Idenitiy a sermon series

Even though it was five weeks ago I want to keep lifting up our Christmas Eve worship service as a vision for Chain of Lakes Church. It was a vision because we were packed with people; it was a vision because all who were present made an impact in the community—we gave over $3,000 in gift cards to homeless youth through Hope 4 Youth. That amount was matched so a total of $6,200 was given away. And it was a vision because we gave people the opportunity to ask questions. Christmas Eve is a service that people who aren’t connected to a church attend. So we gave people outside the church the opportunity to ask questions about God. We encourage questions at Chain of Lakes. We especially encourage people who aren’t connected to God or the church to ask questions. We believe that faith is strong enough to receive questions—even the hardest questions. Sometimes our answers will be “I don’t know” but that doesn’t stop us from exploring. It’s this type of exploring faith that we encourage. And as we ask questions we don’t stay with the questions. Our faith is an exploration of questions that lead to a response. We’ve been looking at questions since Christmas Eve as I’ve shared a sermon series called, “The 1 Question.” It’s been a blast. You’ve told me this. Originally I was going to do this series for four weeks but because many of you shared that you enjoyed this series I extended it for another week. Today on Super Bowl Sunday I’m looking at a super question: SLIDE How do I keep the joy going—especially in trying times?” This question—like every question I’ve looked at—could be a six week sermon series. There is so much to say. Since I’m guessing you want to get home in time for the Super Bowl I can’t say everything I’d like. I’ve written a devotion for joy. Would you like more joy in your life? Use this devotion this week. IN the middle of this brochure is a place to take notes. I believe that God might say something to you that you’ll want to remember. On the back is a place for our congregation’s prayer requests. Let me tell you where we are going for the next three weeks in worship. Next Sunday I’m starting a three-week series called Identity. Our congregation is getting closer to meeting the Charter requirements of the Presbytery. When that happens we will become a church. This is a appropriate time for us to reflect on the question, “Who are we?” Or “What is our Identity?” At Chain of Lakes we have a Purpose Statement; we have eight Core Values. That’s our foundation. How will our foundation be lived out? Who are we as a community of people? We’re going to look at this. Our identity is not something that we just have as a community, each of us has a personal identity. During this series each of us I’ll encourage each of us to reflect on the question, “who am I?” In this series I’m going to take three words that are important to us and go deep into exploring what they mean in this context. The words are SLIDE Disciple—that’s next week. You don’t want to miss worship next week because Amanda Ellison is going to lead music. She is terrific. Presbyterian—that’s two weeks Citizen—that’s in three weeks. —————————————————————————————————————- Joy does not come naturally for many of us, especially those who have lived in Minnesota for a long time. In the 19th century a wave of Immigrants poured into this state from Europe—from Sweden and Norway and Germans. I don’t like to type cast groups of people, but I think it’s fair to say that when these Immigrants came to Minnesota they were not described as people of joy. These people were hard working, they were tough, they learned to endure, they were willing to help their neighbor. But joy didn’t describe them. SLIDE How many of you are familiar with Ole Rolvaag’s book, “Giants of the Earth.” I read this book in high school when I lived on the wind swept prairie of Worthington, Minnesota. This book opened up to me the culture of the land and the culture of the people where I grew up. Even if you haven’t read the book all of us know people who were in the book. Per Hansa was the main character. He was a Norwegian Immigrant who learned how to farm the prairie. He was consumed by all things a farmer in the 19th century would be consumed: rain and grasshoppers, loneliness and homesickness for his homeland, poverty and hunger. Just living. He worked hard to settle the land. Like I said we know people like Per Hansa. I think of my own grandfather Vinton who spent much of his working life on a farm. I shared a Facebook post about him this week. He graduated from Mantorville High School in 1931. He worked. He didn’t talk much. My grandmother shared a story of one time being with Vinton and his brothers. They spent much of the evening sitting on a couch hardly talking at all. And if someone had walked into my grandfather’s house or Per Hansa’s house or one of our ancestor’s house and said, “I’m full of joy,” that person would have viewed as someone from outer space. For many of us this is our ancestory. And it’s been passed to us. For many Midwesterners joy is not part of our inner landscape. At Chain of Lakes over 20 percent of us were not born in the United States—that is a Yay, God. If you weren’t born in the United States and are always wondering how to understand those of us with white skin and who had ancestors who grew up on the prairie you can by knowing that joy is not natural. SLIDE For many of us today’s question is a natural question: How do I keep the joy going even in trying times. Even if joy is not natural to many of us, experiencing and sharing joy is important for our faith life. We find this in the Bible I have a lot of books in my office. I have so many books that they don’t all fit in my book shelf. One of them is this one. It’s called a concordance. A concordance makes a list of every word that is in the Bible. Then it categorizes them. Concordances are helpful because we can learn more about specific words or even phrases. We can find a concordance on-line. SLIDE How many times is a form of the word joy in the Bible? 