notre dame montreal


Sermon by The Reverend Charles Royden

Joy, joy, joy…

Jesus said

'So that they may have the full measure of my joy within them' - Jesus

I want us to think about joy this morning. Jesus prays that the disciples will have it and so do we?

Let’s begin by asking the question ‘Are Christians more or less joyful than non-Christians?’

I am guessing that If we were to ask people in the street, 'What are the characteristics of the Christian?' They would probably come up with a whole range of descriptions, but I am also guessing that very few would say that Christians were joyful.

It might even be considered by some that the words 'Joyful' and 'Christian' are more like opposites. Christians are sometimes thought of as people who want to stop people enjoying themselves. Our traditional image is of a package of 'don'ts.' Do not do this that and the other.....teaching which is geared at stopping people from doing a whole range of things which they often enjoy! People on the outside might therefore be forgiven for thinking of Christians as 'killjoys'

We all know the jokes which are told about heaven and hell and whether the people in heaven or the people in hell are having the better time of it. Some are funny, others are not. But they rely upon the understanding of which group of people have more fun, and which are more miserable types. Nobody wants to go to heaven where everybody is well behaved but miserable. Well the good news this morning from Jesus is that Christians are supposed to be joyful people.

I told somebody that in my sermon today I was going to encourage us to be joyful. They said that telling them they must feel joyful when they didn’t would just make them feel even more miserable and guilty with it. I thought of that song, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. Well, the idea is not to try and cheer everybody up and send away anybody who doesn’t smile in a hair shirt, feeling guilty for not feeling joyful !

I don’t want this morning to adopt the Pollyanna principle. You have probably all heard of Pollyanna, a 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter that has become a classic of children's literature. Pollyanna tells the story of a young girl named Pollyanna who is adopted by her very wealthy Aunt Polly after her father's death. Upon Pollyanna's arrival, the dispiriting town in which her aunt lives becomes miraculously pleasant and healthy due to the gladness the child has brought. The term "pollyanna" has been used to describe someone who is cheerfully optimistic. Apparently if something happens on Monday that you don’t like, then you focus on the positive - that you don’t have it for another week! This is the Pollyanna principle.

I am not Pollyanna, and thankfully this is not the Christian understanding of what being joyful is about, we are not just trying to be cheerfully optimistic. Christian joy is different, it is not something we try and conjour up, it is what happens when we get our life in balance and obtain a true perspective

A story

There is an old French fable that goes like this:

There once was a cobbler who was a happy and contented man. People who passed his shop laughed and waved when they saw him singing at the top of his voice while fixing shoes. Many people stopped in his shop just to bask in the warmth of his smile. One of the people in the town who observed the cobbler was a banker who sang little and smiled even less. He seldom slept well. At first he was irritated by the cobbler’s happy disposition, but as the days passed, he was attracted by the man. Finally, he decided to visit the cobbler and discover the secret of his happiness. After the two men chatted for a while, the banker inquired, “What is the secret of your happiness?” The cobbler said that it was no secret, really. He said he wasn’t always so joyful. He said his attitude changed when he woke up one day and began to count his blessings. He recognized he was blessed with a wonderful family, had a roof over his head, and a trade to make a living. He decided then and there to always be happy and thankful for his blessings. The banker was so overwhelmed by this simple, yet profound philosophy of life that he wanted to reward the cobbler for his kindness. He asked, “Do you make much money as a cobbler ?”

The cobbler said “No. Many times people don’t buy new shoes, so most of my income comes from shoe repairs. Also, I close my shop on feast days in honour of the saints. However, my family does not go without too much.” The banker then reached into pocket and pulled out a purse containing 300 gold coins. He offered them to the cobbler and said, “Take this as a sign of my gratitude and use the money as you need it.” Overjoyed, the cobbler thought that with this newly acquired fortune, his life would be even better than before. So, he quickly went home and buried the gold in his backyard. The succeeding days, however, brought him many changes. He often left the shop in the middle of the day to go home to make sure no one had dug up and stolen his fortune. He began to lose sleep at night obsessing that someone may try to steal his money in the dark of the night. Old friends noticed that he was not as cheerful as he was before and that he didn’t sing like he used to. They also noticed that he often seemed suspicious when someone stopped in the shop just to chat.

Finally, the cobbler dug up his treasure and paid the banker a visit. “Thanks for your generous gift,” he began, “but I cannot really afford to be the owner of the gold coins. Please take your money back so I may enjoy music, sleep, and my friends again. It seems that when I buried the money, I buried my joy at the same time.”

adapted, from “The Fable of the Gold Coins,” in A World of Stories, (Twenty-Third Publications, 1998), pp. 341-42

I like the story because it tells that joy comes when we get our priorities right. Like so many things we do need to be reminded from time to time of what the Christian life is about.

What is Joy?

Christian joy is not epicureanism or hedonism, it is not the seeking of pleasure. Quite the opposite, indeed it is a curious paradox of life that the more we seek to be happy the more miserable we become. I cannot make you happy any more than you can make yourself happy. Joy is not something to be pursued.

Somebody once said that joy is happiness with a much longer shelf life. But joy is even more than that. Joy is not happiness. Joy is a characteristic of the Christian and the word ‘joy’ is all over our Bible, you can find it in our prayers and hymns. But Joy is not a goal in itself.

Joy is described in the Bible in Galatians as a fruit – it is not something to be pursued, it is rather a consequence of the Christian life, a product.
Joy isn’t so much about happiness as the source of our happiness. Joy comes as we learn to trust in God and place our futures into his hands. Joy is about seeing the wide perspective, so Joy sustains us through life, as we recognise that ‘all will be well.’

It has been said that

‘There is no such thing as a sad saint’

Well that might be an oversimplification, but the message which it is trying to convey is true. We have joy because of Christ, and nothing can change that. We can trust in Christ and because of that we have joy, a reassurance and confidence and therefore a well being which is much more than anything we can get at the gym. Joy is not trying to be happy, it is that deep sense of well being which we get from resting in God, knowing that all will be well.

The word Gospel literally means good news, that is what Christianity is about. Jesus encouraged us to think of the future as a time of Joy, so that it sustained us now when times are difficult. In the beatitudes Jesus encourages us to know that we are lucky because even if we have to endure mourning, hunger, persecution, nevertheless

"Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven,'

Jesus said to his followers

rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:20

Joy is about getting this into perspective, not how wide our grin is! So Jesus encourages us to recognise that we can be joyful when we gain a real perspective and stop seeing this life as the be all and end all of our existence. For the Christian has the promise of Jesus that the best is yet to come. We can be joyful in spite of circumstances.

As you read through scripture you will find this again and again, listen to these words from Habakkuk 3:17-19

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

It was this power of Joy which enabled Paul to make the following statement

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:4

This is a theme running through scripture. It is all about our focus and getting our lives into an eternal perspective, not being so engrossed in the here and now that we fail to be able to rejoice in the promises of God?

Mother Teresa, a woman who embodied the Christian faith so well, spoke these words to Malcolm Muggeridge who was converted to the Christian faith by the authenticity of her witness: “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ Risen.”