Fullness of Joy

June 26, 2022

Series: June 2022

Speaker: Bethany Nelson


Today's Sermon


"Fullness of Joy"


Psalm 16    
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lordwho gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because God is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Luke 9:51-62    
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”.

Adrian Plass is a British author who writes a lot of satire with Christian themes.  I want to share with you part of his poem titled, “When I Became a Christian.”

When I became a Christian I said, Lord, now fill me in,
Tell me what I’ll suffer in this world of shame and sin.
He said, your body may be killed, and left to rot and stink,
Do you still want to follow me? I said Amen – I think.
I think Amen, Amen I think, I think I say Amen,
I’m not completely sure, can you just run through that again?
You say my body may be killed and left to rot and stink,
Well, yes, that sounds terrific, Lord, I say Amen – I think.

But, Lord, there must be other ways to follow you, I said,
I really would prefer to end up dying in my bed.
Well, yes, he said, you could put up with the sneers and scorn and spit,
Do you still want to follow me? I said Amen – a bit.
A bit Amen, Amen a bit, a bit I say Amen,
I’m not entirely sure, can we just run through that again?
You say I could put up with sneers and also scorn and spit,
Well, yes, I’ve made my mind up, and I say, Amen – a bit.

Well I sat back and thought a while, then tried a different ploy,
Now, Lord, I said, the Good book says that Christians live in joy.
That’s true he said, you need the joy to bear the pain and sorrow,
So do you want to follow me? I said, Amen – tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Lord, I’ll say it then, that’s when I’ll say Amen,
I need to get it clear, can I just run through that again?
You say that I will need the joy, to bear the pain and sorrow,
Well, yes, I think I’ve got it straight, I’ll say Amen – tomorrow.

This poem reminds me of another story of a little child whose mother was teaching him to pray.  When he got to the part, “Lord, I surrender everything to thee, everything I own,” he abruptly broke off and whispered to himself, “except my baby rabbit.”

We all have our baby rabbits, don’t we?  We are ready to commit our lives to following Jesus – I hope that is at least part of the reason we are here today - but we are perhaps not quite ready to surrender all.  It is much easier to serve God when it is convenient for us.  When it works nicely into our regularly scheduled lives.  When it doesn’t cause too much disruption. Yes, Jesus, I’ll follow you … I think … a bit … tomorrow.  And that is not just a 21stcentury phenomenon.  In the Gospel reading we heard today, Jesus calls people to follow him.  They are ready … but first they need to take care of a few things.  One needs to bury his father.  Another needs to say farewell to those at home.

To me, those do not seem like outlandish requests. I can understand wanting to take care of those things before dedicating one’s entire life to following Jesus. However, Jesus is having none of it.  “Let the dead bury their own dead.”  “No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Gee whiz Jesus, that seems just a touch unreasonable.

That being said, I can understand why Jesus may be in a bit of a bad mood during this conversation.  He has just come from talking with his disciples after a Samaritan village had refused to receive them.  The disciples suggest that they should command fire to come down from heaven and consume the villagers.  Of course that is what they want to do.  Because everything that Jesus has been teaching and preaching up to this point about loving one’s enemies, and the least of these being the greatest, and the importance of forgiveness … all of that certainly points to Jesus wanting consume the Samaritans with fire.  (insert sarcasm here)Come on disciples, get with the program!  That is not the way of Jesus!

Jesus is fresh from rebuking them, when he begins to call the excuse-filled, would-be followers.  I can imagine him thinking, first my disciples want to command fire to come down from heaven, and now these people can’t seem to put God’s kingdom first in their lives.  Has no one been listening to a word I’ve been saying?

To be clear, it is a challenging word.  I don’t want to leave my family behind in order to follow God.  I don’t want to not be able to bury the dead.  I think one of the many tragedies of the pandemic was not being able to have in-person memorial services.  It is important to come together to remember and celebrate someone who has died.  I don’t want to give that up.  Therefore, I struggle with this passage.  What are you really asking of us, Jesus?