164. SLIDE Does a form of the word joy occur more in the Old Testament or New Testament? Not only does a form of the word joy occur more often in the Old Testament, it occurs in 22 books in the Old Testament and 18 books in the New Testament. What can we learn about joy in reading the Bible? SLIDE One of the words used in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word, simchah. It means gladness, pleasure, glee. Simchah is something that people would experience at a community celebration or holiday. SLIDE One of the words used in the New Testment is the Koine Greek word, chara. It means cheerfulness, gladness, delight. Joy is one of the nine parts of the Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy … Joy is translated as chara. As the Fruit of the Spirit joy is an internal quality. We heard one Scripture today that describes this internal situation. SLIDE You show me the path of life In your presence there is fullness of joy; In your right hand are pleasures forevermore Psalm 16:11 These three lines are worth memorizing. These three lines teach us that we experience joy when we come into God’s presence. This is simple and yet profound. For at its core joy is a spiritual quality. So our joy is not dependent on what happens in our life. We can experience joy in all sorts of emotional situations. Even situations that are hard. This past Friday night I received a call from Kim Ward. She is the wife of Bill Ward. We’ve been praying for Bill for a long time. He’s fought pancreatic cancer for 22 months. I went to visit him in the hospital on Thursday. He wasn’t doing well on Thursday. On Friday night I got a call from Kim—Bill was doing worse. Could I come and anoint him or give him last rites. We don’t give last rites in the Presbyterian tradition. But we certainly pray for people and anoint people with oil at the end of their life. When Kim called me I was at a play with my Amy & Hannah. I told her that if she could wait I would be willing to come after the play. That was fine. So at 10:00 on Friday night I drove to University Hospital. Bill was asleep. I said don’t wake him up. I anointed his forehead with oil and prayed. Then Kim started sharing stories about Bill. She asked her three kids to share stories about Bill. They all did. We laughed and some cried. We were all very sad. But admist this sadness do you know what else we were experiencing? Chara. Joy. SLIDE You show me the path of life In your presence there is fullness of joy; In your right hand are pleasures forevermore Psalm 16:11 David wrote this Psalm. Notice what he didn’t say SLIDE If I get the job there is fullness of joy If I meet and marry the person of my dreams there is fullness of joy If my kids do well there is fullness of joy If I pay off all my credit cards there is fullness of joy If I become cancer-free there is fullness of joy I found out this morning that Bill passed away. He passed away amidst joy. We can experience joy when we come into God’s presence even when our external circumstances are hard. Joy is profoundly spiritual. Material life, external circumstances can lead to joy, but joy transcends the material. This transcendence of the material is why joy is misunderstood. As Americans we’ve been conditioned to think of joy as dependent on our material circumstances on external situations. This day in America is quite an example. It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Over 100 million people will watch the Super Bowl on television. There’s even a web site that has set the over/under of the number of people who will watch the Super Bowl at 116.5 million. Some of those, say 116.5 million people, watch the game for the ads. Last Super Bowl there were 96 ads shown during the game—up from 82 the year before. The price is five million dollars for thirty seconds. These ads are creative and funny and get us talking. The ads want to purchase a product or become familiar with a brand. In general you and I see a lot of advertisements. I did some research on this once to try to figure out how many ads we are exposed to in a day. The numbers vary widely. One study said 3,000 ads a day; another study said 1,600 a day; I found a web site that said we exposed to 150 ads a day. No one knows for sure, but let’s take the low number and say we’re exposed to 150 ads a day. If we are awake 16 hours a day that means we are exposed to about ten ads a hour. Ten times every hour you and I come into contact with a message that we need a product or we need to come into contact with a brand to be happy. You and I are