“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” That is a perfect verse for our resurrection day. We recited it together in our responsive Psalm 118 reading a few minutes ago. Rejoice as in be joyful or joy-filled. Glad, as in the happiest day of all days for Christ died for us and rose again so that we will have eternal life with God, now and beyond our earthly existence.
Biblically speaking, joy and happiness are joined. Sometimes Christians are taught that joy in the Lord is right and good but that happiness is a worldly pursuit. Yet, there are several places in scripture that join those two emotions, such as in Jeremiah chapter 31: “I will turn their mourning into joy. . . and bring happiness out of grief.” The two are also found together in the Old Testament book of Esther: “For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor.”
One definition of “joy” found on the Internet is // “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary joy is “a feeling of great happiness.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines joy as “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” A biblical dictionary defines happiness as “a state of pleasure or joy experienced both by people and by God.” Happiness is joy. Joy is happiness.
How do we go from the joy of Easter and Christ’s resurrection to happiness in our lives? In an upbeat reggae song, Bobby McFerrin sings, “Don’t worry, be happy!” Human beings tend to be hardwired toward the pursuit of happiness. Sometimes we search for happiness in a new car or clothes or by winning a ballgame or by stepping up the corporate ladder in our job or by taking a special vacation to a place we long to see.
Those items and situations may produce happiness but that kind of happiness tends to be fleeting. They are moments in our lives that are surrounded by a rather gloomy and dark world where there is terrorism, fear, anger, hatred, abuse and oppression, insistent bickering among politicians, and where there is a lack of sympathy for those of desperate plights and a lack of love for those we don’t deem worthy of our love or for those whom we fear.
Happiness in scripture is not fleeting. It comes about through the joy we have in our resurrected Lord. We can grasp it because God is merciful and good and the author of a Christian’s true happiness. God’s Word speaks of happiness being found through the joy we find in our own holiness, holiness that is a gift from our heavenly Parent, God, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Closely following and absolutely respecting God brings on our true and lasting happiness. Faith in Christ is our utmost joy. In Psalm 16 the psalmist delightedly confesses: “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Our theology of the Trinity, the formula of which is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, explains that God is happiness itself and is happy, for the three persons of the Godly trinity live in perfect harmony and an unbroken fellowship as one. There is one Lord. This author of happiness wants our happiness too. The Psalm explains, “Happy are those who make the LORD their trust.” When we trust in God, as completely as possible, then a true and lasting happiness will follow even in the face of fear or grief.
For Christians, being happy doesn’t mean that we exist in some spiritual bubble where we float like a vapor two inches above the ground. No, we live in a hurting, oft times cruel world. Even though we are happy in and through God in Jesus Christ, we don’t always feel happy. Our happiness flows forth in a spiritual sense. We find our happiness in leading holy lives through the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus’ death upon a terrible cross and grace and love upon his rising again to life so that we too receive find salvation.
Scripturally, our happiness stems from our holiness which we can only find through God’s Word and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The New Testament book of Hebrews chapter 2 states: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus reveals happiness in his purpose.
To be ‘holy’ means to belong to God and to be like our Lord, following God’s will and way as learned through Jesus Christ and God’s Word. However, our holiness is often marred by our sin. When we sin, do that which is wrong in the eyes of our Lord, then we are separated from holiness and the happiness and joy we find in that way of living. Our passage tells us to rid ourselves of all malice, and all deviousness, insincerity, envy, and all slander, for those are sins separating us from holiness. In his letter to the church in Galatia, the apostle Paul warns us to live by the Spirit and not by earthly sins of strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, and drunkenness.
The author of the first letter of Peter explains that Jesus is the main cornerstone of the foundation of our faith, our holiness, and our happiness. Jesus is the Living Stone upon which all spiritual dwellings abide. The Greek word for “stone” (lithos) refers to a stone that has been quarried, axed, and prepared for construction. For this context, it summons the image of a large stone used in the construction of a building. For our purposes this morning and throughout the year, the building is the church, the community of believers, the faithful.
Now, when we have tasted, experienced, the kindness of the Lord through the grace we find in Jesus Christ, we will long for our God as much as a tiny baby longs for the milk of her mother. This is how we come before God by longing for our own holy lives. The result of us humbly coming to God is that we too are built into living stones. We are quarried, chopped and readied to be a holy temple for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the builder here. He builds individual Christians into spiritual houses and a spiritual temple of living stones.
