Sometimes I don’t understand Jesus. This is one of those times. I’ve wondered what his joy is that he not only wants in me but also desires to complete in me. How does keeping God’s commandments and abiding in love contribute to this joy? I guess I am joy-challenged. Could the following experiences qualify as the joy Jesus desires for us?
The voice said, “You may not remember me.” I did, despite the decades since I’d taught him in a college religion course. He went on, “At the time I was struggling with the belief system of my childhood. I was outgrowing it and was confused. You told me I wasn’t crazy. Struggling with my questions and doubts was necessary for making my faith my own. I just wanted to thank you and let you know that today I’m an ordained minister and a prison chaplain.” When I hung up the phone, I felt what I believe is joy.
Early in my ministry I invited the former president of Rust College to preach at the church I served. He was an ordained United Methodist pastor. He would be the first African American preacher to fill that church’s pulpit. In that day such an event was still out of the ordinary and risked controversy. As the date neared for his visit, I learned that a family would leave the church if he preached. I informed the administrative board that if the invitation was not rescinded, the church would lose a family. When the floor opened for discussion, only one person spoke. He said, “I don’t see how we can withdraw our invitation to someone due to skin color and still call ourselves ‘Christians.’” The vote was unanimous. And I felt what I believe is joy.
By the way, the family left but returned. And I felt what I believe is joy.
Let us sing: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” And what a wonderful world it will be!
The Acts passage continues to tell the story of the advance of the gospel. The Holy Spirit falls on a group of Gentiles. They believe and are baptized, thus showing God’s inclusion of all peoples in the plan of salvation. Psalm 98 is a simple declaration of praise. All creation will sing to and rejoice in the Lord. The two passages from John are linked by their emphasis on the relationship between love and obedience. We do not follow God’s commandments in order to make God love us. On the contrary, because God has first loved us and we love God in return, we follow God’s teachings. Jesus provides the model for us, being obedient to his Father out of love.
• Read Acts 10:44-48. When has the Spirit of God brought you to a new understanding?
• Read Psalm 98. Does the guest of honor’s coming to judge the earth make you feel easy or uneasy? Why?
• Read 1 John 5:1-6. Is your life one of “oughts,” “musts,” and “shoulds”? Do you impose them on yourself, or do they come from others? How do you move toward loving obedience?
• Read John 15:9-17. How do you experience yourself as a manifestation of the Logos?
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