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The Joy In Rejoice
October 12, 1997

1 PETER 1:6-9

I suspect you were surprised to sing "Joy to the World" this morning Have you been assuming it is a Christmas song? But, look at the words. Nowhere does it refer to the birth of Jesus. It's a song about joy, and joy is our subject this morning.

We are working our way through 1 Peter. After five sermons, we have now arrived at 1:6! At a meeting of the Finance Campaign Committee the other evening, the group was disappointed to learn that I was leaving the Get-Away early in order to preach this morning. They were hoping there might be a guest preacher who would finish 1 Peter in one sermon! No such luck!

1:6, "In this you rejoice..." To what does this refer? Living hope. By God's great mercy we have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Last week we rejoiced in our inheritance that is being kept in heaven for us, an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. In the meantime we are given experiences of the anticipated inheritance. In our day, heirs can receive up to $10,000 per year of their inheritance, without tax consequences to the donor. Similarly, we are receiving daily, even moment by moment, part of our heavenly inheritance.

When we looked at living hope several weeks ago, we learned that our hope is not wishful thinking, a mere dream about the future; but our hope is a living hope, grounded in an event that has already happened, which gives us confidence in the future. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we hope, we know that God will ultimately conquer evil. The future is assured because God defeated death and the evil forces that put Jesus to death. Because Christ lives, we too will live. In the Holy Communion liturgy, we proclaim "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." Living hope brings the future into the present. The future is already here. We are receiving our inheritance even now.

Therefore, we rejoice. We rejoice in our living hope. We rejoice in our inheritance. We rejoice in our salvation which not only is the outcome of our faith, but which we are already receiving (1:9). The root word of rejoice is joy. Rejoice means to experience joy and gladness to a high degree. Joy is a glad feeling, delight, pleasure, rapture, ecstasy. The joy of a Christian is a profound joy, a deep feeling of delight that undergirds and sustains us even in time of trial.

Can one be joyful and sad at the same time? Can one grieve over the death of a loved one, yet be joyful at the same time? Can one undergo trials and suffering and be joyful at the same time? Can one fear persecution, and yet be joyful at the same time? Yes, says Peter. Last week I gave examples of the persecution these early Christians were facing. Can you imagine the apprehension, the fear, the worry they lived with every day? Yet, Peter says they (1:8) "believe in Christ and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."

The persecution they are facing, the various trials they suffer, is only for a "little while," Peter says. On the other hand, our inheritance is sure and eternal. At Dru Lopp's Memorial Service on Friday, Lloyd Hall relayed a story that Dru liked to tell about her Uncle Brad who had a drinking problem. He and a friend were arguing about whether a bridge that was being installed was going to be temporary or permanent. The friend finally said, "You're drunk and don't know the difference between temporary and permanent." Dru's Uncle Brad replied, "I may be drunk, but it's only temporary. Tomorrow I will wake up sober. You, on the other hand, are a damn fool, and that's permanent!" Our inheritance is permanent, but trials and suffering are only temporary, only "for a little while."

Peter goes on to say that God can use the trials and suffering to purify faith. Not that God causes suffering, trials and persecution, but God works through them. In everything God works for good. The application of intense heat, a process called refining, rids metal of alloy, and leaves a pure deposit of gold. Faith is more precious than gold, says Peter, and when refined by trials, suffering, and persecution will, 1:7, "result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." When the heat is turned up, God uses it to purify your faith.

People today are experiencing various trials. One trial we all face today is change which many people find difficult and threatening. Change is the dynamic that makes the world go round, and change is occurring at a pace never before experienced in history. Obsolete is the fashionable word. The only thing certain these days is change. We hope to purchase new computers for the church offices. Why? Because those purchased four years ago are obsolete! Jody and I went to Pastors' School two weeks ago. Bill Easum, the main speaker, told us he buys a new laptop computer every six months. Why? For his purposes, a laptop is obsolete in six months. By the way, how many of you own a computer? Do you drive an automobile? It's full of computers!

