You and the Joy of the Lord

Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6 &8-10
LUKE 4: 14-21

January 23, 2022

One of what I believe to be life’s special pleasures comes from our pets. My Chelsea’s hurrying to see me in spite of her low hanging stomach … to rub noses with me … and yes, sometimes to attempt to pet my shaved head with her all too frequently open paw resulting in nicks and scabs along the way. Chelsea brings me great pleasure from the love that she never stops sharing with me. I can tell she’s really happy to see me, its in her eyes and as she purrs. And, it is impossible for me not to be happy sensing that always present love that I get from my four legged pet even when she loudly begs for treats or table scraps or attempts to knock my cell phone out of my hand.

Now, my mom had a bird or many birds … all parakeets … all of them looked alike … we don’t know if there was one or a dozen because she called them all “baby.” Mom would look at them and they’d look at her in odd conversation. Mom enjoyed her birds, we think, but we could never determine if those caged birds longed for anything more than not to be called “Baby.” We however had Gregory Peck, not the movie star, but a handsome grey cockatiel whose forehead had some yellow, white, and orange mixed in. We wanted a pet but our landlady didn’t allow cats or dogs so we drove to a house in Lackawanna NY where the entire second floor was filled with birds, feathers and dust. A bird was not my choice but Gregory became mine because on his first night in our Kenmore abode Gregory flew right into the collection of kitchen tools and injured his eye. You can imagine the vet visit … hey my bird flew into the spaghetti strainer. And, I then had the task of putting medicine on his eye and love was there. Our measuring of Gregory’s happiness was seen in his flights to the top of my head and how he sang along with Hot Butter’s 1972 synthesizer-driven song “Pop Corn” whistling in perfect harmony with the singers of that obscure song that sold over a million copies. But, given the chance to leave home he did … flying out an open screen never to be seen again.

Now, friends, our pet dogs … if you have a dog then you know what it’s like to have a pet who repeatedly says thank you, thank you, thank you and shares its happiness with you. Our dogs’ eyes are always looking towards ours attempting to create a freeze moment when they know that they have us … and then they wag their tail, they toss their toys up in the air, and frankly they go absolutely wild not in mere happiness but in total joy because they are with family … their family … they are home and want to show the joy at being fed, having a special place, being protected even though they consider themselves as part of the protection plan, and they are thankful for being loved. JOY JOY JOY …

I watched Tyler filled with joy yesterday … tongue out … tossing one toy then another into the air … getting on his hind legs to lick Megan’s face over and over again while his tail wagged unceasingly creating a minor nor’easter in the Smithville house. JOY!

So, how ready are you to express joy? To share joy? To let go and reveal something so clearly apparent as joy can be? Are you embarrassed to show joy, which is not mere happiness but total exuberance reflecting an overwhelming feeling that goes deep deep into the soul begging to be released just like Tyler’s sparkling eyes, wagging tail, and rapidly moving tongue demonstrated yesterday afternoon and will again and again.

And, no I am not suggesting anyone go around licking unceasingly but I am here this morning, only a few weeks past Christmas, wondering again why people of faith are so hesitant to demonstrate our joy … I hope you know what I am talking about …. You and your joy in and of the Lord! In God … in Jesus Christ! One would certainly hope that coming out of the Christmas season that we, as Christians, would still be including commentary about God’s gift through Christ in our conversations rather than how we had to return some clothing item that didn’t fit after we found it under our tree. Or perhaps, God’s gift … God’s love … God’s ongoing post-Christmas presence is not a present you treasure or talk about especially when opportunities for you to engage in heated human debate exist that raise blood pressure levels are your choice of dialogue.

Ok, first I know the world of adults seems to want us to live stern-faced lives where we regularly show anger and consternation toward others while doing our best to divide up the planet. We question or dismiss anyone is always demonstrating happiness. Surprisingly those individuals who have what we label as developmental disabilities are comfortable in showing unlimited happiness; joy. I heard how Wayne from Almonesson was always willing to show uncontrolled joy … Megan does … her friend Julie too … Howie who is gone was willing to be almost goofy with exuberance. We have been taught through implication that we should be deeply embarrassed if we dance uncontrollably in public on Main Street or break out in song especially if it is a song that is “Joy to the world the Lord has come; let earth receive … “ oh wait, wait a second … it has become pretty clear to me that the overall Christian church apparently has more important things to do and say then to suggest that we really want the world to receive “Her King” do we because that would change things. You and I have never heard a news report about a Christian church marching down the street with joy on their faces telling every person that they see that they are loved … or dancing away … spreading invitations to join the joy by coming to church but we hear of Christians insisting on political divisions and damning those who disagree with their specific point of view or even declaring that some loving humans cannot stand where I am standing this morning because of the person God created them as.

