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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Complete Joy

We abide in God’s love, and Jesus promised that his joy would be in us and our joy would be complete. We are called to practice joy, and share it with the world.

Vicar Meagan McLaughlin
     The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year B
        texts: Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

Joy and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For Christmas last year, we gave my 2-year old nephew a drum. And not just any drum. We found a lollipop drum, with a long narrow handle and rainbow colored swirls covering the metal surface, complete with a drum stick with a ball at the tip. He opened it and laid the drum on the floor and began to hit it with the stick. The sound was somewhat flat with the drum laying on the floor, so I picked up the drum by the handle and held it for him, and he struck it a couple more times, producing a very satisfying—and LOUD—bang that echoed through the house. I watched his face, and in a flash, there it was—pure joy. Eyes sparkling under his curly mop of hair, mouth wide open with all his teeth showing, giggling as he eagerly took the drum from me and marched around the room as he continued to play it.

My nephew’s unbridled joy didn’t come from achieving anything. His joy wasn’t the result of a carefully crafted plan that went something like, “I would be really, really happy if only . . . .” It didn’t come from our approval—he didn’t need an audience, although he certainly had one! The joy my nephew felt simply bubbled up in him as he reveled in wonder and amazement at the sound he could create by hitting the drum with the stick. And his joy overflowed, filling me with joy as I watched him!

What brings you joy? What does the face of joy look like to you?

Jesus says his joy will be in us, that our joy may be complete. Joy, true joy, comes from God, not from external circumstances. It might be thought of as “grace recognized,” the knowledge of God’s love and care for us. And all of this, Jesus tells us, comes out of knowing we are chosen, abiding in God’s love.

I have been watching my garden beds hopefully, since the snow melted, waiting to see if the Japanese Lilac tree we planted last spring would bloom again. To see if the hosta we planted in the summer would come back this year. And sure enough, our tree is covered in buds waiting to burst into leaves, and even the slowest-growing hosta has poked little fleshy spikes of green above the soil.

And the miracle of it, to me, is that I didn’t have to do anything to make that happen. Thank goodness! And neither, really, did the tree, or the hosta. The tree and hosta simply abided in the water and soil that surrounded and fed them, and they grew. They abided in the sun and warmth, and what looked like dead branches and lifeless dirt have been transformed into new life before our eyes.

As we have heard over and over the last few weeks in the Gospel of John, we, each one of us, abide forever in God’s love. We abide in God’s love, and just like the tree and hosta, we are transformed. We are not slaves any longer, Jesus tells us. And we did not have to do anything to make that happen. We have been chosen. Jesus calls us his friends, his joy is in us, and we are appointed to bear the fruit of joy in the world.

Joy is an emotion, one that often takes us by surprise. It is not within our control, and we don’t always feel it. Joy is also a choice, a spiritual discipline, if you will. We can practice joy by listening to God say to us, in the midst of fear, “Be not afraid, I am with you.” God loves us, and in Jesus God laid down his life for us. Just think about that for a moment. Jesus laid down his life for you. Because Jesus died, we can live. Because Jesus died, and rose, we need never be afraid, because we can face even our own death knowing the promise of the resurrection. Each one of us abides in God’s love, a love so deep that death itself has been banished, forever.

We can practice the discipline of joy by seeking evidence of God’s presence in each moment, seeking evidence that Christ is alive, as Mary and Thomas did. In doing this, we consciously abide in the extravagant love of God in each moment as it comes. We meet God in the present. Children, like my nephew, seem to know this instinctively, finding wonder in things that we adults often overlook. You children can teach us adults a lot about joy!

Jesus tells us to love one another—“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As Jesus’ friends, we are called to love one another, as God loves us. We are to lay down our lives for each other, to love each other with everything that we are, and that too, is joy.

Just like my nephew’s infectious grin and giggle, joy is contagious, and it grows as it is shared. We as a community are called not just to practice joy ourselves, but to go and tell others. In our baptisms, we celebrate the Spirit of God that pours over everyone, without distinction, lavishing us with gifts meant to be shared with the world. And the greatest gift is the joy of the hope we have in Jesus.

Our joy doesn’t come from achievement or success. It isn’t the result of a carefully crafted plan that sounds something like, “I would be really, really happy if only . . . .” It doesn’t come from the approval of others. Joy comes from simply being in the presence of God who loves us abundantly. We are transformed by God’s love in Jesus into people of the resurrection, knowing that whatever happens in our lives, God is with us, God loves us, and the best is yet to come. And because of that, we can be the presence of God’s love and joy for others. The joy of Jesus is in us, and our joy is complete.

Thanks be to God!

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