Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sermon for December 14th 2014 - Joy is ... admitting I am broken ...

Below is my sermon delivered this past week at the Flesherton Pastoral Charge - it was perhaps my most intimate and personal sermon that I have delivered ... I am humbled by the responses and feedback, and today feel the stirring of joy for the first time in a very long time ... 

Entitled: "Joy is ... admitting I am broken ...":

This past week on Facebook, a colleague posted the request for this Sunday’s sermon – “finish this sentence: Joy is …”
            He received a wide range of replies and answers – many of them external experiences crafted and created by things outside of ourselves … as I thought about What Joy is or isn’t my mind wandered to a piece I wrote,  had published and have used repeatedly since I first wrote it 15 years ago … It was entitled simply “Joy is …” and has taken on a strange life of its own … one year I was reading through the summary of Hamilton Conference’s Annual General Meeting and was shocked to discover that my “joy is …” was referenced during their worship services by clergy I didn’t know …
            But this week, I took time to revisit my own words and I found myself with a diverse range of emotions … I could and still can say “amen” to some of the proclamations I wrote what seems like a life time ago, while others make me cringe in sadness at what I have lost along the way … What really stood out for me today, in this moment is that even though I have always lived and ministered my life with a sense of Joy, I have in the last few weeks truly struggled to feel and believe in that joy …
            As I answered my colleague by sharing MY words, I realized with each stroke on the keyboard that I am broken and this joy was an elusive reality that needed to be addressed … What I wrote some 15 years ago is this:
My Theology of Ministry:
I would describe my theology of ministry in one simple word: JOY.
The definition of Joy in a dictionary refers to great happiness, or a source of great delight, but I want to be clear: I do not see joy as pasting on a happy face and pretending that everything is lovely. To me, JOY is embracing life in its fullness and proclaiming with certainty that we are never separated from God’s love.
Among many things:
Joy is being a child of God.
Joy is being a husband and a dad.
Joy is being welcomed into the most intimate moments of life and being asked to pray, of just be present with family and friends.
Joy is the opportunity to hold someone’s hand in a moment of tragedy.
Joy is holding a new born baby, or baptizing an adopted child.
Joy is weeping with the hurting and laughing with a Bible Study group.
Joy is watching a baby discover, for the third time today, her hand.
Joy is seeing the world through the Holy Wow of a three year old child, who is discovering what a wonder creation is.
Joy is building Lego sets with a five year old, and wiping away his tears when he scrapes his knee falling off a bike.
Joy is crying over injustice and rejoicing that we have a community that truly cares about us.
Joy is having tea with an elder who shares her memories of a world seven decades away.
Joy is having a pop with a group of teens who think everything is “cool” or “awesome.”
Joy is struggling to find our way, and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
Joy is leading a worship service erupting with the noise of children and quiet with the reflective wisdom of seniors.
Joy is the quiet presence of the cognitively impaired in a care home.
Joy is knowing that sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Joy is the enthusiasm of welcoming in the visitor or the newcomer.
Joy is asking the tough questions and sometimes agreeing only to disagree, but knowing that we love each other anyway.
Joy is sharing the Gospel with the help of my puppet friends.
Joy is love eternal and everlasting.
Joy is knowing God’s love and being able to share it every day in some little way.
Joy is breaking bread and sharing the cup, then having a cup of coffee and a good chat afterwards.
Joy is planning a memorial service of a cancer victim, and sharing laughter and tears as a life is celebrated.
Joy is trusting one another enough to share life’s joys and sorrows, knowing that together we share God’s love.
Joy is embracing the homeless.
Joy is loving the unlovable.
Joy is praying for the sick and visiting the hospitalized.

