ALL OUT OF JOY
Imagine my lips. My tongue sticking through the middle. A gentle hum, resonating in the background. My lips and tongue vibrating to the rhythm of, “I’m having more fun than you are!”
Before I left for my mid-life crisis trip to Tanzania (OK, maybe it was more like, latter-life crisis trip), Pastor Jim already began his sermon series on Philippians, titled, “All out Joy!” He’s still preaching about all-out joy. Still talking about the joy of living the Christian life. Still doing his best to convince his congregation that living the Christian life is a joyful experience.
Please accept my humble apologies. My Bronx cheer! (Playfully, though.)
Can’t resist. While my Colorado friends and fellow sinners thought deeply about having fun, I actually had some fun. A lot of it!
When I served on the Tanzania mission committee, I ended up on the losing side of a debate. (I debated just about everything, though. Sorry.) About whether the committee represented a proxy for congregant discipleship, or whether its job involved facilitating congregants’ individual discipleship. My argument lay with the latter choice. Still does.
Personally, I don’t believe that a pew-based disciple (me, as my best example) can truly experience the joy of Christian discipleship by allowing a committee to serve as my proxy. I just end up feeling guilty for a few minutes. Or by emotional osmosis, feeling really good when singing one of my favorite songs. Or taking communion. Or, praying for forgiveness because I know that my life has not measured up very well. Doesn’t quite do it. Not for me, anyway. Just gotta get up and do it.
I got up and did it. A start, anyway.
The good life, I believe, begins with thanksgiving. That’s pretty much the foundation of doctrinal theology. Paul began Philippians, and a bunch more letters, by giving thanks. Paul was so arrogant about this that he bragged about his joy from a prison cell. Started with how thankful he was about what Christ did for him. And, at the start of Philippians, about his thankfulness that the Philippian congregation remained constant in their faith.
Figured his station in life. Knew he had it all. When in fact, he had nothing. Peers esteemed him. Significant learning constituted a red carpet for his theological life. He served as a leader of the righteous. So he thought. Until, on the road to nowhere meaningful, Christ interrupted him. Told him to chuck it all. Told him to find real joy a different way. You know the story.
While all my Colorado Christian pals listened to Pastor Jim preach about all-out joy, I might have come closer to it than anyone else sitting in the pews. (Just my perspective, though.) Rather than relying upon TAC or anyone else to proxy my discipleship, I took inventory (kind of an accounting term) of my talents, in the context of thankfulness. Which only served to deepen my thankfulness. Decided to take back control of my own discipleship. Decided to actually disciple, unworthy and unfaithful as I was and remain.
I’m not the financially richest member of my church. (Don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure.) In fact, I believe I’m a very long ways from that point. A relative pauper. A peasant, by Colorado standards. (OK, maybe a bit extreme.) But, when I looked over the congregation at Ilboru Lutheran Church, I figured that I probably stood financially, head and shoulders above everyone else. And frankly, not because of my worthiness, or being any better than anyone else. Frankly, I’m about the least qualified, in the context of living a humble Christian life. Only because of God’s graciousness in putting me in economic circumstances throughout my life that gave me opportunities that most folks attending Ilboru Lutheran Church, living in Arusha, living in Tanzania never had. Easy to take for granted. Easy to say “Thanks!” in prayer, and then forget about those less fortunate. Easy to proxy my response to a committee, a church, a missionary, or anyone else besides me.
Funny thing is, it’s more joyful to actually put personal talents to work on behalf of others less fortunate. More fun giving hope, and hopefully, economic opportunity, to others who have very little of it.
For two Sundays, now, friends have asked me, “Did you learning anything, while you were in Tanzania?”
Yup. I learned all over again about how blessed I’ve been. Born in the USA. Born in the 20th century. Raised in a decent Christian family. Middle class by most standards. Midwestern culture. Christian education, right through college. A graduate degree. The best jobs, the best employers in the world. And, an ability to make a living as an entrepreneur. Self-sufficient with the undeserved talents given at birth and honed through opportunity and experience. Opportunity not quite as prevalent in other parts of the world. Like, for example, Tanzania.
OK, I’m a bit arrogant. But, arrogance turns quickly to humility, when challenged to return God’s investment in me with appropriate earnings and dividends. Will He say, when I meet Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”? Maybe not. I remain among the least deserving of His flock. And the least productive, from a discipleship perspective. But, in the meantime, I may end up experiencing a little bit of the joy of giving, through sharing a few talents with those whose opportunities lay further from reach.
I challenge anyone so inclined to join me in establishing a venture capital company, focused on providing a measure of economic opportunity to a few individuals less fortunate than us. I challenge those who might also consider their pew-based discipleship as less rewarding or enjoyable than actually lifting a pauper or peasant from economic humility, towards strengthened self-sufficiency.
I challenge you to join me in a friendly Bronx cheer.
Or, if you’re more inclined to imitate the joy of Paul, to join me in giving thanks for the discipleship, the Christian stewardship, and the Christian love, of a few less economically fortunate than us.
And maybe receiving back inspiration from Christian disciples from TZ, who end up saying thanks to us.