Where are we headed next? We have some travelers in this congregation! Worldwide travelers, Florida travelers, shore travelers, RV travelers, and armchair travelers! What a delight it is to hear your travel stories! Pictures and stories from far-flung locales and day excursions exploring a new or beloved place. For those of us who drive our journeys, we may count down the miles. Are we there yet? Road markers and miles signs locate us in the journey. Recently as I drove the 500 miles to Guelph, Ontario for my retreat, mile markers and the voice on Google maps kept me oriented and encouraged me as I drove from town to town.
This month, we have been asking the same question where are we headed next? After kneeling at the manger, like the wise men we too, have returned by another road after meeting Jesus. Returning home, we notice the signs along the way. Road markers are jointly the memories of days gone, how we reflect on who we, and anticipation of what is to come. Also, in January, we know the many of us are touched by Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, as the days are longer, colder, and there is less time spent together. We actively cultivate JOY, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Road markers increase our resiliency as do our practices of joy. (1)
Perhaps, some of you have seen the Pixar movie, Inside Out. In Inside Out, an eleven-year-old girl, Riley’s life is turned upside down as her family moves from Minnesota, where she is a hockey star to sunny California. We see her transition through the control panel of her brain with emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Joy has been her primary emotion navigating her life and limits Riley’s exposure to sadness. However, without any sadness Riley begins to experience the other primary emotions more strongly and out of balance – anger, fear, and disgust. As Joy journeys to find core memories to save Riley, she discovers the incredible wisdom: Take a look! (watch the clip)
And the journey is on to find Sadness! Surprising! When Riley was discouraged about losing the championship, her parents and teammates were able to encourage her and lift her spirits. Sadness astoundingly, ends up being the key to remembering, feeling joy and moving forward. Sadness and suffering are not the antithetical to joy and happiness. Happy-washing and limiting exposure to sadness did not help; in fact, it did the opposite. Instead, like Joy discovered, it is often in the times of deepest sadness and suffering that we find greatest joy. We find the strength of a community at the time of illness or our own character in trials.
In the book that has inspired this series, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, the Holiness Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu give insight in the wisdom that nothing beautiful comes without some measure of suffering, frustration, or pain. Perhaps, there is a necessary amount of suffering necessary for compassion. We can learn something from each of those moments and occasions. This sounds profound as a theory, but miserable to experience. For many of us, it is in hindsight and reflection that we discover the wisdom. (2)
This does not mean that God has caused our suffering or sent our trials or desires for us to know pain in order to have joy. Please hear that again. God did not send your illness or the death of a loved one or the challenge at work for you to know joy. It is in the midst of the inevitable suffering in a broken world, that God redeems us and our situation and helps us to cultivate Joy.
In the natural world, we can learn this, too. Prenatal researcher Pathik Wadhwa shares what many of know instinctively. Without stress and opposition, development in the uterus does not initiate. Each of us as we began to grow needed physical stress to grow. Stem cells differentiate based on biological stress; without such strain, the baby does not develop. As we continue our growing, we need a healthy level of stress to develop. Maturing and progressing, those become the stories we tell of how through God’s grace we have come been blessed.
This seems counterintuitive. We want the prophet Isaiah instead to say God will take away the whelming flood and the fire. God will remove the pain and the suffering. God will remove all of our negative moments. Like Joy in the movie, we want to limit all of the sadness and difficulty, as much as we can. Instead Isaiah speaks to the Israelites who have come through the exile with a different word. The prophet says: Do not be afraid – God will be with you.
Recalling and retelling is a road marker of where God has been working. Like a long road trip, we need to be reminded at different points on the journey, that we are still on track!
Have you had a knee replaced and you can praise God for the physical therapist who encouraged you when you were ready to give up?
Have you been frustrated about the re-organization at work and you can celebrate the neighbor who met you once a week for coffee just to check in?
Have you lost experienced the death of someone very close and point to a few people who keep loving on you months and years later?
These are road markers of something beautiful coming of suffering. Joy in the midst of pain. Even when you are still having pain in your knee, are frustrated about the reorg, or miss your mother. But they are not the only ones.
Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism by John. God declared unconditional love for Jesus and humanity. As the skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended in that moment transcended time, you and I were also declared the beloved of God. Another communal road marker in our lives is our baptism. In baptism, God claims you as God’s beloved child and invites you to live as a new creation!
I invite each of you to remember your baptism. God created you and calls you beloved. Whether this a season of celebration or struggle, you are unconditionally God’s beloved. Being the beloved of God does not depend on whether you know the right words or act in the correct way or even feel as though everything is going as you want it to. You can depend on God’s love always!
There is someone here, asking if they are still the beloved of God, if they have not been baptized. YES! God has still made you and loves you. I encourage you to come talk with me about becoming a part of the body of Christ through baptism as well as receiving God’s grace.
On this journey, the road markers keep us grounded. They remind us where we are and whose we are. You are a beloved child of God. When the inevitable struggles of life seem like an overwhelming flood, remind yourself of the road markers. Touch the baptismal stone of remembrance. God has already brought beauty out of suffering in the lives of God’s people. God wants to bring redemption and beauty out of your pain and challenge as well. When the nights seem long, the pain seems endless, the challenges seem daunting, and you are tempted to happy wash everything, remember that God says, do not be afraid! I am with you!
Touch the stone of remembrance! You are a beloved child of God. A new creation!
This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(2) The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, the Holiness Dalai Lama and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2016.
Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 43:1-7
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
*Gospel Lesson Mark 1:9-11
In those days
Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And just as he was coming up out of the water,
he saw the heavens torn apart
and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, January 13 ~ Saturday, January 19
Sunday: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. “ Isaiah 43:1. God tells us throughout the Bible “Do not be afraid.” God is with us. Lean on the presence of God. Let your fear be a reminder to seek out God.
Monday: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2. Where can you praise God for being with you in the midst of your struggles?
Tuesday: “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.”
Isaiah 43:4. Pray for those who need to hear that they are precious… and then tell them.
Wednesday: “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’” Isaiah 43:7. Consider that nothing beautiful comes without suffering. Let your life shine with the glory of God’s redemption from trials.
Thursday: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Mark 1:9. Jesus went to John to be baptized. Who do you go to in order to know God more?
Friday: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” Mark 1:10. Pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in your life. The Holy Spirit inspires and equips us for every work.
Saturday: “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1: 11. You are the beloved child of God. No matter what you do or say, you are already God’s beloved child.