Joy for the Journey
The last few weeks have been a real highlight
For our family (for some more than others)
As we travelled to “the other Holy Land” –
Paraguay - for the Christmas Season.
As I reflect back on that experience
I can’t help but draw some spiritual connections
With our Journey of Discipleship here at SHMC.
And the message I want to share with you today
Is that the Journey of Discipleship
Is supposed to be a journey filled with Joy and Vitality.
Over a year ago we began to make plans
To go visit our families in Paraguay.
Since moving to Canada over 22 years ago
We have been back home to visit
About every 5 years.
Once we were clear that we were going to go
We started to get excited…
In our mind’s eye we were starting to visualize
Some of the main attractions that we wanted to visit.
My brother and his family were gracious enough
To take us to the Iguazu Falls
Where we were blown away by the beauty
And majesty of God’s creation.
On the way we stopped to try
some of the sumptuos Mangos that were in season,
and some Chipas – which are always in season.
After a good time relaxing at my brother’s place in Asuncion
We went to Loma Plata, in the Chaco.
Hedi’s parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary
Just before Christmas.
All the Children and grand-children were present
Except for two grandchildren.
What a wonderful time of celebrating and reconnecting…
Telling old stories…
Making new memories…
Teasing and playing…
Going on hunting and fishing trips…
Visiting grandpa’s farm…
Enjoying way too much good food…
…well, you get the picture.
As I think back to our travelling experience
I’m reminded that the people of Israel
Were required to make their “pilgrimage” to Jerusalem
At least once in their lifetime.
And so it should be with everyone
who has some Mennonite blood in them.
At least once in a lifetime
Every able-bodied Mennonite
Should be expected to travel to the other Holy Land –
And, the perfect occasion might just be
The Mennonite World Conference
That will take place in Asuncion in 2009.
So, start saving!
The last few weeks we have looked at
the values that we hold dear in our church.
First we said that our church is a praying church.
Our strength and witness grows out of
A deep and personal communion with God in prayer.
The challenge for us as a church is
to grow in our intimacy with God
so that we may know better
what God is up to in the world,
and how we might fit into God’s plan.
At the same time
prayer is a source of encouragement and support
as we face challenges and share each other’s burdens
on our joint journey as a community of faith.
Our Communion with God forms the basis
for our communion with other Christians.
The church, as imperfect as it is,
is God’s own design for loving relationships
The church is a “covenant community”
that shares the journey together
in success and in failure.
In good times and in bad times
We affirm that we belong together…
And just like in a biological family
We rejoice with those who are happy
and we weep with those who suffer…
we encourage one another
and we hold each other accountable for our actions.
Another Value that we hold dear as a congregation
Is a deep concern for the lost and the brokenhearted.
Our hearts are touched by stories
Of people who have lived in sin
And have come to know and follow Jesus
Through our witness.
Our hearts also reach out with compassion
To those in our church and community
Who are suffering.
As we explore together
what God is up to in the life of our church
we need to check our attitudes
toward the lost and the brokenhearted,
and we need to pray unceasingly
for strength and courage
to live out God’s values.
We could name a wide range of other values
that are important to us.
But, today we want to look at the value of joy
As we share the journey of discipleship.
Sharing the journey of faith with others
can and should be a joyful experience.
Church should be fun!
Following Jesus Christ
ist the most exciting adventure in life.
Jeffrey Jones writes in his book, Traveling Together,
“To be a disciple of Jesus is to be on a journey. Jesus led his disciples on a journey that was both physical and spiriutal. They travelled throughout Galilee to share the good news of God’s kingdom with as many people as possible. They travelled to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s plan for Jesus’ own death and resurection. And he taught them, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
When we think about it,
It’s pretty clear that the emphasis
Right throughout the history of Christianity
Has been on the “spiritual” side of the journey.
Jesus taught his disciples so many deep “spiritual truths”.
And that is all fine…
But, I think…
In fact, common sense tells us…
That there must have been
a lot of laughter and joy and happiness
Mixed into the journey.
Jesus was a 30 year old – a young adult…
Full of life and fun…
I find the story of the 12 year old Jesus a little bit lop-sided.
The Gospels tell us that his parents found him
In a deeply spiritual conversation
with the religious power-brokers.
He must have been in stitches
When he told Johnny and Pete, and Andy –
Who later would have become his disciples
John and Peter and Andrew -
How he was going to have some fun the High Priest.
Or think of his encounter with Peter on the open sea…
Walking on water!
And tell Peter,
“Bet you can’t do that…”
Who would come up with something like that?!
And then, that early morning when Peter and the disciples
Had fished all night…
And they came up empty handed…
I imagine Jesus trying to keep a straight face
As he tells Peter, the expert fisherman,
“I bet you anything
If you cast your nets on the other side
You’ll catch a few little fish…”
And I imagine Peter’s annoyed response,
“Shut uup (Like Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite)
What would you know about fishing,
I’ll show you there’s nothing there.”
