Summary: “Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian”. - G.K. Chesterton This message looks at the avenues and barriers to living in the joy of the Lord.
Sermon for CATM – June 1, 2014 – Living in the Joy of the Lord - Nehemiah 8:1-10
Robert Louis Stevenson once entered in his diary what he considered to be an extraordinary thing. He said, "I have been to Church today, and (Surprisingly) I am not depressed."
I hope that your experience of coming to church at Church at the Mission leans more to the side of joy than of sorrow, of enjoyment more than drudgery.
If the recent feedback we've received from the congregation in the annual survey we do is any indication, the majority of those of us who come to this church find that doing so truly lifts us - it lifts our spirits.
I think for most of us, worshipping in this place is a very positive experience. That's God's work, the work of God's Holy Spirit among us.
But how do we do the rest of the week? It's not a bad thing that church is a good thing...for as long as I've been a Christian, Sundays and worship has been a major highlight of my life. But that's just 1/7th of the week.
What else is going on in our lives the rest of the week? What is our experience of life like? What is our experience of JOY?
G.K Chesterton was a famous Christian writer. He said this at the end of his book, “Orthodoxy": “Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian”.
By this he meant that the one big distinction between the believer and the non-believer is this underlying reason that we have for being incredibly joyful people.
Do we always express this gigantic secret? No; otherwise it wouldn’t be, as Chesterton says, a secret.
But we have in our lives, as Christ-followers, this reality that hides just beneath the surface. The reality that no matter how frustrating life gets, no matter how many face palms we may do in a day, no matter how much life seems to be or is out of control, Jesus is real.
Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. He will never leave us or forsake us. We know that all this, this life, is not all there is. And we know that we are not alone. No matter what we do or where we go, God is with us.
Now in our reading today we go back in history to a very important moment in the journey of the people of Isreal, the Jewish people.
The book of Nehemiah records a time when Israel is coming back into their homeland after spending 70 years in exile. They began to rebuild their home in the ‘land of promise’. Israel is regaining her homeland and returning to faith.
The book of the law had been discovered and Nehemiah calls together the people and has Ezra conduct a public reading of God’s law.
The Israelites had different stages of reaction to the law: First, they fell into repentant sorrow. Second, they began to praise and worship the Lord.
Third, they celebrated the “Feast of Booths” as the law commanded. The result was great joy! Nehemiah told them, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.”
I've noticed that in life, as a follower of Christ, there are avenues to joy, and there are barriers to joy.
There are routes, pathways, decisions and attitudes and actions that lead to joy, or that will lead away from joy.
I want to suggest that all of the challenges related to having real joy or not having real joy can be whittled down or synthesized down to one main question.
That question is: “What is settled in your mind and your heart and your soul?”. We’re going to keep coming back to that question.
Now when we talk about joy, we’re not talking about happiness. One of the huge problems in the western world is that we almost consider ‘happiness’ a right, something due to us, something owed to us.
But in talking about joy, we’re not talking about happiness. Happiness can be described as a sense of contentment that we have because things in our lives are as we wish them to be.
There’s an absence of struggle. There’s an abundance of fun things to do. There are good and healthy relationships that make us happy.
If there’s a big difference between happiness and joy it might be that all of the things that can lead to happiness are actually quite volatile.
Good relationships can turn bad. Hardship and suffering, illness and death can impact our worlds. Material abundance, having lots of stuff, can turn into material lack.
As recently as 2008 when the recession hit and millions lost billions of dollars in investments, it was pretty clear that financial well-being isn’t the solid footing to happiness that a lot of people thought it was.