Fruit of the Spirit – Joy (Sermon Series)

Fruit of the Spirit - JoyGretchen Rubin is the author of several books including the Happiness Project which spent more than two years on the New York Times Best seller list. In an article for The Daily Good, she reflects about her journey toward trying to embrace enthusiasm (which I would say is close to what we will talk about as joy). She writes:

“I wanted to laugh more, I wanted to show more loving-kindness, and I also wanted to be more enthusiastic. I knew that it wasn’t nice to criticize but it was fun. Why was it so deliciously satisfying to criticize? Being critical made me feel more sophisticated and intelligent – and in fact, studies show that people who are critical are often perceived to be more discerning. In one study, for example, people judged the writers of negative book reviews as more expert and competent than the writers of positive reviews, even when the content of both reviews was deemed to be of high quality. Another study showed that people tend to think that someone who criticizes them is smarter than they are. Being critical has its advantages, and what’s more, it’s much easier to be hard to please.”

What do you think? Is that true? While it might be easier to be hard to please, I certainly resonate with her next observation: “It’s hard to find pleasure in the company of someone who finds nothing pleasing.” I’m afraid I have days I’m not very good company, so it’s probably good we spent last Sunday focusing on a more enthusiastic fruit of the spirit: Joy! Rubin says: “Although enthusiasm seems easy and undiscriminating, in fact, it’s much harder to embrace something than to disdain it. It’s riskier.” Who would have thought that being enthusiastic or joyful is risky??

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:4, 5a, 8, 11)

Jesus invites us to abide in his love so that his joy might be in us – so that the fruit of the spirit, JOY, might be produced in our lives.

There is a lot of literature out there about the difference between joy and happiness, and what is worth pursuing and how to go about it. Some would say that happiness is an emotion we experience when good things happen, and it seems more dependent on external circumstances matching our desires. Some would also define joy as an emotion, but one that is more dependent on what occurs inside of us – when we develop an appreciation or thankfulness for the little things in life as well and when we have faith in something larger than ourselves and our circumstances.

Being happy isn’t a bad thing. It just occurs more naturally as a result of good circumstances taking place. But since we can’t rely on having good circumstances all the time, joy might be an emotion worth cultivating like all fruit – something we can develop by abiding in Christ.

The verses of Psalm 137 always get to me…. The words feel so raw and real, I can imagine myself sitting right there. The psalmist writes:

By the rivers of Babylon-
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, (which means happiness and laughter) saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

The Israelites, feeling completely stripped of their land and lives, replied, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in these surroundings and circumstances”?

We have probably all had events in our lives where we have found ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings; when our ‘familiar land’ and all that made life happy and whole are suddenly far away. The death of a spouse or child, a recent divorce, a progressive disability, the loss of a job, a new job, a sudden illness, a move — all events that can alter our circumstances and lifestyles. We, too, might ask: “How can I sing in this strange land?”

I found myself thinking of that Psalm when I was at the movie theater this week. Did you know that Pixar released a movie to coincide perfectly with our fruit of the spirit series?? It was released last weekend, and it’s called Inside Out and has been referred to as a kid’s movie that’s actually for adults. It explains the inner workings of the brain and explores the cognitive and scientific connections between emotions and memory in an amazing way! In the movie, 11 year old Riley has had a great childhood growing up in Minnesota with her parents and her best friend and all her favorite activities. Then her father is forced to uproot the family and move them to San Francisco.

While she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, most of the movie happens inside Riley’s head – where little characters control her emotions as she navigates her new circumstances, trying to make sense of how to find joy in this strange new place without the familiar surroundings that previously brought her so much happiness.

The main characters are the following emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy.

One of my favorite parts of the movie was the little boy I didn’t know sitting next to me. At one point in the movie, anger is wanting to take over Riley’s emotions, and the little boy tries to help Riley out. He was whispering in a loud voice, “No, no, don’t listen to him!”

Joy, one of the emotions in Riley’s head, works really hard wanting Riley to have only happy memories. In one scene we looked at, she draws a circle on the floor and tells ‘Sadness’ that her job is to stay inside the circle!

Wouldn’t that be great? If we could just draw a circle and ask everything unpleasant or sad to just stay in it? I know some of the heartaches some of us face (children and adults alike), and I sure wish I could do that for all of us.

By the rivers of Babylon-
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

In Philippians 4:4, Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Rejoice in the Lord always….But how?

Perhaps a closer look at the word ‘joy’ in its original language from scripture might shed some light. In Luke 22:19, it says: Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the original word for ‘he gave thanks’ is ‘eucharisteo’. In fact, communion in some traditions is referred to as The Eucharist. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace”, and its derivative is chara, meaning “joy.” Chara. Joy. Charis. Grace. EuCHARisteo. Thanksgiving.

In many ways remembering and giving thanks is at the very center of our faith, and Holy Communion invites us to place the whole of our lives into the context of grace and joy and thanksgiving. The table draws a circle big enough to include and transform every memory, every experience and every circumstance of our lives.

Remembering and giving thanks, whether at the table of Holy Communion, or at our meal at home, or when we look out the window at the sunshine, or pause to see the blessings in the faces with whom we share life, or whenever we remember that life itself is a gift…. however we do it, remembering and giving thanks is what connects us to the vine and helps us abide in Christ’s love so that his joy might be in us! Remembering and giving thanks is what helps us to sing the Lord’s song, even in a strange land.

Why is it we talk about ‘joy’ mostly at Christmas time?? Joy to the world, we sing! The Lord is come!

Maybe we talk about joy so much at Christmas time because we are focused on the birth of Jesus Christ as an amazing gift. The gift of God – who came to be with us – in every circumstance and in every foreign and strange land – a gift that was pure grace! A gift that was obviously so undeserved, we can’t help but receive it with great joy, with great thanks giving (Eucharisteo)!

Maybe that’s what happens when we lose our joy in life – we start to think that we deserve what we have, or we forget the grace and joy of being alive, no matter our circumstances.
In Psalm 30, the psalmists writes:
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

While Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, observes that it’s much easier to be hard to please rather than joyful and enthusiastic, perhaps, in the coming days, we can seek to abide in Christ so others will find pleasure in our company because we find so many things to be pleasing.

We are, after all, God’s people – branches of the vine sent to spread joy to the world!
I hope to see you in worship this Sunday (at our ONE WORSHIP SERVICE AT 10:00) as we seek to cultivate the next fruit of the Spirit: Peace! Break out the oranges for Sunday, and have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Blessings and grace and joy!
Pastor Karen