentimes you will become angry and your heart will harden.  How so?

    Well, let me go back to the previous two examples I used regarding church folks who try to diligently follow the moral commandments and work diligently for justice.  Essentially, both of these folks are doing the same thing.  Both are trying to follow the Law, and both types of people generally feel like everyone should follow the Law in the same manner they do.  Let that sink in a moment.  Both groups are striving to follow the Law, and both groups feel like everyone should follow the Law just like they do.  What is the problem and why doesn’t this bring joy? 

    The first reason it doesn’t bring joy is that these folks will eventually find out the impossibility of following the law completely.  These folks will find that the more they try to accomplish and fulfill the Law’s demands, the more they will find they fall short.  This brings, at first, a subtle sense of dissatisfaction and then a full blown realization of failure.  This does not bring joy.  The second reason joy is not found is when such folks realize they cannot get everyone to follow the Law as they think it should be followed.  Such folks will become contemptuous and even angry at others who will not live the way they think they should live.  While their own ego may be stroked with a sense of self-righteousness, they look down their noses at others who do things differently–when you are holding another person in such contempt, and when you believe the world’s problems would be solved if everyone just lived like you–and they don’t–you do not have joy.  Simply following the rules and the commands of religion will not bring joy.  Now, this goes for unchurched people as well.  You have the same problem we Christians do, but it gets disguised.  You too believe if everyone believed like you did and followed the rules the way you do, then the world would be fantastic.  You become just as contemptuous, but it’s awfully easy to see that in others than to see it in ourselves.  And it is the reason you don’t have the fullness of joy either.  Following the rules does not bring joy.

    Neither will loving a person or an object.  You may wish to argue with me here and say, “Well, I have been in love with my spouse for x number of years.  I am completely in love with him or her.  I am happy when I am with him/her, and when I think of him/her, I find a spark of joy within. This sounds all well and good, but you are not with your spouse or loved one all the time.  Second, there are times when you are not thinking about him/her and so joy leaves. Third, no relationship is perfect.  You have conflict, and my guess is, during your times of conflict, you are not too joyful.  Fourth, your loved one will die, and speaking from experience, I know more than a few widows or widowers who became very angry at their spouse for dying.  There was no joy.

    Same goes for trying to get joy from an object–like sports or money or possessions.  There is nothing like the thrill of victory, but sooner or later you will lose.  There is always the next game and the next time.  I never ends.  Joy is not complete.  There is always another dollar to earn. There is always another gadget to buy.  There is always another rung to climb on the corporate ladder.  Achievements will cause brief moments of joy, but they will not last. 

    Now, how is Jesus the exception?  Let’s hear His words again to us this morning: 9As 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.

    At first glance this saying of Jesus looks very much like, “Follow my commandments, and you will have joy.”  It seems like we are right back to following the rules and regulations–i.e. the Law.  But that is not the case.  The starting point of this chapter is Jesus saying, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  Toward the end of this teaching, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” 

    I get this image of Jesus, as a vine grabbing a branch and grafting it on Himself.  “You didn’t choose me, I chose you.  Now stay there.”  Why?  Why stay there?  Because you will find deep nourishment from Jesus.  You will find deep satisfaction from Jesus.  You will get a tremendous sense of well being from Jesus–that is not based upon your performance.  You see, all the world’s religions and everything we try to find our joy in say, “If you want the rewards, you have to work at it.  If you want to be joyful, you have to make it happen.  Your joy is dependent upon your performance.” 

    Christianity says, “No, your joy is found in what Jesus has done for you already.  Your joy is found at the foot of the cross.  Your joy is found with the God who took on human flesh and lived the life you should live; who died the death you deserved; who grafted you into the vine even before you asked.”  Now, you may freely leave that vine.  You may walk away from Jesus.  That is your prerogative, but why?  Why head out and try to find joy and satisfaction in all of those things that make you work for it and eventually leave you dissatisfied?  Why turn away from the one who says, “You are imperfect.  You cannot follow my commands.  You are broken, but I accept you.  I love you.  And I show my love for you in this: I lay down my life for you.”

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.