Joy is making worship relevant, exciting and fun.
Joy is communication and community.
Joy is facing controversy and conflict and journeying to reflection, resolution and healing.
Joy is the ministry of all of God’s people.
Joy is being a servant of God journeying with God’s children and sharing the ups and downs of everyday life with openness, with honesty, and most of all with love.
Joy is making a difference in one life everyday.
Joy is the church, the children of God in action.
Joy is the journey of faith through all the twists and turns of life.
I could go on. But suffice to say, to me the theology of ministry is about doing, not talking. It is about using the gifts and talents which God provides to care for those around us and to welcome in all of God’s children.
A friend recently described my approach to ministry as “hospitality” and observed that I move to the periphery and work very hard to draw the circle in. He may be right. I value the outreach of the church, but sometimes we need to look close by and embrace those who are hurting right beside us in the pews, and that may be the toughest challenge we face, but it is a challenge I embrace and value.
To me, ministry is about action. It is doing, not theorizing. I’m not afraid of facing issues head-on, but at the end of the day, we must, as God’s children, be able to break bread and share the cup in faith, and if conflict prevents this, then we have to roll up our sleeves and work. I am not afraid of that.
It is not easy to summarize my theology of ministry on a couple of pieces of paper. Instead I am most comfortable going out into the world and living out my faith and ministry with JOY.
My understanding of ministry is living out the word JOY in all its infinite fullness.

            As I read these words … earlier this week … yesterday in preparing this sermon, and even today here … I come to realize that Joy is very much a work in progress for ALL of us, but even though I have long said “ministry is about joy, and joy under girds much of what I do, I had to admit that true joy has been elusive and absent in my world …
            I have sought the affirmation of JOY from outside of myself … and it has never been there … instead I have carried baggage from my childhood, from my marriage, from my failings as a parent, from the failings of my relationship, and the failings in ministry … my insecurities and my self-doubts have pushed back against feeling joy to the point where joy was wholly absent … I have tried to address the brokenness and the hurt and the loneliness within by seeking affirmation from outside of myself …
            I have sought joy in the affirmation of others because I couldn’t affirm myself from within … I came to realize in the last couple of weeks that I am broken, and healing will NOT come until I address my insecurities and my self doubts …
            Joy is about wholeness and wholeness comes from within … owning our failings and shortcomings and being able to stand tall and say “I am me … and I like who I am …”
            Writer and self help guru Eckert Tolle has written of Joy:
Joy is the dynamic aspect of Being.
When the creative power of the universe
becomes conscious of itself, it manifests as JOY.
Joy does not come from what you do,
it flows into what you do and thus into
the world from deep WITHIN you.
- Eckhart Tolle

It has perhaps taken me most of my adult life to come to that realization – Joy is never an external thing … Joy comes from within … Mary’s song of Joy this morning in our readings is NOT about what God has done for Mary, but rather it is an outward expression of what Mary has come to experience within because of her encounter with the HOLY …
            We can spend our lives angry and unhappy because we are not getting the affirmation we deserve and want from our parents, our partners, our friends, our community … or we can learn to accept and love ourselves and allow joy to stir and grow within us and spread outward …
            For me, joy is still the dominant fuel driving the engine that is my ministry and my life … but today, for the first time in my life journey, I’ve come to realize and accept and celebrate that joy does not derive from what my parents have said to and about me, it does not come from what my partner has or has not said nor done for me, it does not come from outside of myself at all … it comes from within, and it spreads out into the world THROUGH my actions and words and MY life … and if I am to feel and live that happiness and joy, it must start here …
            This Sunday of Joy is about standing in the darkness, seeing the glow of Bethlehem ever nearer on the horizon and knowing, perhaps for the first time, that to fully experience the joy of the season and in our lives, we must open ourselves to OUR pain and OUR burdens and set ourselves free from within …
            It is a realization I have personally stumbled upon this Advent season … I have hungered and longed for something throughout most of my adult life, and this week I awoke to the realization that it has been within me the whole time …
            From the darkness, we journey into the light … and the light of Joy is within us every step of the way …
            Thanks be to God … let us pray …