Saturday, May 16, 2009

B, Easter 6 - John 15:9-11, 16: 16:22-24 "Joy-filled"

Gilbert Keith Chesterton an English author, journalist and defender of the Christian faith, born 1874, and died 1936, in his work Orthodoxy said this: I was once an avowed atheist, who fought Christianity with all my might. There was a mystique about Jesus that no one understood and that was hidden from all people. It was something that was too great for God to show us when he walked this earth. Then as I studied and restudied the life of Jesus, I discovered the greatest secret he kept hidden from everyone was his great joy. Christianity without joy is a betrayal of the One we follow. We are a forgiven, redeemed people, who belong to the faithful flock on the way to heaven. We are people with great joy.
Chesterton's comments on Christ, the Christian community, and joy give us a springboard from which to ponder joy. What is joy? When one rejoices, what is one doing? To be joyful is to be in a certain state of being. What is being joyful?
Jesus tells us in John 15: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (Jn 15:9-11)
We are a people of great joy, as Chesterton rightly believes, because we bear the joy of Christ. And his joy completes us, it fills us, his joy does something to us. In fact, Jesus is joy, Jesus is our joy!
To find out what our joy is and what it does in us, we first need to hear what Jesus' joy did and does in him. And so we hear from Hebrews 12…
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:2-4, 7-8, 10-11)
It can come as a bit of a surprise that we hear joy and endure the cross in the one verse. When we ponder the cross with all its horror, humiliation, and harrowing suffering it's difficult for us to hear of joy. But Jesus endured the cross for the sake of holiness, community, and the making and gathering of us as his holy community. And Jesus' joy produces a community where righteousness and peace is plentiful and complete.
At this point we must clarify that joy is very different to being happy. One can be happy in his or her self, but to be joyful or to rejoice one requires something from outside them to influence them. Therefore, joy always demands a community whereas being happy is an individualistic thing.
Our joy comes as a result of God and his actions, giving us the ability to stand or remain or be in community with him. Happiness vanishes into thin air when suffering arrives, but joy can and does endure suffering because joy comes from God and God remains connected to us despite our pain.
So we return to the word of God in John 15. Jesus' joy comes from his community with the Father. The Father loves Jesus, and although Jesus was born alienated from his heavenly community into the suffering of humanity he remained under his Heavenly Father's care. We know this because he constantly spoke about his Father and spent a great deal of his ministry seeking isolation to pray to him. Even when he was being alienated from his creation and the Father at the cross he still humbled himself before the Father as he was dying. We know this because he cried out: My God, my God, why are you forsaking me!
Not only was Jesus' ministry one in which he was in community with the Father, it was one in which he was in fellowship with the Holy Spirit too. When Jesus was baptised into his ministry where God the Father proclaimed, "This is my Son with whom I am well pleased", we know the Holy Spirit descended and settled on him. While Jesus was on earth he was constantly in a community of joy, and this community was the Holy Trinity.
Jesus' joy was mostly hidden here during his ministry. It was hidden as he dealt with us, individual sinful people. As he addressed our sin, calling it to account, and bore its ferocity, joy seemed as though it was fleeting. But Jesus was winning it back through his righteousness. This is why he endured the cross to make his joy complete and to make our joy complete too.
What Jesus did at the cross was the greatest act of love ever completed. When he said, "It is finished", he was saying love is fulfilled, this was his communal sacrifice both for his Father and for us, and because of this we now are joined in fellowship with the Father. Jesus' Father is now our Father. We are in community with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And also with Jesus Christ, risen from the death, who completes our joy having sentenced our eternal death to death through his death.
We are called to remain in this love: To uphold and preserve God and his word, just as Jesus did while he was on earth. We don't do this by ourselves as Jesus did, but we have his joy in us, because he lives in us, giving us peace with God the Father. And further more the Holy Spirit comes from God the Father and the Son to continually gather us into this community of joy and love.
So even while we're going though the deepest and darkest of days — we can do it with joy. Our joy is complete in Christ who has overpowered death by his death. We can look forward with hope and joy. We can face every day rejoicing in the peace of God as we remain in his word, despite the turmoil of sin in our lives.
We are called to remain rooted in Jesus our life-giving vine who says to us…
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (Jn 15:16)
And again he says in John 16, Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (Jn 16:22-24)