And we know the rest of the story…
The nets were ripping
That’s how many big fish they had.
And I’m absolutely convinced that Jesus
was rolling on the floor laughing.
Yes, these stories, and so many more in the Bible,
Have a deeply spiritual message…
But, I’m also convinced,
that if they would have had smileys back in Bible times
the Bible would be full of them.
Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life
And have it to the fullest!”
Jesus was about living life to the fullest!
What does it mean “to have life in abundance”?
Especially when Life throws us a curve ball?
Author Leo Buscaglia tells this story about his mother
and their "misery dinner."
It was the night after his father came home
and said it looked as if he would have to go
because his partner had run away with their firm's funds.
His mother went out and sold some jewelry
to buy food for a sumptuous feast.
Other members of the family scolded her for it.
But she told them that
"the time for joy is now,
when we need it most, not next week."
I believe that living a Joyful… a fulfilled…
An abundant life
Grows out of our experience with God
And is not dependent on our circumstances.
Joy does not depend on whether I got a promotion at work
Or good marks in my mid-term exam.
It does not depend on whether I have the latest toys
Or biggest bank account.
A fulfilled life…
Grows out of our thankful response
for what God has done for us.
Let’s look at Psalm 126
1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.
Imagine at the close of World War II
the joy on the prisoners’ faces
as they were released by the Allied armies.
After years of detention,
after daily inspections,
boards for bunks in steamy, overcrowded dorms,
and genuine fear of torture, disease, and even death,
suddenly the guards and their dogs were gone.
The watchtowers stood deserted,
and the hated gates made of barbed wire stood wide open.
Freedom beckoned these people,
and their memories of home
lured them into reality once again.
In their shock and surprise,
there was an unspeakable joy
as the tanks rolled in and the Nazis faded away.
Israel too experienced her captivity.
Assyria carried the northern kingdom into exile in 721 b.c.,
and Babylon did the same to the southern kingdom
in 586 b.c.
Far from home, many exiles died…
Many others were assimilated
into the native populations.
And what sustained their Jewish identity
Was their prayers
And their hopeful longing to see Jerusalem once again.
A remnant of Israel was rewarded for this longing.
They began the return to Palestine
when the Persians conquered the once-great Babylon,
that was now abandoned in the dust (see Ezra 1–6).
Psalm 126 captures much of the feelings of the exiles.
The psalmist begins by describing what God did
and how the exiles felt:
“When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion…
Note that it is Yahweh,
not Cyrus or some other king, who releases Israel.
Israel was in exile under God’s judgment.
Only God can set Israel free.
We were like those who dream.”
The dream state of the exiles
probably refers to their shock and their disbelief
at what was happening.
“Is this real?” they asked, in a daze.
Captivity makes people bendable for their masters.
It can break the spirit and the will.
Freedom, when it comes, can evoke disbelief.
However, in verse 2, the reality of release breaks in,
and the exiles laugh and sing.
This is the expression of their joy.
The gates are open;
the bars are shattered.
Their captors lie slaughtered,
and the road opens before them,
calling them home.
Freedom from oppression,
From bad habits or addictions,
Freedom from sin
Opens the floodgates of joyful emotions
In a person’s life.
God’s work of redemption for Israel -
And for us -
Caused their mouths to be
filled with laughter,
and their tongues with songs of joy.
And notice the effect that this laughter
and joyful singing has on others:
Then it was said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The joy of their salvation
And their freedom from captivity
evokes a response of awe“among the nations.”
The nations react to Israel’s release
by acknowledging that
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
God frees His people
And places His joy in their hearts.
We can be no greater witnesess than when we
Express the joy that we have because of Jesus.
The people of Israel begin their journey home
With great joy.
And as they laugh and rejoice
In their common experience of freedom from captivity
They give praise to God.
Listen to the Joy expressed in Psalm 66
1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
3 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name."
5 Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man's behalf!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.
8 Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you-
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!
A Psalm of Praise like this
Cannot be spoken in a somber mood…
You can feel the emotions of the writer
Bubble to the surface
And burst into joy!
That is the kind of Congregation we want to be!
God has done so much for us…
Each one of us has a story of how God
Has met us in a time of need
And turned our sorrow to laughter.
That story has to be shared!
And it cannot be told with a sad face.
As we look at what is important to us
As a church here at Springfield Heights
Let it be said that joy is a very important factor
In who we are as a people of God.
Our joy is not just a spiritualized version
Of “This Hour has 22 minutes”.
Our laughter grows out of the unspeakable Joy
That comes from the freedom that we have in Christ.
In our journey together
As we worship…
As we work and serve…
Let us live life to the fullest
And let us revel in what God has done for us.
Then the nations will say,
“Take a look at that!
Something has happened here.
God is at work!”
Let us Pray