Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tumbling Into Joy

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 04/22/2012

As someone who loves to play sports, and perhaps especially as someone who loves to play well enough to win, I have learned to not always trust my natural instincts. At least not at first, not until my instincts have been properly trained. Because so often what feels natural may not get you to the level of skill you want. [junior high basketball, learning the jump shot, tennis learning to serve…] Over time, what I’ve learned is that if someone whose proficiency you admire tells you to do it a different way, and when you first begin to try it feels totally wrong and unnatural, that that feeling of wrong and unnatural is probably a sign that you are on the right track. And to trust it, embrace it until it becomes second nature.

Which brings us to our text today.

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

James 1:2-4

James probably younger blood brother of Jesus. (lit. Jacob, translated in English as James, maybe because King James who commissioned one of the earliest English translations wanted to see his name there) Seemed to see him as brother earlier on in Jesus’ ministry, not Lord until later. (Can you imagine going through the internal shift to call your sibling Lord?) At the time of this writing, main spokesperson of the church in Jerusalem.

James is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he doesn’t pull any punches. We see it in this letter, and it seems to be part of the reason he is eventually executed by the high priest in Jerusalem.

However, whenever he tells it like it is, he always gives his reasoning. He’s not like the authority figure that demands unquestioning compliance – do it because I said so! – he’s like a dad that wants his kids to understand the why behind the what so that when they grow up they have internalized and owned for themselves what he wants them to know and do.

James does that here.

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because

He gets right to the point, doesn’t he? “learn to look at it with complete joy.” Even though his point sounds pretty crazy and unrealistic.

Let’s be honest, who does that naturally?

Usually, if we saw someone doing that, we’d wonder if they had it all together, wouldn’t we? We’d wonder if they were living in some kind of denial.

But James just comes right out with it.

Complete joy, he says.

Not, learn to recognize the silver lining.

Not, learn to see that it’s not as bad as it seems.

Not even, learn to have a positive attitude.

But learn to look at it with complete joy.

It’s a head turner kind of thing to say. If it were anyone else, we might wonder what they’d been smoking. But this is James. Brother of Jesus. Leader of the first church in Jerusalem. A guy who knew what he was talking about when it came to trials and tribulations of all kinds.

He’d seen his brother wrongfully arrested, tortured, and killed for political expediency. That counts as T&T. That wouldn’t feel like complete joy, would it? But James also saw the rest of that story. Saw his brother alive in a resurrection body. Saw his brother slip out of our 3 dimensional volume into the invisible dimensions where the God who is as near as our next breath dwells in fullness. Experienced the Spirit of his brother unleashed into the world on Pentecost, alive in his own soul, whispering to him, empowering him, enlivening him. And something about that experience, and others like it, revealed something profound and true to him about the nature of trials and tribulations this side of the resurrection.

So we listen. And thankfully, he gives us a high quality, grade A USDA because.

…because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

Now, let’s be honest. Our first response probably isn’t, yes – I’m going to have patience because of this! Hot golly gosh darn, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in life – look out joy, here I come!

Maybe if the because were: because you know that these trials are the only thing between you and a convertible Mustang GT, or some other desire of your heart, and everything is going to work out just the way you want.

But no, the because is about patience and about what patience does to transform us. Sometimes we want Twinkies, but James seems to be giving us tofu. So let’s spend some time giving his words a chance to work on us, see what kind of life they might give to us if we attend to them.

Back to the top.

My dear family.

James has tenderness in his voice, not harshness. He says what he says here because he loves us. Because he is rooting for us. Because he’s got a treasure he wants to pass on to us. This isn’t a corrective you’ve blown it, now take your medicine talk, this is gather around the table, I want to tell you something wonderful.

…when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations…

The Greek words themselves have a tumbling quality to them, alliterative p’s rolling off the tongue

Peripesete poikilois peirasmois / per-ee-pes-ete poy-kee-lois pi-ras-mois

Which is how it can feel when we are in a season of trials and tribulations. It’s like we’re are out of control, tumbling. It’s disorienting, you can’t tell which way is up at any particular time, all you can tell is you’re going down. And it’s like they just keep coming, just when one seems to be ending a new one seems to be starting.

Work,

health,

cars,

family,

friends,

pets,

your favorite team,

a power outage,

a speeding ticket,

you name it - everything seems to be unfair game.

