the Sake of the Joy
The film The
Painted Veil was recommended to us by my college roommate who is a
literature buff. Perhaps you’ve
seen it too. It’s based on a novel
by Somerset Maugham. Filmed along
But besides those
personal connections, something else caught me.
There was a convent of nuns who took care of children orphaned by the
outbreak of cholera. In one scene
the Mother Superior shares with the doctor’s wife that she too had fallen in
love once, at age 17, with God. She
describes herself as a foolish girl with romantic notions of the life of a
religious, but her heart was passionate. Over
the years her feelings changed. God
had disappointed her; ignored her. “But
God knows I’ll never leave him. This is my duty,” she said. “But when love
and duty are one, then grace is within you.”
In today’s Gospel,
Jesus uses the image of fire to name that coming together of duty (or calling)
with love, passion, joy. Duty (or calling) is one thing, but when it meets
passion and joy, then sparks fly – something powerful ignites – the world is
We saw this at the Well
Rescue Mission Dinner. Everyone who
spoke did so with passion and delight. The
common denominator in the speeches was gratitude for the help they have
received. If they felt it was a duty
to serve God, duty took on joy when they have themselves fully to life. Even
the retired judge who was the keynote expressed gratitude for an alternative to
prison for people who needed help, not incarceration.
Jesus had a duty to
accomplish in his earthly life, but it was never just duty.
We never hear Jesus says, “Well, someone’s got to do it.” I’ve
never read that anywhere in the Bible! Duty,
passion, fire, love are one in Jesus and grace was within him for his calling.
Today’s Hebrews reading
says Jesus “endured the cross, disregarding its shame, for the sake of the joy
that was set before him” not for the sake of the duty. It
is the necessity of joy that I want to reflect on this morning.
Without joy – we merely survive.
Garth Brooks catches this in his song:
is not tried, it is merely survived
you’re standing outside the fire.
call them fools
have to dance within the flame
chance the sorrow and the shame
always comes with getting burned
life is not tried, it is merely survived
you’re standing outside the fire.”
Jesus didn’t stand
outside the fire of God’s passion for the world.
He entered it fully. He said
of himself: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already
kindled!” If Jesus had a coin to
throw into a wishing well, or was going to blow out birthday candles and make a
wish, or was going to wish upon a star, or make a wish list – Luke 12 tells us
that his wish would be to see this
fire kindled in other lives besides his.
This passage is about
urgency – the urgency of knowing the joy that is set before us.
Knowing the joy comes through discovery – discovering who Jesus is: God
with us, engaging us, calling, equipping us for purposeful living, for making a
difference with our lives. Carol
Anderson, Rector of All Saint’s Episcopal Church writes: “Once you have made
up your mind that Jesus is who he claims to be, he will make a claim on your
life and your life will not be the same. It
will change your life.” (Knowing Jesus
in Your Life)
Our Visioning Team has
been working to describe our Vision as a congregation in one sentence.
When we were working on this the other day, there was no hesitation about
whether to include the word “joy”. Deep
joy is connected to what Jesus calls fire – being on fire, not just out of
duty, but out of joyful participation in God’s mission.
We are in the draft stage
of writing our Vision statement. The
Vision Team worked on it. The Church
Council is going to work on it next this Tuesday night.
So it’s in process, but so far it has something to do with
“being valued as an inclusive, grace-centered community discovering, learning
and deepening in the joy of being companions with Christ in bearing God’s love
and delight of the world.
That there is “joy”
in this is as important as any part of it. Without
joy, the race overwhelms us. Without
joy, whatever has to be endured becomes too much.
Whatever needs to be disregarded is too difficult.
It was for the sake of the joy that
was set before Jesus that he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. If
we get in touch with the joy, the fire, the passion, then the difficulty of
whatever is asked of us won’t matter. Without
joy, we merely survive. With joy,
anything is possible.
Today’s Gospel needs
this reminder of joy. The Gospel
announces Jesus as being under great stress regarding what is asked of him:
“what stress I am under until it is accomplished,” says Jesus. Our
Senior Ministry group is going to share their favorite Bible verses at their
September meeting. Now I will fall
off my chair if any of them choose the verses from today’s Gospel.
The last thing any of us wants is to do is to follow a stressed out
But stress itself is not
the enemy. Without stress, life is
life-less; even unhealthy. Like
trying to pop popcorn in a microwave – without the stress the kernels in the
form of electricity, they don’t pop. Both
body and mind need stress. That’s
why we go to the gym -- even 97 year old Leta goes to an exercise program to
give healthy stress to her body. Some
of us walk dogs, which does the same thing. That’s
also why we do crossword puzzles.
So one of the most
important challenges before us in a Visioning Process is to pay attention to the
joy – the delight – the healthy stress – the fire of love and passion in
what it is God is calling us to. If
there’s no joy in it, no energy, no high delight, it may never get
accomplished. For the sake of the
joy that was set before him, Jesus moved forward in spite of the costs.
Looking to Jesus, the
pioneer and perfecter of our faith, may our eyes be peeled for what tickles us
deep down where joy is found! If we
get in touch with that joy, nothing can stop us.
Look at what is happening among us in our companionship with the
Kagitumba Parish in
But we have to be paying
attention regarding joy, for, as Frederick Buechner says, “Happiness turns up
more or less where you’d expect it to….…
Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who
bequeaths it.” We can expect to be
surprised by joy! May we expect to
+Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson,
to the glory of God