We are not individually built into a spiritual house to remain solely as individuals. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians explains this: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” That verse references a “you” that is the whole Body of Christ, the church, both world-wide and local. Together, we are a great spiritual house in which God dwells. It is in that spiritual house of God that we find our holiness. There is more to be known of God than we could ever possibly know in isolation. We learn to be more faithful and holy with and from each other.
Now, God laid the cornerstone that is Jesus Christ, but people rejected and continue to reject him. That rejection led to his arrest, trail and crucifixion. Anytime we reject Christ now by our slanderous thoughts, negligent attitudes toward others, or our prideful ways then we crucify Jesus all over again. I maintain that is why we must walk spiritually, as Jesus bodily did, through the last supper, the arrest in the garden, the beating and crucifixion of Christ every year on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. That is why we must come back year after year to celebrate Easter Sunday. And, that is why we come to worship our Lord as often as we possibly can throughout the year. Far too often we reject the Living Stone, the Chief Cornerstone by the things we say, think and do. We must return, time and again, for God’s forgiveness and the joy we find in Jesus Christ in order to yield to the holiness within us and to be rebuilt into a spiritual house for Christ’s Spirit.
Because we are the spiritual house of God, the church, we are what the author of 1st Peter calls a “holy priesthood.” Each one of us, not merely pastors or elders or deacons, is a priest in the spiritual house in which God dwells. This means that we aren’t merely a passive building but we are active worshipers. Consequently, it is our privilege as holy priests to draw near to God with spiritual sacrifices. The goal of our spiritual sacrifices is that they would be acceptable to God in Jesus Christ. Through our worship and praise of God and our service in the name of Jesus Christ, we bring our spiritual sacrifices and lay them at the feet of the Lord.
We are to work with great joy and conviction to humbly do that which is pleasing to God at all times, or as often as we possibly can. Whether you eat or drink, drive a nail or a car, mend a shirt or a sock, throw a basketball or baseball, change a lightbulb or the oil, polish brass or silver, make a meal or help a neighbor near or far as living stones built by Christ. All of these things may offer praise and thanks, good worship, to God. We don’t offer spiritual sacrifices merely on Sunday mornings but throughout each and every day. Spiritual sacrifices include acts of love, even more so when it is difficult to love.
In the Book of Hebrews chapter 13 we read, “Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Taking time to pray, read a devotional, and study the Bible are also acts of spiritual sacrifices. Generously giving our offerings of time, talent and treasure, money, as good stewards in and for the Body of Christ weekly in worship and in the world is very acceptable to our most holy God. The Psalms tell us, “Happy are those who give to the poor.” Another type of giving is frequently giving thanks to the Lord for the generous and underserved gift of our salvation. That too is a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.
Just last week, our Administrative Assistant, Jeanette Levellie posted a wonderful video on my Facebook site. It was a little girl in a pink dress with a big white bow in her curly hair. She couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old. She was standing at a lectern, probably on a box, presumably in a church, doing an absolutely fantastic job as a storyteller. She told the story of Jonah- Jonah running away, the big fish, the people of Nineveh, Jonah shouting his warning, and their repentance and salvation. She turned many of her “s”s into “sh” words- “so, he said” became “sho, he shaid”– it was so cute. Actually, I was blown away by her spiritual sacrifice because she had the whole story memorized. She would change her voice for different characters. She lowered her little voice for God and sometimes Jonah’s voice went very high when he was distressed. She had motions such as when Jonah was running [pumping arms] or questioning [arms splayed, hands and shoulders up]. I was enthralled throughout the over-7-minute story. Jonah’s story came alive for me like it never had. The generous giving of her time through the memorization and telling of a biblical story was that little girl’s spiritual sacrifice that day.
If we are going to be a spiritual temple for God’s presence, and if we are going to be a holy priesthood, and if we are going to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, then surely we will day-by-day, hour-by-hour live the way God in Jesus Christ would have us live.
Perhaps this all seems daunting to you. However, I remind you that the Holy Spirit dwells within you and will guide you to the spiritual sacrifices you ought to make. People of God, please know that Christ’s Spirit will strengthen you and give you the courage and support you need in order to be a holy priesthood and a spiritual house.
The joy of Easter most poignantly reminds us that we are to live as the living stones Christ has built us into, a dedicated priesthood living holy and joy-filled lives. Happy are we who believe and follow, every day of our lives. What joy and fulfillment we possess!
May God’s name be praised by the hearing of this word.