“Joy Is A Result of Gratitude”


Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 16, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

    Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:1-6

    Last Sunday we discussed how prophetic news of the coming of God's presence into our world was often greeted by believers with fear. At the time, there was no one who dared to describe the nature of our Creator in any other terms.   When Jesus began teaching about God's nature, finally relief came to listeners.  The new image that Jesus revealed has impacted humanity in ways no one could possibly have foreseen.  

     Francis Kim and his wife own an athletic store in Honolulu that is part of the Pearl Harbor Shopping Center.  One day a tall, young man entered their store and wanted to try on a pair of Nike Top-Flight basketball shoes.  The shoes fit perfectly.  He told Mr. Kim that he would prefer the same shoe in blue.  When Francis went into the back of his store to retrieve the right color from his inventory, the young man darted out of the store still wearing the shoes he had tried on.

     When he heard his wife screaming, Francis knew exactly what had happened. He told his wife to call the police immediately and he left the store in pursuit.   After crossing four lanes of traffic, Kim tackled the much larger man and the two men were found wrestling on the ground when the police arrived.

     Later that afternoon, Mr. Kim had to go to the police station to press charges.  When he arrived, he received permission to talk to the young man.  Kim put his hands on his hips and paced back and forth in front of him before he spoke.  He asked in a very matter of fact way, "Do you want to mess up your life for a lousy pair of basketball shoes?"  The young man was silent and hung his head. 

     After hesitating for a moment Kim said,

     This is very important to me and I want an honest answer from you, young man.  I have the power to have you released or to keep you here.  I need to know -- do you really want to mess up your entire life because you put everything you are on the line by stealing a pair of shoes? 

     The young man eventually shook his head, "no."

     To the young man’s surprise, Kim did not press charges.  Instead, he asked the police to release him into his custody. Kim took him back to his store and said,

     I need a young man like you that I can trust to help me run this store.   I am going to do three things for you.  First, I want you to work for me and I will pay you twice a month.  Secondly, I am going to give you these shoes since you must really want them.  Thirdly, I am going to give you a pair of socks to wear with those shoes.  Is it a deal? 

     The young man’s solemn face melted into a large, broad smile as he stood there in total disbelief. The two men shook hands and that was the first day of the rest of that young man’s life.  Today, he manages that store while Mr. Kim has opened a number of other stores on the island.  

     Francis Kim was looking at the potential of this young man rather than the result from his use of poor judgment.  He was willing to give him a second chance.  This is what generosity looks like and the joy that results with giving someone a second chance.

    There is no question about it, Kim could have made a mistake by taking an unwise risk but he was willing to take a chance on him.  The rewards were remarkable both for Kim and this young man.  What is interesting about this episode is that this is exactly what God does with the second chances that are given to each of us.  God gives people hundreds of chances to see if they can grow up enough to mature in spirit.

    The great artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) looked at women as either goddesses or doormats. Of his seven chosen mates, two committed suicide and two others lost their minds. He was faithful to none of them. He had hundreds of love-affairs but God never said, "Pablo, because of the way you treat women, I am going to take away your ability to paint." 

    We may ask ourselves, "What is up with God? Why is there no judgment built into Picasso's life?"  The answer for Picasso as well as the rest of humanity is that God continues to give people repeated opportunities to grow up.  What we do with such opportunities is totally up to us. That is the nature of free will. This response is at the core of unconditional love.  For some people, life is a precious gift, for others it is filled with one misery after another.  To art critics, Picasso provides lots of evidence that he had never found happiness. Every piece that an artist creates communicates something about their inner world.   

    Last week, we considered Scripture lessons that featured fear-evoking words from various prophets.  Today Erika read two Old Testament readings that featured rejoicing and total joy from the two authors.  What changed?  What changed within the two Old Testament authors was the recognition that God truly loved his creations more than most keepers of religious teachings ever realized. 

     What does punishment accomplish when subjects have not discovered how to live in the material world?  Not everyone knows how to use their second chances.  Not everyone uses common sense. Francis Kim offered forgiveness by giving a second chance to a man who needed to learn values that would work for him.  The difference between the young man and Picasso was a matter of maturity to recognize an opportunity when it presented itself. 

