06 June 2007

Pouring Yourself Into Joy

"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and 
become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you;
abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I
have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your
joy may be complete." John 15.8-11

I'm writing this from an upstairs bedroom in a little house in
Swampscott, MA, just north of Boston along the coast of the Atlantic
Ocean. My family and I have been traveling for the past 9 days; our good
friends Lee Ann and Stefan were married a week ago today, and they asked
me to officiate the ceremony. So we decided to make a vacation of the
trip and see some friends and some sights we hadn't seen in a while.

Of course, part of the expectation for officiating a wedding is
presenting a homily/sermon/message of some fashion. Stefan and Lee Ann
had chosen the verses above for their gospel text, and I was struck by
Jesus' hope for his disciples. He didn't hope for happiness or material
blessings or even health: what Jesus hoped was that his disciples would
discover complete joy in following the Father's commandments and bearing
much fruit in the world. Jesus hoped that his disciples, whom he also
called "friends," would discover complete joy in pouring themselves out
for the good of one another, and that in so doing they would discover
what it means to abide in the love the Father, Son and Spirit have for
one another and for all of creation as well.

The wedding we traveled to witness took place in Washington, D.C. over
Memorial Day weekend. We used our time in Washington to see many
things: the monuments along the National Mall; the "Rolling Thunder"
motorcyclists riding 500,000 strong to commemorate our nation's veterans;
several of the museums in the Smithsonian system. We also took time to
go to the National Archives and view a copy of Magna Carta, the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Most of what we saw
was supposed to be inspiring, but due to the crowds gathered for the
weekend, the overwhelming garbage such crowds inconsiderately left behind
and the intense heat and humidity, we weren't really inspired by much of
what we saw. In fact, by the end of each day in Washington we felt more
relieved that we were home safe than inspired that we had been out in the
first place.

Obviously, this is not what was intended when those artists and
statespeople began planning the buildings and monuments to commemorate
the notable achievments and sacrifices upon which our nation was
founded. But when such things become just another goal to achieve, it is
impossible to be inspired or even affected by the experience. When a
view of the Lincoln Memorial becomes just another item on your list of
things that will make your trip "complete," well, you've just lost any
kind of significance or meaning you might find in that memorial.

The Declaration of Independence states that all people have inalienable
rights, including the "pursuit of happiness." I've come to believe that
this right to pursue happiness is not as wonderful as we may have come to
believe, that simply pursuing happiness is in many ways the same as
trying to get to all the monuments - the acquisition of your goal can be
more deflating than inspiring, especially if the goal was only a thing
you wanted in the first place, nothing more.

I said as much to Lee Ann and Stefan in my wedding sermon. I told them
what I've come to believe, that going through life pursuing happiness
will lead to an empty life and an empty marriage. Jesus never asks for
his followers to be happy: he asks for his followers to experience
complete joy. Joy is not achieved: it is experienced. Joy is not
attained: it is revealed. Joy is not a thing which we can grasp: it is a
revelation to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us eyes
to see the wonder and mystery of life in whatever circumstances we may
find ourselves. Joy is something to which we surrender.

I've experienced joy many times on this trip with my family. I
experienced joy when I watched my friends bind themselves to each other
as husband and wife. I experienced joy when we all gathered for food and
drink the night before the wedding and caught up on all that had happened
in our lives since we'd been together last. I experienced joy
introducing our four month-old daughter to friends who hadn't met her
yet. I experienced joy rocking my daughter to sleep (especially when
that rocking was preceded by a good strong crying fit). None of these
things were items we achieved - they were portions of our life which have
born fruit because we and our friends have poured ourselves out for each
other over years of friendship. Had we been given the time, I'm sure we
would have known deep joy honoring the memory of those who poured
themselves out for the sake of the nation we love, and I'm sure that time
will come when we visit Washington again. But our joy has come from
realizing that where we love, there we find joy, and that abiding in the
love God has planted in us is the only thing that truly brings joy into
our lives.

Friends, I implore you: don't settle for being happy. Look around you
and find what you love, and pour yourself into it with all your heart.
There you will find that pursuing happiness ends and experiencing joy
begins, and in Christ, I pray, your joy will be complete.

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