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Luke 10:21, 23-29
21At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
23Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
24For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
So yes, Rainbow Jesus, we thank you for the way you showed us the fullness of life through your word and deed. Through you, we know God’s abundant love, extravagant grace, and mercies that are new every morning. This morning we pray that we may know and experience that fullness even now as we sit in prayer in worship, that you will bring rest to our restless souls, peace to our anxious minds, healing in our tired bodies, and joy to our aching hearts. Would you meet us here, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
I know we keep talking about this, but it’s because it’s been a tough year! The pandemic, the racial injustice. So, I have been trying to find joy. So when I found this text, I was so happy that Jesus was full of Joy! Not that I doubted that he would be, but he did often rebuke, and fight injustice, and ultimately was targeted and scapegoated and killed, so when I found a text that showed Jesus full of joy, giving thanks and gratitude, I was like YES!
And then it quickly turned into a very mysterious text. Talking about how things are hidden from the wise and the educated. And that instead it’s revealed to babies. You’re like what’s he talking about? What is this secret he’s alluding to?
Over the pandemic, I know that many of you tried to find new joys in picking up a new hobby, getting a pet, or baking bread. Me, I got me a baby. And it’s true, this baby, while the world worried in fear, was the happiest baby ever. Literally I’d just look at him, and he’d go *smile smile* and just so joyful that I often asked him, Jesse, how are you so happy?
And maybe that’s true, that as we grow older, get to know the world more, see more news, we can’t help but see all the bad.
I was surprised, maybe not that surprised, to find out through Reservoir’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion survey we did last year that 80% of the people had graduate degrees. Well with the caveat that about half of the congregation filled out the survey, so maybe who’s more likely to fill out surveys, in any case. It made me wonder, what might be hidden from us?
As I read on the text, I began to realize, that it just might be that simple. The truth that will set us free, maybe even toward joy—maybe it is just that simple: Maybe it’s just love.
So those are my 3 points today – Loving God, Loving others, and Loving yourself. And I believe that these are the secret to joy. And sometimes we get them all wrong, even though they are so simple, almost too simple, so I’d love to talk through some of my own struggles in these areas, and see if we can find ways for us to find love and joy.
So first, loving God.
Love your God with all your heart, all your soul
is not just a commandment. You shall love your God! It doesn’t just mean you better listen to God. You better submit! As it might’ve been taught in some church circles. You better OBEY God! Loving God, is much more tender than that. Really. Loving God means to be in a loving relationship with God. It means having an open and honest relationship with God. It means you can receive love and learn about love, as you attempt to love and fail and love again. It means you can get mad, or misunderstand. It means you can be vulnerable with God.
For me, sometimes it’s hard to believe that God really loves the world. Sometimes I look around and there’s so much division, sadness, injustice, and suffering, it doesn’t really look like God’s love is prevailing but just the opposite. There are “proofs” of how much evil seems to be prevailing. And for me that’s one of my biggest obstacles of joy.
So in my search for joy, I picked up a book called, the Book of Joy, that I’ve mentioned in a sermon before. I was drawn to this because it had two characters, who first hand knew about pain and suffering.
The Dalai Lama, who’s literally exiled, pushed out from his own homeland, facing the erasure of his people the Tibetans. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who’s faced injustice and fought for the liberation of black people in South Africa. Look how happy they look. I wanted to hear about joy from those who’s been through injustice. Cause my first question to God and Jesus and love and joy is, but how when, there’s murder, disease, loneliness, sadness, anger, the list goes on.
Here’s what the archbishop Desmond Tutu said:
“And so I think we shouldn’t think we are superwomen and supermen. To hold down emotions in a controlled environment as it were is not wise. I would say go ahead and even maybe shout out your sadness and pain. This can bring you back to normal. It’s locking them up and pretending that they are not there that causes them to fester and become a wound. I’ve not read this in a book. It’s just how I have handled them.”
He gives permission to sadness. He also talks about righteous anger, in the face of injustice, not as just a reactionary emotion to get rid of, but a tool of justice that is deeply rooted in connection to humanity, which I think gets at the whole love of your neighbor that I’ll talk about in a bit.
For me, this is what it means to Love God and find joy in this world that sometimes look like a godforsaken place. That we can be honest about sadness. We can be honest about anger. We can be honest about suffering. Loving God doesn’t mean, always just God you’re awesome! But praising God when praise is due, but also going to God when things don’t seem right. That’s trusting God. There you find hope actually. You wouldn’t share how you really feel with someone you don’t care about. But when you love someone, you tell them what’s really bothering you.
So in that sense, pain and suffering are not obstacles of joy, but an access point for intimacy with God. Love the Lord your God with all your hurts, with all your pains, with all your struggles, with all your sufferings.