    All of humanity, regardless of our individual beliefs, will remain on a learning curve until we each graduate from this life.   Learning has no end in sight because every new generation has to take its cues for what worked and what did not work during former generations.  Perhaps Jesus learned from the few prophets who wrote themes that captured the essence of God that he had come to know.  He knew that the Jews were being led astray by a false narrative about God's nature. (Jeremiah 31:33f)

    The other morning, I was listening to David Lopes on 105.1 FM.  A sports reporter began his report when suddenly a song broke into middle of that report.  David stopped the song and admitted that he had not yet learned how to manage the new equipment that greeted him when he returned to the station after his months' vacation.  He could not stop the song once it had started.  He could only interrupt it.  When the song ended, we heard the rest of the Sports report.  Life is just like that.  We learn what works partially from the times when we missed the mark. 

     The time had arrived when citizens of the earth could understand what a model citizen in the Kingdom of God looked like.  The drama started with a remarkable act of humility symbolized by Mary and Joseph's rejection at an inn and a divine presence being born on the straw that was on the floor of a stable.  After the passing of thirty years, that baby had grown up and began to sow the seeds that would redefine the meaning of so many teachings that were once considered sacred.

    When we experience a rough patch and our lives are challenged by a number of life-reversals evoking sad and depressing feelings, begin celebrating everything that you can think of that has served you faithfully before any of the unpleasant events happened.  Joy does not come by perfecting our routines, habits, and our duties.  Joy comes from reconsidering the hundreds of blessings that we have taken for granted for years.  Celebrate those with our gratefulness.

    A couple of weeks ago a ten-pound barbell rolled off a table and landed on my left foot. I immediately covered my foot with bags of frozen vegetables to slow down the swelling.  Yielding to some rather strong suggestions from Lois and our visiting son, Steven, I scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic doctor after having my foot x-rayed.  As it turned out, my foot was not broken. 

    The doctor started talking to me about how remarkable our bodies are in healing themselves without our having to do anything. In time the swelling dissipated and the discoloration had faded. The doctor went on to say, "We can abuse our bodies by overeating, by dwelling on negative thinking and by our refusal to exercise yet they continue to serve our needs until they no longer can."

    Think about all the life-experiences that have contributed to the growth of our character.  Yes, reversals come and we have a right to be sad and disappointed, but our spirits regenerate just like my foot.  Challenging experiences come but they also go when we are ready to let go of them.  When we consider our blessings, somehow those rough patches do not seem so rough. Why?  They teach us what happens to us emotionally when we fail to consider what God might be teaching us about ourselves.

     When we celebrate life with a sense of profound gratitude and refuse to allow disappointing circumstances to define our lives, we find joy as a result just as Jesus taught.  (John 20:29)

    Experiencing joy is what is missing in the lives of so many people today.  Many of them never understood why this is happening. The truth is that our minds dwell on gets bigger and bigger the more we feed such thoughts.  When gratitude is missing, so is joy.  The attitude of gratitude has the power to reframe our lives.  It can restore our health and refuel our spiritual energy. 

    When we change our attitude and become grateful for everything, our entire world changes.  This is why we have lighted our third candle representing the coach who came into our world to teach humanity not only how to live in this world but also how to allow more joy and happiness into their lives.  Gratitude is one of the attitudes that consistently produces joy. Let's celebrate our blessings with joy and thanksgiving as we allow God to take care of the details we do not understand.

     

CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

Eternal God, as we live in a world that keeps tensions swirling around us, we remain grateful for these moments.  Worship reminds us that the quality of our lives depends on how we understand our relationship with you. As our spirits become refreshed today, we thank you for giving us increased opportunities to give away the joy we have found.  Help us to teach others that our faith radiates from our trust in your presence in our lives.  Amen.

 

PASTORAL PRAYER                              

Our days continue to pass so rapidly, O God, and we find ourselves in our place of worship once again as we continue our journey through Advent. 

We have learned that just as a candle can illuminate a large room, so the life of Jesus has ignited a burning desire in the hearts of billions of people over thousands of years to make his message of loving our neighbors visible all over the world.  Inspire us to remember that in every circumstance we have within us the power not only to survive but also to thrive.

From you we have learned that not all strength appears the way we consider strength.  We have learned that not all love comes in a form that we recognize.  We have learned that some of our greatest disappointments will not block our sensitivity to your presence unless we allow it. We have learned that sometimes we need to accept life as it comes because we lack the understanding of where life is leading.  We cannot have any thoughts about our destination until we arrive. All we hope for is that we will grow in any garden in which we are planted.

We thank you that while our minds, hearts, and spirits are not becoming what you created them to be, you still send guidance.  Even though our lives are not lived in harmony with you, you still create music to which we can dance. During this season of joy, enable us to discover how to become better instruments for communicating your love.  We pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .