Chapter 22, Page 175 – Forward in Faith
“The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner
“… and the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Galatians 5:22-23
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love … I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:9-12
I recently officiated the burial office for a young husband and father, the circumstances of his death sudden and tragic. As I learned more of his life, his hopes, and his loves, the reading from John’s Gospel, and singing Beethoven’s Hymn to Joy, came clear and a necessary part in the celebration of his life. I encountered some questions about these selections. My response was that we, as Christian, are people of the Incarnation AND Resurrection. We are a people who bear the fullness of the life, death, and eternal life of our Lord Jesus Christ in our living now, and our spirit that can live on in the lives of those whom we touch in this mortal journey. We can live like this, and we can live like this now, with JOY.
The words of Jesus in the Last Supper discourse of John are words that express what joy Jesus desires in days to come for his disciples, days that will not be real joyful as we tend to define joy in our times. For much of the world, joy is the thing that makes me happy now, satisfies me now, and fulfills my life now – the instant gratification syndrome where we tend to live on the surface of our cyber-social connected life. Yet real joy emerges in life through celebration and despair, wholeness and needed healing, in life and in death. Frederick Buechner writes, “Happiness turns up more or less where you would expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is a notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.”
If we live as people of the Incarnation AND Resurrection, we know how it feels and what it looks like to live INTO our joy through all the vagaries of life. We can live like the praise of the psalmist, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to God’s holy name … God’s favor is for a lifetime .Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” [30:4-5]. It is living into a life that is for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness in health, until we are parted by death. It is THIS joy we live in a life of faith. It is THIS joy that can be seen by our world around us.
In his book of daily meditations, Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen captures the essence of a life of faith lived in joy through hope – “The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go … Hope is the trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.”
I led a retreat some years ago in which I used various rocks as an example of how the fruits of the Spirit can be lived even in the hardness that life can bring, sometimes feeling as hard as rocks pounding against our aching body and soul. I have been keeping the rock with JOY written upon it as my prayer partner, holding his wife and two young children in prayer each day. It seems to me the continuing call of a family of faith, claiming Jesus Christ as we are, to be with others through the highest heaven, and the valley of the shadow of death, with the JOY in knowing we are never, never alone.
This is what being church is all about, now and eternally. This is the ROCK we are called to be and bear into our world all around us … the ROCK that is JOY!
With gratefulness always, your servant in Christ