Monday, May 6, 2024



John 15:9-17

Easter 6 / Year B

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

At last Tuesday’s clergy day with the bishop at Chanco, our presenter asked us this: What is the greatest source of joy in your life?  On the surface it appears to be a relatively simple, straightforward question.  What gives you great joy?  Think about this for a moment.  How many of you are like me… you don’t have an answer?  And, as you think about it, how many of you, like me, are not even quite sure what joy is?  What does it say that Jesus tells his followers and friends everything about what he has said and done is driven by his desire they share in his joy.  So let’s spend a few moments this morning thinking about joy – what it is, what it isn’t, and how live into it. 

First, let’s acknowledge joy and happiness are not the same thing.  Happiness, it seems to me, depends on what happens.  It is a response to something you deem positive.  Your team wins the championship.  The teacher gives your paper an A.  The new recipe turns out to be delicious.  Your $1 raffle ticket pays off and you get a brand-new car.  Happiness is an emotional response when something positive happens. 

Joy does not depend on circumstances.  In fact, joy is often present in situations not likely to foster happiness.  The apostle James begins his letter by writing, “Count it all joy when you experience various kinds of trial.”  Funerals, while times of deep grief and sorrow, often are permeated with joy.  And while happiness rises and falls like the tide, joy seems to be more of a constant.  It emanates from a place deep below the surface and is not easily impacted by the storms of life.

Our clergy day speaker defined hope as believing in a promise for the future and living today as if it is going to happen.  Joy, I think, is like this too.  It is believing God has created this world, infused it with goodness, beauty, and abundance, and then living into this reality in spite of the presence of cruelty, ugliness, and scarcity.  It is living in the light of the Resurrection even though the pall of death remains. 

Joy is an attitude.  It is a choice.  It is something we can cultivate.  Richard Hanson, a psychologist, holds evolutionary development has hardwired us to focus on the negative as part of our survival instinct.  “The brain,” he says, “is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”  Think about that.  There is a reason why we humans have a developed panic response, but lack the ability to purr.

Still, you can cultivate joy by adding a few tools to your life’s work kit:

§ Mindfulness: being attentive; constantly on the lookout for God’s goodness, beauty, and abundance.

§ Openness: knowing you will find God’s goodness, beauty, and abundance in people, places, and things where you might not expect them to be.

§ Acceptance: no how small the object or the moment, believing it is a sign of God’s presence in the world.

§ Contentment: allowing life to be what it is and not demanding anything more of it.

§ Appreciation: holding everything comes to us as a gift from a generous and loving God.

§ Gratitude: a constant posture of being thankful for what is.

Dr. Pamela King teaches in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary.  She has done a deep dive into the study of joy in order to learn more about its complexities.  She says it “involves our thoughts, feelings, and actions in response to what matters most in our lives.”  “Joy,” she says, “is an enduring, deep delight in what holds the most significance for us.”  

Dr. King’s research revealed three areas which deeply influence the experience of enduring joy:

§ Growing in authenticity and living more into one’s strengths.

§ Growing in depth of relationships and contributing to others.

§ Living more aligned with one’s ethical and spiritual ideals.

Her findings suggest the more you are able to use your gifts to do what you love, build reciprocal relationships with others, and live with “moral coherency” the more likely you are to experience joy.

Her insights help me to identify why I feel so much joy by being here at St. Paul’s.  This is a place where I can share my gifts and have them be valued.  My relationships here are marked by giving and receiving – everything from a listening ear to a cookie to a Lenten program about the metaphysical poets.  When I am here I have a sense I am living into God’s dream for all people.  I suspect many of you share in the joy of our faith community.  This is a place where we experience the joy Jesus offers as we see life as he saw it and live life as he lived it.