St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Easter, May 8, 2022
“Ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”
IN A WORLD seething with frightful and maddening news, political strife, economic failure: what is there to be happy about? We teeter on the brink of war. Pundits on all sides saying: get angry—and then, get even. O Christian people, what should our attitude be, our response to these harbingers of doom, and the quailing of our own hearts?
Joy. Joy! The best Christians I know have unshakable, abiding joy. It’s true. It shines in their faces, it comes from their words, it helps make their decisions and it shapes their destinies. Joy. But how can anyone be happy in the kind of world we’re in?
Rudyard Kipling wrote: “IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, / If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, / Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: / If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; / If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; / If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, / Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!” If
We may surely object that joy is more than manly courage or indifference to the culture and climate of society. It’s more than British ‘stiff upper lip’. It’s certainly not just maturity. So, what is joy?
The Jews fled the Egyptians, fearing death at the shores of the Red Sea. They were trapped with Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers bearing down. They saw the sea open a dry path to safety, over which they ran. Once on the far shore, they watched their enemies drown and their freedom assured. And they rejoiced. Joy in victory, joy as a terrible nightmare vanquishes, joy in knowing God is on our side, joy to be alive: these are good reasons to rejoice. And the Jews did rejoice and sang songs of victory, and that lasted for days.
Then the food and water ran out. Happiness is effervescent. It goes flat. Something more must happen for the kind of joy of which I speak to be ours, more than victory over danger, political gains, economic upturn, a successful job hunt, peace at the end of conflict. More troubles will come inevitably. Boredom sets in. Nothing remains on a high plain.
Centuries after the Passover, the Jews had again lost their heritage, their homes, their country, their freedom and many of their relatives and friends when they were forcefully packed up and taken captive to Babylon. For an entire lifetime they slaved for new masters, the memory of Jerusalem faded into a legendary past. Finally, some of them were allowed to return and rebuild a new Temple and, after many lives had come and gone, they again worshiped their God. “Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together … And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the Lord made them joyful…” Ezra 6:21-22 They heard the Scriptures read aloud for the first time in their lives and saw how they’d gotten it terribly wrong. They wept in sorrow, but Nehemiah said, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Neh 8:9-10
Earthly powers can’t assign us our true value. No man or woman, no king or president can tell you that you are all right, that you’re acceptable. But to know that God has not rejected us, that He forgives our sin and receives our worship—worship in spirit and truth, lighting a candle deep inside our hearts—then we will at last know we are accepted. The Psalm sings out, “I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope… You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:8-9,11 Faithful Israelites had that joy, and it would remain theirs through long years of further suffering.
Isaiah prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord; To comfort all who mourn, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isaiah 61:1-3 This verse is what Jesus read in His home synagogue in Nazareth and then said. “This day has this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears.” Luke 4:21 Jesus chose Isaiah’s words, describing Himself, the restorer of broken hearts, declaring freedom, announcing acceptance, comforting the bereaved, and bestowing Joy. Jesus came for Joy. And He gave Joy by living as He did, dying as He died, and coming to life at Easter to set the last fear we have to rest.
Joy triumphs over our fear, our remorse, our guilt, our sorrow in the power of what Christ does for us. If we believe it—when it’s not just an external thing, a mere knowledge someone lived and died to save me—but an actual transaction, the exchange of an old life for the new. Born again is Christ’s phrase for it. Transformation St. Paul called it. A true change of nature and that means new eyes, new ears, a renewing of our mind and a restoration of our hearts—but how do you have that come to you? How indeed? Do you want it? Let’s see how.
St. Matthew writes Jesus’ parable of three stewards of a master’s treasure, and the first two did very well, doubling the value and returning abundance. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matt 25:21 It is about faith, and knowing God, but then it’s taking what He gives us and putting it to work. The faith has to be switched on and used, and then: the joy comes. Having faith and using it are two things. Working for God is one thing: working with God is something far more. The third servant merely worked for God, buried the talent in the ground and gave it back. No reward, no joy.
I have a friend whose home was fully destroyed in the Camp Fire, while he remained in place fighting the losing battle. Then his dear wife got cancer, and in a few weeks, she died. But you call him up and he answers: “Jesus loves you!” And he means it. His joy is infectious.
Truly Christ came for joy. He rose from death and later rose to heaven. Then He sent us His Holy Spirit, that God might live inside us: fulfilling a prophecy from the captivity: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you...” Ezek 36:26-27
Christ came to put heart back in us. If a person is encouraged, that means they have heart—cour is heart in Latin. Courage is having a brave heart. When you get your heart back, you can finally rejoice.
Jesus gave encouragement and engendered courage. Read the Beatitudes and, instead of the word “blessed” read it: “Overjoyed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. Joyful are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Brimming with joy are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Joyful are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and curse your name, For the Son of Man's sake. Be joyful in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” Luke 6:20-23 Overcoming circumstances, with joy that is real, joy that is more than momentary happiness, joy that lasts a lifetime and beyond: this joy is founded in something fundamental and eternal.
This world and our lives exist only for a short span: real joy has to come from something beyond normal existence. For Hebrews under the Old Law, it began to dawn on them that God was promising more than a peaceful homeland between the Mediterranean and Arabia. They began to look for another country, not made with hands.
In our lives, we come to faith, we enter by Baptism, we learn the Creeds, receive Confirmation, take Communion, read our Bibles, buy a Prayer Book… and then what? The Sacraments have spiritual power, like the treasures left in the care of the three servants. They go to work.
St. Paul wrote “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Gal 5:22-23 When the Spirit is alive in you, functioning in you, changing you, empowering you, doing miracles in and through you: love, joy, peace and all those virtues abound. In our calendars, we await Pentecost. In our spiritual lives, we seek God’s touching of our innermost being, giving in us new hearts, new spirits, new joy.
Joy. It’s the real goods. St. John wrote, “These things we write to you that your joy may be full.” 1 John 1:4 The Christian life is not being grumpy. It’s not a life of woe and disquiet and sorrow – not all the time, anyway. We feel those things for a season, then He is our cure. We don’t just sit on the gift: we open it up and put it to use. When we put the treasure to work, it becomes ours.
So, Rejoice! Alleluia! There are Happy Days coming! It’s all Good News! Christ is ours. The Spirit has come to us. He has chosen us. We can finally have deep, meaningful, lasting Joy.