August 30, 2022

Joy and Gratitude in the Christian Life

Congregational Choice Sermon Topic preached by Reverend Joe Moore

Psalm 30; Luke 15:1-7

A Sermon Preached by Reverend Joe Moore

Sunday 28th August

Psalm 30, Luke 15:1-7

The theme of this week’s sermon is ‘Joy and Gratitude in the Christian Life’. Now some of you may remember Eric Kemp, for many years Bishop of Chichester. Christian joy was a favourite theme in his sermons. He would often get into the pulpit and begin thus:

(In a flat parsonical voice) ‘This morning, brother and sisters, I want to talk to you about…Joy.’

The fact that he could preach on joy with a sombre expression and not the hint of a smile only underlines the truth that Christian Joy is not the same as happiness or jollity. Such things are the result of outward events which give us pleasure of one sort or another: an important family occasion, a beautiful piece of music or some visual experience. Christian joy is quite different. Real joy comes not from stimuli outside of us but from deep within. For those who experience that joy, it is a spring that does not run dry because Jesus himself is the source; it is the echo of his life within us and an anticipation of the beatific vision.

‘May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing’ says St Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (Rom 15:13).

Joy is a something we experience, something we feel…Some are better than others at repressing our feelings but it is almost impossible to genuinely feel something to command, still less to communicate it through our words and actions to those we meet!  Paul Gives instruction in Philippians to rejoice ‘in all things at all times’ which seems a cruel and difficult instruction when you are watching someone die, feeling tired, or angry, or ill, or facing any of life’s potholes and complications.

What has joy got to do with it anyway – and I guess we have all been on the receiving end of Christians who are resolutely chirpy in the face of cataclysm, churning out bright smiley clichés which may or may not be true but do not help anyone because they don’t feel authentic.

I’ve had a go at a definition… We know it when we see it, but what is it? The best I can do, with a bit of help from various commentators is this: a good feeling in the soul, generated by the Holy Spirit, as He causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world.

Whatever Joy is, it is fundamental to our faith. The very heart of a Christian’s hope is the flourishing of individuals, communities and all creation, based upon an understanding that there is something bigger than our circumstances. But I fear that it has become increasingly absent from our experience in churches and in the world. Reminders of transcendence take us part way but if we need ever more glorious music, ever more beautiful buildings, ever cooler worship bands, ever more whizzy Holy Spirit experiences to sustain our joy, like an addict looking for a better high, then it probably isn’t the right sort of joy but just self-gratification. Without joy we see a flattening out, a greying of our corporate life.

The centrality of the theology of joy in the Church has, I think, been caught in secular tides, redirecting interest from the transcendent God to human beings and our mundane affairs and replacing passionate, joyful love of God and neighbour with a self-defeating concern for the self and the desire for personal and corporate satisfaction. Luke-warm religion of any churchmanship, overly concerned with its own affairs, will rarely feel or exhibit joy. And when life bites hard, unless we are rooted in joy then we don’t stand a chance against financial worries, suffering, self-pity, self-medication, bitterness and despair. A chest cold, mother’s dementia, my feelings about my job, will determine choices and their outcomes. Our constitution, our balance sheet, our hard grinding efforts in mission and ministry become the be all and end all.

A survey among young people asked “What is the basic feeling you have about life?” 60% answered, “Fear”. Not fear of death but fear of life, anxiety about the future! How can we bring joy to a world so anxious, especially when it so easy to be anxious too!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer trained 67 pastors at his seminary. Their opposition to Nazism got them closed down. So Bonhoeffer wrote circulars to encourage them. What do you say to friends forced into Nazi military service? How do you comfort them when they hear of more friends murdered? How do you address the daily anxiety, the persecutions, the threats and the loneliness?

You might have similar questions. What do you say to family and friends in the grip of cancer or dementia? How do you comfort parents whose children are off the rails? How do you address the uncertainty of a cost of living crisis, questionable politicians and world affairs? How do you manage joy in the face of homelessness, injustice and poverty? Isn’t this  joy a false thing – a forced jollity against all the odds – at best a denial of the truth of the awfulness of human life and at worst a plain naïve stupid lie? Was Julian of Norwich’s promise that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well” simply infuriatingly crass? (The answer to that is clearly “nope!” Her vision and understanding of the love of God deeply roots her joy. But the sort of joy that admits nothing of the heart’s pain and anguish and dread can never last but will only numb the pain.)

