Joy: A Sermon on Holy Hilarity
- Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I knew that was true for us, but I've become aware that it's true for you, too. Totally apart from who stands in this pulpit, this congregation is in a time of transition. If I had to choose one verse to describe where we are as a congregation, it would be those words from John's epistle: "It has not yet been revealed what we shall be." (1 John 3:2)
We don't yet know what we will be. God hasn't yet revealed his vision for our future, but we know that if we are going to be effective in the 21st Century our church will be very different than it has been in the past. When you have a happy past and a comfortable present, it is very uncomfortable to reach out for an unknown future.
I had two conversations, nearly back to back, this week, in which two people said basically the same thing but with opposite feelings. One person said, "This church just doesn't seem to be the way it's been before." They said it with discomfort; they didn't like it. Within hours, another person said. "Things just aren't the same around here," and they were delighted.
We're in transition around here. We don't know what the future will hold. If you feel just a little uncomfortable, you're in good company. That's how Paul felt. And where do we find that holy hilarity which Paul described? I want to point out some road marks along the path to that kind of joy. First, at Philippians 4:6.
"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
Holy hilarity is born out of deep, inner peace; peace which passes all understanding; peace which comes from knowing that we are really loved and accepted by God.
My experience tells me that uptight people can never really experience joy. People who have everything screwed down real tight can never learn to dance. People who are not at peace with themselves, people who carry around the baggage of past hurts and failures, people who look at the world through the narrow lens of their own self-interest, people who just plain don't like themselves or others, can never really discover the hilarity the Gospel promises. Only those who let go and discover the deep peace which comes in knowing we are loved simply because God chooses to accept and love us, can know the freedom of laughter.
There's a line from G. K. Chesterton which I've claimed as part of the operating creed for the second half of my life: "Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly."
I have known a lot of Christian folks who take themselves entirely too seriously. We need to take the love of God and the good news of the Gospel seriously, but we don't have to take ourselves seriously at all. There is great joy that comes in knowing that we can trust the goodness and love of God.
It comes from my past. I grew up in a tightly-knit religious tradition which conditioned me to think that God, the universe and everybody was depending on my getting everything "just right." I haven't gotten free from all of that yet, but a part of the process of sanctification in my life has been for me to be set free from all of that. I don't have to get it all right because I am loved by God. And it's in that love that we discover the peace from which real joy flows.
Second, look at Philippians 4:8.
"Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
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