Summary: God’s unquenchable joy flows in our lives every minute of everyday – but we have to stop and recognize it before we can share it
Did you know that in America nearly 90% of people say they believe in God? But only 45% of people who believe in the Christian God are regularly in worship! In other words, 55% of our brothers and sisters in Christ rarely come to the family get-togethers! More than ½ of God’s family finds something else to do, rather to come to worship or fellowship or study! Maybe some of your earthly families are like that – but mine isn’t! When there’s a family celebration everyone (with the exception of one or two) really tries to make it! I can’t imagine Christmas and birthday parties without all my aunts and uncles, cousins and their spouses and children all gathered to celebrate together as a family.
I guess there are a couple reasons why my family is like this. First of all, when Grandma Ethel (my great-grandma) and Grandma Fern were alive, there was just no questioning. When the family joined for Sunday dinner every Sunday after our various worship services – everyone was expected to be there. I grew up eating Sunday dinner every week with 20 of my relatives. And second of all, we enjoyed it. We enjoyed being together as a family! Those Sunday afternoons and holidays are some of my fondest childhood memories! I couldn’t wait for church to be over so I could go to grandma’s and walk into her house and smell baked potatoes baking and grandpa’s vanilla pipe tobacco!
Even now, after both grandmas have been called to their heavenly home and as our family has scattered across several states, we still make every effort to get home for holidays and even for impromptu family get-togethers! We could all make excuses now not to go, but in truth my family just enjoys being together.
Wouldn’t it be great if the whole family of God really enjoyed the times we spend together? But how can that be when over half of the family doesn’t come to our family get togethers?
There are many reasons people don’t come to church. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of several books (including the Purpose Driven Life) states there are four main reasons people give for not going to church:
1. “Church services are boring, especially the sermons.”
2. “Church members are unfriendly to visitors.”
3. “The church is more interested in money than in me.” And
4. “We worry about the quality of the church’s child care.”
Of these four reasons, you will notice that none of them have anything to do directly with God. When people are invited to God’s family gatherings, they rarely say, “I don’t believe in God.” Most excuses have to do with “church” – with the human institution and with how family members treat each other and those on the outside. These excuses that Rick Warren highlights have nothing to do with God and people’s relationships with God but they everything to do with how we – the church family – present ourselves to others. And in actuality, many Christians don’t present a joy-filled attitude in church or out of church. I wonder how many of us have gathered here today out of sheer joy for being together as the family of God?
In the gospel reading today, Jesus encounters a funeral procession. Funerals are not usually seen as joyful events in our lives – although there have been a handful of ones I have attended that truly were joyful. But this was not one of them. This funeral is for the only son of a widow – so it’s no wonder that the mother is weeping. She’s buried her husband. She’s now burying her only son. Which means she is now left as a woman who would need to rely on her family or the generosity of the community for her livelihood. This widow (and those others in the funeral procession) had every reason to be weeping. The tears were not just for the dead, but as often at a funeral, the tears were also for she who survived. And I love the NIV translation of Luke 7:13: When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Jesus saw the woman who was mourning the death of her son, who was worrying about the future and who would take care of her and his heart went out to her and he said, “don’t cry.” It wasn’t a pat remark. These words are the words of Christ’s heart for her. And then he touched the coffin and said, “young man, I say to you, get up!” And he sat up and began talking. And everyone there was filled with awe and praised God. What joy filled their lives at this moment!