Hi! Good morning everyone. I’m Ivy, as Michaiah mentioned. I hope your week was full of moments that you are grateful for – some that maybe let awe and wonder grab you for a second. Some that allowed you a moment of rest – to renew for whatever work lay ahead of you. I know I’m thankful for this moment with all of you, together, collectively creating a service on this Sunday morning that is still to unfold. So thanks for being here in this moment right now!
We are in the midst of summer here at Reservoir, marked in a myriad of ways, in part by our sermons.
Throughout most of the year – our sermons are more thematic and series driven, but over the summer we form them out of a mix of assigned Scripture readings that Christian traditions have used for centuries – called the lectionary.
Preaching out of the lectionary allows us as speakers some freedom, giving us the chance to talk about something that’s been on our mind that maybe didn’t fit directly into a series. If you were here last week, you heard Steve talk about something he’s wanted to talk about for awhile – “Hell” – and for me today, it’s a chance to talk about something I’ve been wanting to talk about – Joy!
Seriously though, I was really helped by Steve’s sermon last week – and I think in a lot of ways what we think about Hell is directly related to how we access joy. Because how we experience God, who we think God to be, and how we live out our life in response to that picture of God is critical. Do we think God is an angry God? Or a joy-filled God?
And I suppose, in some ways it’s as bold to speak about “hell” as it is to speak about “joy” these days. To talk about joy in these times, I think can feel frustrating for people – “Really, joy? We are going to talk about joy? Isn’t that just a way to evade the deep reality of pain in our world? Will joy make an effective difference? Aren’t there a whole host of other, really direct ways to effect change?” And I totally hear that – I get that – and yet I think JOY is a deep call of Jesus’, for all of our lives and for the growth and flourishing of ourselves, as well as for our nation and world.
If you’ve noticed we start every Sunday morning service with a welcome that includes the line, “We hope you discover the Love of God, the gift of community and the JOY OF LIVING.” In some ways that can sound just like a nice tag-line, but we mention it because we really believe that a good God – a fundamentally LOVING God – invites us into a life that is not just survive-able,but one that we are excited to LIVE, fully as our good selves, in partnership with a God whose longing is to love us and to be a joy-filled restorer and healer. And so we start our services with this, because we believe that joy does make a difference.
I’m so happy it’s summer – it’s a season that I greet with a little bit of a slower internal pace – and gives me a little more stretch at the margins, where I can experiment and try out some things that have been stirring in the back of my mind.
And recently that has looked like starting this Developing Racial Conscious group here at Reservoir, in partnership with Dorothy Hanna and Trecia Reavis. We’ve been reading a series of books recommended by people of color who’ve come to this gathering and outside of the gathering… One of which we read recently entitled, Eloquent Rage – A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower, written by this woman, Brittney Cooper, who is a professor at Rutgers.
And in reading her story as a black woman, one would pick up pretty quickly that given the levels of racism and misogyny that she’s encountered joy would be very far from her lived experience. And as is true to the title of her book, she shares deeply on how rage has been a useful means of clarification for her – allowing her to really press in and question, what is wrong in this world? Why does it bother me? How does it affect me? And what do I want to do about it? It’s given her focus and her energy a landing point – of what needs to be taken apart in the world, what’s unjust. And ALSO what needs to be built up – and with what tools.
Brittney ends her book by offering a benediction, those good words spoken at the end of a service that “imbued you with power to go out and live out the good things you’ve just learned about”(p. 274). She refers to herself as a church girl – her stepfather being her first pastor. And it’s in her benediction that she offers a critical tool to help bring about change, and build things you want to see in this world – JOY.
Her first line of her benediction is, “MAY YOU HAVE JOY”! JOY, as she makes the distinction, “is different from happiness, because happiness is predicated on ”happenings” – on what’s occurring, on whether your life is going right and whether all is well. But joy arises from an internal place – where there resides a clarity about our purpose here in life.”