Bonhoeffer wrote: The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.

What matters is this is joy that has overcome. It alone is credible; it alone helps and heals. The Risen One bears the marks of the cross on his body. We still stand in daily overcoming.

 The resurrection has been called an eternal laugh! Easter laughter explodes out of the tomb, which is not to conjure up a fantasy about a life without trials and challenges. Rather it is about courageous, self-forgetful, joyful living. To reach Easter we must first go through Lent and Holy Week, otherwise the laughter is hollow.

So what does Joy mean for us as a church community here in Battersea? It means that we must be a place of mission and discipleship, teaching each other and everyone who purports to stand for this place about Jesus, the substance of our joy. We cannot make volunteers, worshippers and visitors be joyful. That is not in our power. But we have to point clearly at its source and pray for encounters with Jesus in the Word, in the Church , in the World, that the Holy Spirit will ignite into joy which will translate into most excellent Christian example.

And what of gratitude?

We hear in our parable of the joy of the shepherd who finds his lost sheep. Joy in bringing home the one who has strayed, the one who is lost. It seems to illustrates that from a place of gratitude, joy swells.

To be grateful is the path to joy.

I had a tutor at theological college, that used to say the thing is Joe, it’s all about maintaining a grateful heart. Which I resented at the time. Gratitude, thankfulness, thanksgiving.

This theme of thanksgiving is a key element in both the old and New Testament. St Paul emphasises again and again in his epistles, the need to give thanks. Indeed, the word used for the primary Christian celebration, the Eucharist, is the Greek word for ‘thanks giving’.

We gather week by week around the Lord’s table, to give thanks for all God has done for us and through us and in us, but most especially for what he has done in Christ, who gave himself for our salvation and was raised to new life and enthroned in glory. In return that same Christ feeds us with himself to sustain us in our Christian living.

We are to be a Eucharistic community and that doesn’t mean simply that the Eucharist is the centre of our liturgical life but that that the Eucharist, this Holy Communion- overflows into Eucharistic living. Thanksgiving living.

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded that the essence of Christian living is a life of thanksgiving to and rejoicing in the Lord. At the Eucharist Christ invites us to his supper just as we are, with all the frailties, defects, doubts and fears. He forgives us our failings, feeds us with himself that we may be again set on the straight and narrow way from which we often wander. The blessed are not the clever, the rich the successful, the film stars or politicians but the poor in spirit, the gentle those who hunger for right, the peacemakers.

We must receive him in Communion, read his Word and seek him in each other and share our experiences of him. We must believe his promises, I am with you always (Matt 28:20).

He is indeed present with us and we must practice his presence by giving thanks continually for every aspect of daily life, by blessing God, by saying those simple ‘thank you’s’ which routinely express our joy that the Lord is here. By blessing God for all things we drive back the encroaching secular wasteland and The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom (Isaiah 35:1). 

We must believe in his coming by expecting it to happen every day under cover of ordinary events, the duties, the irritations and the joys.

Heaven hovers around everyday life.

The Lord speaks out of the storm and in the still, small voice. Anything or anyone can be a channel of his coming, everything can speak of his presence and those who hear it will be joyful.

There are as many reasons to be miserable here as anywhere else – frustration, overwork, people, worship that isn’t ‘just so’. There are endless things to complain about. And as we all know, life delivers a dirty payload sometimes – illness, death, family troubles, work troubles, political worries. Life sometimes doesn’t feel very glorious at all. Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we are exempt from the muck and the mess of life. But we are Christians reborn in the Holy Spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom! So we can raise our eyes above the muck and the mess and look upon his glory. We can dimly, hear the enduring melody of the angels and be joyful. There is music in the air. The old Baptist hymn, How Can I Keep From Singing, made beautiful by Enya, says it all:

My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations
I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars, I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness ’round me close, songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

Amen.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Enter your details below to receive the St Mary's weekly newsletter.

Get in touch

If you want to know more about St Mary's, contact the clergy or for another enquiry, please use the Contact Us facility below.

Contact Us