Meanderings

In Pursuit of Joy – 1 Peter 1:3-9

Over two-hundred years ago Thomas Jefferson suggested that
we form a nation that protected our “life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness.” And pursued it we have. A storm bearing the name of Katrina reminds
us that we will sustain any place of fleeting happiness even if it lies below
sea level. The fleeting nature of that happiness fled before the wind, and the
rain, the storm surge, and the flooding. And yet in Katrina’s aftermath, amidst
the bitter and mournful cries, moments of God’s joy break through. In the ruins
of one of our United Methodist Churches in Mississippi last Sunday the
congregation gathered at the feast of the Great Thanksgiving, as the
congregation said together “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come
again” Bishop Hope Morgan Ward observed a butterfly resting on the cup of
blessing and concluded, “Best of all, God is with us.”

We begin this week with a discussion of “Salvation by Faith”
in Bishop Reuben Job’s A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader. Let’s begin that discussion
with one of the greatest run-on sentences of all time. The NRSV divides this into six sentences, the
NEB has eleven units; the Good
News creates seventeen sentences, but in the Greek it is one sentence.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By
his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is
imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being
protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be
revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while
you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your
faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by
fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is
revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do
not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and
glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of
your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9, NRSV).

In many ways the disasters of nature that go by names like
Fran, Bertha, Bonnie, Floyd, and now Katrina and the human fashioned terror of
airplanes aimed at the twin towers on 9/11 have taught me anew that
happiness pursued may be happiness denied. By that I mean, the “if you have
enough money, enough toys, enough stuff — you can be happy” mantra is true, if
only to a point.

Thomas Jefferson talked of happiness, but the Bible does
not. The Scriptures do not because happiness can be bought. McDonald’s got it
right in the “Happy Meal” I bought my child the other day. Happiness is a
momentary, easily purchased and discarded feeling rooted in the fulfillment of
selfish desires. Buy a Happy Meal and my child is happy … until the toy doesn’t
work, is for a girl, is not the one displayed ….

Peter takes time today to help us connect with the basic
building blocks of Christian faith. Peter touches on all the biggies:

  • that God alone is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;
  • that through faith in Christ all are offered a new birth;
  • that we will receive our inheritance in heaven when in the
    end all God’s plans are revealed and that we get to live that NOW!

Christians confidently hold in their hearts the future hope
of salvation. But in the here and now existence of this world, Peter identifies
a distinguishing characteristic that marks a disciple of Jesus: JOY!

JOY and happiness are different emotions, which we often
confuse. Here are four ways in which happiness and joy are different.

1) Joy is often a command (2nd person plural imperative–you
must!).

This is the day the Lord hath made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalms 118:24).

"Rejoice in the Lord, always,
and again I say, rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in
all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1
Thessalonians 5:16).

2) Joy endures. Happiness blows off and on, hot and cold.

Happiness is fleeting; joy endures. Christians can maintain
a spirit of joyfulness because (as 1 Peter 1:4 details) we rejoice in that
which is "immortal, undefiled, and unfading."

At the moment of a great sports victory happiness is at its peak.
For one triumphant, exhilarating, moment the winner is the victor, happiness
rolls over the winning team. Nothing could feel better … for a few hours … perhaps
a day.

But how often does that adrenaline-soaked happiness yield
itself to the dreaded commentary of "what if." "What if this is
the only triumph I ever get?" "What if we lose big next year?"
"What if I can never again play as well as I played today?"

How many of us, athlete or not, have come to know that this
victorious happiness is the most momentary, the most fleeting, the most unrepeatable
moment in our lives.

But joy refuses to be squelched. Joy, especially the joy of
knowing that we walk with God, isn’t dependent upon personal strength, personal
ability, or personal achievement. Joy is rooted in God, that is, it is nourished
by faith in Jesus Christ and sustained by God’s grace.

3) Happiness is often a solitary emotion. Rejoicing is a community enterprise.

You can be happy by yourself. You rejoice with other people.
Do you remember the stories of the recovery the lost found in Luke 15 (a lost
sheep, a lost coin, two lost sons? Each story ends in group celebration.

Calling on the neighbors to celebrate together is just the
kind of calling together (ecclesia) that the Church is. There are all sorts of
ways of talking about the community that’s the Church. You can think of it as a
people who share the same beliefs, or all those who have been baptized, or even
all the people who more or less agree with the Pope. And so on. But I think
that, first of all, the Church is the people who invite each other to rejoice
together. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstance. You
might have expected Paul to put prayer first: ‘the Church is the people who
pray together’; but he does not. It’s joy that comes first. And, whether or not
this occurred to Paul, it’s profoundly important. Unless we’re filled with joy
we cannot pray. And unless we pray we cannot give thanks (Herbert McCabe, God,
Christ and Us
; edited by Brian Davies (New York: Continuum, 2003), page 110).

4) Happiness is from the world. Joy is from Christ (joy is
Christ).

Len Sweet is a friend who teaches me much about the future
and even more about the past. One of his
hobbies is collecting memorabilia of the church. Recently he bid to purchase
the following at eBay:

A FINE EARLY LUSTER CHILD’S CUP WITH RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT;
PRINTED IN BLACK WITH A PINK LUSTER TRIM, probably Staffordshire or N. East
England (Sunderland), c. 1820.

The bidding went past $100.00 and Len stepped away. Len adds
that the cup was “probably given originally to a child, perhaps as a Sunday
School prize or as a reward for scriptural achievement.”

Here’s the message printed on the Sunday School cup. Now the
irony of this moment is that this cup went for $252.50:

Let others worship glittering dust and boast of earthly toys
Christ is my rock, my hope my trust and spring of all my joys!

Isn’t that worth memorizing?

Let others worship glittering dust and boast of earthly toys
Christ is my rock, my hope my trust and spring of all my joys!

  • Happiness is by chance. Joy is by command.
  • Happiness is a choice. Joy is a commitment.
  • Happiness evaporates. Joy endures.
  • Happiness is rooted in human emotions. Joy is rooted in God’s grace.
  • Happiness
    is a happenstance. Joy is a commission.

God’s salvation is found when we learn with Paul that “the 
kingdom of God is not food and drink but
righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Kingdom living is not found in the pursuit of happiness,
but in the pursuit of God’s JOY!

Is Christ the spring of all your joys this morning?

Do you know what it means to say the joy of the Lord is my
strength?