Joy is found in an internal place – an internal holy, protected and ever-present place, where Jesus resides as well. This is what we need to access…. to sustain us for the long work ahead. It is important to know our way there – so that we don’t, as Brittney says, let the “messed-up state of the world steal our joy” (p. 274).
So I will talk a little bit today, about the messed up state of our world… and talk a WHOLE lot more about how joy found in Jesus – may just be this tool of strength, of rebellion, and resilience that allows us to keep moving and thriving in a world where we may indeed be hard-pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down – but where we will not be destroyed because of the joy that is gifted to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Brittney Cooper points us to a joy that is deeper than a temporary feeling of happiness, but she refers to joy as a way of being in the world – an approach and posture to all of whatever life may hold for us.
I think we are helped by this distinction as we can see that God had great big plans for us – as he deposited joy in every corner of the earth… As we can see that God WOVE it into the fabric of the world, of creation.
The first psalm on your program says:
“Those who live at the ends of the earth
stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
you inspire shouts of joy.” – Psalm 65:8 (NLT)
Joy is present wherever the sun rises and wherever the sun sets, which I’m pretty sure is everywhere. Where there is light and where there is darkness, joy is present. Joy can hold both – inclusive of our every breath, our every minute here on Earth.
Joy is a steady, constant source that touches the edges of all of the earth – a flow, a current that bends with all of our life through walls and challenges that block our way – the ups and the downs – always available, always present.
And isn’t that so beautiful and so poetic!? Simultaneously, I think, “yes it is – but it sure doesn’t feel true to my lived experience at all!”
Ice Cream Story
Last Friday I took my kids to the beach. It was our first moment of being all together this summer at a beach. We got to the beach early, hardly anyone there. It was SOOO beautiful, so serene. My kids were laughing and willingly played with each other. My daughter Mae, who broke her leg late this spring was able to get in the ocean and float around a bit, and I felt so joyful. So joyful, in fact, that ice cream seemed like the natural way to keep this joy stream going, and so we stopped on the way home.
I pulled out of the ice cream shop – with still a fair bit of ice cream on my cone… and feeling so joyful and aware of the world around me and compassionate, I paused in traffic to let a driver in the opposite direction – turn left across my lane of traffic. I saw this driver with compassionate eyes and said in my heart, “Oh – hi! driver. I love you – sure go ahead!”
The traffic light ahead of me was red, so I felt no pressure to be speedy.
HOWEVER, the person behind me was clearly not sharing my moment of joy and ice cream bliss and started LAYING on his horn at me – aggressively, and obnoxiously and incessantly, and was also shouting some choice words in my direction.
And in the moment, I paused and I thought…. “where the sun shines and the sun sets – so will I shout for joy!”
NO! That is not how I responded – that isn’t what I did – nor was I shouting anything that resembled “joy”.
I started waving my arms and gesturing wildly – and in my anger all of the sprinkles on my cone were flying all over the car, and with my melting ice cream so was my joy gone, dissipated from the car.
And so much of our moments are like this, right? High on “joy” when all is going well, and then plummet when reality hits. This is a subjective joy.
A friend of mine after service last week I thought encapsulated this up & down well. I asked “how he was doing?” He showed me this beautiful picture on his phone, of his toddler and himself making french toast that morning. And I thought, awe – yes, what joy! The mastering of flipping french toast. But my friend continued, “yes – and then a few seconds later my child burnt his hand on the griddle.”
Walking into your esteemed job that you’ve worked so hard for, in the morning – to find yourself walking out a few hours later – laid off.
Engaged to get married – engagement broken off.
Having a healthy body for decades – to having a body that stops functioning and be in need of repair.
A brain that pierces the science realm with premiere research and insight – slowly starts to forget the names of their closest loved one and partner.
A belonging you found in community – to realize you were never really fully welcomed.