In the midst of rapid change, which for many of us is truly a trial, some would like our church to be a port in the storm, a safe place, a refuge from change; but Bill Easum told us, "The church must change or die." The United Methodist Church, as a denomination, is in trouble. We have been dying for 30 years. Membership has declined from 11 million in 1968 to less than nine million today. Within the next 25 years, 3/4 of United Methodist churches will close-- unless we change and begin reaching younger people.

Our church is changing. Look at the changes that have occurred in the 4 1/3 years I've been here. And, we are growing. The membership report given Thursday evening at the Church Conference showed an increase in church membership for the first time since I've been here. Even of more significance, our Sunday morning worship attendance has increased considerably. We have topped 300 on several Sundays, including last Sunday. My goal is a consistent 300 in worship and 100 in Sunday School. Our church is changing and growing, but we cannot rest. God calls us forward.

More changes in our church are coming. Change is scary. Change is unnerving, especially in our church; but change is also exciting as we follow God's leading. Last Sunday, the Administrative Council adopted two missions which will call for increased giving: a mission to children by providing a daily After-School ministry in addition to our Tuesday CATCh ministry, and a mission to younger adults by adding a Saturday evening service with contemporary music provided by a praise band. The two Sunday services will remain the same.

You may find change in church disruptive, but in the midst of change, in the midst of trials, we can experience authentic joy, an indescribable and glorious joy, the kind of joy Peter is describing. I see a difference between joy and happiness. Being happy is temporary. Joy is permanent. Happy feelings come and go. Joy is permanent. Joy is a deep feeling of well-being and delight that undergirds and sustains. Joy helps us handle change, trials and suffering, setbacks and problems. Joy is irrepressible. It bubbles up like an artesian well. Joy works its way through the temporary suffering, and bubbles up with an irrepressible sense of well-being.

When I am tired, when I am depressed, when I am discouraged, it's only for a little while. Even then, I can feel the joy deep down within, and I know I am in God's hands. When I am not sure what course to take, when I falter in the midst of rapid change, I can feel the joy because I know I am doing what God wants me to do, and that everything will be fine. Joy cannot be squelched. Joy is irrepressible and bubbles up and shines through tears.

Authentic, indescribable joy does not come from the externals of life. Joy doesn't come from abundance of things. Joy comes from the Holy Spirit. Joy comes from living in a vital, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. Joy cannot be forced, contrived, fabricated, or manipulated. Joy is not something you dredge up from inside yourself. Joy is not something you do, joy is a gift from God. A pastor visited Uganda and spent some time with Christian friends who have suffered so much in the past few years. Most them had lost loved ones who had been murdered or killed in uprisings. Many Christians have been martyred for their faith. Most of the Christians he met had lost everything they owned, and were struggling for food and survival.

Nevertheless, in the midst of their trials and hardships, he was surprised to see their joy. They are joyful people. In fact, he said that he had never been among such genuinely joyful people in all his life. He is pastor of a wealthy church here in America. Most of his members are affluent and possess nearly everything that money can buy. Yet his American church members do not display the joy which he observed in the lives of the suffering Christians in Uganda. Joy doesn't come from things. Joy comes from the Lord. In fact, where the Lord is, there is joy. Joy doesn't come from wealth. Joy comes from faith that has and is being purified by the refining fire of trials and suffering.

Joy is like an artesian well. It undergirds and sustains, and bubbles up through the pain and suffering. Joy that is irrepressible and cannot be squelched is an indescribable and glorious joy that is born from a living hope, joy that is ours when we are receiving and experiencing our inheritance, our salvation.

Do you know what I am talking about this morning? Do you have joy like an artesian well? If not, I invite you to receive God's love and salvation. Rid yourself of all the clutter that fills your being, and make room for the Lord. Invite Christ into your life.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris