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Find the Joy

November 14, 2021

Find the Joy

Preacher:
Passage: Psalm 16: "My heart is glad and I rejoice!"
Service Type:

The funeral service for General Colin Powell was just over one week ago. It was an inspirational service, conducted according to the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church. It included eulogies and prayers and music, such as “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Amazing Grace.” You can watch the entire recording on YouTube.

Before the service formally started as former presidents were being seated the U S Army band played two songs that deserve our attention today. They played Bob Marley, “Everything Will Be Alright.”

General Powell was the child of Jamaican immigrants, and that selection makes sense. It’s not the kind of piece normally played at a formal funeral service. But it brings a smile to the face and makes you want to tap your toes or even get up and dance.

Then they played a song sung by the Swedish vocal band Abba. “You Are the Dancing Queen!”

What a song to play at a funeral. But I love it! It illustrates how we find joy and pleasure and happiness even in the worst circumstances of life. How to find the flowers in a burnt over field. How to catch a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day! How to hear or play the notes of joy when people all around you are drumming a dirge.

This is the theme of this psalm.

“Godly people are my heroes and I take pleasure in them.”

“You have given me a pleasant land; what a wonderful inheritance!”

“My heart is glad, and I rejoice.”

“You will grant me the joy of your presence and the pleasure of living with you forever.”

Here is a psalm for every day, for any day, for today. For you and for me, whatever our circumstances, whatever faces us, whatever struggle, whatever loss, whatever failure you face today: this is your song, your psalm.

One of our church themes is Sing for Joy, Live with Hope. That double phrase sums up this wonderful and ancient song. It is worth our time today.

I.

Joy is a distinctive theme of the Christian religion.

In a few weeks, we will welcome advent. Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. It is followed by Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and what is known as ordinary time. But Advent of all seasons leads us to the spirit of joy.

Joy to the world is the musical summons of Christmas. Rejoice, the Lord is Risen is the public announcement of Easter. Everything in between is covered over by the moods and music of joy.

O happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away. It is the oldest of testimonies, and it is an old gospel song that refuses to be pushed into obsolescence.

This spirit pours out of the gospel into music of all kinds. Think: Joy to the world, all the boys and girls. Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me.

And can you hear, even as I speak, the majestic, inspiration strains of Beethoven’s ninth: Joyful, joyful, we adore there, God of Glory, Lord of Life. Maybe you have seen the video of orchestras and choirs in Europe and America, especially, suddenly emerging from random crowds, often playing and singing that great anthem of Christian hope and faith. Flash Concerts, they are called.

Or the admonition of Paul the great apostle, in writing to those first Christians, gathered in the Greek town of Philippi, Rejoice in the Lord! Again, I say Rejoice!

Jesus said it like this: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

This spirit of joy is what gives our Christ-centered faith its musical score, something other world religions do not have. Whither it’s the classical stuff or the contemporary songs, like Chris Tomlin’s How Can I keep from Singing?

We cannot really worship as Christians unless we are singing. Yes, praying is essential and teaching; giving testimony is central to the Christian experience as is confession and forgiveness. All the ingredients of the Prayer of Jesus. But it is the singing that makes the Christian assembly so different.

In fact, music is often the vehicle of our praying and testifying, our teaching and preaching. We sing our religious. Every element of our faith is carried along on the wings of song.

Last week, I listened to the worship service. It has taken us a long time to get a decent live streaming broadcast. I am grateful for the many people around the country who have watched at least 3 seconds of our service. There were 18 of us in the sanctuary but Facebook records 166 views of the service last week.  The best part?  The congregational singing. It came through loud and strong, full of energy and hope. I want to be known as a singing church because it is a sing that we are a joyful people. We sing for joy and live with hope!

 

II.

Yes, there are things that weight us down, that drag us into depression, that burden our souls, our minds, our hearts, even our bodies.

