Sermon for 4 Pentecost, Yr C 27/06/2004
Based on Ps 16:11 & Gal 5:22-23
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Joy. It has been said that a sorrow shared is half the sorrow, while a joy shared is twice the joy. Joy from our Christian perspective comes from God and flows back to God—it is often associated with awe, wonder, praise and adoration; of being fully engaged in worshipping God and serving one another.
Reichel was conducting the final rehearsal of “The Messiah” with his great choir. The choir had reached the point where the female soprano takes up the refrain and sings, “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” Her technique was perfect. Her breathing was faultless. She had accurate note placement and flawless enunciation.
When she finished, all looked to Reichel for his approval. But he silenced the orchestra and walked over to the soprano. “My dear,” Reichel asked, “do you really believe that your redeemer lives? Do you?”
“Why yes. I think so,” she replied.
“Then sing it! Tell it to me, so I will know that you know the joy and power of it!”
Then Reichel moved back and motioned the orchestra to begin. This time, the soprano sang the truth as she knew it and had experienced it in her own soul. All who heard her sing wept. The old master approached her with tears streaming from his eyes. “You do know, for you told me,” he said. 1
We Lutherans have often projected the image of being a sober lot. Sometimes we have been described as “God’s frozen chosen!” Unfortunately, many Lutherans find it much easier to wear a frown rather than a smile; to be grumpy or depressed rather than share God’s joy. I, too, have met people who acted or spoke as if joy were a sin—or, even worse, as if, for them, joy did not exist, as if there were a law against joy. In our Psalm and second lesson today, we learn however, that joy does indeed exist; that it comes from God; that it helps us realise and celebrate God’s presence and purpose in our lives.
The psalmist is confident that God is the Source of joy. God has given the psalmist fullness of joy. In this joy, the psalmist realises God has given and preserved his life; God has worked out a purpose for the psalmist’s life in good times as well as in bad times. The psalmist experiences fullness of joy because he is confident that his eternal destiny is in God’s hands.
In our second lesson, Paul explains the differences between a life lived under the influence of the flesh and the new life in Christ—a life lived by the Spirit. He lists the vices of the flesh and the virtues of the Spirit. In the Greek, the word “fruit” is in the singular—therefore; verses 22 and 23 are probably best interpreted to mean that love is the foundation, the basis, the root, the originator of all the other virtues. Just as the plant is the result of a seed, so the virtues of the Spirit’s fruit are the result of love. Today we shall then focus on only one of these “by-products” of love—joy.
The beauty and depth of the meaning of joy is perhaps best understood and appreciated by way of story. Anthony de Mello told the following story on the importance of joy in our lives.
Among the Jews, the observance of the Sabbath, the day of the Lord, was originally a thing of joy.
But too many Rabbis kept issuing one injunction after another on how exactly it was to be observed, what sort of activity was allowed, until some people felt they could hardly move during the Sabbath for fear that some regulation or other might be transgressed.
The Baal Shem, son of Eliezer, gave much thought to this matter. One night he had a dream. An angel took him up to heaven and showed him two thrones placed far above all others.
“For whom are these reserved?” he asked.
“For you”—was the answer—“if you make use of your intelligence; and for a man whose name and address is now being written down and given to you.”
He was then taken to the deepest spot in hell and shown two vacant seats. “For whom are these prepared?” he asked.
“For you”—the answer came—“if you do not make use of your intelligence; and for the man whose name and address are being written down for you.”
In his dream Baal Shem visited the man who was to be his companion in paradise. He found him living among Gentiles, quite ignorant of Jewish customs; and, on the Sabbath, he would give a banquet at which there was a lot of merrymaking, and to which all his Gentile neighbours were invited. When Baal Shem asked him why he held this banquet, the man replied, “I recall that in my childhood my parents taught me that the Sabbath was a day of rest and for rejoicing; so on Saturdays my mother made the most succulent meals at which we sang and danced and made merry. I do the same today.”
Baal Shem attempted to instruct the man in the ways of his religion, for he had been born a Jew but was evidently quite ignorant of the rabbinical prescriptions. But Baal Shem was struck dumb when he realized that the man’s joy in the Sabbath would be marred if he was aware of his shortcomings.
Baal Shem, still in his dream, then went to the home of his companion in hell. He found the man to be a strict observer of the Law, always apprehensive lest his conduct should not be correct. The poor man spent each Sabbath day in a scrupulous tension as if he were sitting on hot coals. When Baal Shem attempted to upbraid him for his slavery to the Law, the power of speech was taken from him as he realized that the man would never understand that he could do wrong by fulfilling religious injunctions.
Thanks to this revelation given him in the form of a dream, the Baal Shem Tov evolved a new system of observance whereby God is worshipped in joy that comes from the heart. 2
The psalmist and the apostle Paul knew and experienced this joy as eternal, and thus coming from God and leading ultimately back to God. In good times and in bad times, our God has given us joy. That is why Jesus sums up the beatitudes by admonishing us to rejoice and be glad even when we are reviled or persecuted. That is why the great composer Beethoven was able to compose his Ninth Symphony when he was stone deaf—as a work of sheer joy. That is why Martin Luther King Jr. could say with joy in the face of death threats and violent racism: “I have been to the mountain-top and have seen the promised land.”
May we too know and experience the fullness of God’s joy. For in this joy we discover God’s presence everywhere and at all times and places. In this joy we discover the meaning, purpose and goal of our lives as well as that of the whole creation. Amen.
 Cited from: Clergy Talk, April 1999, pp. 14-15.
2 Cited from: Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight (New York: Doubleday, 1988), pp. 90-92.