A Sermon for The Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
March 26, 2017
Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash
23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-
5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.
5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.
5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;
5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
Two dear friends.
These two met decades ago and instantly became friends. They don’t see each other often, living across the world from each other. They are old enough that travel has gotten harder, and one of their countries even denied the other a visa to visit. But when they are together, they are joyful. When they see each other, after a long time apart, they hug like little children on the playground, dancing back and forth with each other. They tease each other, they tickle each other, they cackle at each other’s jokes. They are mischievous at otherwise serious gatherings of very important people. They find so much delight in their friendship, and so much delight in life. They Enjoy This Life.
They are, of course, the friends pictured on the cover of your bulletin: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They are Nobel Peace Prize laureates, they are justice-seekers and oppression-fighters, they are leaders of national efforts for liberation and they are spiritual leaders of world-renown. One has lived in exile for most of his life, working for the freedom of his people. One was the moral conscience of a nation enslaved to apartheid (followed by millions). They both get up at four a.m. every morning to pray. They both are particular about which cookies they enjoy. And they are both jokesters.
“When a Dalai Lama and an Archbishop walk into a bar, you don’t expect them to be the ones cracking the jokes,” Douglas Abrams writes. “[But] Having worked with many spiritual leaders, I’m tempted to see laughter and a sense of humor as a universal index of spiritual development... they skewered humbug, status, injustice, and evil, all with the power of humor. They and everyone around them were constantly guffawing, chortling, giggling and belly-laughing…as moments of great levity were spliced together with moments of profundity and sanctity. So often their first response to any subject, no matter how seemingly painful, was to laugh.” (Book of Joy, 216)
That’s a quote from Douglas Abrams, in The Book of Joy – a book he wrote with these two joking, joyful, delightful friends. They decided, in the closing years of their lives, to teach about joy. For gladness is as much a part of their teaching as justice.
Neither teacher believes you can have joy in isolation. Joy does not come out of an internal focus, and joy cannot be attained for joy’s own sake. Rather, for them, joy is a by-product of compassion and generosity.
“In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.” (Dalai Lama, Book of Joy, 48)
“I mean simply to say that ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.” (Tutu, Book of Joy, 59)
“…We converged on eight pillars of joy. Four were qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. Four were qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity…we would end up, ultimately, at compassion and generosity, and indeed both men would insist that these two qualities were perhaps the most pivotal to any lasting happiness.” (Book of Joy, 193-194)
Jesus was a joyful teacher, too.
I think in the early early days of the Jesus movement, when you could only tell the stories you could memorize, that scribes had to copy by hand, letter by letter, the joyfulness of Jesus might not have been a priority to include in the tradition. Giggles and belly-laughs were optional details in the early scrolls.
And yet: the gospels tell us Jesus was full of joy. You don’t have to read too much between the lines to see joy in the feasts and weddings, joy in the healings, joy in the time spent with people he loved. And the gospels actually say it: Jesus was full of joy. (Luke 10:21, John 15:11) Not only was he full of joy - he taught his followers how they could be filled with joy. John 15:11-12 (NIV) “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” He taught his followers that their joy would come from loving one another. Sound familiar?
Let me take this one step further.
I propose to you that God is filled with joy when God acts with generosity, compassion, and mercy toward us. It is not only the Psalmist who is filled with joy and peacefulness when God leads him beside the still waters and anoints his head with oil. God’s joy comes through her own goodness and mercy, through chesed (Hebrew for loving-kindness). Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son shows us the joy of the father, who many of us see as God. The father’s mercy upon the son makes possible his own joy. The father is so overjoyed by the return of the son that he runs to greet him. Can’t you just see it, when they see each other, after a long time apart, they hug like little children on the playground, dancing back and forth with each other. God enjoys this life with her children.
Enjoy this life.
Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, made a cute little graphic a few months ago, and it’s turned in to posters, banners and even aprons worn to the women’s march. Also, a sermon series here at Eliot Church. Be The Church: Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Embrace diversity. Reject racism. Forgive often. Love God. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Enjoy this life.
Honestly, in the present moment, Enjoy This Life is the most confusing phrase on the bumpersticker. This life, this life we’re in right now, involves climate change, poverty, violence, racism, xenophobia....stop me now. How is enjoyment a priority for this edition of the church’s great calling?
Perhaps, Jesus, an archbishop and a dalai lama would tell us: the only way to keep going is to be joyful even though we have considered all the facts.
Enjoying this life is the only way to keep going.
Enjoy this life. Enjoy community, find joy in compassion, enjoy our blessings in spite of and even though.
Enjoy this life. This life, filled with both injustice and great love, filled with calls to mercy and goodness for just a time such as THIS.
Enjoy this life. Life, which is persistent, which is hopeful, which is surprising. On the coldest, windiest, snowiest winter night I dug into rich dirt, put seeds smaller than grains of salt into little cups and drizzled water on them and sat them in our sunniest windows. I have watered them and warmed them and moved them an inch to the left, an inch to the right. And now, they are pushing out above the surface, their green leaves stretching to become children of light, of warmth, to please the Lord.
We are invited to enjoy this life.
And we have our own teachers of justice and joy, of kindness and delight, right here. Patrick, and Nadja. Sangeeta and Jim. Cammie, and Nancy. If you need a lesson, be taught by their smiles, their jokes, their loving-kindness.
We are invited to live as children of light, to try to find out what is pleasing to our God, and when we fail, to try again, with joyful spirits. To expose injustice to the light of God’s mercy, to make visible that which is hidden. To walk peacefully and hopefully and joyfully with God and in community. To find the friend who will do justice with us, sing songs with us, and laugh at our jokes. To be restored, and anointed, and followed by goodness and mercy, all the days of our life. All the days of This Life. And even, perhaps, to giggle, to revel, to run, to hug, to dance, to Enjoy This Life.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). Amen.
Benediction – Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 Bible verses which juxtapose light and dark have been used to support racial stereotypes. Although her ideas did not make their way into my sermon, I am grateful to Mukti Barton, a Bengali theologian, for her reflections in the article “I Am Black and I Am Beautiful” which overturn the notion that racial stereotypes exist within the biblical text itself. She writes, in part, “Light makes us see and darkness obscures visibility, and for this reason light and darkness have spiritual significance. However it was not readily obvious to me whether or how these metaphors in the Bible were then associated with the colours black and white...The major significance of darkness is not its blackness but its nature of obscuring visibility....It is not darkness but sunlight that makes human skin the color ‘black.’” She goes on to detail positive imagery of dark skin and hair in the Bible. Barton’s article is found in the July 2004 volume of the journal Black Theology.
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. 2016.
paraphasing Wendell Berry, http://www.context.org/iclib/ic30/berry/