September 29, 2019 | Sonja Gerstenberger
Passage: Mark 14:1-9
Thank you to the children for sharing such a joyful noise with us this morning. It really makes it easy for me to segue into the sermon because our theme for this morning is the Fruit of the Spirit, "Joy." And it's kind of exciting as my first sermon here to get to preach on joy. So when we think of joy, many of our minds, those of us especially who have children and grandchildren, might go to the movie "Inside Out." And that lovely character, Joy, with her bright blue hair and her bouncy personality that exudes all of the things that we would associate with that attitude of the spirit.
And if you know anything about that movie, you also know that it depicts how integral all of our emotions are to our experience of life. Joy without sadness isn't better. In fact, when joy tries to stifle the other feelings, it creates trouble and distress. Another perspective on joy, according to healthpsychology.org -- being joyful requires feeling connected to other people, with nature, appreciating the arts. It requires acceptance of life the way it is in the present. When someone experiences joyfulness, physiological and biochemical alterations occur that encourage a sense of well-being, completely altering the negative views of life. Joy is an attitude or belief that soothes even the most sorrowful of situations. So certainly it would be a gift to the spirit if we look at each of the other Fruits of the Spirit. Love. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. They're all relational. They all involve at least one other person. And if we really think about it, joy is like that, too. We can't have joy without sorrow. We also can't have joy in a vacuum.
So this discussion of the Fruits of the Spirit comes in the fifth chapter of Galatians. And it's a result of Paul's expounding on a really Lutheran concept, freedom of a Christian. In fact, it was a really essential concept for Paul. And we Lutherans just get real excited about it. Paul was directly confronting this idea that the Gentiles had to follow Jewish law in order to be free. Specifically, that they needed to be circumcised.
Paul says, "for you were called to freedom, siblings, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment. You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
So our joy is directly bound up in being relational, in how we are with our neighbor, whether that's our family, our friends, the young people of this congregation, the elderly, the community that surrounds us directly in our neighborhood, our city, our state and our world. And loving your neighbor is not always the easiest thing to do. It's not the easy road.
Partially because we live in a world of fear, fear that seems more and more pervasive everyday. We're more likely to be suspicious of our neighbor than to step out, in courage and in love. We worry about not having enough for those closest to us. Enough time, enough money, enough energy.
Perhaps you've thought? Sure. I would love to be involved with "fill in the blank" -- Sunday Splash Ministry. Confirmation Ministry. The Food Pantry. Whatever it is. But I just don't have enough time. I'm not great at that. Or I might be uncomfortable. Or if I invest more time and money and resources in that ministry, I might not have enough for this one that's really important to me.
But just as Paul said to the Galatians, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and through love we become slaves to one another. We often think of passions and desires as those big deal seven deadly sins types of things, right? The really important stuff. That's what's keeping us from Christ.
Reality is the things that turn us inward on ourselves and our own interests, and away from the neighbor are the kinds of things that take us away from the joy we can experience in encountering Christ in the other.
If I'm focused on the things that benefit me, that I'm attached to -- a fear of scarcity and time and resources -- I miss the gospel that points me to the reality of God's abundance. It's not either or it's not ministries for them or ministries for me. True ministry is an exchange in relationship in which each experience is the presence of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Since we're just getting to know one another, I'll share a little bit about how this happened in my life in two different situations. My first career was as a high school English teacher and it ended after a year and a half. And any of you who are in education know there isn't a half a year in education, but mine did. I found myself moving back to Des Moines from Riverside, California, and working as a staffing specialist for a local temp agency, trying to figure out what to do next? If teaching, isn't it? I had a really simple calendar on my desk. It had Bible verses and devotions. It had been a graduation gift. And I was still at an age where those things were kind of scattered around my life in different places because they were important to me.
And as a result of that calendar, a co-worker asked me to help her study the Bible and that later led to baptism. I was just present in my current reality and I was willing to respond to her request. I could've really easily said I am not qualified to teach the Bible. Let me refer you to these very qualified individuals. Talk to my pastor, what have you. And honestly, at that time, I really wasn't terribly comfortable claiming my identity in Christ. I had no other qualifications except my own experience in the church growing up and my love for my friend. But when I risked that uncertainty, we both grew in relationship with one another and with God. Fast forward 10 years later and things changed a lot. I was serving as a guide, a small group of confirmation youth with another adult and also leading a moms group. There was a risk to start working with a confirmation youth because my previous teaching experience hadn't been great. That had been high schoolers and middle schoolers aren't that much younger. But I had tried the really little ones and that completely overwhelmed me.
So I asked the youth pastor, "Well, where do you need me?" And he said, "we need you with the confirmation youth." So I said, "Sure, I'll do it." And the reality was, for the first time in my life, I experienced joy in my vocation. Joy in my work. As I shared discernment with the moms group and how I was sensing a call to ordained ministry, they all were very interested and loved to hear the different stories of how this was developing my life. And then when I shared that I was coming here for an internship -- a mom that I've since lost touch with -- reminded me that when I first shared this with the moms group, that they had all been very invested in my discernment information, and many of these moms have gone on to ministries of their own.
Neither these periods in my life were without struggle or challenge, both involved risk that they were both an act of vocation. Because when we step into our joy, into the things that give us life and bring us closer to our neighbor, and to Christ, we do risk disappointment. When we share our time in this way we might not have time for something else, but we may also find ourselves drawn into something absolutely beautiful.
As our speaker at a Synod event this week stated, when we claim faith, vocation forms. And vocation is basically spreading good news right where we are planted. Vocation is both giving away the self for the neighbor and growing in faith and love in the process. Setting aside fear and trusting in the abundance that is found in giving ourselves for the sake of the world God so loves. In our gospel message today Jesus said of the woman with the alabaster jar, "Truly, I tell you wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her." Whenever the gospel is preached throughout the world her story would be told.
This story of this woman who brought her alabaster jar of oil and anointed Jesus. What is so revolutionary about this woman that she would be mentioned EVERY time the good news is shared? Perhaps she IS the good news. Perhaps kneeling at the feet of our neighbor and risking an extravagant gift of our resources IS the good news. If it's true that the good news disrupts or dilutes whatever is bad news for any particular person, then this woman brought good news to Jesus. For Jesus -- who would be tortured, crucified, and in Mark's gospel, utterly abandoned -- the good news was an act of compassion and presence. An act of love poured out to anoint a body and ready it for burial.
Jesus wasn't discounting the service and gifts of resources to the poor and needy when he told the disciples to leave the woman alone after they rebuked her. Instead, he was directing them not to discount the good news being demonstrated right there in their midst.
Yes, the good news is freedom from sin and death and all that separates us from God and one another demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And the good news is reaching out to a family struggling with food insecurity and being present with them in their reality. And the good news is bypassing our table full of friends to sit with a stranger and get to know them. And the good news is risking discomfort to spend time with young people. And Sunday Splash or confirmation. And the good news is taking time to serve a meal at Food at First or simply showing up and getting to know people. And the good news is being named and claimed as a child of God, just like Brynn this morning -- washed in the waters of baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit forgiven and free to pour our lives out.
You are free to experience joy and vocation as you share the love of God with the world around you. You are free from scarcity and fear and caught up in the abundance that is the love of God in Christ Jesus. Now you bear Christ to the world around you. And in doing so, feel the joy of the Holy Spirit as you are swept up in the relational, reconciling and redeeming work of God in Christ Jesus.
September 21 through October 27