The Connection of Joy to Suffering

How’s that song go? School’s out for summer…

Well, it’s almost out. My kids have already said three or four times this morning, “Two and a half more days.”

“Yes,” I say in return. “You’ve already said that.”

As much as I love education—in fact, just ask Jen and she’d tell you I could sit in a classroom pretty much all day long—still, I’m glad the school year is coming to a close. It means time is a little more flexible for rest from busy schedules where every minute is accounted for, people’s spirits seem much calmer, and perhaps the doors and windows of opportunities for more fellowship with one another begin to open. In all, the sky’s deep blue feels just a little kindlier and the sun’s rays seem somewhat more caressing.

You can’t beat the feeling of summer. It can be very joyful.

In my morning reading from Luther, the good Reverend wrote the following regarding faith in Christ resulting in the joy of life and life’s deeds: “…the better you know it, the more does it make your heart joyful, for where there is such knowledge the Holy Ghost cannot remain outside. And when He comes He makes the heart joyful, willing, and happy, so that it freely goes and gladly with good heart does all that is well-pleasing to God, and suffers what has to be suffered, and would gladly die. And the purer and greater the knowledge, the deeper grows the bliss and joy” (Sermons from the year 1523).

Do you know how Luther claims this joy is planted specifically; that is, the springtime sowing that produces the summertime image he just described? If you guessed Word and Sacrament—the holy Word, Holy Baptism, absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper—if you guess these things, then you’re right. It’s through the reception of these Gospel means that the perpetual summertime heart of the Christian is strengthened for real joy—come what may.

How’s that song go? More than a feeling…

Faith in Christ results in so much more than a feeling. It results in life—life lived together as a community of believers here in this place—caring for one another, opportunities to serve the needs of a suffering world, prayer, study of the Word, reception of the gifts of grace, and so many other things I could add.

Notice Luther connected joy to suffering and death.

Summer ends. Fall comes. A new school year begins, and with that, the schedules increase and the days seem to get shorter. But the Christian heart fed by Christ’s perpetual springtime love for a truly endless summer of joy knows this and is well stocked against anything that would try to steal it away.

Don’t lose Word and Sacrament this summer. Don’t stay away. Keep in holy worship. Be strengthened by the means of grace. This is your lifeline for joy—real joy—into and beyond the summer of 2017.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Some of you probably already knew this, but Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. She had an incredible grasp of language; and not only that, but she could string together a necklace of words with such uncommon precision, and pair nearly every phrase with incredible rhyme schemes, that it’s hard not to appreciate her skill. I have her entire collection of works, and I must say, I visit with it often. And even as I read her poetry knowing that she wasn’t necessarily a Christian—although she grew up in a Christian home and was influenced by Christian tradition—her words ring true in many ways, whether she realized it or not. For example, a personal favorite of her lyrics goes something like this:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

I like that. Hope perches in the soul and never stops singing its song. Sounds like the hope we have in Jesus, if you ask me. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, hope lives and breathes and moves within us even as we face days of both sunshine and rain, of blue skies and clouds. Or as Saint Paul says in Romans 5:1-5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

One more time: “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (v. 2).

I like that. It speaks of hope as it flows from God’s glory. You and I know by the Holy Word that the truest form of God’s glory is seen on the cross in the death Jesus Christ for our forgiveness—at least that’s the way Jesus talked about it (John 12:23-33; Mark 10:36-38, and others).

And I like this, too: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Here Paul makes sure we understand that our hope in the suffering, crucified, and risen Savior is never to our shame, but rather it is the wellspring of God’s love that actually pours into our hearts to steady our resolve and sturdy our grasp of the only One who can save us—Christ, the Son of God!

May this hope continue to be yours as the summer days roll in. Remember to hold fast to the means by which God feeds and sustains this hope—Word and Sacrament ministry. You need this stuff. I need this stuff. The whole world needs this stuff. Why? Because it has what sets hope in the soul where it can sing and sing and sing, never growing tired of its joyful song of salvation.