I would argue that our lack of joy when referencing our faith in God and in Jesus Christ and our hesitancy to sing, dance, or even talk about our faith with the biggest darn smile we have in our repertoire is in fact a demonstration that we don’t want our “religion” or perhaps you might be willing to refer to what we have as a deep seated faith … that we don’t want the world to know that we have it. Maybe it is a club religion because not expressing joy, being solemn when the topic comes up, and not sharing what we have defies Scriptural texts. But then again … do we care what God expects of us?

In our first reading for today, we heard that “anyone who could understand what they heard” gathered to hear Ezra read from Moses’ scroll. Now, if you can imagine investing more than an hour or so in a worship service did you hear what Nehemiah reports about the event? “Facing the area in front of the Water Gate, he read it aloud from early morning until the middle of the day.” And, Nehemiah felt that it was important enough to repeat the phrase “in the presence of anyone who could understand.” And, then to strike an exclamation mark he writes, “Everyone listened attentively to the instruction scroll.”

Now, I am sure some in the crowd felt their cell phones buzzing … some wanted to eat some snacks … some even wanted to bend low and whisper something to their spouse but no … EVERYONE LISTENED ATTENTIVELY.

But, friends that wasn’t the end … listening attentively was their passive act of faith. Their learning moment but then … and this is why this particular Scripture struck me with such force when I read it a few weeks ago. The people were renewed through their faith … the people were not about to sit back and yawn … they were not focused on breakfast or lunch or on the pregame shows that were about to be aired over their cell phones. By the way, did you know that you can watch almost any program that you get on TV on your cell phones? Amazing …

Yikes, where was I? Did I sing “Joy to the world …” yea, I did. Oh the people Ezra had just spent hours speaking to. The people who had just heard the Word of God for the people of God for literally hours during which they paid attention.

The people as a group stood up … the people shouted AMEN AMEN while physically raising their arms and their hands to God. I can imagine their joy … their unrestrained total joy of and in the Lord God who had delivered them just as the Lord God has delivered us from our sins through Jesus Christ … they got up friends … they raised their collective arms and hands and I doubt they looked around to see if anyone else was doing it first because they were caught up in their faith … God mattered … and then they bowed down and with all their hearts, souls, and minds they worshiped God in God’s greatness by putting their heads to the ground.

I will argue that unless we are willing to worship God with all that we have and show God our love that it is almost impossible for us to sense the joy of the Lord. We need to be committed to God … understanding how great and powerful God is. There is no curtain that God hides behind … God is evident throughout God’s creation … only humans somehow consider ourselves so much better than God that we can diminish God and fly out the open screen God offers us as a choice for our lives. But do we return? Ah, that is the question for renewal … that is the question for the revitalization of the church of God not only in our nation but in the world?

Jesus came home to the synagogue in Nazareth to reveal what the prophet Isaiah had said about his purpose in life. First “that the Spirit of the Lord was with Him. But then that Jesus came to preach good news to the poor.” Now, that had to stir up some feelings amongst the audience. Then Jesus continued reading God’s plan … from the prophet “Jesus was to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, offer recovery of sight for the blind, release of the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, which meant debts were to be forgiven.” Are you surprised that some in church that day wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff … those messages from God and Christ just didn’t fit in with who they were and who they intended to continue to be but some heard … some followed and the message of God through Jesus Christ has reached even West Deptford New Jersey and we are reminded by Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again, REJOICE!!”

Joy is the operating opportunity for people of faith. Our life choices … our God-directed expectations of life counter the world. As the people gathered in Jerusalem started to hear what was expected of them … some started to weep because it meant turning away from their world of comfort and they started to know their faith might cause them to not fit in the way they wanted to fit in. The instruction of God was harder than obtaining the membership card.

But there were the reminders … “Don’t mourn nor weep … this day is holy to the Lord! Don’t be sad BECAUSE THE JOY FROM THE LORD is YOUR STRENGTH!” THE JOY FROM and of the LORD GOD friends is our strength. “The Perfect love of God drives away fear!”

Scripture didn’t say don’t party .. Scriptures doesn’t teach us to never smile when you believe … Scripture teaches, “Go eat rich food and drink something sweet … because the JOY from the Lord is your strength!”

If we are going to revitalize the church … if we are going to do what we can here in West Deptford New Jersey to insure that this church stands strong … that this church fees the hungry and cares for the poor and the broken … if we want this place to be a place where future generations gather then we must be people who exude joy!

We must be people who share the story! We must be people who truly believe because when we believe friends it is then we will find our joy in the Lord God and by being people of faith … by being people who live for God … then we will be building our relationship with God and don’t you think that your faith, my faith, the strength of this church where all are welcomed and all are loved and where the message of Jesus Christ is taught to young and old … you know that we will be bringing joy to the Lord our God!

Are you happy knowing God has a place for you and your family and your friends? A forever place …. Do those family members and friends know about it? Are you filled with joy that makes you want to dance and sing because Jesus came for you? Are you sharing that message every day?

And, the psalmist said, “Let every breathing thing praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” And, Paul wrote”Rejoice always in the Lord!” And Ezra said “Joy from the Lord is your strength!”

Don’t you just want to jump up and down and wag your tails? AMEN

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