The net effect, of course, is the opposite of joy. When we’re tumbling into various trials and tribulations, what we feel is despair. That it’s never going to end. That it’s going to destroy us. We can’t see clearly, everything is darkness and shadow and storm. [free throws at basketball game…]

But James says that feeling of despair is a lie built on a false foundation of unreality. A fa├žade around the true truth of the reality pressing forward from God’s kingdom future to meet us. An illusion shrouding us from seeing Christ’s blessed presence in God’s kingdom now in which we abide. James says instead,

learn to look at it with complete joy…

note: he’s not saying simply “be joyful” – that would be impossible for most of us, and false at best. He’s saying learn to look at these things with complete joy…

[As a parent, learning to see an angry, tearful response as a sign of progress, instead of with discouragement. As a pastor, learning to see the unsettling falling apart of shakable faith as forward progress, not backsliding. Learning to see sore muscles as a sign you’re getting stronger, fitter, not dying.]

What James has come to see is that for the disciple of Jesus, everything is working together for new creation purposes. Everything is working together towards resurrection. For those learning to follow the way of Jesus together, bound in fellowship to Christ through the holy spirit of the good shepherd, God’s goodness is infiltrating everything. Even the trials and tribulations that are conceived in the pit of hell for our destruction. And if we could but see it, if we could learn to look at it through clear eyes, the joy already present in us through Jesus would be unshaken, unrattled, unchipped, uncowed, unbowed,

complete.

Hegeomai: "learn to look at it" from the root of lead, rule, command. This is an act of discipleship, a leading of our selves in the way of Jesus. It is process. It takes intention. Some parts of us will take more leading and discipline than others. It’s a learned perspective; it’s not how we will naturally look at such things.

And it’s generally simple, but also just plain hard work. We remember the words of our teachers. We call them to mind regularly. We immerse ourselves in the good news vision of reality that Jesus gives us, declaring to the obstinate parts of us that it’s true. And we ask for help when we need it.

…because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience.

When we are tumbling into trials and tribulations, our faith is put to the test. Do we believe the good news anymore? Do we trust Jesus and the path he has put us on? Or do we despair? Do we choose a different, easier road? One of our own choosing that seems less prone to problems and pitfalls and persecution from the evil one? This is our faith being put to the test.

And what comes out in us if we stand against despair like a willow tree in a wind storm, if we hang on to the good news like a mountain climber whose finger strength seems to be giving out, if we remain on the way of Jesus like a driver in a rainstorm who can see nothing in front, but only the shoulder of the road on either side when they roll down their window? What comes out, says James, is patience.

Hupomone / hoop-om-on-ay: “patience, endurance”

Because faith will never find its full satisfaction until the kingdom comes in its fullness at the end of the age. And so out of every act of faith comes patience. Endurance. We trust the good news Jesus announces. We keep our feet on the way of Jesus, or we climb back on when we’ve found ourselves off the path. And we draw nearer to the day with every act of faith. We come closer to the source of life itself. The old creation withers within us and the new creation sends out shoots above the ground. Our faith is strengthened, but it is not done being exercised. And what comes out is patience. Endurance.

[Pararescue Jumper Training film…]

Comment on “so others might live” and the endurance that will yet be demanded so that joy might be multiplied…

What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything.

This to me, is where what James is saying gets really interesting. Patience, holding on to Jesus in faith, trusting his good news in the midst of tumbling into various trials and tribulations, has an effect. And that effect is that it makes us complete and whole, not falling short in anything. Perfect and complete, lacking nothing, some translations say.

In other words, new creation itself is born out of the faith we exercise in hard times. Resurrection enters the world only after betrayal and arrests and trials and torture and thorns and tombs.

New creation is the most joyous of joys. Resurrection is joy beyond telling. But it is always wrapped in burial cloths before the light of Easter morning enters the cave.

And hear this as well, not only is new creation itself, and resurrection itself, joy in its purest form, but the new creation is doused in joy unending, and the resurrected know joy in their bones. And so the infinite joy is doubled.

And so James is saying, learn to look at these things that we are tumbling into, that are sometimes tumbling us, and see them for what they really are. They are the signal fires of stampeding joy. The grass and trees may catch fire around us, we may be burned, the ground may shake beneath our feet and we may not be able to keep our feet under us, but joy is on the move. And more than that, let the tumbling have its complete effect. Even if all it has produced so far is patience, that patience is itself the thing that announces the promised joy will surely arrive.

Practical Tips:

1. Memorize these verses, substituting “my dear family” for your first name. Whether you are tumbling now or have smooth sailing. Despair is easier to resist when you can catch a glimpse of what’s really happening. And these verses remind us of what’s really happening. Say them to yourself.

2. Ask God for a “stop” image, or maybe it’s a “start” image.

[show images of fire/new growth forest..]

3. Ask a joyful person for an outside perspective.

4. Watch Surviving the Cut.

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