The pandemic has brought us low. It has disrupted everything. It has called into question everything. Quite aside from the disagreements on how to treat it, we all agree that the pandemic has been a pain in the ass. It has kept us home when we want to go. It has kept us covered when we want to be free. It has kept us struggling when we are ready to surge. It has kept us grieving, for those who are stricken, for those who have died.

As if that is not enough, the political divide has pushed us around. None of us alive can remember a time so conflicted, so contentious, so full of controversy. It has put a strain on the United States of America. It has ripped at the fabric of what the scholars call our “social contract.” It has made us suspicious of one another, fearful of one another, angry at one another. It has been a bad time in American civic life.

Keeping a joyful spirit during these pandemic, politically troubled times has been hard. Especially when we cannot sing!

The burdens we have carried weight us down, drag us into depression and burden our souls. They test our humanity, tease our religion, and taunt our faith, hope, and love.

There is more.

This week, I drove to Indianapolis to attend a graveside funeral service. The grieving husband is a personal friend, a fraternity brother and roommate from college, and ministerial colleague. He has been a donor for years to both the Academy of Preachers which I led and now The Meetinghouse. I drove 505 miles, plus a few detours to visit family and friends, to stand with 150 other people around that funeral home tent. I know no one except Mike Reed, the Rev. Mike Reed. His wife of 48 years went out for a walk, an exercise walk, when a car, driven by a 96-year-old woman, veered off course and struck Jacquie.  She died a few hours later.

You think you got troubles?

You think you got troubles?

Bear one another burden’s the gospel says and, in this way, fulfill the law of Christ—to love one another, to rejoice with those who rejoice and cry with those who cry. Somebody near you is carrying a burden bigger and heavier than anything on your back. Somebody close to you is weighed down by fear or grief or anger or despair. Somebody you love and somebody you have not yet met is singing some version of that old song, Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows m y sorrow.

Which means this: when you come into a sanctuary or stand in a park and sing, you are singing for somebody around you. Somebody in trouble needs to hear the words you are singing. You may actually sing like my dad, whose sounds were only accidentally related to the tune of the hymn, when only occasionally who any note he sang matched the note on the hymn book page. But he had joy in his heart and even that was a blessing to others.

When you sing for joy, you are helping to put a little joy into the body and soul of somebody who is carrying a burden today.

 

III.

Even in troubled times, Church can be a joyful place! Worship can be a time of hope and help and healing. Jesus Christ is the agent to lift the spirit.

You catch that feeling in this psalm 16. Let’s read through this hymn again. Why don’t you repeat each phrase after me:

O Lord, I have come to you for refuge!

Everything good thing I have comes from you!

You alone are my cup of blessing.

You have given me a pleasant land.

I know you are always with me!

My heart is glad, and I rejoice.

You will show me the way of life.

You grant me the joy of your presence.

There is pleasure in living with you forever!

I want our church to be a place of joy.  Not a giddy celebration that overlooks the struggles of life; not a irresponsible suppression of the injustice in the world; not even a self-centered indifference to the pain and problems we face.

No, I want us to embrace our fears and live in our faith; I want us to acknowledge our faults and our failures while living in the forgiveness of God and seeking forgiveness from each other; I want us to see plainly our need for God and our need for each other. I want us to take refuge in our weekly gatherings in this sanctuary and in our online sanctuary. I want us to find strength and help and hope as we bump fists, and smile through facemasks, and nod in agreement when somebody gives glory to God, when the preacher speaks a word of hope and healing, when we sense the presence of the living God.

How does that happen?

By singing, with gusto and grit.

By praying, from the heart and the head.

By remembering Jesus, risen from the dead, living forevermore, in you, among us, throughout the world.

Yes, maybe my raising our hands, or bending the knees, or squeezing a little love into the one who sits next to us. Neither the pandemic, nor the political divisions, for the personal griefs that we bear can stifle the living, loving holy spirit of God that flows into us and through us and around us and over us. This is the deep-down pleasure we find when we gather in the name of Jesus and give glory to God for that all that is true and right and just and peaceful. May it happen, dear lord, may it happen.

 

 

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