Joy is hard to be harnessed in the reality of life….and not only is it hard – it can veer toward feeling myopic and selfish to seek it while such suffering and brutality is widespread across our world.
It’s why we can’t skip over this pretty powerful verse in Psalm 65:8 that says:
“God inspires the shouts of joy”. GOD inspires. And thank goodness, because otherwise JOY would be a luxury. If joy is only a reaction to pleasing homeostasis in our lives – then only the ones with resources and power could claim it.
God-inspired joy, however, is to be found in every part of creation. It’s GOD’s union with the earth, and God’s presence with us – IN US – wherever we are, in whatever circumstances, without exception.
Through scriptures we see this to be true – that JOY is an internal orientation to God.
Ps, 4:7 “OH God, fill my heart with joy.”
Psalm. 16:9 “my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure”
In fact letters that the apostle Paul writes in the New Testament to early followers of Jesus reveal the suffering evident” Thessalonians 1:6 You became followers of Jesus, you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Joy – if we hang it on an external circumstance – will always be bumped off by someone’s loud beeping.
Joy as a GIFT from the Holy Spirit, transcends our circumstances. The work of striving for happiness, if it’s solely up to us, is exhaustive. (Examples: your first bite of ice cream – a jolt of joy! But your 25th ice cream won’t usher that much joy – it dwindles with each experience of succession – for most of us!) Divine Joy, is not exhaustive. It’s an everlasting well within us. It gives us the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life that pervades all the emotional states – sadness and rage included – without pushing them out, but without letting those emotions own us or overtake us. It stretches our hearts’ capacity – OPENS us up to being more aware of God’s presence in all of life, full of joy and love.
The Psalms are such potent songs, and poems and stories of God’s people with their emotions on fine display – no FILTER (no sepia or clarendon) – just straight up “REAL transparency.” In so many of the Psalms, we see people exclaiming with great joy and excitement for all of what God has done, and then seemingly in the very next moment there’s this toggle to complete despair – “WHERE ARE YOU GOD?” HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HERE???” – I love this, because it feels so true to my own life.
C. Big Scripture – Psalm 85
So let’s read together one of them – here on your program:
85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.
85:3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
So we get a picture here, of who God has been to these people, of what God has done in their lives. How valuable it is for us to remember A God who is favorable, restorative, forgiving, abounding in mercy, absent of wrath and anger – a God who loves.
I can imagine that God’s people felt pretty joyful during this time – when all was well – And yet, the people of Israel are returning from exile, and the land they return to is not as they remembered. The conditions have declined, the land is unprotected and life is not easy – home is not like it use to be.
4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
“GOD, what happened? You use to be nice!?”
Will you not restore us? Revive us with JOY!?
“CLEARLY given our present circumstances – our daily lives that are so hard – you must be mad at us, we must be in your disfavor!”
Very quickly our hearts can turn to fear and despair – where our “golden times” with God of life are distant. Very quickly it’s easy for us to focus on the way our lives hold disappointment, are depressing, are hard, and it’s then harder to see the good, true, beautiful, and life-giving forces at play – including a good God.
I think the restoration and resuscitation that God’s people clamor for is not of their circumstantial setting, but of their heart belief and desire to feel the truth of who God once was to them.
And I think God is answering them as they speak. We see in the next few verses a pivoting of heart for God’s people – an integration of memory and present reality – that opens and turns their ears, eyes and hearts to God.
7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear/honor him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Show us! Let us hear you, come dwell with us – we want you close! And as they can name that what they really want, what their deep desire is – MORE OF GOD – their joy is found again.
True for us too. How important it is to lay it all out there and dialogue with God. Hey God, I don’t know what you are doing, I thought I knew you as this, but right now I don’t know where you are. Show me! Remind me! Dwell with me! –
IT is a plea of salvation – save me from the despair of my own thoughts…
At the end of May. I went for a morning walk with a friend around the Charles.