smart people. We know that purchasing a product or becoming familiar with a brand is not going to make us happy. When we hear the basic form of the same message ten times a hour every hour we are awake, that does something to us. It teaches us that we need stuff or brands to be happy. We start thinking that to be happy we need a good house or a solid job, a huge TV or a great looking body. It’s easy to be unhappy. Research shows that even though Americans are one of the wealthiest countries in the world we are far from the top in being the happiest people in the world. So many things—but they don’t bring us happiness. . I’m guessing that many of us have anecdotal stories that back up this point. Last summer Amy & Hannah went to Guatemala. They served an orphanage that is near the big dump in Guatamela City. They told me about the life there. The houses are very small. They wouldn’t pass code in the north Metro. Amy & Hannah told me how they saw people spending much of their day at a garbage dump scavenging for food; they came into contact with hundreds of children who don’t know their biological parents. But they shared with me how people are full of joy. They had smiles on their face and their smiles were genuine. Their experience is the same experience that many who have traveled to Central America have shared with me. Even though the people in the United States have a much higher level of income than people in Central America we are not happier. I’m not saying that we should move to Guatemala or even stop watching ads. We have to be conscious and alert to what brings us joy. Let’s answer the question. How do we keep the joy going—especially in trying times? And let me say that I’m not talking about being clinically depressed. If we experience signs of depression, I would encourage us to see a counselor. I have a response. It’s not complicated. Be intentional about practicing our own relationship to God. I’ve often been with people who are not experiencing joy. Sometimes I’ll ask them—how is your spiritual life? How are you doing at worship, or prayer life, or reading the Scriptures, or serving others. Most of the time the person will say, “I’m not doing that well.” I don’t ask this question from judgment. It’s not like “ARE YOU PRAYING.” I think our spiritual practices can help. When we are engaged spiritually we are much more prone to experience joy. Certainly there are times when we are practicing our faith but God is absent to us. But one way to experience our joy when life is hard is to be more intentional about faith. Pray, worship, serve, be in a small group. Next week we are going to start publicizing our small groups during Lent. We’re going to read Matthew during Lent. Join one. I have a particular prayer I want to share with you. I’ve shared this story before. The story is about Frank Laubach. He was known for the amazing work he did in literacy. But even more important than these accomplishments was the condition of his heart. Frank Laubach said that his life changed when he tried to come into the presence of God for one second every minute. Every minute he tried to come into contact with God. When he did this over time he found himself experiencing blessings that he could have never imagined. He would try to say this prayer every minute SLIDE “God direct my head, heart, and feet. Help me experience joy.” Saying a prayer once a minute might seem to be like the PHD level of pursuing joy. But how about if we said a short prayer at the start of every hour. What if we said this prayer three times a day: I’m not saying that joy can be captured by a formula. But I do believe that if we are intentional about being directed by God that we will experience blessings that far surpass what we could have imagined. We will experience joy. Let me close with a story. I don’t know if you heard of the story of Bruce Kramer. He was a man who taught at St. Thomas business school. He had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. I remember when I first heard the story I didn’t want to listen to it. I thought it would be depressing. But for some reason I kept the radio on I was drawn into this story. Minnesota Public Radio was sharing a series on him. He wrote about an experience had had with some teachers. He was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and he said this: SLIDE These meetings, so perfunctory in the past, have now taken on sweetness, morsels of shared appreciation, frustration, collective failure and success. I want to say more but the words are muted, inadequate to the privilege I feel working with these bright, talented, passionate, and even curmudgeonly individuals. He went on to say: SLIDE One of the gifts of ALS is recognition. As an educator, and a pretty good one I might add, I recognize great teaching when I see it, and ALS is a great, if unyielding teacher. And what have I learned? The cornerstone of my new knowledge is to accept failure as inevitable. I write about this a lot, because such recognition blesses and curses, confuses and clarifies, fragments yet unifies. You can build faith in failure. Faith and joy are almost synonyms. You can find joy in circumstances that our culture would call a failure. That’s a super message. That is a message that will last—even when the whistle blows to end the game.