Saturday, September 12, 2015

Joy Amidst Sadness

NW MN Synod Women’s Organization 
Convention Theme:  Joy!
Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN
September 12, 2015
Hebrews 12:1-3

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith; who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart."

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

The last movie that my wife and I went to was the Pixar animated film, Inside Out.  Perhaps some of you have seen it.

Inside Out is the story of an 11-year old girl named Riley.   The story plays out on two stages:  the external stage of Riley’s daily life with her mother and father…..and the internal stage of Riley’s mind, where five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust) are constantly interacting with one another-- personified as characters all vying to sit at the Control Panel of Riley’s life. 

Filled with mayhem and fast-paced humor, silly moments and poignant moments…..Inside Out focuses especially on the interplay between two of Riley’s emotions:   Joy and Sadness, personified as characters in Riley’s mind.

Joy, of course, thinks she should control Riley’s whole life.  Joy wants Riley to be happy from dawn to dusk.  Joy especially wants to keep Sadness as far away as possible from Riley’s internal control panel.

(As I started watching the movie I found myself pulling for Joy to be the main, if not the only, emotion in Riley’s life.   Who wants to see any young child unhappy or sad, after all?)

But when Riley and her parents move from Minnesota out to California, she experiences a whole gamut of emotions….all of which, tangled together, produce a bout of serious homesickness. 
Joy desperately tries to maintain control of Riley’s life….but that is not to be.  This normal little Minnesota girl becomes a sad, fearful, angry, depressed Californian.   The homesickness becomes so unbearable that Riley runs away from home, purchasing a ticket to take a bus back to Minnesota.

The turning point in the film (spoiler alert!) comes when Joy finally realizes that Sadness isn’t all bad—that there is, in fact, a role for Sadness--to make us mindful of the times in life when we need the help of others.   When Joy steps aside and lets Sadness sit at the control panel in Riley’s mind, Riley remembers how much her parents have helped her in sad times in her past….moving her to get off the bus….and return to her mom and dad in their new home in California.

A chaplain friend of mine tells me that some of his colleagues who supervise seminarians in their clinical pastoral education will be requiring all their students to watch this movie, Inside Out, as they learn the gentle, subtle art of pastoral care-giving.

Let me be clear:  Inside Out doesn’t portray itself to be a Christian movie.   But it does help us get at a central keynote within the Christian story—namely that joy is so much wider, deeper and more complex than happiness…..that joy in all its fullness cannot and does not exist apart from sadness….that these two emotions, these two ways-of-being are in fact meant for each other.

Nowhere is this interweaving of joy and everything that is NOT joy more evident than in these haunting words from Hebrews 12, about Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who “for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame…so that you may not grow weary or lose heart."

Why did Jesus suffer and die on the Cross?   The author of Hebrews tells us that it was for the sake of the joy that was set before him.

Really, now—joy???  How dare we link the brutality of the crucifixion of the Son of God with the reality of joy?    What joy could Jesus possibly have felt when he was being tortured in the most dehumanizing of ways?  

We could maybe imagine Jesus enduring the Cross….”toughing it out”….because he knew the pain would be temporary….or because he accepted it as his duty, his obligation….or because Jesus trusted that despite his suffering and death he would be vindicated…
But that is not what the author of Hebrews says.   Rather, it was for “the sake of the joy that was set before him [that Jesus] endured the cross, disregarding its shame….so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”

Jesus’ joy, as he faced the cross, was about you and me and all for whom he offered up his life.   It’s as if Jesus was thinking of us, and that was enough—the joy of you and me and who we would become.

Martin Luther in his Small Catechism, unpacks this for us in his meaning to the second article of the Apostles Creed.  Luther helps us grasp this surprising, uncanny joy that Jesus experienced on the cross.

"I believe that Jesus Christ--true God, Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary--is my Lord.  At great cost he has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person.  He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil--not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.  All this he has done (listen closely now!)...All this he has done that
•       I may be his own,
•       live under him in his kingdom, and
•       serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness,
just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.  This is most certainly true."

What gave Jesus joy on the Cross?

It was imagining you and me being his own dear children forever.  It was knowing that through his suffering, death and resurrection Jesus would win us…that we would belong to him forever.  No longer “alone in the universe.”  Never again feeling like a crate of unclaimed freight at the UPS depot.  You and I would belong to Jesus forever--that image gave the dying Jesus joy!

What gave Jesus joy on the Cross? 

It was picturing us living under him in his kingdom:  a kingdom built not on violence, coercion or unbridled power…but rather, a kingdom defined solely  by self-giving, death-defying love for us on the Cross.  It was the joy Jesus felt when he imagined you and me, no longer caught in a divided loyalty, no longer torn between God and devil...but living solely under his gentle rule, under King Jesus in his upside-down kingdom.        

What gave Jesus joy on the Cross?

It was the the thought of us serving him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. …the joy of transforming us from "good for nothings" into folks who are good for something:  good for trusting God, good for loving our neighbors, good for caring for the creation. 

In Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection for us and for all people we glimpse all the ways that enduring joy is so much more than fleeting happiness.

In Jesus we see how joy and sadness—far from being opposites of each other—actually need each other….for it is only in the interplay of joy and sadness that life gains depth, produces meaning, and grounds us in integrity.

In your lives of faith, my dear friends, you will know joy—but often it will be a joy that makes tears well up in your eyes and leaves a lump in your throat.   You will live joy—in the mountaintop moments, yes to be sure….but also in the dark valleys.  For in Christ, joy can be found even at hospital bedsides and freshly-dug graves.

In your lives of service to your neighbors, you will know joy…not just when service produces satisfaction for the servant…but also when your service confronts you with the dregs of this life—service for and with the least, the last and the lost.   

For we serve—joyfully, though perhaps not always happily—we serve in the name of the One who “for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame…so that you may not grow weary or lose heart." 

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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