So Where's My Joy?
"So where's my joy?" You've thought that before, haven't you? From Christmas' "Joy, Joy, Joy" to Easter's joyous cry, "Christ is risen" you've wondered where's my joy in this tedium, this boredom, in this hard life of mine? That's a fair question. Beginning with out text, which takes place in the upper room on the night Jesus was betrayed to His enemies, the disciples' joy is a new theme. Jesus says what He says in our text so that their joy may be complete. In 16:20, Jesus promises their grief will turn to joy; in verse 21 Jesus promises them the joy the mother of a newborn has; in verse 22 He promises that no one will take away their joy; in 24 Jesus tells them they may ask for anything for their joy to be complete, and in 17:13 Jesus says He prays so their joy might be complete.
This note of joy is new. Before this, the word was only used once in 3:29. The verb form was used several times but it never referred to the joy of the disciples. Not until the upper room; not until the betrayal, desertion, and unbelief of the disciples looms dark does Jesus start talking about the disciples' joy. Hmmm; this is a puzzle, but still the question remains, "So where's my joy?"
I'll tell you where: in Jesus' command. There are 28 verbs in this 173 word text, but only one verb is an imperative, remain. "Now you must remain in My love." Luther said it took little skill to know Jesus loves me, but it was a whole different manner to remain in that love (LW, 24, 246). The Devil, the World, and your own fallen Flesh do everything they can to convince you that Jesus really doesn't love you. "Why would He let this happen if he did?" the Devil whispers. "Look at all the blessings those who follow me have," the World sneers. "I don't feel loved," the Flesh pouts.
Oh how these 3 turn everything around. They make our Lord look like a taker not a giver, a slave master not a Savior, a God of must, better, and should, rather than of did, done, and finished. It becomes a task, a chore, a burden to come to Church, to study His Word, even to eat His Body and Drink His Blood. The unholy 3 make it seem that Baptismal waters only come to us if we hand dig a well to get the water. Absolution is ours only if we suffer, serve, or feel shamed enough. And to get the Body and Blood of Jesus we must first be given over to death; we must first shed our blood.
Where's your joy? It's in remaining in Jesus' love for you. But fat chance you have of doing that when you see Jesus' commands to baptize, absolve, and commune as heavy burdens imposed on you. How in the world does baptizing become a scalding rather than rebirthing? Absolving become rubbing your face in your sins rather than forgiving them? And communing become a have to rather than a want to?
I may appear to be zigzag here, but stay with me. Your joy is in Jesus' command to remain in His love and in loving one another. The command to remain in His love is all Gospel. It's another way of saying remain in the regenerating waters of Baptism, the forgiving words of Absolution, and the saving Body and Blood of Jesus. Remaining in these leads to loving each other. The last verse of our text is translated poorly. "This is My Command: Love each other." It leaves the command "love each other" ringing in your ears. The ASV is best. It reads, "These things I command you, that ye may love one another." Following the command to "remain in My love" with all its glorious facets empowers us to love one another.
Remaining in Jesus' love is a matter of faith, not doing or feeling. It's not something you can fake. As a piece of information you can know Jesus loves me. Not one of you will ever forget that. Trusting it is another matter. It takes a miracle to trust that Jesus loves a misshapen sinner like you. It takes a miracle to trust as the country song says that not only Mom but Jesus will always love me even when the Devil takes control. This trust is worked not by you but by the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit can bring you to believe that Jesus loves you and to keep you in that faith, and He only works through Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. Apart from these you won't forget the fact that Jesus loves sinners, but apart from these you will never trust that fact or remain in it.
You can see the problem, can't you? The Devil, the World, and your Flesh make you think going to Church, hearing the Word, and especially studying it are burdensome, bothersome, and boring, so you slip, slide gently away from Baptism, Absolution, and Communion and the one true saving faith. This slipping away from Jesus' love for us is shown in our lack of love for others. We hide this lack by loving Jesus instead. O how we love Jesus; yes how we love Jesus. It's much easier to love Jesus whom you can't see than your neighbor whom you can, but as John points out, you can't love the God you don't see if you don't love the neighbor you do.