It was one of those just mean, bitterly cold, late May days that we had. I remember feeling saturated with drizzle, cold on my fingertips and nose. I had also forgotten my socks which of course made the rawness all the more penetrating.
And my friend mid-walk invited me to check out the monastery that’s on Memorial Drive. I was game, but maybe a little unconvinced that it would feel like a reprieve from the dreariness of outside.
I was also walking in maybe as these Israelites felt – a little weary, heavy-hearted.
And similar questions roaming around in my heart, “God where are you? Where is your attention TO ME, your care for me?” I walked in – took in the scope of the place, realized that no one else was there. I went straight to the candle lighting station – and said a prayer of the deepest desire on my heart. A short two word prayer. I chose one of the wooden chairs with no cushions to sit on – all lined up in perfect rows of 5.
With no expectation I sat. No plan of what I was going to do, or how I would use my time. I just entered the simplicity of the space. And I soon felt warmth. Realizing my nose and fingertips weren’t cold anymore. Perfect warmth, all-encompassing warmth.
And more than that, I felt Perfectly comforted.
A then I noticed the Perfect essence of incense in the room.
Perfect hard chair.
Perfect amount of light.
Perfect stone walls that I thought would only usher out more coldness.
And a perfect kneeling cushion nearby that had embroidered words, “blessed are you woman of honor”.
And as I sat there this awareness grew in me of all of this goodness coming out of this room, out of creation, like it was alive! It felt like:
A place had been prepared with attention to me – with no rush – with perfect care.
Overwhelming sense of peace, of “blessed assurance.” Not an answer to my prayer, but something deeper – an experiential union with God.. an inner realization that God was with me and wouldn’t leave me.
And I felt as though my heart “leapt for joy”.
“For God will speak peace to me, as I turn toward him in my heart.
And his glory – his presence – will dwell where I sit. “
That moment in the monastery allowed a re-membering to happen, much like in the Psalm we just read. A past picture of God reconciling with a current reality and picture of God in my life, who shakes out to be the same steadfast God who loves me shaking sprinkles of ice cream in my car in anger, or sitting in stillness and peace in a monastery.
That LOVE – creates JOY.
God showed me, spoke to me – God let me feel, with warmth, God’s presence.
To me it was salvation to my soul, an unshakeable promise of God being present again and again and again to me wherever I am.
Joy is an active agent that opens and clears out the clutter in my heart – and prepares my mind, spirit and body for more of God’s presence, no matter what the day may hold.
I felt like that moment in the monastery was a premiere experience of joy for me. It’s honestly the only time I can remember of comprehensively feeling saturated at all angles by the gentle, love of God’s presence. It was so dear, and so near.
I yet I would learn – later that day – that I had only skimmed the surface, of the depths of what joy really is. And that joy doesn’t occur just in the perfect setting of a monastery. It’s power is felt and discovered in the imperfections of life.
Mae’s Leg Story
After the monastery, I worked a couple of hours – headed home for some home front duties, including dropping my daughter, Mae off at her dance studio. They’d be practicing for several hours for the end of season recital. I headed back into work her for a group I was facilitating. All was well – the joy I had experienced intact, visceral still – I shared about the monastery visit at this group I was running.
At the end of my meeting, I noticed I had missed a few calls from Mae. She had been calling from a practice room in the dance studio – where she had fallen en pointe and broken her tibia.
And the hours that were to come in the ER of Children’s hospital – revealed more depths of joy. I could feel the creeping in of panic – not of whether Mae would be ok or not, I mean kids break sometimes, but more circumstantially what does this mean for the summer? What about our coverage? Her psyche? And all the spokes of my brain started to charge in those directions.
