Saturday, April 26, 2014

Peace and Joy

Peace and Joy
Acts 10:36; Ps. 118:14-24[1]
  It seems there’s precious little joy in our world these days. I’m not talking about “happiness.” It seems we’re obsessed with happiness. Everywhere you go, people are making every effort to make sure everything and everyone is “upbeat.” You walk into just about any public place and you’ll hear plenty of laughter. And we love a good party, where we can let our inhibitions go and let our spirits soar. But it never seems to last. We always have to have one more “hit” of good feeling to keep up the appearance of “happiness.” In fact, it seems like many of us are spending a great deal of energy chasing the next dose of “feel good.”
  Joy is something else altogether. If happiness is fleeting, joy is lasting. It doesn’t come and go. We don’t have to go around chasing after it. Joy is a frame of mind that you choose. You choose joy when you choose to be content with your life just as it is, without having to change anything in order to be “happy.” You choose to be satisfied--satisfied with your past, present, and future without feeling the urge to control any outcomes.  You choose to be comfortable in your skin, because it’s the only “skin” you’re going to have in which to live your life. Joy is the result of coming to the place where you can say, “it is well with my soul,” regardless of your circumstances or how you might feel at the moment or what anybody else may say about you. Joy is lasting because it’s a decision you make.[2]
  One of the features of our Scripture lessons during the Easter season is a repeated emphasis on joy.  The Psalmist expresses the confidence that, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps 16:11).  The Gospel of John says that after Christ was raised from the dead and appeared to the disciples, they “rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (Jn. 20:20).  And this was a joy that wasn’t just for a day or two, because in the book of Acts is says that they continued to spend time together in the temple, and “they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).  Finally, Peter says to the believers who had never had the chance to see the risen Lord, “even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Pet. 1:8).
  But how do we find joy in this world of ours where there seems precious little of it to be found?  I think the Scriptures in the coming weeks will provide us with some answers to that question. This week’s answer comes from the Book of Acts, which says that the message Jesus came to preach was one of peace (Acts 10:36). In the Bible, peace is the wholeness that comes from knowing God genuinely and living the life God intended for us.[3] This kind of peace is not simply the absence of conflict. It’s the peace that the Bible calls Shalom , which might better be translated as “well-being.”[4] This kind of peace represents all that God wants to give us in terms of new life. You could even say that the “peace” that Jesus came to bring to us is synonymous with salvation: peace with God, peace with others, peace with ourselves.
  That is the focus of our study of Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out in Sunday School. It’s not an easy book to read, because it brings us face-to-face with many of the ways in which we lack peace in our lives. We lack peace with God. We’re not sure what to even make of God sometimes. Especially when life seems so full of suffering and hardship. We lack peace with others. In our dog-eat-dog world, it feels much safer to keep others at arm’s length. And at the heart of it all, Nouwen argues that we lack peace with God and peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves.
  You might think that talking about peace on Easter Sunday would be the simplest thing in the world. But if we’re honest about it, we have to admit that it’s a difficult topic. The reason for that is there is a depth dimension to life that many of us never discover in the frenzied rush to get through life.  Many give it different names, but I choose to call it the abiding presence of God. Unfortunately, we tend to fear the path that leads there: the path of silence and solitude. But if you are willing to endure them, when you discover the Presence of God that always accompanies you, you have discovered an unshakable foundation for your life.[5]
  I can think of no more solid basis for finding peace in life that this constant abiding presence of the God of love.[6] And I can think of no better basis for joy than the peace that comes from the presence of the living Lord in our lives.[7] Easter is the day on which we joyfully celebrate what God has “made:” new life out of rejection and death (cf. Ps. 118:24).[8] Throughout the Easter season, not just today, we celebrate the good news that our growing faith in and experience of the abiding presence of the living Lord Jesus Christ provides us with the kind of peace and joy that last, no matter what may come our way.

[1] © 2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/20/2014 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.
[2] Cf. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, 27: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
[3] Cf. John Paul II, Homily at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, January 27, 1999: “If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. It you want life, embrace the truth–the truth revealed by God.”
[4] Cf. Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, 110-111, where she speaks of shalom as “God’s dynamic wholeness” that is the “central vision” of the Bible. Cf. also James L. Mays, Psalms, 311. Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.2:197, where he suggests that this kind of peace can best be illustrated by Jesus’ quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:17-19 as the one who was fulfilling the peace and freedom in human life spelled out there.
[5] As Thomas Merton says it, "The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of the false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls." (New Seeds of Contemplation, 25). He speaks a great deal about this topic throughout this seminal work.  Cf. also Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 44, where he says that in solitude “we can slowly become aware of a presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first (see 1 John 4:19).”
[6] Cf. Nouwen, Here and Now, 27, where he says that joy “is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”
[7] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Passion for Life, 19: “Where Jesus is, there is life. There is abundant life, vigorous life, loved life, and eternal life.”  Cf. also Barbara Brown Taylor, “Surprised by Joy,” The Living Pulpit (Oct-Dec 1995):17. She says “Joy happens when God is present and people know it.”
[8] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 380: “In the church’s liturgical use of Psalm 118, “the day the Lord has made” (v. 24) has become the day of rejoicing and gladness over the resurrection of Jesus. ... Read, sung, and heard in this way, the psalm becomes the language of the risen Jesus and of his community, celebrating the wonder that God himself has become our salvation through the resurrection.”

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