In an article written on Paul’s letter to the churches in Philippi, Mark Driscoll described like I often see Jesus - as “a rebel, an outlaws, a renegade, and sanctified troublemaker.” This could easily define Jesus as well. But how odd is it that is not the image we have of him. Promoting people to be rebellious against the system isn’t what most of today’s churches like to be about. We don’t like to define trouble-making as a holy act. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus did.
There are other similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both were single, homeless, lived on the welfare and charity of others, and yes each one was hated and rejected by his own religious contemporaries. In the book of Acts, we learn how Paul was run out of nearly every town he visited, and often took a good beating with him.
Again, this isn’t what ministers like to preach about. We like to focus on the kindness and the goodness, and of course the love. But believe it or not, in the first century, that was the stuff rulers considered to be seditious and subversive.
With all that Paul endured to share the gospel of Christ, he did so knowing God could not be beaten or defeated – the cross of Christ was his proof. When most of us would have thrown in the towel and walked away from God and our faith, Paul stood firm in his. He wrote this letter to his friends so they would do the same. He encouraged them to complete his joy by sharing in the Spirit of compassion and sympathy for one another.
Take a moment to think about all the vitriol and anger, the false narratives and deceit we encounter every day just on social media. How does it make you feel? Not very happy I’m sure. But happiness wasn’t Paul’s goal, was it? He didn’t confuse joy with happiness. Instead equated joy with Christ Jesus.
In the beloved comic strip Peanuts, Charles Schultz wrote, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Many of us know what that kind of happiness feels like. However, this is not joy. Joy is not something that chews up your favorite pair of shoes. Or digs holes in your backyard.
In the 80’s Bobby McFerrin penned the catchy song, “Don’t worry…Be Happy.” If only joy were that easy. Simply because Paul equates joy with Christ that alone should give us all something to worry about. Living out the gospel is not easy, but necessary in order for our joy to be complete.
Not to bash on the church too much, but for decades ministers have watered down the bible's definition of true joy; reducing it nothing more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, or a carefree attitude of delight. The problem with that is people realized they don’t need the church to find that warm puppy feeling. And when they fall short of not worrying and being happy in the world...the church often gets the blame.
Joy is more than happiness, just as happiness is more than pleasure. Pleasure is in the body. Happiness is in the mind. But joy is deep within the heart, in the very essence of our being. It is a longing and a treasure that God buried deep within us. And Jesus is the key to unlocking it.
In his spiritual biography aptly entitled “Surprised by Joy,” C.S. Lewis described joy as “an experience no one would ever exchange for all the happiness in the world.” And for good reason. Like I said last week, joy doesn’t come from power or possessions but from a person: Jesus Christ.
We may not have him physically here with us today, but we do have his Spirit in us and with us every day. You see, joy doesn't just come from having Jesus over to the house for dinner. We unlock our joy by being united to him; sharing the same Spirit.
Because of this, Paul can sit in a prison awaiting what will be his death sentence, and find joy knowing he is connected to his friends in Christ by “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord.”
What does this say to us today? It tells me that we need to push ourselves beyond the current political climate and the media madness to be reunited in Christ and reaffirm our Christian commitment to one another; by seeking to bring God's justice and reconciliation and peace to the world by being little Christ’s in our communities.
True joy is found not just in believing in Christ Jesus, but also when you live as he lived; love as he loved; sharing the same Spirit, showing the same compassion and sympathy for others. Thus, Paul tells us to “Do nothing out of selfishness but in humility count others as better than you.”
When asked in an interview what kept her humble, the late comedian Phyllis Diller sharply quipped, “Mirrors!” Oh, the uncomfortable truth in her statement. Mirrors don’t lie. Especially as we grow older.
In maturing our faith, Paul calls us to mirror Christ – to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus so that others can come to see God’s glory and find their joy.
When you look in a mirror, what do you see? Do you see the same faith, the same righteousness, the same love as God’s most beloved child?
Do you see a rebel or troublemaker who turns the ways of the world upside down by putting the interest of others before your own?
Imagine what our country might be like if our leaders looked in the mirror and saw Christ. Imagine if just once they adopted the mind of Jesus, “who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant; humbling himself to the point of death.”
Imagine what your world, your life, you joy would be like if you made others more important than yourself. Not equal, but more important. It might be easy for me to give up my place in line at the store or let someone take the last donut from the box.
Yet I know how much harder it is for to allow someone’s opinion to be above my own when it comes to discussing politics or religious ideology. But that’s what we are called to do. Jesus wants us to make other people’s health and wellbeing more important than our own. Even when our beliefs are vastly different, we are called to be like Christ who said “I did not come to be served but to serve.”
That’s what Joy is all about. And why it can be hard to find. It doesn’t mean we will be happy all the time, but we will have reason to rejoice because we are doing the will of God for the glory of God.
I want to leave you with something I learned in Sunday school as a kid that I think help you to mirror Christ. It’s an acronym for the word J-O-Y.
J stands for Jesus. Jesus is first because Jesus is the most important person in this equation. He is the one we are shaping our lives to be like.
O is for others. As in Jesus made other people more important. So that’s why we should too.
We share the gospel with others by living the gospel like Jesus did.
Lastly, Y is for you. You are also important. You are the one bringing joy into the world. But here’s the hard truth.
Joy can seem elusive these days because we like to put ourselves first. We go for what we want, often at the expense of others. That kind of joy is short lived. Self-centered people are eventually abandoned or voted off the island, because they suck the joy out of everyone else.
As you leave here today, remember that Joy is Jesus. Joy is living for others, serving and caring for them as Jesus did. Joy is about you and what you can do and what you achieve when you initiate Christ’s love in the world.
Living in the likeness of Christ, we become something greater than ourselves. We become the face of hope, the heart of love, and the hands of generosity.
We become the true Spirit of God’s grace bringing tenderness, compassion, and sympathy to others in the world. We become a church of rebels, outlaws, and trouble makers sanctified by Christ and made holy before God who exalts us to our rightful place as beloved children united in Divine glory.
This is a revised version of a sermon previously given on April 10, 2016.
Bible. Philippians 2:1-11 (NRSV).
Driscoll, Mark. Preach it, Teach it. Nov. 4, 2007. http://www.preachitteachit.org/fileadmin/SiteFiles/LegacyUploads/20071104_the-rebels-guide-to-joy-in-humility_en_transcript.pdf (accessed April 6, 2016).
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy Is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church, 2014.
Sproul, R.C. Can I have Joy in my Life: Crucial Questions Series No. 42. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2012.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”