Sermon For December 14, 2014 ~ Advent 3 ~ Joy

1 Samuel 16:1, 6-13 & Matthew 21:6-9

“While Shepherds Watched: The Shepherd David”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

 

JoyBoxWhere is joy in your life? The theme for this, the third week of Advent, is joy, and we light the pink candle to remind us of joy. In the midst of what was envisioned as a season of deep introspection, self-evaluation, confession, and repentance as we prepare for the birth of our sovereign and savior into our lives, we are invited to take a moment for joy. Let me be quite honest with you, my beloved congregation: joy is the last emotion I am feeling right now. So maybe my question isn’t so much rhetorical as it is pleading: Where do you find joy in your life?

 

This week I have had the heart-rending pastoral responsibility of officiating at not one, but two memorial services for loved ones. Both ceremonies had moments of joy, and even laughter, but we still knew why we were gathered. There is now a hole in the middle of our lives and all we have left are memories of one who was so dear to us. We also have several folks in the hospital, some quite serious in their prognosis. And, again, there are moments of levity and glimpses of smiles in these hospital rooms, but the gravity of the situation hovers over our heads like a hungry bird of prey.

 

Of course, this sadness would be enough to drain my joy, but the situation beyond this congregation weighs just as heavy on our hearts and minds. Over the past six months the deaths of several citizens of our nation, and even of our very own city, unarmed, who happened to be Black, at the hands of the very law enforcement authorized to protect them, have troubled us deeply. And then, buoyed with hopes that the judicial system might rectify their horrible deaths, our hopes were dashed when, in fact, those dead were denied a fair and thorough hearing in a court of law. Our grief has turned into rage.

 

Solomon, Phillip Ratner, 1998. Israel Bible Museum.

Solomon, Phillip Ratner, 1998. Israel Bible Museum.

Where is the joy in any of this? The materials that I have been using to help shape our Advent journey this year, focused on the shepherds of our faith and their hearkening to the coming Messiah, has brought us this day the Shepherd-come-King David, whose rugged wilderness savvy was parlayed into military skills quite nicely (and hugely rewardingly!) He is accompanied in the drama by his son, Solomon, who would build on (literally as well as figuratively) his father’s newly coalesced kingdom to make it an empire. And not just any empire, one with a magnificent gold adorned, jewel encrusted temple that is remembered more for being “Solomon’s Temple” than it is “God’s Temple.”

 

You couldn’t have picked two more difficult figures in the Bible for me to attempt to parse out “joy” from than David and Solomon. In fact, they represent to me so much of what is wrong with establishment religion and oppressive military and governmental systems that the very act of hearing their names causes me to skip joy and go right to rage immediately. Where is the joy in a nation that was unified through brute force, political deception, and violence and held together by an excessively extravagant public works project built with forced labor and paid for by the poorest of the kingdom!?!

 

Two verses in Psalm 30 come to my mind that helped me this week to see a hint of joy, even if I did not quite experience joy. Verse five reads, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Verses ten and eleven read, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” Somehow, even in the midst of deepest depression, even in light of harshest criticism, we are urged to believe in joy, a joy that will come when the fog has lifted, when the dust has settled, when the morning sun rises.

 

It is said that the Psalms were written by David. If so, and I have serious doubts about this, but if so, I have to imagine that when writing Psalm 30 David hearkened back to his earliest days, as a shepherd. Psalm 30 sounds so much more like a shepherd boy than a mighty king. That story was read earlier in the worship service: 6When they came, he looked on Eliab [the eldest son] and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

 

Pope Francis kisses the feet of a young offender after washing them during a mass at the church of the Casal del Marmo youth prison on the outskirts of Rome.

Pope Francis kisses the feet of a young offender after washing them during a mass at the church of the Casal del Marmo youth prison on the outskirts of Rome.

Deep inside his soul David knew that all the power, all the glory, all the nation-building, all the violence could never do justice to who God is. God is the joy that comes quietly, in the middle of night to the plainest of people, in the simple acts of love and honest listening. Joy comes in the morning when we, in covenant, remain at the table when the conversations are tough and we feel uncomfortable. Joy comes from a deep abiding rest that recognizes that there is something larger, bigger, better than the pain, heartache, injustice of this moment.

 

And this reminded me of the role of the prophets in our biblical history. I just love the fact that, contained in the very same collection we know as the Bible, we have all sides to a story: the glory and the shame and the plain; the problem and the wondering/wandering and the solution; the despair, the discernment, and the joy. The book of Jeremiah is a scathing indictment upon the reign of David and Solomon.(1) In it the false monarchical claims for hope, peace, and joy are clearly and openly shown for their inadequacies and shallowness. But also in Jeremiah, as with most of the prophets, there exists a real sense of joy, albeit reshaped and reimagined.

 

For even Jeremiah, caustic as his assessment was of the Davidic and Solomonic dynasties, did not stay negative. In chapter 32 he tells us he bought a piece of land, and in doing so, stakes a claim for the possibility of joy to come once again to the peoples. “For thus says the Lord of hosts… Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land… I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul (Jer. 32:15, 41). Weeping may linger for the night, but joy will come in the morning.

 

It is so simple an act of joy that it may escape us. but if we follow a savior who was born in a dirt-cheap cowshed, who paraded into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, who was crucified on a common cross, and who was raised from the dead in a borrowed tomb, then maybe, just maybe, we might look for joy not with the monarchs of this world in their temples of gold, but in the city streets with everyday folks like you and like me.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

(1) Walter Brueggemann, “Chapter 2: Weeping And Hoping In Jerusalem,” in Mandate To Difference: An Invitation To The Contemporary Church (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) pages 9-39.

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