Gaudete Sunday. Avent 3.
How do you get to joy when three days ago you buried a much loved pillar of the church and community, our churchwarden, Diana? How do you do the journey to joy in the tears, the the dark days and the loss? The following is my sermon from this morning, as I tried to answer..
(The readings from this am were Isaiah 61.1-4,8-end 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24 and Gospel John 1: 6-8, 19-28)
Isaiah 61 (NRSV)
61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
“You shall go out with joy.”
We sang that through our tears on Thursday. It was Di’s favourite hymn and she would have loved it that we sung it as she left this place. Paul in writing to his beloved brothers and sisters in Thessalonica is for once in his life very succinct, in the passage we have today. You will be glad to hear that I intend to follow suit..
Paul fires off 8 imperatives in 7 short verses and they could sum up all of his many many words and teaching about the wholeness that is at the heart of our life of faith. Wholeness, because if you over emphasise one aspect without the others you can end up on the floor.
I made this stool in a woodwork class, some years back, from scratch. Turning the legs and cutting and shaping the seat. It is just a humble 3 legged stool. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. But I had to make sure that all the legs were exactly the same length and that I made 3 of them. A two legged stool is a much use as a chocolate tea pot! Like I said, you can end up on the floor.
God who loves each of us so much, so longs for wholeness in our lives. Longs to touch our spirits, souls and bodies with his Peace, his Spirit and his Joy.
Paul starts with Joy. The three legs of his stool are joy, prayer and thanksgiving.
He tells his friends to start with joy. Joy as the fire in the steam engine of their lives that drives the rest. Using that analogy. Perhaps the water is prayer and the coal needed to keep that fire burning is thanksgiving… I don’t know a lot about steam trains – but I do know that shovelling coal is hard work! It also needs to keep happening or the train will simply grind to a halt.
I have a thing about 3’s this am, and the Trinity are of course the most important. 3 legs of a stool. 3 initials that should be applied to any and every sermon (by the preacher) YBH – YES, BUT HOW?
HOW do you rejoice when your heart is broken or heavy? When you are tired and there is simply too much too do, and no time or energy to do it all in? When your faith is wobbly, and you are not sure where you are going anymore?
HOW do you give thanks in all circumstances .. ALL circumstances? What planet are you on, Paul? You can’t mean that, surely.
HOW can you pray without ceasing when you can’t find the words, or they stick in your throat or you want to shout rather than pray?
If I want to stand on this stool, I have to make sure it is set on a firm foundation. Slide your eyes down to the last verse of our passage to the Thessalonians..
The One who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
THAT is how. We can’t do it by ourselves. We can’t pull ourselves up by our bootlaces and make ourselves joyful, prayerful or thankful. But we have a God of Peace who wants to ground the very depths of our being in his LOVE and Faithfulness. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.. (we sang this prior to the Gospel reading)Touch me with your holy fire and set me alight , spirit, soul and body. Paul tells us not to quench the Spirit, because he knows that it is ONLY through the Holy Spirit that we can have joy, peace and thankful hearts. The other name for the Holy Spirit is Comforter. Jesus said he would not leave us alone, but would send us a Comforter. The Bayeaux tapestry has a picture of King Harold poking a spear at one of his soldiers – with the heading “Harold comforteth his troops” The old English meaning of the word – encompassing comfort, encouragement, enabling.. but it can often feel like anything but- like a poke with a sharp stick!
How do we give thanks in all circumstances .. only because we know that God can use and transform even the toughest of circumstances for good. The sharpest, most pointy things can be used by him for good. Please note that I AM NOT saying that God sends hard things for our good. I am saying that if we offer those hard things to him he can transform them and us. There is a saying that goes: Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to that 10%. We can react with bitterness, the oh,so dangerously, slippery slope of self pity, or by walling ourselves off from God or other people. OR with the help of God’s Spirit we can come to him Just as we are.(Opening hymn) On any given day. UP, down or in between. Fearful, doubtful, tired. Just as we are. We come. We come to the one with nail pieced hands who comes in to the darkest of places and sits with us.
I cannot tell how silently He suffered,
As with His peace He graced this place of tears,
Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken,
The crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted,
And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear,
And lifts the burden from the heavy laden,
For yet the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is here. (Closing Hymn)
We will sing those beautiful words at the end of our service this morning. ‘The Saviour of the world is here.’
Emmanuel. God with us. In it all. The hard bits, the good bits, the boring drudgery bits and the rest.
Emanuel. God with us -spirit, soul and body. Touching our weary spirits with his peace, lifting our heavy souls and carrying us, in his faithfulness, fuelling our flagging bodies with his joy.
1 Thessalonians 5 (The Message)
23-24 May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!