This naturally brings me to my second point, loving others. It quickly landed here for the conversation between the Archbishop and Dalai Lama.
The Archbishop talked about sadness like this,
Sadness is seemingly the most direct challenge to joy
but as the Archbishop argued strongly,
it often leads us most directly to empathy and compassion to recognize our need for one another.
New studies conducted by psychology researcher Joseph Forgas show that mild sadness can actually have a number of benefits that could reflect its value. In his experiments, people who were in a sad mood had better judgement and memory, and were more motivated, more sensitive to social norms, and more generous than the happier control group…
Sadness didn’t make people broken but it made them expand into the fullness of a richer life. As I read it, I found that to be true. My own sadness has given me empathy. And that empathy connected me to others. Which made me less lonely. Which made me more happy.
The man asked Jesus,
who is my neighbor?
And the next story that follows is the parable of the Samaritan, which essentially tries to explain that in fact your enemy, one who you disagrees with you, that you despise, the Samaritans that Jews often looked down upon, is the one who ends up helping you.
Sometimes I wonder why we’re so divided. We think we’re right and others are wrong. I wonder if we’re not happy because we know too much. And it’s making us into anxious people. We calculate. We weigh the odds. We get to the facts and debate. And yet sometimes I feel like with all the information out there in the internets, we’re more lost than ever. What is truth even anyway? Sometimes I feel like the guy, asking, “so what do you mean by this “neighbor”?” trying to break it down and understand, when really it is just that simple, love your neighbor.
One more story from the Book of Joy about loving your neighbor:
In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama shares a story about one of his friends, a senior monk, who was imprisoned for 18 years. He says,
“They had no shoes, even during the very coldest of days. Sometimes it was so cold that when you spit, it would land as ice. They were always hungry. One day he was so hungry that he tried to eat the body of one of the other prisoners that had died, but the flesh of the dead person was frozen and too hard to bite. Throughout the whole time, they tortured the prisoners. There is Soviet-style torture and Japanese-style torture and Chinese-style torture, and at this camp they combined them all into an immensely cruel kind of torture.”
“When he left the camp, only twenty people had survived. He told me that during those eighteen years he faced some real dangers. I thought of course he was talking about dangers to his life. He told me he was in danger of losing…his compassion for his Chinese guards.”
The narrator goes onto say,
“I could hear a gasp in the room at this extraordinary statement, that the greatest danger for this man had been the risk of losing his compassion, losing his heart, losing his humanity.”
The Dalai Lama continues,
“Now he is still alive, age ninety-seven, and his mind is still in very good shape, sharp and healthy. So as you mentioned, his spirituality and his experience reinforced his ability for compassion…”
Which I would go on to say, his empathy, his compassion, his connection to others reinforced his joy, despite of his struggles. And maybe some might call that foolish. Why would you care about someone who tortured you? I don’t know. But maybe that’s how he survived, his stubbornness to not harden his heart but keep it soft, even toward his enemy. It reminds me of Jesus saying,
“love your enemies”
Okay lastly – Loving yourself.
What does it mean to love yourself? I think personally, this is the hardest one for me. And I’ve recently gained a new insight that’s been helpful. Another book, called Self-Compassion, this time from the field of psychology. I guess I’m so educated that I need books and studies to help me understand the simplest of things. It lays out the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion. Self-esteem is “I’m the best!” But its pitfall is, if you’re not the best, then you’re a failure. Self-Compassion invites us to consider a more sober mindedness about ourselves. More realistic.
Loving yourself is not thinking I’m like the coolest hottest thing. Loving yourself is seeing yourself, as who you really are.
I’ll end with a story from this book.
“A Native American wisdom story tells of an old Cherokee who is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good–he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one you feed.”
Maybe this might be the reason why the LGBTQIA+ community, with stories of rejection, hiding, shame, and suicide rate, hang on to more than anything, pride and joy and celebration. I think we have a thing or two we can learn about truly loving ourselves from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Ophelia Hu Kinney – a queer Asian American woman I deeply respect wrote a poem about Pride. She says:
When they ask, “But isn’t pride a sin?” they lack what they too frequently lack: context, context, context.
Image is a solid background with the following text in front:
Pride, not like a lion of its claws or a hunter of its gun
Pride like a rose of its thorns, like a cat of its black, like a flounder of the way it meets the ocean floor, like a spider in the grass of its web lit up by dew
She’s saying pride in just who they are for just being who they are.
And this does remind me of many children’s books I’m reading these days. Books that simply say things like, I love you, not because you’re tall, but because you are just you!
And that’s it.
Loving God, Loving others, Loving yourself, are the ways toward joy. In other words I guess, the secret to joy is love.
God loves you, just because you are just you. Do you believe that? I hope so. May we find our joy in knowing that love, driving it down deep in our hearts and sharing with everyone around us.