Monday, April 23, 2012

Sunday Sermon

April 22, 2012 The Second Sunday after Easter Consider what you might do if one Saturday afternoon, your doorbell suddenly rang. Getting out of your armchair, you shuffle to the door and pull it open. To your shock and amazement, you are confronted with glaring lights, video cameras and a guy holding an over-sized check for ten million dollars. Against all odds, you have won the sweepstakes, the lottery, the big cash giveaway without even subscribing to a magazine! What do you think might be your first reaction? The usual commercial film shot of most of these big winners shows them with their mouths and their eyes wide open, dancing around while screaming "I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" Two conflicting emotions race through their systems at the same time: first, their disbelief that stems from the cultivated rationale that "Nobody ever wins these things" and "The odds against winning are astronomical," coupled with, second, unbridled joy - "Yes, yes, yes, it's really happened to me," "My life is changed forever," "It's what I've always hoped for!" Sweepstakes winners are probably our best current example of how people look and react when they "disbelieve for joy." Luke's description of the reaction Jesus' disciples displayed when the risen Christ at last appeared before them is perfect -- they "disbelieved for joy." When Jesus died on that cruel cross, they had sealed away all their hopes in his lonely tomb. Perhaps, in their depths, they still heard Jesus' words about his death and resurrection. But like winning a big lottery jackpot, the chances of such a miracle actually occurring were perhaps one in . . . an eternity? Still, wasn't there that one chance after all the miracles he performed, couldn’t he bring himself back from the dead like he did with Lazarus? As Jesus suddenly stood in their midst, the fear and the denial that first seized the disciples' minds and hearts was still tinged with that "one in 10 million" hope. As Jesus spoke to them, that tiny flicker of faith suddenly erupted into joy. Joy unlooked for and joy unexpected slowly spread out over the disciples' hearts and consumed their whole beings. The miracle of the Resurrection had happened. The proof stood before them calmly eating a fish! When was the last time we can recall being consumed with overwhelming, unexpected joy? By its very nature, we don't expect to encounter such joyfulness in our lives on a regular basis. And it seems our carefully scheduled, minute-by-minute monitored lifestyles are specially designed to exorcise the possibility of unqualified, unlooked for joy from our life experiences. We expect to be harried and harassed, stressed and sapped. At best, we hope to schedule a little time for peace and quiet and a little fun into our lives. But joy? Never! Surprise! According to liturgical tradition, this third Sunday of Easter, is known as Jubilatae Sunday -- Joyous Sunday. This is the encore day the church has set aside to allow itself to be surprised all over again by the joyous news of Jesus' resurrection. This Sunday gleans its name from the first word of Psalm 65, as written in the Latin Vulgate. For centuries, the church use to use Psalm 65 as the introit to this Sunday's worship. "Jubilate!" Be joyous. This is a day of unexpected good news. Now, let's tell the truth. When we consider all the possible places we might find ourselves surprised by joy and disbelieving for joy, is church the first place we think of? Perhaps we hope to encounter joy at some special family function? Or when seeing old friends? Or by catching sight of a beautiful sunset? Slogging to church services on Sunday morning probably isn't our first pick of potentially joyful moments in life. And that is our own fault. Church should be the place where we expect to be shaken by the Spirit and tickled to our toes by the power of the Good News of the Gospel. But the church has allowed itself to become stodgy instead of scintillating, cerebral instead of celebratory, respectable instead of rambunctious. We have trudged along the well-worn path of predictability for so long now that the church is operating with a dangerously high delight deficit. Every politician running for office in the last decade has railed and rallied against the sin of operating our government in the red. The national deficit, calculated in numbers so large they are beyond the grasp of our imagination, is touted as the number one danger to our national health and future security. The time has come for the church to take its delight deficit just as seriously. If this deficit is the legacy we pass on to future generations, we can be sure that each year, our congregation will continue to be small and stingy and sour. As Christians, we feel duty-bound to spend all our time talking about judgment and justice. But where is the joy? Why are there no dialogues on delight? In Matthew 25:21, the well-pleased master congratulates his faithful servant by proclaiming "Well done . . . you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." Being joyful is not some silly sentiment that serious Christians should disdain. Taking delight in life, living life to the fullest, is what God intends for people of faith. Business consultant/futurist Tom Peters wrote a book in 1994 called The Pursuit of Wow!: Every Person's Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times. The corporations of the future, he argues, exhibit an attitude toward life he calls "Wow!" Wow! is releasing and unleashing the energies of the universe in one's life. Wow! is "service with soul." Wow! is experiencing life to the fullest, and living full-throttle. I don't think resurrection Christians should count their blessings so much as count their Wows! R. Scott Colglazier, the pastor of the largest Disciples of Christ church in the country, writes in his book, Finding a Faith That Makes Sense, that "Jesus, too, lived with wow! His wow revealed a Good-News God, not a bad-news God. His wow revealed a God ready to love, not ready to push away. His wow revealed a God who picks people up after they make mistakes, not a God who pushes people's noses down even further in those mistakes. The God of Jesus is a wow God of acceptance, not a woe God of fear. That's the wow of the essence of the Good News. Even the cruelty of a Roman cross couldn't stop the Jesus-Wow from filling the world. He wowed them even more by coming back to life through his resurrection, living through his disciples, and living even today as we feel his presence in our lives". When Jesus emerged from the baptismal waters, the Father's voice proclaimed, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Actually, the best translation of the Greek here is, "This is my beloved Son who brings me great pleasure." Isn't that a marvelous phrase? Jesus delighted the Father. Jesus enabled the Divine to feel "pleasure" at his faithfulness. You and I were created to experience God's pleasure and to bring God great pleasure. "These encrusted souls of ours, like rusted tuning forks, have all but lost the capacity to vibrate to the frequency of delight. They must be cleaned, refreshed, renewed". (Paul R. Fries, The Man Who Didn't Read the Whole Text) Starting on this Jubilatae Sunday, why don't we renew our commitment to creating some moments of joyful possiblities in the midst of our church. Joyful possibilities are one way we can begin to slowly dig our way out of the delight deficit that haunts our churches and hollows out each one of our souls. Unfortunately, the delight deficit throughout our culture is so great that it really takes pathetically little effort to inject unexpected joy into the lives of others. One day, you and I will stand before God. We will hear from God either one of two sets of words. The worst thing you can hear is, "Depart from me. I take no pleasure in you." The most wonderful thing you and I can hear are these words, words that will ring through the end of time: "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have brought me great pleasure." God Love You+ + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church San Diego, Ca.