Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Easter 6 - B

Karos leading to Kara

If I were to hand you a piece of paper and ask you to write down five things about Jesus what would they be?

Depending on your mood right now, or whether you are channelling Christmas, or Easter, I can imagine some things that pop into your head: Born in Bethlehem, died on the cross, miracle worker, teacher, son of God, came back from the dead... did I get any of yours?

What do you think our answers would be if we were the disciples? What opinion of him would we have had if we spent day in, day out with him?

I had a roommate at Mount Allison. Cream of the crop type of guy, became the head of the English department in some private university in Boston – but Mark could never, ever, shut the darn bread bag when he made toast. I almost killed him in his sleep because of it.

Linnea Good was talking about Jesus on Thursday night and made a good point. She said that people usually wrote down all the things he was good at; preaching on mountainsides, changing water into wine, healing people, arguing with Pharisees... but no one ever mentions his singing voice. Clearly Jesus could not sing.

Which is why, according to Linnea, John and James sat on either side of him, to try and keep him on pitch.

What I am getting at is that 2,000 years later our opinions of Jesus might not be the same as those who knew him personally. I say this because I would bet money that when I ask for a list of even the top ten things about Jesus, “joy” is not on the list.

And yet... in the Gospels Jesus comes across as a person of deep joy.

Of course, we think we know an awful lot about Jesus – but in truth we don’t. And to prove me wrong I will give you a chance to redeem yourselves. Think about it for a minute before you answer... what did Jesus teach about the most? What did he want us to change?

I will do this family feud style with the top two: Number two thing – that Jesus preached about no less than 2000 times in the gospel, telling us we have to learn to do it better – Money.

Did you know that? Did you have any idea? “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” “Go, give all you have to the poor and follow me.” Sound familiar? 2,000 times Jesus told us that our attitude to money will be our downfall; that our use of money reflects our values; that we can’t take it with us so we should give it away. 2,000 times. I am repeating myself, but wow, we really have not listened much huh?

Number one answer – the only thing Jesus talked about more than money – the Kingdom of God.

Which is not, by the way, heaven; the Kingdom of God is the very real world we live in; but restored/changed/altered, to be the way God wanted it to be.

And in more than 2,000 ways Jesus tries to tell us how to get from here to there.

Usually through small, but systemic changes, and often using, you guessed it, money.

The kingdom of God is a place where widows and orphans have their food bought for them. The kingdom of God is a place where a very small act of kindness, perhaps no bigger than a mustard seed, grows into an incredible huge bush that offers something for everyone. The kingdom of God is like good seed in good soil that grows in unexpected ways.

In fact, most of us are pretty close to the kingdom, our only real stumbling block being money. Think back to the story of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks how to follow God. Jesus says, what do you think? And the man replies, I already know the Old Testament, I keep the ten commandments, I pray... Jesus looks him up and down and says – “you are not far from the kingdom.” Hear that – this is pretty close to what we are supposed to be living like.

One thing you lack... go, give everything you have to the poor.... Ah... but there’s the rub. He is afraid to get rid of the false security blanket money provides.

Over and over and over for 3 years as they wandered the dusty Roman highways of Palestine this is what the disciples heard. Get over your addiction to wealth, and build the kingdom. Use money right, and make the world what it should be. Give to the poor, and love everyone. Love and self sacrifice generosity and equality... over and over and over.

It was a simple enough message – which all boiled down to “love to your greatest ability!” which although simple, is hard to implement. Even the best of us wants to do something horrible to the person that can never once, think about closing the bag so the next person does not have to eat stale bread.

3 years this went on where Jesus talked to the disciples. But today is different.

The gospel story we have today comes from the further down the road. This is, to mix metaphors, the home stretch and Jesus knows he is leaving for good this time.

Ever left anyone? Ever taken a child to college? Ever tried to explain to them all the things you did? So Jesus looks at the ragtag bunch and says, listen, I have talked a lot about love, and a lot about money... I have dragged you all over Israel, and Galilee, and even into the Gentile territories... but I did all this so that my joy might be in you.

I shared my passion for life, for God, for love with you, so that my joy might be in you.

Now, joy can be an ambiguous term. Most of us want to link it with happiness, health, success, fame, wealth, pleasure, fun, or good fortune. We do this even though whenever something brings us joy from the outside, it never lasts long. I was happy because it was warm and sunny yesterday... but now? That is not real joy.

Jesus is talking about more than this. Listen again to the Psalm ... an ancient poem of joy:

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
with trumpets, and the blast of the ram's horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Genuine joy is more elusive, more subtle and more nuanced than happiness, pleasure or good fortune. CS Lewis describes joy as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. ... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world."

Whereas we can manipulate circumstances to our own advantage to obtain what we think will bring happiness, or expend great efforts in pleasure-seeking, joy is entirely gratuitous. You cannot earn it, buy it, or deserve it. It is a divine gift to receive rather than a selfish goal to pursue. Joy is Grace

In ancient Greek there is a word which sound like Karos: which means “grace” while there is another word which is Karas: which means joy.

The two are so interconnected that they share not only the same route, but they are also the exact same word except for one letter.

Psalm 98's invitation to joy is based upon what God has done and will do.

In a world plagued with wars, starvation, HIV-AIDS, inequities of all sorts, and preventable suffering, with leaders who manipulate us with the politics of fear, perhaps nothing is more radical or counter-cultural than to live with joy and confidence.

That was, in fact, Jesus only wish for us. May we use it well.

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