St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Easter, April 30, 2023
“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 of iniquity, amid horrors set in the daily diet of news, political uncertainty and economic failure: what’s to be happy about? We’re set to despair, to settle for less, our only hope being free money. Some tell us: get angry—and then, get even. What’s the answer to these harbingers?
Joy. Joy. The best Christians I know have joy. It’s true. It shines in their faces, it comes forth from their words, it helps make their decisions and it shapes their destinies. Joy.
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 But it’s more than manly courage and indifference to the climate of society. It’s more than just British stiff upper lip. It’s more than maturity. What is this joy?
Misery has its end, ultimately. The Jews fled from Egypt, fearing for their lives by the Red Sea, trapped with Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers bearing down on them. Then they saw a path open before them to safety. And they saw their enemies drowned and their freedom assured. And they rejoiced. Joy in victory, joy for a terrible nightmare vanished, joy for knowing God is on our side, joy to be alive: these are good reasons to rejoice. The Jews rejoiced and sang songs of victory for days.
Then the food and water ran out. Something else always happens for true joy, because we are tested, to be ours, for joy is more than victory over danger, political gain, economic upturn, success finding a job, peace at the end of conflict. More troubles come. They have to.
Centuries later, the Jewish people had lost their heritage, lost their homes, lost their country, lost their freedom and many of their families and friends when forcefully packed up and taken as captives to Babylon. Seventy years they slaved for new masters, the memory of their Temple fading to legend. Finally, a lifetime later, some were allowed to return and rebuild their city, construct a new Temple and finally, after lives had come and gone, return to the worship of their ancestors. “Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel. 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 words of Scripture aloud for the first time in their lives and saw how they’d got 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 give us our true value. No man or woman, no king can tell you every day that you are made for a good purpose, that you are acceptable. Human souls must know that God has not rejected them, but forgives their sins and receives their worship. To worship in spirit and truth lights a candle deep inside us and we feel His acceptance. The Psalms proclaim, “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 Jews had that joy, and it was theirs, even after long years of suffering. But they longed for the final cure.
Isaiah declared, “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 is the verse Jesus Christ read in the synagogue from His youth and sat down to speak.
“This day has this Scripture been fulfilled in your ears.” Luke 4:21 At the commencement of His ministry, in His hometown, Jesus chose the words of Isaiah that described Himself, sent to restore broken hearts, declare freedom, announce acceptance, comfort the bereaved, and bestow Joy. Jesus came for Joy. And He gave Joy by living as He did, dying as He died, and coming to life at last at Easter to set the last fear we have to rest.
Joy triumphs over our fears, our remorse, our guilt, our sorrow in the power of what Christ does for us. If we believe it—not an outward belief, a knowledge that someone lived and died to save me—but an actual transaction, the exchange of the old life for the new. Reborn is Christ’s name for that transaction. 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 then.
You can obviously ask, So what is there for me to be so joyful about? I don’t feel that joy. Well, you don’t gin it up, manufacture it, pretend your joy. Some people have an effervescent spirit, a bouncy temperament, an infectious smile. But joy runs deeper than emotion, and it doesn’t come from you. It’s given to you. And you need to look for God, see His beaming face, and realize: I am no longer adrift, no longer alone, no more the bad guy, never again the loser.
St. Matthew renders a teaching of Jesus about three stewards of a master’s treasure, and the first two did very well, doubling the value and bringing it back abounding. “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 the knowledge of the Almighty, but then it’s taking what He gives us and putting it to work. The faith has to be switched on and used.
I once rented a little garden tiller to break up soil in my backyard to plant a vegetable patch. The machine was red and silver. It looked good sitting there. I was happy to have it. But—oh yeah—I had to turn the switch and get the tines spinning to dig the earth and prepare the beds—I had to work it. Having faith and using it are two things. I also had to buy veggies, plant them, and water. Eventually, I’d have cucumbers. And thank God for the miracle.
Truly Christ came for joy. He rose up to live after dying and then rose to heaven. He sent to us the blessing of His Holy Spirit, so God might live inside us to fulfill a prophecy of 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. When you get your heart back, you can at last rejoice.
Jesus preached encouragement. For “blessed” read “joyful” in the Beatitudes. “Joyful are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God. Joyful are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Joyful 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 cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.” Luke 6:20-23 Overcoming troubles, the joy that is real, joy that is more than momentary happiness, joy that lasts a lifetime and beyond is found in something fundamental and eternal. This world and our earthly lives are only a short span: real joy has to come from something above and beyond circumstances. For Hebrews under the Old Law, it began to dawn on them that the God of eternity was preparing more than a peaceful Israeli homeland for them between the Mediterranean and the deserts of Arabia.
We come to faith, we submit to Baptism, we learn the Creeds, receive Confirmation, take our Communion, read our Bibles, buy a Prayer Book… and then what? The Sacraments have a spiritual reality, like the treasures left in the care of the three servants, like the tiller that looks good on the sidewalk. Come. Step up to the handle-grips, flip the switch, pull the starter cord. Brrrummmm. Get set; release the clutch. Feel that? Something’s happening…
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, changing you, empowering you, doing miracles in and through you: love, joy, peace and all those virtues abound.
Joy. It’s the 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 grumpy. It’s not woe and disquiet and depression – not all the time. We feel those things for a season, then He is our cure. We don’t just sit on the gift, but we open it up and put it to use. Then it’s ours.
Rejoice! Eureka! Alleluia! Happy Days! Good News! Christ is ours. The Spirit is ours. He has chosen us. We can finally have lasting, deep, meaningful Joy.