in the Joy
biblical truth that has haunted civilization for three millennia is found in our first text: "and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10, NRSV). Is it possible that although aware of our death sentence we can still know joy?
Most of us successfully avoid preoccupation with our own death and the certain death of our family and friends, however death is an ever present enemy embedded deep in our innermost psyche. Is there any joy in knowing this?
As a preacher's kid I was of course constantly confronted with Christianity: Sunday School and worship, Sunday Night services, Children's Group and later Youth Group every Sunday Night, two two-week revivals every fall and spring, V.B.S. every summer without air conditioning, Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting (which was the only thing from which I could occasionally play hooky) and our family vacations that consisted of attending two weeks of Shady Grove Camp Meeting. My very earliest memory, at about age three, is of standing in the church yard watching the new stained glass windows being installed, being warned to not step on the broken glass, but recalling the joy of that cotton mill village congregation as they gathered around so full of pride in their church's being transformed into a work of art. Indeed, all of the memories are joyful for as the preacher's little boy I was pulled tightly inside the permeating joy that overshadowed the occasional thoughts of sadness.
When our Candi was in elementary school her favorite song was, "Don't Worry, Be Happy!" It may still be her favorite song for it is a theme song of her joyful life. I don't recall any other words to the song except the title and there may have not been any other words, just a repeat of the mantra over and over; but, it was a happy tune. Lyn and Candi still love the church until this day as they have too been enraptured by the joy that casts away sorrow. The Sanctuaries, Fellowship Halls and Parsonages have been a place where they have known that grief is temporary and that there is always joy in the morning. "Don't Worry, Be Happy!"
Actually, the pop song's theme was much like that of Psalm 19. It's the song about the "rejoicing heart," "reviving the soul," "like the strong man who runs the course with joy." It speaks of relationship with God as being "sweeter than honey." King David must have been having an especially good day when he penned these lines.
In many respects joyfulness is a choice. Sure, we all have bad experiences, but eventually we must choose to cross over to the sunny side of the street.
The local church should be an outpost for joy. Our atmosphere and attitude should exude joy. Many visitors have told me how joyful and friendly they find our church. Many of you have chosen to be joyful. I have come to know you and many have had reasons to be sad, but you have determined to practice the attitude of gladness. Jubilation has been the reason for the twinkle in your eye.
King David was joyful because he had received God's mercy and forgiveness for the sins of his young life. He had committed adultery and murder but repented and was redeemed. Although the memory of his sin was ever present, the divine gift of joy overwhelmed his profound regrets. King David had feet of clay but redemption gave him joy.
James Laney, former Ambassador to Korea and also Emory University president emeritus, was Dean of the Candler School of Theology when he led a seminar for Doctor of Theology degree students. His topic revolved around the fact that in the early 1970s many of our adored heroes had obvious "Feet of Clay." He spoke of several martyred political leaders who had been involved in moral indiscretions and who had their lives cut short before they could make amends, but for we that remained there was hope of finding redemption beyond the fractures and brokenness of human sin. Indeed, Dr. Laney underlined that the bad times are a necessary prelim to knowing the Joy of the Lord, which can become our strength amid future certain fractures in our fragile feet of clay. Hopefully, former President Clinton and Jesse Jackson can find new life out of their recent moral collapses.
There is always hope for restored joy amid the adversity of life. As President George W. Bush said just yesterday in his Inagural Speech, "An angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs us all." He also said, "America is great not because we believe in ourselves but that we believe in an ideal beyond ourselves." That ideal is God given joy that revives the soul.
A major theme of my life has its roots in experiences of joy around family hearths. Early notions found form as I later became a student of two famous British Christian authors, C.S. Lewis and J.B. Phillips. As a seminarian I even thought of using the initials of my given name and becoming, "C.R." It was amazing to me that both authors has independently come up with the identical book title, Surprised by Joy; Lewis out of the death of his mother when he was a lad and Phillips out of the darkness of his lifelong periods of depression. The theme of their thought is that the Spirit can utilize naturally occurring human adversity as windows for grace and for joy to overshadow the sorrow. The bad will always be in our memories but His joy brings sunshine amid the darkness.
Reveling in Divine Joy becomes our strength. Protection from yielding to temptation comes from having our feet set on the Rock of friendship with God. Our inclination becomes a resounding "No" when opportunity for indiscretion come our way. Or, we might say that, "Living in the Joy of the Lord we are kept safe under His wings."
Yet, falling is in our bones. Bishop Arthur J. Moore asked us not to name any buildings for him as long as he was alive because as long as breath was in his body he could still fall. It was hard to imagine him ever falling, but he knew that he could, "But for the Joy..."
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor