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Inappropriate Joy / Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15:9–17  

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Jesus is teaching (John 14-17), and spending time with the disciples to prepare them for His Passion and the trials they will soon face. In these four chapters Jesus mentions “joy” five times. Question, is it appropriate to even mention “joy” when the primary source of that joy is about to leave them?

Jesus clearly knew about “joy” in ways that made a profound difference for Him and His disciples, and also makes for us.

It’s not hard to find inappropriate things in life. Last fall there was a high school football game between two area schools. High school football games should be hard work. But also, fun. The game was played at the Beachwood High School field, and at halftime the officials were informed that the visiting team were using the word “Nazi” in some of their play-calling. Beachwood is a community where nearly 90% of the population is Jewish, and yet the opposing coach thought it was okay to use that vile word. His school allowed him to resign the following week when most people thought he should’ve been fired that night.

Inappropriate, off-handed comments at funerals, weddings, family gatherings and even Church we’ve all heard them. Truth be told, we’re all probably guilty of some of these in our own lives at one time or another.

Most of the time these are inappropriate because they don’t respect the reality of the situation. Which brings us to Jesus’ words in our text today …

Jesus is clearly preparing His disciples for His death, and in that context, some of His words could be heard as inappropriate:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled …”

“I will not leave you orphaned.”

“Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”

After this extended conversation with His disciples in chapters 14-17, Jesus went out with His disciples to the garden in the Kidron Valley where He was arrested. From there you can follow, reading the accounts in the four gospels, all the events leading up to Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion.

Yet, with everything that’s about to happen to Him, Jesus still mentions joy. Joy may seem inappropriate considering what Jesus is telling His disciples: He’s about to leave them.

They all knew, there’s no coming back from death. He could talk all day, but the fact was that if Jesus continued His current course, there was little doubt He would be arrested, put on trial and crucified. That was the normal sequence of events for someone who went against the powers that be. And then Jesus was arrested.

I don’t think they were wrong in assuming this would happen. They could’ve remembered the things Jesus had done … water to wine, healing the nobleman’s son, healing the man at the pool, feeding the 5,000, walking on water, healing a man born blind and raising Lazarus from the dead. But that was then. Was there any reason for hope or joy in the hours before Jesus’ arrest?

At that moment, the disciples couldn’t see it.  Yet, Jesus had just talked about it. “I have said these things to you so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Jesus also tells them in the next chapter, Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. … Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

The fact is that “joy” is a continuing theme throughout the Bible. In the Psalms, when talking about the Israelites coming out of Egyptian slavery, it’s written, “So He brought His people out with joy, His chosen ones with singing.” Isaiah spoke of “the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with rejoicing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.” Jesus’ birth was announced with “good news of great joy.” Jesus spoke of joy and rejoicing in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are you when people revile you … Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” We see instances of Paul rejoicing in prison, and we read of the “joy of faith” and “rejoicing in the Lord.” And, of course, Paul lists “joy” as one of the fruits of the Spirit.” This list could go on, but clearly, “joy” can happen even amid trouble because one trusts God.

So, as Jesus is preparing His disciples for the troubles about to fall on both Him and them, it’s not inappropriate that He reminds them of joy, joy as a source of strength in difficult situations.

Along with Jesus’ reminder about joy, Jesus also reminded the disciples of His love for them. “As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you; abide in My love.” A few moments later Jesus told them, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” Jesus chose them. They were not where they were by mistake. Regardless of how they felt, they were where Jesus wanted them. They still had a lot to experience and a lot more to learn, including the depth of Jesus’ love for them. And along with His love, at times when they would least expected it, they experienced joy. Jesus said to His disciples, I have said these things to you so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Which means, that both Jesus’ love for the disciples and His joy is extended to Jesus’ us today.

In our lesson today, He speaks these great words as well. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. In and of itself this was a profound command. But less than a day later, the implications were huge as Jesus hung suspended on a cross. Jesus was not just talking about “going the extra mile” or being a good friend. What He commanded them to do, is what He was about to do. After Jesus’ crucifixion, did they look at each other and wonder if they had the “greater love” in them to lay down their life for their friends? Would their joy be made complete as they lived out their lives as obedient followers of Christ?

One set of New Testament verses that surfaced more than once while I was preparing for this sermon was Romans 5:3-5. While it varies from one translation to another, at least two translations use “joy” terminology. The version we use here at Bethel reads, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.”

It’s logical to assume that Paul’s statement in Romans about “rejoicing in sufferings” is looking at the events after some time has passed. Suffering can be overwhelming but, as we look back, we can often see the hand of God working in ways we could not see in that exact moment.

Sorrow finds its way into our lives. We all face it at some point, often sooner than later. Sometimes it’s personal. Sometimes it’s communal. But it’s always painful. In the sorrow, there’s a glimmer of something that’s hard to explain. If I’m not careful, I’ll miss it every time … This feeling has a name. It is joy.

While not every Christian who has experienced sorrow and grief might speak of joy, it does sometimes come. After the initial pain and shock of whatever has happened, after things have quieted down, joy may have a place in our thoughts.

Do you remember that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit? Joy is the fruit of God’s work in our lives. It’s connected to the person and character of God. Therefore, joy is present in our deepest sorrow and grief. It’s the fragrance of God with us.

We all know, or will know, the uncertainty of health and happiness and life itself. We all know there will be times of sorrow and pain because we’re all human.

God gives us strength and help and comfort along that way. And sometimes, when we think we can’t go on, we just might see God at work in our lives and realize that God is with us.

Speaking of joy at such times seems unreasonable, even unbelievable and certainly inappropriate. But sometimes God allows us to see the unexpected visitor, joy in the midst of sorrow.