Joyful Tintinnabulation

Galatians 5:22

Philippians 4:4-9

John 15:11

I’ve got Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

Down in my heart

Down in my heart

I’ve got Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

Down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay.

Today, we celebrate a joyful faith. We ring bells, and whether we hit all the right notes or miss one, we rejoice because we woke up this morning, are here in church among friends and loved ones, and can make a joyful noise of praise to God our Creator and Parent.

Joy’s not easy to talk about. In many ways, it’s an inexpressible feeling that despite the challenges of life, and there are many, all will be well. It’s a way of looking at the world, seeing beauty, wonder, and love, and trusting that the moral arc of the universe is bent toward justice.

C.S. Lewis once said that joy is the serious business of heaven. Joy is God’s business: for God wants us to have abundant life, to live joyfully, and to rejoice in the amazing fact that you are here at this moment, living and breathing. That in all the universe, this time, this place, and this you are unique in all the complexity, bittersweetness, gratitude, and amazing reality of this moment.

Joy is not some sort of false face we present to the world. It is the reality of experiencing God living and breathing in you. Do you remember the Flying Scot, Eric Liddel, the Olympic gold medalist portrayed in “Chariots of Fire”….he proclaimed, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

Do you think God has pleasure in you? Do you think God delights in what you love to do best? Do you think God rejoices when a toddler runs to hug her parent, a child is immersed in a drawing or weaving some fantastic story, a gardener is creating beauty here at church or the backyard, a dog is running in the waves, or a whale breaching? Well, I think so.

I feel God’s pleasure here at South Congregational Church: when the children were singing two weeks ago, when the choir bursts forth in song and bells ring, when someone feels a sense of peace in the meditation group or a new insight in our bible studies, when a friend celebrates a recovery from illness…when a family gives thanks at a memorial service for a life well lived…yes, there are tears, but there is gratitude for someone who brought love and beauty into the world.

Joy is not accidental, it involves a way of looking at life, inspired by the deeply held belief that God is with us and that God will have the final word in every situation – and that word is “yes,” that word is “peace,” that word is “love,” that word is “eternity.”

You have heard that I begin my days with the words of the Psalmist “this is the day that God has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it.”   I believe that this affirmation, said over and over again, has shaped the way I experience the world. I’m inspired by the words of concentration camp survivor, psychiatrist Victor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We can choose the pathways of joy, and as Paul says to the Philippians – this involves gratitude, prayer, friendship, and focus on the positive realities of life. And, Paul says this while living under house arrest, not knowing whether his future held freedom or martyrdom.

Joy is a gift, a grace, and an attitude. But, let me remind you that we don’t need to feel guilty on days when life seems dark and we have lost life’s zest. Many of us have dealt with various forms of depression, and that’s not our fault or God’s will, but the result of chemicals and tragic and sometimes traumatic life circumstances. But, even in dealing with what we can’t change or must always live with, we can, through support of others, counseling and spiritual companionship, medication, and spiritual practices discover beauty and joy in the darkest valleys.

Finally, there is an ethic of joy. Joy is not about “me,” the isolated individual, grasping for happiness on her or his own terms. Joy is about “us,” about seeing our happiness and joy as interconnected: when I provide ways for you to be joyful, I discover my deepest joy.

We can practice this ethic of joy by getting beyond ourselves to care for others – going the extra mile by providing a ride to church, cooking a casserole for the hungry, playing and praying with a child in church school, taking a homebound friend shopping, to lunch, or a drive past the ocean, building a home so that a child can have joy in a room of her own, and giving generously to programs like the Baby Center, Angel’s Place, Habitat for Humanity, and Church World Service that help children and their parents experience the joy of future possibilities and food and shelter enough to thrive. There’s an unexpected joy hidden within a backpack, collected for a child at Centerville School.

And, so my friends, let us embrace God’s joyfulness; let us dwell on the lovely and beautiful; let us let go of small worries and open to great wonders; and even in situations which are beyond our control or chronic conditions, trust God’s abiding faithfulness, knowing that all will be well, and that you are the apple of God’s eye, God’s delight, and God wants you to delight in the wonder of your life and this glorious universe.

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