Life, Love and Liberty (Isaiah 35.1-10, 1 Peter 1:3-9 )
In times like these It’s sometimes hard to think about the joy in life, and in a society where depression and loneliness are an absolute epidemic, where we are fed a constant stream of negativity in order that we’re easier to control, and the general injustice that pervades the world, it’s easy to despair.
But today is not about that. It’s not about doom and gloom. Whatever emotional state you find yourself in, I welcome you, we acknowledge it, and we say it’s okay.
However, fundamentally the Christian Gospel is about joy. As much as it is about sadness. Our role as Christians is not to feel constantly bad about ourselves, or the state of the world, but to rejoice in the fact that there is a God that loves us, and cares about us.
Just cast your mind back, to a time of absolute joy in your life, when you were happiest. Perhaps the thrill of being in love for the first time, that sense of absolute joy when you were with that person, when they loved you back, when all you wanted to do is be with them, share with them, love them more and more deeply. If you’ve ever felt like that about someone it has changed your life, your whole view on existence, at least in my experience it did.
But what if I told you, that that’s the way God feels about you. Just think about that for a moment. God wants to be with you.
The great mystery of the trinity is all wrapped up in joy, the early church described the relationship of the God-head as a divine dance, ‘Perichoresis’ is the technical term. See I do know some theology! In a first for me at Mancroft I’m going to quote a theologian, Elmer Colyer who says;
“When the Trinity gets pushed to the margin we lose sight of the fact that Christian faith, life and ministry are ultimately participatory [and not simply a matter of correct legal status before God]. We lose sight of the fact that Christian faith is ultimately union with Christ in the Spirit… What Christ did on cross, was not simply to forgive us. It was to restore us to union and communion with the Father, through the Son in the Spirit. All of Christian faith, life and practice is finally participatory.”
God wants to love you. God wants to rejoice with you, and cry with you, God wants you to let Him in.
I’m not talking about Jesus as your boyfriend, that sort of sappy sense of God’s love, but a deep personal relationship that feels just so right.
That’s what we have to be joyful about. That over and over again God reaches out to us, that over and over again God is there. The gospel isn’t all about Sin, but liberation! We are liberated!
It’s us that move away from Him.
I have often felt abandoned by God, spiritually dry like an oatcake, rasping and grasping for Her, for God. It’s only afterwards that I’ve seen Him in the situation. Sometimes even years afterwards. Opening ourselves up, being vulnerable to the Almighty is hard, but over and over again God says ‘do not be afraid.’ Hold on, hold onto me, She says.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
I believe that singing is praying out loud. So many people have come to faith through the ministry of music, through what we sing, and what it expresses about God. Through joyful happy tunes.
Joy is contagious and inviting. If people see our joy then they will want to join in. I’ve often heard people apologise for crying in church, or being emotional.
If you can’t cry in church where can you? Is often what I respond with. This is a community, where we try to love each other, even when we’ve got an irritatingly enthusiastic curate, we try to love Him, and I do feel loved.
If you can’t laugh in church, where can you? We are not robots, we are designed to have thoughts and feelings and emotions. God loves us and wants us to live in community with each other, and that means all of it, all of the inconvenient emotions, all of the dirt, all of the slime, all of the terrible jokes and flippancy and occasional irreverence, because God wants the whole of us. If you truly love someone, you love the whole of them, sure there are elements of their personality you don’t like, but you love them anyway with all their flaws.
You are allowed to feel emotions, and you are allowed to feel emotional in church, give each other the permission, make this a safe space for tears, and laughter.
We believe in a God that cried when his friend Lazarus died. We believe in a God that enjoyed the wedding feast at Cana and brought more wine! The best wine, my kinda guy! We believe in a God that brings out wholeness in all of us.
“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped… The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.”
God restores wholeness, the blind and the deaf in our reading from Isaiah are the community themselves, God restores them, scoops them up, and brings them wholeness.
In 1 Peter, our inheritance can never perish. Never. 1 Peter is all about holding onto faith, but perhaps we should focus on holding onto our joy despite what society throws at us.
Joy is contagious, love is contagious too, and if we demonstrate those things to the world, and in our relationships, and with God, then the world will be transformed by this inexpressible and glorious joy we believe in.
God knows it, and God gets it. Amen.
Preached at Songs of Praise
St Peter Mancroft