“Authentic Joy”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
John 17:6-19

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

John 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

What a tender prayer, we have gotten to overhear Jesus pray.

I love the desire Jesus shows to protect us from the evil one, while still calling us to discipleship, in the world that is not our home…

Jesus would know more than any human soul, the hatred and rejection of the world.  I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that Christ walked his path for all our sakes!  I feel grateful for this prayer, that God would protect us while we follow after Jesus…

And I find most tender this prayer that we would have Christ’s joy and that it would be made complete in us.  How wonderful!  Joy. That life-giving fruit of the Spirit. The kind of gift that lifts our heads, strengthens our bones, and enlivens our hearts.  Joy is longed for, sought after, sometimes given up on.  Joy can feel elusive.  Because we constantly face challenge, after dilemma, after difficult and heart-wrenching circumstance.  Joy can feel like a myth.  Or a façade.

And indeed for so many, it is merely the paint-job.  It’s the veneer over the pain.  It’s the curtain or the closed closet door masking the mess & wreck of our emotional closets, where we hide all our questions and pain and aching.

I don’t know about you, but I hunger for something real.  I long for authenticity.  I can find myself exhausted in the presence of those who feel the need to mask their own honest feelings behind positivity.  But honestly, so much of Christianity has been presented like a positivity workshop.  It is easy to get the message that Christians should be positive at all times.  They should be smiling.  They should be radient.  They should be always grateful, always kind, always polite…  In some faith communities, positivity is actually like a measuring stick used to sort out the Olympic-grade Christians from those who are more ordinary.

And so we compete.  We wear the mask.

And in some cases, the mask is wise to wear.  After all, not all people and not every circumstance will hold the sacredness of your authenticity well.  In fact, authenticity makes many a person uneasy, as real feelings and circumstances are not nice and tidy, black and white, easy to fix or even understand.

Both being authentic and beholding another’s authenticity requires a courage to face the mystery and the unknowns, to accept what is and what is not, and to resist the temptations to judge or fix or prescribe a solution…  Being authentic requires a courage to be seen, to be courageously whole in the light of day.  Beholding authenticity requires us to be, …simply be.  To listen.  To see.

And so, it is hard to be real.

This world does not reward real.

The world photo-shops our images, tidies up our rough edges – all to present a flawless image to the world, because flaws are the places were folks have dug in their claws and ripped us apart.  Spots on our apples doesn’t sell…and so we kill bees and butterflies and a host of other creatures to get shiny, marketable apples…

Real is not very marketable.
Real is not very invincible.
Real can in fact feel more like a liability than an asset.

But what Jesus is praying for here is not the façade, not the image, not the shiny exterior, or tidy looking closed closet door.  Jesus is praying for the whole shebang.  Jesus is praying for joy, real joy, abundant life joy!

I don’t know about you, but I could use more joy in my life!

Life is hard, and joy feels in short supply.

So how do we access this joy? If Jesus prayed this for us, then it would seem there is nothing capable of keeping it from us.  But God has shown us time and again that God is most courteous and does not force Godself on us.  Rather, God invites.

So I invite you to pray that God would open your eyes to the outbreaking of joy in your life.

Where is God breaking into your day?
What small thing brings you delight and satisfaction?
When do you have moments of clarity in which you feel your connectedness to everything and sense your very invaluable purpose in this life?

We indeed need Christ’s eyes to see.
We need Christ’s heart to perceive.
We need Christ’s obedience to receive.
We need Christ’s mind to understand.

How can you and I access this joy?

There are two clues I see. In this same scripture, Jesus prays that we would be one, as he and the Father are one.  This, in my estimation, feels like an impossible prayer, a child’s fantasy.  How will all of us believers ever be one?!  We disagree about so very many things!!!

Many of you I am sure followed the life and ministry of Billy Graham.  He was Southern Baptist and his wife Presbyterian, and they had a home in Montreat, the Presbyterian township in the mountains of North Carolina.  He often said that if he and his wife agreed about everything that one of them would be unnecessary!  I love that statement.  It shows a wisdom that not all have discovered:  the precious and vital gift of our many differences and disagreements.  He knew that despite the challenges of not seeing eye to eye, the challenge was indeed an invitation to go deeper, to open one’s heart wider, to see more clearly and love more deeply.  And I am sure Billy and his wife Ruth had many an occasion for disagreement.  But as scripture reminds us, we sharpen one another, as iron sharpens iron.  Our friction, our disagreements, are a gift, if we will but receive it.  We do not need to be in lock-step in order to work well together.  In fact if we were, we wouldn’t be doing as good a job at all!  It is the very diversity of our perspectives and experiences, areas of strength and areas of weakness, that invite us into a way of living and being that is stronger and powerful, than the sum of its parts.

Indeed, we are exponentially stronger together.

But we must resist the urge to reject one another from the table of our Lord.  We must resist the urge to simplify our processes by silencing or walling out those we disagree with.

Perhaps our unity is tied to our joy.

Another clue I see is Truth. Jesus prays that we would be sanctified in truth.  We need truth.  Truth cannot be devalued.  It is vital. It is foundational.  And the call to truth is yet another invitation. Because we do not naturally see truth. We see OUR truths.  We see partial truths.  But we do not, indeed we cannot even perceive THE TRUTH.  But God’s Word is truth.

Could it be that by returning to God’s Word and living in unity with one another that we come closer to joy?

Honestly, most pains in life seem to come when people treat one another badly, not living as one, not living as if each person were vital to the whole.

Could it be that when we start living all these teaching of Jesus, when we start believing the Word of God, when we start following the call of the Spirit,…that we might begin to unlock the joy Christ longs to give us?

Our loving Lord is most tender.  And we are the subject of one of his last prayers on earth.  And Christ prayed
that we might be one as he and the Father are one
that we might have Christ’s joy, complete in us!

That we might be sanctified in truth….

Even something as personal as our joy is important to our God.

May we not neglect the gifts Christ has prepared for us!  We are made to live in joy!  That’s why we yearn for it!

May Christ show each one of us, how to access and receive that fullness of joy, that life to our bones, that lift to our Spirits, that mysterious glow that emanates from a true and real joy.

And may we live in it,
ever more and ever more,
day by each gift of a day.

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