I think we were made to be delighted in. And I think it takes just as much strength to believe someone’s joy about you as it does to muster it all on your own. -Cole Arthur Riley
October 23, 2022
“This Here Flesh”
Repair and Joy
Ezra 3:10-13; Philippians 4:1-9
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
When the builders laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests clothed in their vests and carrying their trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, arose to praise the Lord according to the directions of Israel’s King David. They praised and gave thanks to the Lord, singing responsively, “He is good, his graciousness for Israel lasts forever.” All of the people shouted with praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house, although many others shouted loudly with joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord. Loved ones, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to an agreement in the Lord. Yes, and I’m also asking you, loyal friend, to help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life. Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.
Repair and Joy Ezra 3;Philippians 4
This should be one of the easier spiritual practices to explore, to discuss within this series but today, I am not finding myself in such a joyful or joy-filled place. Maybe it is the colder temperatures of this past week, temperatures which always make me want to curl up and hibernate. Maybe it is that I am feeling the weight of everyone’s grief at this moment because as we mentioned in the Elders’ meeting on Monday night, our people are dealing with some major life stuff right.
Or my struggle with the writing of this sermon is because it is the Spirit’s way of reminding me, reminding us that joy is not always smiles and celebrations, that sometimes joy meets us in the sorrow, like a light shining in the darkness. Sometimes, joy meets in the grief and our tears and laughter become one. Maybe my struggle with the writing of this sermon was just the Spirit’s way of reminding me, remaining us that it is not always either or, but both/and, especially when it comes to our faith.
Let me explain…Oftentimes we assume that joy is only about happiness, that we can only experience joy when everything is going well, going right for us in our lives. Oftentimes we assume that joy cannot be found if we are going through something like illness, or loss, or grief, or struggling to accept change in our lives.
We often assume that during times of great sorrow or times of just knowing that things are not quite right, we assume that in times such as these, joy is an elusive thing, that until we get better, until everything gets fixed, whatever that means, that until everything is “right, we will never experience true joy.
Then on the other extreme, if we do find just a little bit of joy, a little bit of laughter in those moments of deep sorrow, we often feel guilty because again we assume that we are not honoring what happened, we are not respecting the seriousness of the illness, of the grief, of the struggle to accept change, and then we start thinking that there must be something wrong with us because other people aren’t ignoring the pain or hurt in their midst.
Yet as so often is the case, our faith reminds us, our faith teaches us that it never is an either or option. Rather it is a both/and embracing of what can be true at the same time.
You see, “there is so much that is worthy of lament, of rage. And Joy doesn’t preclude these emotional habits-it invites them. Joy situates every emotion within itself. It grounds them so that one isn’t overindulged while the others lie starving. Joy doesn’t replace any emotion; it holds them all and keeps any one of them from swallowing us whole. Society has failed to understand this. When it tells us to find joy in suffering, it is telling us to let it go, to move on, to smile through it. But joy says, “Hold on to your sorrow. It can rest safely here.” (Cole Arthur Riley)
This is the joy that the people experienced as they saw the foundations of the new Temple being placed. This is the joy which Paul talks about to the Philippians, urging them to practice it always. This is the joy which we sing about, which we pray about, which we celebrate and cling to as people of faith because this type of joy comes from the deep knowledge that God is at work in this world, and that love and light will always have the last word.
Our faith teaches us, our faith tells us that joy comes to us in all things and through all things because joy is not a passive thing, that is here one moment and gone the next. Our faith teaches us that joy is not a fickle emotion. Rather, our joy, the joy which sustains us, the joy which strengthens us, the joy which shines like a light in the darkness, the joy which brings us peace, which brings us belonging, which brings us grace is grounded in the deep knowledge of who we are and whose we. We are Beloved Children of God, made in the image of our Creator and loved more than we will ever know. And there is nothing and no one who can take this knowledge away from us.
That’s why for our spiritual practice we are going to experience joy through gratitude. In her research, Brene Brown said, “The relationship between joy and gratitude was one of the important things I found in my research. I wasn’t expecting it. In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude.
For me it was very counterintuitive because I went into the research thinking that the relationship between joy and gratitude was: if you are joyful, you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all. Instead, practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives.”
Or in the words of Paul to the Philippians: From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.
Simply write down three things you’re grateful for, big or small. ……….
It is my hope that we incorporate this practice into our daily devotional time May it open our eyes to the many ways God continues to be at work in this world. May it shine bright for us as a light in the darkness, bringing us hope and grace. May it help us to remember that “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, October 23, 2022 – Repair and Joy Ezra 3:10-13; Philippians 4:1-9.