Ordinary Joy

Sermon given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, June 17, 2018.

It has been such a joy and a blessing for me to be singing with our choir these past few months. It feels my soul. A few weeks ago, Lisa introduced us to the piece we just sang, and I loved it’s invitation, in the midst of pain and strife, to let peace flow down like rain.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the car, listening to a conversation on the radio about the trouble at our Southern border, where people fleeing violence and poverty, some of them having walked over a thousand miles, are trying to get into this county. And our government’s response is this new policy of separating children from their parents, in a effort to discourage them from trying to come here at all. One of the people on the radio asked, “Where are the faith communities?” And I said back, “We’re coming!”

I said this because I knew that a few days from then, I’d be down in Burlington, participating in a protest at the Immigration (ICE) offices there, a place immigrants fear these days, because it’s where they have to show up for hearings, which can means being detained and deported. The protest was called a Jericho Walk, from the story in the Bible when Joshua and his followers marched around the city of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. 

The walk began with prayer, first in Spanish and then translated into English by our own Jane Hucks. The walking, over a hundred of us for about an hour, was done in silence, and then we prayed again, and several rabbis sounded their shofars and we lifted a loud unison cry at the ICE building, praying that the walls of injustice will, one day, come tumbling down.

The anthem our choir just sang was written two summers ago, as our nation faced violence and injustice, and I hear it as a prayer for these days too:

Let peace, like welcome rain, flow freely down, flow freely down,
to heal this dry, parched land. 
Come soothe the summer’s wounded soul
and flood the burning fears we hold
with truth, and hope, and deeper understanding…
for all are thirsty here.
(“Peace, Like Welcome Rain,” by Mark Patterson, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-Bwn_FUpWo)

To live in this world, in these days, you need to be able to hold the pain and suffering, and keep your heart open, and keep asking, “What can I do about this?” And at the same time, you have to be able to make room for peace, and even joy. Because if you don’t, you won’t be able to carry on.

I sense that’s at least part of why you come here—to be reminded of the goodness that’s in you, and in our world. That in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, there is reason for hope, and even for joy. 

Here on the cusp of summer, I want to lift up the blessings of ordinary joy—not the big, dramatic joys, but the quieter, everyday moments that come, like gentle rain upon a parched land. Like a longed-for visit with a family member or friend, or a small act of kindness, or some moments of unexpected peace. 

In our reading today we heard an old pastor writing to his young son: “Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it” (Gilead, by Marylinne Robinson).

We live in a world with so much noise, so much rancor, so much conflict. We can forget that peace is possible, that joy is available, if we will slow down, and notice; if we will put ourselves in its presence when it flows down, like rain; if we will take care not to trample on it. 

Only you know what brings you joy. The question is, are you making enough room for joy in your life? I know it can be hard these days, when there is so much to be concerned about. Joy can seem like an indulgence. 

But I think it’s a necessity. Because how can you help others when you’re anxious and afraid? We need assurance, don’t we, that these troubles won’t last; that in the end, Love wins. I need the hope that people of faith have had, down through the ages, that God is on the side of love and justice, and that we are called to give our hands to struggle, and help move things toward where they ought to be. 

When you despair, and we all despair sometimes, please try to remember that we have this world, and this season that offers such moments of beauty—green grass and blooming flowers, birds singing and warm summer evenings. And we have this faith tradition that we are part of, the hope of people down through the ages; we have their songs and their stories of struggle and persistence.

This week, several of our leaders quoted the Bible to support their agenda of separating children from parents. They did this because people of faith, across the theological spectrum, are coming out against this heartless policy. Even Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, who’s about as theologically narrow as they come, even he’s against it, he called it “disgraceful.” You know that both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures are full of texts saying that God is more inclined toward the poor and the marginalized than toward the rich and powerful. Deuteronomy says, “Do not deprive foreigners and orphans of their rights… Remember that you were slaves in Egypt…” (Deut. 24:17-18).

One day Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” (Luke 6:20-21). 

We are all hungry people. We are all longing, thirsty souls. But isn’t it incumbent on us who aren’t as hungry, who do have some resources and who do have some access to joy and peace and freedom, isn't it up to us to do all that we can to lift our voices and use our strength  so that others can be free too?  To find the joy in doing what’s right, working for the common good. Sharing our joy with a world  so hungry for it. 

May this be our prayer:

Let peace, like welcome rain, flow freely down,
to heal this dry, parched land. 
For all are thirsty here.