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Sunday Worship 30 May | Finding the joy

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

This morning we will be thinking about Finding the Joy, and our reading is Psalm 145.


**The recorded service is no longer available, but the text of the reading and reflection are below, as well as a recap of the teaching series so far.**



Recap | Seeking God’s perspective

Since Easter, we’ve been thinking a little about God’s perspective on the world, and how it shapes our perspectives. We started with Knowing the World, when we remembered that God looked at creation and said it was good and still looks at us and believes we are worth redeeming. Then we thought about Tackling the Mess, and I suggested that we must see through God’s law of love in order to put right what we get wrong. Next we considered Protecting the Vulnerable, reflecting on God’s preferential option for the poor and our call to share it. After that came Joining the Family, which was something of a practical exercise as we gathered contributions from across our denomination as a reminder that we are not in this alone because God calls us into relationship with one another. And last week we talked about Sharing the Good News, which led us to reflect again on the kingdom which is God’s ultimate perspective or dream for the world.


And that brings us at last to this week and Finding the Joy, a theme I have chosen because I believe joy is at the heart of God’s vision for the world. There are many passages in scripture which speak of joy, and we will hear some of them later, but first we shall hear Psalm 145. I chose this reading before the service had fully taken shape, but it still seems a right fit because the vision of God it presents is the ground from which our joy grows.


Reading | Psalm 145 (NIV)

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.

Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.

One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

They tell of the power of your awesome works and I will proclaim your great deeds.

They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.

All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.

They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,

so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.

The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.

You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.

Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.


Reflection

So why did I say that I believe joy is at the heart of God’s vision for this world? Well in the first place because the scriptures are suffused with it, beginning with their portrayal of God. You can’t tell me that God was not grinning with glee while looking upon creation and declaring it to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Nehemiah exhorts the exiles returning to Jerusalem not to grieve, for “the joy of the Lord is [their] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). And Jesus ends the story of the lost sheep by saying that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). This is a picture of a God who feels deep joy, who knows celebration and happiness and delight.


And because God is loving and generous, God wants the same for us too. The prophet Isaiah promised that “gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10). As Jesus warned his disciples of his imminent departure, he counselled them “now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). And Peter wrote “you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).


Perhaps you’re thinking that sounds all well and good in theory, but these are hardly joyful times. It is true that these are strange and sad and difficult times in very many ways, but that does not mean they cannot also be joyful times. One day our sorrow and our sighing will flee away, and all we will know will be joy, but even now we can know the joy of the Lord because it is not a shallow or fleeting thing, dependent on everything going well and life being easy. Life was certainly not easy for the weeping exiles that Nehemiah stood before, and yet it was joy that he called them to take hold of as their strength. And Jesus promised the disciples that their joy would not be taken even as he warned them that they would face persecution, because he knew the one did not deny the other.


Joy includes celebration and happiness and delight, but is not limited to them. It runs much deeper than that, and it is not so easily chased away once we have seized upon it. That is why Paul could call upon the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). This kind of joy may not be easy to destroy, but is not easy to describe either, so I hope that you will forgive some clumsy metaphors, and that at least one of them will make sense to you. Sometimes it will erupt like a geyser from the depths of our souls, bringing a sudden rush of warmth and leaving behind the knowledge that it is always bubbling just below the surface. Sometimes it is buried within us like a seed, growing slowly until one day we realise something has blossomed and the world is forever a little more beautiful. And sometimes we must mine for it, digging deep into the rockface of ourselves and our circumstances to face down hardship with hope.


In preparing for this morning, I read an article by the Canadian author Sarah Bessey. She is one of a handful of people I regularly turn to for wisdom, because it just seems to pour out of her with such grace and poetry. She lives with chronic illness and has wrestled with tragedy and loss, asking hard questions of life and faith, and so her words come from a place of deep authenticity, and I think it is because of that they speak so powerfully. This particular article is called The Resistance, and it captures so much of what I wanted to say this morning that I am going to shamelessly steal her words. Her principal theme is joy, but you may see another theme from recent weeks emerging too.


Joy isn’t emotionally or spiritually or intellectually dishonest. Christian joy doesn’t mean that we are sticking our heads in the sand and saying ‘it’s fine, we’re fine, everything’s fine’ while running past the gutters of broken dreams and weeping people, eyes averted. Joy isn’t denial of grief or pretending happiness...Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together...Joy is the affirmation of the thing that is truer than any trouble, any affliction: the affirmation that Love wins. Jesus is as good as we hope, it’s all worth it, and all will be redeemed...


These are the very days for the prophetic resistance of our joy, for the practice of the Kingdom of God right in the snarl of the Not-Yet...It’s a resistance of the false and broken to embrace and practice the true and the whole. We are prophesying with our lives. In the face of poverty, we practice generosity. In the face of ugliness, we practice beauty. In the face of injustice, we practice justice and mercy. In the rhetoric of fear, we declare ‘be not afraid!’ In the face of racism, we practice reconciliation. In the face of despair, we practice hope. In the face of ignorance, we practice wisdom and knowledge. We name it, we aren’t afraid of it, and while the Not-Yet looks on in disbelief at our cheek, we set to work putting things as they are-and-will-be... I’ve come to believe that in the very midst of the burning dumpster fire of the Not-Yet the practice of cultivating joy and happiness, noticing the good and the beautiful and the true and the pure, isn’t an act of betrayal of our solidarity but instead a very real act of prophecy and invitation to the Soon-Coming-And-Right-Now-Already of the Kingdom of God. We are sowing seeds of faithfulness to the way it will be, for the vision of the world we want to see come to pass, world without end.


Joy is affirming the truth that love wins. It is choosing to practice that which brings life and hope in the face of death and despair. It is keeping our eyes open to all that is good. It is living as if the kingdom is here because that is how the kingdom arrives. There is no denying that it is hard work at times, but it is the kind of hard work that is as satisfying as it is exhausting. In a world which seems so often to want pleasure without effort, committing to the joy that Sarah describes is certainly an act of resistance. But I do want to resist the idea that we can only be happy when all is well, because that kind of happiness cannot be relied upon. I want to dig deep into the truths of the psalm we heard and prayed together earlier, to root myself in the God who can be relied upon, so that my joy may grow and flourish like the mustard tree we encountered two weeks ago.


Our joy may be rooted in God, but it flowers in all sorts of different ways. One of the things I love about Sarah’s writing is her gift for writing a litany. The article I have quoted from includes a litany of joys, a list of things that for her are embodied signs of the kingdom, a list that begins with “blueberry fields rolling over hills, dotted with red barns” and ends with “being a healer, a bridge builder, a truth teller, a peace maker, a joyful subversive, a celebration disciple, an expectant prophet”. As I end now, I want to invite you to help me create our own litany of joys. I invite those in church to write down one or two things that bring them joy, not just pleasure but a deep sense of truth or life or goodness, and I invite those at home to send a note or an email with their contributions, then I hope to create something with them which we can look to when we need help to dig a little deeper.

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