But the power of Divine joy – is to stay planted in the present. Even as I watched pain in another human being that I loved. And as I stayed present, my joy expanded. My joy expanded as I watched 2 different nurses struggle multiple times at getting an IV in Mae. My joy expanded as I watched Mae’s eyes roll back in her head, as they put her under anesthesia. My joy expanded as fatigue hit us all at 4am. My joy expanded because in all those moments – I could internally say, with blessed assurance, “yes, God – it’s true from where the sun rises to where it sets, you GOD are here beside me and here holding my daughter’s hand, and you inspire my heart to shout for joy.”
It is a mystery in the midst of struggle to turn your heart and feel the peace of God. It’s indescribable really, but every time it happened that evening in the hospital – I was struck with awe and wonder – “OH GOD, you are here” – and “What a surprise! And what JOY that you are!”
And that JOY in it’s full unabashed, outstretched self IS a powerful force, a rebellious force that stands up to the pain and suffering in our lives and doesn’t waiver, doesn’t fold, and only generates more currents of truth, beauty, and goodness into the fabric of our world.
And that joy it turns out is more than the absence of pain or conflict — but it is a positive presence of well being in the midst of it ! JOY is a wholeness, centered around the belief that God is good and with you.
I discovered in the monastery and in the ER that joy is bigger than suffering. Joy is warmer and brighter and more pervasive than our cold world offers us. Divine joy connects us to a peace that passeth all understanding – it is a gift by which we DELIGHT in unwrapping again and again.
This Psalm we are reading, is a petition from God’s people for the restoration of their right relationship to their land and God – a hope to be a just, peaceful and prosperous society. And they petition for JOY – because the future they dream can be so beautiful and good:
The Psalm finishes up with these hopes outlined:
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
Another set of incredible poetry. Many scholars say this was a vision that this Psalmist had of the future – that it wasn’t necessarily forecasting the Messiah to come, but a beautiful, harmonic picture dreamed for of the future.
We read these verses today often with the same lens – “Oh to come someday – some far off, distant future – will be the union of love and truth and justice and peace – they’ll all reunite like long lost friends that have been separated for so long.” That in the future – we will all walk on the paths in the Kin-dom of God. We’ll witness the touching of heaven and earth. What a day it will be when the union of God and human will happen. FORGETTING that it has happened.
Jesus has come to fulfill this hope already. Jesus is in us. So maybe the future, that far off in the distance – someday” is actually right now. Maybe the union of heaven and earth – the kin-dom of God – is here and now. The path of justice for us to follow, the satchel of all of God’s goodness for our land and our beings, is occurring and available to us NOW.
And maybe the critical petition in this Psalm, “WILL YOU REVIVE OUR JOY, GOD?” is ours today as well. Because we have work to do and we need it!
Because we are the GOD carriers that get to carve this path of justice and peace and love. We are the ones that get to bring kiss after kiss after joyful kiss to this world.
So how do we that? How do we claim joy in the incongruencies of our messy world – how do we claim these future words of the Psalmist as our here and now reality?
I don’t really know. I don’t have the exact plan. I don’t know if any of us do. BUT I do know that’s why JOY Is this critical tool – it’s why God plants joy into all of creation, it’s why Brittney Cooper says, “MAY YOU HAVE JOY.” So that whatever we try, or vision, and hope can contain this indestructible force.
So my friends may I offer you my own benediction today:
May you have joy, today
May you have joy so light that it rolls off the edges of your tongue with laughter
And may you have joy so heavy that it anchors you to the deep immovable love of Jesus
And may you have joy in stillness and in messy loudness.
And may you who live in the stretches of this city’s borders and beyond
Stand in awe of the wonder of God today.
“May you as the sun sets this evening, and rises tomorrow
Be inspired to shout for joy.” – Psalm 65:8 (NLT)
By the power of the Holy Spirit.
Whole-life flourishing tip & Spiritual Practice
In challenging moments this week that are void of joy, orient your heart to God. Ask God to restore and revive your joy, as a rebellious rising against suffering, melancholy, hate and darkness. In gratitude and awe, give thanks to God. *Repeat as often as you can.*