June 1, 2008
"Living In The Spirit Of Joy"
(Galatians 5:22-25, Romans 12:9-21)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
I hope you all got your piece of Laffy Taffy because I want you to share the silly jokes with your neighbor. Go ahead take a second to tell each other one of the jokes. (Explain location of joke & answer)
I heard lots of laughter and the room is definitely lighter because of it. There's a certain amount of joy that comes our way simply through laughter. But as Paul points out in Galatians, there's also a deeper joy that comes from a relationship with God. Let's revisit Galatians 5:22-25 and then look at Romans 12:9-21 Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV)
 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.
 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)
 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."
 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Last week we began our series Living In The Spirit and determined that Love is the key. I don't know who to attribute it to but someone put it this way: "Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love's touch. Generosity is love's character. Faithfulness is love's habit. Gentleness is love's self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins." (1)
So, what is Joy? Christian Joy?
A. A lot of people thing that our purpose in life is to be happy. But that's not what Scripture says. Our purpose in life is to glorify God. Along the way, while glorifying God, we may very well (and probably will) experience happiness. But the real deal is Joy.
We've mistakenly linked the two together. One is a synonym for the other, when in reality that's as far from the truth as the east is from the west. Experiencing Joy can make you feel happy but it's much deeper than that.
B. Joy is a gift. Sometimes it's a surprise gift, coming when you least expect it. Sometimes it is as illusive as a summer breeze, the more you pursue it the further away it seems. And when we give up looking for joy, it suddenly, surprisingly springs up right in front of us or overwhelms our hearts at a baptism or a sunrise or in the hug of a grandchild. It might even makes its way into our heart and soul through the melody or the words of a hymn or special number. But Joy is both a Gift and often times a Surprise.
The experience of Joy always leaves you hungry for more. It's like glimpse into eternity or a taste of the heavenly banquet that is being prepared for us right now
A. None of the sources I used in preparation for this sermon mentioned it, but I've found that Joy comes in response to obedience, joyful obedience. Especially obedience in the hard things of the faith like all those things listed in Romans 12; like tithing; loving our enemies; forgiving those who have hurt us in the same way Jesus forgives us.
So many times we make the statement, I'm so mad I'll never forgive that other person. We snub them, ignore them, sometimes go out of our way to let them know how we feel. Unfortunately, that's about as far away as you can get from the Christian attitude. Forgiving others is one of those things in the Christian life that is NOT an option.
We pray a prayer of reminder every week in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
In other words, our forgiveness is dependent upon how forgiving we are of others. Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." The only way we can love one another as Jesus loved us is if we forgive as we have been forgiven.
You can argue with me all day long, you can rationalize to yourself all you want, but that's what it says in Red Letters in the Book.
B. Let me tell you the sense of Joy you receive when you persevere to be faithful even though you don't want to forgive. And yet one day you finally realize and have made that final step in forgiving. For almost ten years I harbored ill feelings toward someone for a hurt they caused, a deep hurt. I knew that the only way to deal with it was to forgive. But I couldn't, so I told God I couldn't, that I wasn't ready yet, but I prayed that God would lead me to that point when I could offer a meaningful prayer for the ability to forgive. And then I moved to pray to actually be able to forgive.
And then one day I met that person, face to face, out of the clear blue. While I wasn't overwhelmed with a deep love for this individual, I realized, in that moment, that God had answered my prayer and I no longer looked upon them with rancor. And when I realized that, I laughed. I laughed and I laughed and laughed. My heart leapt for joy because the burden of my unforgiving spirit no longer bound my heart. That laughter was a result of the Joy I experienced for being obedient.
Surprisingly, the Gift of Joy is often found in obedience.
A. Joy also comes through reaching out and offering a helping hand. Sometimes both parties are filled with a Joy that is contagious. That's exactly what has happened with the Ugandan Hope For Africa Children's Choir. Partly through our support, lives in Africa are being transformed.
Have you ever seen so much Joy in one place or in one group? I'll bet I've watched that video 20 times and I tear up every time. The United Methodist Church is transforming lives. The cost to support one child, food, clothes, school supplies and any medications they might need is $1,600 a year. As a Staff, we've decided to raise the funds to support one child. We haven't set the date but later this year we will be hosting a dinner and we will simply ask for a love offering.
B. Why are those children so full of Joy? Because the world that seemed so hopeless is suddenly now filled with hope. A world that seemed void of love, is now full of love. The love of Christ. Couldn't you see Him shining through everyone of their eyes? They had nothing and now they have Jesus and have discovered that people like us care about people like them. The experience of Joy always leaves you hungry for more. It's like glimpse into eternity or a taste of the heavenly banquet that is being prepared for us right now
Joy comes through Reaching Out in the name of Jesus.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Seek God and discover Him and make Him a power in your life. Without Him all of our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest nights. Without Him life is a meaningless drama with the decisive scenes missing. But with Him we are able to rise from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. With Him we are able to rise from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy. St. Augustine was right, we were made for God and we will be restless until we find rest in Him." (2).
Be Surprised by the Gift of Joy through Joyful Obedience in the hard stuff of our faith. And experience the Gift of Joy through Reaching Out. Let Joy like the illusive summer breeze, find you.
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2. The Words of Martin Luther King Jr., compiled by Coretta Scott King Christianity Today Vol. 43, #1
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