(Lead me, Lord So that I remain) joyful.
The mission statement for The Pilgrimage ministry is —
“For Christians hearing the call to go deeper —
The Pilgrimage creates a community and provides tools
and experiences through which we learn to hear the call of God
and respond in faith, journeying together with friends
on the path to a Spirit-led and joyful life.”
What we are aiming for, in the end, is a community of friends on the path to a Spirit-led and joyful discipleship. In my experience, congregations which have found the source of their joy, and who do whatever their mission turns out to be, joyfully — those are the healthy congregations. It is easy to think of our faith as something we hope will make us devout, or pious, or right in our thinking. But those are not the only — and may not even be the most important — aspects of our discipleship. In the gospel according to John there is a long section in which Jesus speaks to the disciples one last time before the events of the Passion begin. Scholars refer to it as the “final discourse.” In the heart of that discourse Jesus speaks to the disciples about how he will make their joy complete — my italics PHL:
John 15:9-11 [NRSV] As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
In the very next chapter he assures them that, though he will depart from them for a time, he will return and their hearts will rejoice. Therefore they need not fear that the joy he has given them can be taken from them. Then he repeats the promise of 15:9-11. We can see that at the very heart of his final instructions to his disciples, Jesus is focussed on the promise that they have joy — even in the midst of the very real troubles that are about to unfold. It seems to me that if my discipleship does not produce joy, I need to at least ask if I am doing it right.
Presbyterians have in our constitutional documents for the church the observation that “truth is in order to goodness.” In essence the implication is that if what we hold and believe is true it will have the tendency to promote the fruits of the Spirit. Those fruits, listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians are: Gal. 5:22-23 “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Here again, right out of the gate “joy” is listed as one of the gifts the Spirit grants us.
It is a good sign when you find laughter to come easily; when the arrival of your friends, family, or colleagues brings up in your spirit a quick smile and a lighthearted joy. In my experience nothing dampens my access to joy faster than when I put myself in the role of someone tasked with telling others what to do and how to be. Casting judgements about my neighbors almost never brings me to joy. At best it gives me a momentary and darkened glee (because, of course I always am prone to see myself reflected in a superior way when judging others). But on a good day, when I am able to remember that nothing good ever comes from measuring myself with the yardstick of someone else, I can live joyfully. I can do that trusting that God and I are at work on my own redemption and trusting that God is at work with them in their redemption too. It is not mine to determine the breadth and depth of God’s saving-grace.
We pilgrims are meant to be joyful witnesses to the love of God as we make our way along the journey of this life. Lent provides a liturgical season in which we can focus more intently than ever on living as Jesus’ joyful disciples.
Daily Collect: Lord, whose love gives us every reason to be joyful — you promise that you will abide in us lovingly, and that when we abide in you that our joy will be complete. Help us to be not only earnest, and determined, and disciplined in following you. Help us to be joyful people of faith. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we ask it. Amen.