Joy like a Fountain
I love seeing people relax and open and maybe tell a story or say something short that hides beneath it a whole array of stories. You can even make the question a little more specific - what brings you joy in your work? In your family life? What brings you joy in the church?
Today is the first day of our stewardship campaign, this short season where we ask you to prayerfully consider what you will give to the church in 2020. The theme for this year is “We are Joyful.” We asked 17 people to answer the question “What brings you joy at Christ Church?” And they had to answer in 15 words or less. We put them and their answers on a slide. Here is one of those slides blown up (Show Chris Binder). We are going to role out their answers over the next couple weeks. I’ll talk a little more about the mechanics of the campaign at the announcements - there are two MAJOR changes for this year. Stay tuned.
The campaign prompted me to turn the question in myself, ‘What brings me joy at Christ Church? What would go on my card? I would take up 3 cards.
Watching Christ’s love in you spill into the world. There is that old camp song, “I’v Got Joy Like a Fountain, I’ve got Joy like a Fountain...”The whole purpose of church is to transform us more deeply into the likeness of Christ so we can flood the world with love and peace and joy. The deeper the transformation, the more that will spill over. This so often happens when you all work out in the community, serving, feeding, building, tutoring. One of my distinct memories of being in Haiti at our sister church, St. Marc’s,when school got out and these little girls in their pink dresses spilled out into the courtyard to see us - wanting to run and play and dance. And their joy triggered such joy in our youth and adults – sort of this upward spiral.
This joy comes from a deeper source. In this letter from I Peter, the author writes, Although you have not seen him (Jesus), you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.” This is the love of God in Christ welling up in them and us.
Our new garden fountain in the little courtyard was installed wrong. They didn’t put the base low enough and the water that comes up out of the rock spills and splashes over the side of the base and we’re have to always refill it. It needs to be fixed and they are coming back to re-dig it, but I am tempted to leave it alone because of what a perfect metaphor it is for the church. We are filled to then overflow outside our narrow base.
My second card for What brings be joy at CC would read: Offering a spiritual home to the spiritually homeless. I want to tell a story about a woman I met this summer. This is not a Christ Church person, but her story has elements of so many of your stories. I met this woman through my program in spirituality this summer. She’s a colleague. This woman did not grow up with much of any church. Her parents were actually somewhat anti-religious. But even from a very young age, she had this longing to connect with something, Someone, larger than herself. In college, through a roommate, she was pulled into a large evangelical church, because say what you will about evangelicals, they often share their faith with others. And while some of the beliefs seemed a little rigid to her, this woman was so incredibly grateful to be in this community where people openly spoke about love: for God, for one another, for her, even for enemies. She felt vibrant and alive. She was all in.
She was an artist and a musician, she liked to perform. She made it into the church worship band. As an off-shoot of the worship band the church had this little theatre troop that would perform little vignettes, biblical scenes, little spiritual one-act plays. She even learned to mime and she said she loved telling people at parties when they asked, “What do you do? “I’m a Christian mime.” “Interesting.”
But then everything fell apart. Because when she was out on tour with the band and this troupe, playing Christian festivals, being a guest band at other big mega-churches, at some stop along the way, she met a woman. And she fell head over heels in love with this woman. She had always wondered if she was gay, but she had tamped it down because she knew if it came to the surface she would lose all that she had gained. And she tried to keep it all secret, to live this double life, but it finally all came out. And she was asked to leave her ministry position; she was told she still had a place in the church, but it was understood that she needed to be on a journey out of that lifestyle. And she was devastated. And like so many of you, like so many of us who have been burned by church, alienated, it is really hard to know what to do; where to go, where is God.
And this was even more painful because her job was really hard - she was an art therapist and she was working with kids, many of whom were struggling with intense illness. She had used the church as a source of spiritual energy, and it was gone. About a year later she and her significant other were married. A couple years after that, she finally gathered the courage to try to find another community. After months of passing this little Episcopal Church down the street, she finally resolved to go. She convinced her wife to go with her for moral support, even though her wife was deeply skeptical of any kind of organized religion. They sat in the back, and they planned to only stay through the sermon; and when that was over, she vowed to leave right after communion; and when that was over she vowed to hurry out the back after the last hymn, and when that was over she found that she was still in the back singing and crying. And after the
dismissal the people near her didn’t miss a beat, they came up and greeted her, and she blurted out with all the armored defensiveness she could muster, “this is my wife,” and they were like, Great to meet you, come have coffee with us. She joined their little choir, her wife volunteers for Sunday school, learning the Bible as she goes along.
What brings me joy: Watching Christ’s love in you spill into the world. Offering a spiritual home to the spiritually homeless. And maybe the third answer to what brings me joy at Christ Church: Knowing our joy is deep enough to hold pain and brokenness.
When I think of some of my own personal moments of deepest joy over the last 12 years Christ Church, there is often not only a sense of happiness and contentment, but also something deeper, maybe even something painful right alongside it. Like one of my most joyful moments was going out with Gayle Johnson on the last day she was out and about in the world; about a week before she died. Gayle was 106. As just a parenthetical, that relates to stewardship - Gayle was the most generous person here. Flat out. Hands down. More than me. Gayle would have killed me if she heard me say that publicly, but sorry, once you die, people get to say the good things about you that were forbidden when you were alive. Gayle lived in “affordable housing,” on the border of Shorewood and Milwaukee. And she was in the top 20 households for giving to this church.
On that last day out in the world, Gayle wanted to go out for a cheeseburger at McDonalds and it was a communion service of sorts. Sharing in the presence of God and one another around a different kind of table. And just how holy communion is grounded in the body broken and the blood poured out, it was not all happy. Her aches and pains were there in the room with us. Her mortality and impending death were there in the room with us. Her anxiety about where the world was heading was there in the room with us.
Maybe this is one of the differences between simple happiness and deeper joy. Like happiness is when everything is good and whole and put together. But joy is a contentment that is deep enough to include pain, loss, emptiness. This is the mystery of the cross of Christ. In the triumphant joy of resurrection, Jesus still bears wounds in his hands and in his side. Joy can pulse and radiate even in a world so broken and wounded.
Your financial support allows us to be a fountain of Christ’s joy spilling out into a world which right now needs as much joy and hope and love as it can possibly get. Thank you for giving generously.