I appreciate the wisdom of pastor Bruce Epperly, who explains this passage as follows – “As one who has led scores of memorial services and funerals, Jesus’ words are challenging ones. Our commitments are important, and we need to affirm our responsibilities to our families and loved ones. The realm of God is found in everyday relationships of fidelity, support, and healing. We love God by loving those around us. Still, we must accept the uneasy conscience that Jesus provokes even as we take care of our children and our parents and go to work on a daily basis. We can’t take the bite out of Jesus’ words, and we need to continually ask ourselves as we check our bank accounts, drive children to school, pick up our grandchildren, ‘Are we looking beyond our own self-interest? Do we see God’s way of life in our way of life?’ We need to be willing to adjust our course to be faithful in our time and place to God’s ways.”[i]

I like that he recognizes the importance of our commitments.  We are likely not going to drop everything in order to follow Jesus. Nor should we drop those commitments that are meaningful and holy to us, such as our important relationships. That being said, this passage can and should encourage us to think about the priorities in our lives.  Let’s not be too quick to take the bite out of Jesus’ words.  Though, for us, following Jesus may not mean giving up our entire lives, we are definitely called to use our lives to honor and serve.  As we go about tending to our family and burying the dead, are we doing that in a way that honors and serves God?  As we go to work or do the chores at home, are we honoring and serving God in all that we do?  In the words of the Psalmist that we heard this morning, is God always before us; always at our right hand?  Because Jesus leaves no doubt or wiggle room – he calls us to put following him first in our lives, all the time.

For me, a big part of this is humility.  For me, there needs to be a letting go of control and allowing God to really, truly infiltrate all areas of my life.  That’s not easy for me.  I find myself often thinking that I know better than anyone else – including God – how my life should be. 

I listened with great interest to a recent episode of a podcast titled, “We Can Do Hard Things.”  The guest of the day was Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book “Eat, Pray, Love,” among several other books.  In the podcast, Gilbert explained that she has a practice of asking God the same question every day – “Dear God, what would you have me know today?”  After she asks the question, she then writes down God’s answer to her.  On the day that she recorded the podcast, this is how God answered her.

“My Love, I would have you know humility.  I want you to know the sweetness and the deep all-encompassing relief that humility will bring to your life. Look how much your life has improved by handing over so much of it to me already, but every single aspect of your life that you still hold back from me because you do not trust me, thinking in your ignorance and in your self-importance that you need to handle it, that you need to control it, fix it, manage it, solve it, understand it, everywhere that you are still doing that, you are experiencing strain and suffering and stress.

Ask me to do things for you. That is what humility means. Ask me to do your family for you. Just say, ‘You do it. I don’t know how.’ Say, ‘Here, God, you take it,’ and I will. Ask me to write your book for you. Try it, I’ll do it. Ask me to do your yoga for you. Ask me to take walks for you, not with you, for you. Ask me to schedule your life for you. Let me arrange your life. Pause. Listen for me and let me do it. I don’t want you to miss this experience of letting go into love and trust. This is what I would have you know, My Love: more God, less Liz is the equation for perfect peace. You’ve worked too hard your whole life, My Love, stop working so hard. Stop trying. Let me do more things. Let me do everything. Trust me completely. Say, ‘Here, God, you do it.’ Let me show you how much I love you when you give your whole will and your whole life to me. Let me show you how beautiful humility is. Stop knowing anything except this and accept this: you are mine and I am you. And I love you.”[ii]

Jesus’ words in this passage may sound harsh, but they are spoken out of love.  Don’t worry about those things … follow me and let me do the worrying for you.  Put me first and watch how everything else falls into place. 

The Psalmist reminds us that God shows us the path of life.  And when we take that path, in God’s presence is fullness of joy.  In God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore.  May it be so for each one of us.  Amen.