Sermon,  Sermons

Members of Joy

sermon video, pt1

sermon video, pt2

When Greer was younger, whenever there was an occasion for unwrapping a present (birthday, Christmas), she would reverently pull apart the paper, open the gift and exclaim, “Just what I’ve always wanted!” Utter delight. Joy.

Joy is an orientation, a disposition of awe and wonder

But if there are things that bother us – whether an injustice done to you, or injustices you notice around you, or both – if we are bothered, hurt, confused… it is difficult to look at the world with this disposition, with a sense of awe and wonder.

“Peace,” Sabrina Orah Mark once wrote in a story about daughters, “is what pain looks like in public.”

We all carry around some measure of pain on a relatively regular basis. In our relationships, in our hips, in our dealing with health insurance…

But I would posit it’s more that joy is what pain looks like in public, because peace is more the effect, whereas joy is a choice, and a practice.

Greer was so good at – and still is – deciding just because it is a gift just for her, no matter what it was, she would exclaim, “it’s just what I always wanted!”

Still, it’s hard to find the gift, to find joy, in our wildernesses.

Yet the prophet Isaiah promises

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
   and rejoice with joy and singing
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
   the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
   and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
   ‘Be strong, do not fear!
… your God… will come and save you.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
   and streams in the desert;…

8 A highway shall be there,
   and it shall be called the Holy Way; [versus the Dan Ryan tollway; potholes and construction]

   no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 …the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
   and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
   they shall obtain joy and gladness,
   and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The joy foretold by Isaiah is not necessarily a conjuring of an elated feeling, mustering excitement about life when nothing in life seems to be going right, worth celebrating. The joy foretold by Isaiah is that those who did not have full use of their body – can now see, jump up and down, sing….  No more arthritis in our hands, or need of knee replacements… All will be made right.

There will be joy because not even fools will make unhealthy, unproductive choices; and we will sing together – and everyone will be happy about the music choices!

            Obviously, such is not the case – yet. So how do we experience joy?

Jesus. Because, in church, the correct answer is always Jesus, right?

Jesus is why these things are being made right. And because we are now already made right with God, we are empowered to, and deployed to be a part of this right-making.

So when Wes came into the office on Thursday to ask about the candles for this Sunday, after I had been having a difficult time, Wes entered my space and a tender, painful moment, and his beautiful presence gave me the opportunity to wear my pain in public. That is – Wes, I know you had no idea I was having a difficult moment – but his joyful face and disarming spirit pierced that moment for me and I could experience the joy of our growing friendship.

            I think of the word, our word of the day:


  1. Glowing with a radiant light
  2. Shining as if coming from a light

James 5:7-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

            An example of suffering and patience, that is joy – the look of pain in public.

The justice described in Isaiah happens because of relationships made right. In James, we know joy when we stop grumbling and judging each other. Joy happens when we do life together without malice – spiteful, bitter – in easy company.

When the shepherds saw the star – effulgent – they stopped and were filled with joy (Mt2.10). As soon as Elizabeth’s baby heard the sound Mary’s voice, this young woman carrying the savior of the world inside her own womb, when Elizabeth’s baby heard that voice, he leapt for joy inside Elizabeth.

When Wes came into the office, effulgent with the desire to make sure the candles would be lit correctly today so they would be effulgent before us now – symbols, a reminder to us of the Source of our light – my spirit was lit, effulgent by joy.

            The delight and wonder in a child who just got what she always wanted – effulgent! Joy.

But when we try to manage each other, when I attempt to squash that divine spark (the soul that is made in God’s very image) of someone else, I do great harm.

From 1Thess: “encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit.” 

1Thess5:14b-19, NRSV

When you see me for who I am and affirm that, encourage it, when Betty peeks into my office to say ‘hi’ and see how I’m doing, or Jim sits down just to chat, because, well, you just want to – everything is right and good – what joy in the midst of a busy day!

How much more so when we are oriented in this way with our children – all of our children: the ones born to us and the ones incorporated into us by way of baptism and membership vows.

Which is why we are focusing on these vows. I’ll repeat what we understand as the basis for these vows, and include the 3rd question asked:

Renew membership vows: Consider the words you have already affirmed –

Pastor: Friends, Through the sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit. All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

Covenanting Together

Pastor: When we covenant with one another to follow Jesus together in the context of the Durand United Methodist Church, we remember our baptism, the witness of Christ in us, given us by God’s grace alone.

Will you join with us in support of this community of faith through your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness, so that together we may grow stronger in expressing God’s love for all creation?

And your answer?

We will.

So, one great example of someone who made a similar covenant, who saw the spark of the divine in others, is Fred Rogers.

The journalist Tom Junod, whose 1998 Esquire profile is the basis of the recently released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, said, “‘He had this amazing ability to look into people and see past the adult façade that we present, and take a really direct look at the aching kid that’s within all of us—and to decide what that kid needed.’”

His widow, Joanne Rogers, said that in college “‘He was different….’  The couple met at the Rollins conservatory and were popular. ‘In his young days, he was lively and full of fun, but he talked about his feelings…’ Kids who were out of sorts would drop into his dorm room ‘just to talk,’ Fred Rogers once wrote. According to one athlete, ‘He had feelings for everybody, even the mean football players.’ Joanne thought to herself, “‘Jeez, maybe he’ll work at an orphanage!’”

He had this way of seeing the viewer – children – as “viewers,” seers. Human beings. Lysander and I recently watched an episode, and I just had to show you:

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive!

Mr Rogers covenanted with the people in his neighborhood, and with the children in his virtual care, to see the effulgent spirit in them, the glowing light of the divine. He safeguarded that flame that can so easily be extinguished by grumblers, those who judge by some standard that is not God’s.

We covenanted with each other and to our children, the ones born to us and the ones incorporated into us by way of baptism and membership vows.

We weep with those who weep; rejoice with those who rejoice. We have made a covenant together, because we are members of a community, committed to do life and ministry together, and because we are moved by what is going on each other’s lives.

And that is how it is possible to pray without ceasing and to rejoice always! We do this together – we made a covenant to do so.

In the wildernesses we feel the weight of each other’s grief; and even when things are not so great, we can truly know joy in the celebration of goodness and beauty that is enjoyed by – and witnessed to – those in membership with us.

Is this how you would like to walk through this third week of Advent? We might not be able to leap so well, and our hearing may be sketchy, but It is such a good feeling to know we’re alive! Will you walk with me through this week of Advent with a disposition of awe and wonder, an expectation of opening a new day as a child who exclaims, “just what I always wanted!” because we have each other, members of covenant? Together, members of Joy.

Speaking of the joy of children unwrapping gifts…

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