    You see, Jesus can’t disappoint you.  He has already given you everything.  He has promised to never leave you.  He has suffered for you.  He promises to take the evil that befalls us and transform it into good.  There is every reason to stand fast and abide in Him–for as we do such a thing, we find true joy.  We find contentment.  We find a state of good will welling up within us.  Mind you, it’s tough to stay there.  All those other things keep clamoring for our attention.  All those other things lure us with the promises of joy, but there is a place where we can come to be reminded of Jesus.  There is a place where we can come to hear about His great love.  There is a place where we can come to hear what Jesus has done and be strengthened to reject the temptations of the world: we come to worship.  For at worship our hearts get tuned to Jesus.  Our hearts abide in Jesus.  Our hearts get transformed by Jesus.  And then we go out into the world full of peace and joy.  We engage the world and follow Jesus’ commands.  We work for justice.  We strive to be moral and upright.  We bear fruits worthy of repentance because we can’t help it.  We are rooted in the source.  We are rooted in Jesus–the source of all joy.

    Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you are the source of true joy.  You are where we truly find fulfillment and completeness.  When the world tempts us to find our joy in things that are not lasting, may we hear your Word.  May we be reminded of what you have done.  May we know that our joy comes not from our performance but yours.  May we see you at the cross dying for us and showing us tremendous love while we were still sinners.  And may this change our hearts that we may bear fruit.  Amen.


Kathy Suarez said...

Where in Scripture does Jesus say: "You cannot follow my commands"? Jesus tells us to keep his commandments. This is how we become holy and have the Joy of Christ. Stop telling people that they are hopelessly imperfect. This keeps people from abiding in Christ, becoming saints and finding true joy. You don't become holy and have joy by just attending a church service. You have completely lost the balance between acknowledging and confessing our sins, penance and working to amend our lives... and moving on to new life. This is true Christianity.

Kevin Haug said...

^^Apparently, here is one who believes she can indeed follow Christ's commands. Of course, if she can indeed follow Christ's commands, then she would be without sin. She would have no need of a Savior or of a cross. I personally would like to see her evidence that she does not sin, especially in light of clear Scriptural witness which says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us..."

Kathy Suarez said...

Here is the Gospel according to Luke:

Luke 24:45-47 New International Version (NIV)
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

The Gospel does not say that we are perfect. I am not saying that I am perfect. Of course we all sin. The Gospel says that we should repent of our sins and we will be forgiven. This will give us joy and new life, and we can move forward to completeness, or "perfection," and go to heaven. Jesus says: "Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect."

As we all know, Luther believed that we are "by nature sinful and unclean," and that he and we cannot become holy or "perfected." He showed us this by his own life. I will not go into the details here.

Kevin Haug said...

^^Clueless when it comes to the definition of repentance, sin, or the understanding of human nature.

Kathy Suarez said...

Whaattt? R U kidding? wat r yur defs?

Unknown said...

Hey, where are all the orphaned LOLers?

Yes, I too remember the song and how disingenuous the lyrics have always felt. Well, when Jesus (the Son of God and sinless/perfect, Man/God)asked that if it be his fathers will, that the cup be taken away from him, I don't hear too much joy in HIS heart at That time.

Me thinks that perhaps the joy you reference in your sermon is more of middle class anglo American late 20th and 21st century popular culture definition of the word.

I am not sure why certain readers seem so intent on proving their own righteousness, as though Jesus Blood and righteousness were insufficient.

Oh Well!


Dennis Bender said...

My joy comes from knowing that Jesus loves me as I am, a sinful being that is incomplete without the relationship with God. Jesus has returned me to that relationship, on the cross, which provides me with real love that causes me to have lasting joy!

I live in daily confession, repentance, and forgiveness. His Spirit daily renews my life and encourages me into a better tomorrow. My joy is that He is now with me today, tomorrow, and forever. HE WILL NOT LEAVE ME AT ANYTIME. That is joy!

My daily walk with Him produces the acts of forgiveness, love, charity, and all good things that I do. I do them with Him and because of Him. I am certainly not perfect BUT HE IS! Thanks be to God now and forever.

Unknown said...

Thank you for that statement of faith! I can tell that it is sincere and true!

My point is that from my experience Knowing Jesus and dying daily to sin is not a bed of roses, and the joy in our hearts is not the same necessarily as a young child opening a Christmas or Birthday present. At least in my experience. or is my heart unique? The latter joy lasting until the next day, till the toy breaks or until a new and different toy comes our way and our interests and attention change.

The Love and Joy that I feel in Jesus are with me in any trouble and adversity that comes my way, and in the past 60 years there has been PLENTY of That!

It occurs to me that the song almost trivializes the depth the breadth, the beauty and value of the Joy that God has offered to us through Jesus. If would feel more true to me if it were sung in a minor key and more reverently, and from the gut! Like Mahalia Jackson might have sung it.

You can hear her sing "Troubles of The WORLD" on youtube. That dear Friends shows the transcendent Joy that comes from a relationship with GOD!