Now we're getting somewhere. I won't, don't, can't love my neighbor, my spouse, my parents, or anybody else apart from remaining in Jesus' love for me. Not only won't I love; I won't have joy either. My lack of joy and how I treat others comes down to how I see Jesus: my God and Lord. As I think God treats me, regards me, looks at me, loves me that it is how I will love, look, regard, and treat others.
So how do you see Him? Is your relationship one of grace, mercy, and peace for Jesus' sake? Is it one of joy, joy, joy, how great your joy? Or do you think God is holding out on you, not doing His best for you? Do you think He's disappointed in you? He's in heaven shaking His head from side to side thinking, "Why can't he be better? Why can't she do more?" Is your relationship with God one of bother, of oppression, of slavery?
So where's my joy? Why isn't my joy in Jesus as it was for Bach who could describe Jesus as the joy of man's desiring? Do you think the rousing handclapping, foot stamping, hand raising revival style worship has rediscovered the joy? Yes, and clowns are always happy until no one's around. The joy Jesus speaks of is not found by getting happy, acting happy, or from anything within us. Joy is outside of us.
I heard this line in a show recently, "The man who walks around with a chip on his shoulder is forever an outsider." The man with a chip believes, no one understands him; no one is like him, and no one likes him. The chip separates him from everyone one else. The chip of the law; the chip of thinking God is against me; the chip of not knowing or being sure of what God is up to in your life leaves you outside of not just God but others. Don't think you alone have these chips. The disciples do in the upper room, and Jesus is busy knocking them off in preparation for His suffering and death to pay for sins.
Jesus begins by saying they are no longer servants. They are His friends. The Law has done its work. It has led them to this Upper Room, to this meal of His Body and Blood. It has led them to know they can't do anything to merit His love, deserve His love, or get His love. They aren't loveable. They're sinners, and so are you. The chief purpose of the Law is to make me a sinner; make me know beyond a shadow of doubt there is no possible way I can be saved by my efforts, by anything coming from me or about me.
The function of the Law is to lead me to Jesus and God's love for sinners because of Jesus' holy life and His innocent death on the cross. The Law is to make me a sinner, make me see how absolutely unlovable I am, but the law is not to leave me in my guilt, in my unloveableness, in my hopelessness. It is to lead me to Jesus who freely bore my sins, died my death, and won the authority to wash my dirt away in Baptism, send my sins away in Absolution, and give His Body and Blood to me for salvation.
Remember the setting of our text. We're in the upper room, hours before betrayal, desertion, torture, shame, and a criminal's death for Jesus. Yet, Jesus talks about their joy; He wants them to have complete joy. If that's so, and it is, don't you think Jesus wants you to have joy in a waiting room, a sick room, in a home riddled with problems, even in a funeral home? If Jesus wanted the disciples faced with His gruesome, bloody, cross to have joy, surely He wants you too as well regardless of the crosses you're faced with. If the cross wasn't a cause for them to leave His love, surely any of our little crosses can't be either.
The fact is we have no choice but joy. Why? Because Jesus chooses us. That's what He says, isn't it? Jesus chooses us to bear enduring fruit, to have our prayers answered, to love others as we are loved by Him. Do you know the joy that comes from planting a garden and having it bear fruit? Jesus has chosen that all you do as His friend will not only bear fruit but endure. You aren't to look at your feeble efforts, your meager results as anything but bearing enduring fruit doing more than you ever dream. How can you not have joy in a guaranteed bountiful harvest?
Jesus has also chosen that your prayers in His name will always be answered. Go ahead; ask whatever is fitting in Jesus' name and ask whenever you want to. And if you're not sure it's fitting ask anyway for the Father will not give you anything that works against the name of Jesus. What joy! I have a direct line to the Father through the Son. I can ask anything, and I am promised the Father will give it in Jesus name.
You know the pain of being the last chosen or not chosen at all for a childhood game? Did you ever experience the joy of being chosen first? Jesus chose you first: to love you, to bless you, to answer your prayers. For Jesus' sake, God is always pleased with you; He can't wait to hear from you, to answer your prayers, to make your life enduringly fruitful. He commands you remain in His love, don't doubt it, don't forget it, but always see it in that Font, hear it in the Absolution, and taste it in Communion. So where's your joy? In being loved better, greater, and longer than you ever dared imagine. That's too much love for anybody's cup to hold, and when cups runneth over that's always a joy and always shared. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday of Easter (20120513); John 15: 9-17