The following is a sermon that I gave on Saturday, February 15th, 2014, to the South Main Baptist Church Youth group for the final session of their disciple now. It is part homily and part testimony, enjoy it if you have the time. Comments are welcome. – C.S.
The Joyful Christian:
Longing, Losing, and Living in Joy.
By C.S. Humble
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing- to reach the mountain, the place where all the beauty came from – my country, the place I ought to have been born.”
-C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Let me set the scene for you – It’s 1989, I’m six years old and my grandmother has taken me to the Scurry County library to rent a movie. I was spending the weekend with her and my grandfather, so as a treat she is going to let me pick out any movie I want to watch. And so, I’m going through the movies, on VHS, and I see a cover that is going to change my life forever. There is a young man, clad in white, holding a glowing sword. The title reads, Star Wars.
*A New Hope, in me.
The first time longing touched my heart was this moment – Luke on Tatooine, Binary Sunset. (watch the link for reference – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gpXMGit4P8 ) Nobody brings it home like John Williams. You see I identified with Luke Skywalker in that moment – Luke grew up on a desert planet, I grew up in the middle of the desert while my father worked in the oil patches of West Texas. And like Luke, when I look at those two burning stars in the far reaching horizon, I realized that I wanted something fantastic in my life, something impossible, adventure. I wanted my life’s song to have resonance and most of all, I wanted to get away from the shackles that my homeland had fettered on me.
And then, just too insane to stop there, I immediately watched The Empire Strikes Back–
*Luke on Cloud City
Vader tells Luke he is his father. *Spoiler Alert* I completely understood Luke’s horror, this creature inside the machine was pure unadulterated evil, the scourge of the galaxy, a black knight of destruction and pain. I connected with that emotion for in my own father I had seen the evils of alcoholism, the obliterating power of rage, and what it meant to destroy someone else. I could feel Luke’s great dismay when he finds out for the first time that his Father is an entity fully encompassed by evil. And so, Luke, refuses to be like his father, and tosses himself over into the depths of a city among the clouds, rather than join his merciless patriarch.
And of course that brings us to my single favorite film of all time, (yes, single favorite) The Return of the Jedi
* Luke and Vader on Endor
You’ve all seen the scene, though likely you passed over it because no one is trying to cut down another person with a lightsaber. But Luke surrenders himself to Vader, submits himself to this evil man, and offers up himself to try and tell his father that there is still good in him. Which in the end proved to be true. So, after seeing the original Star Wars trilogy, I learned that I wanted to be more than I was, be nothing like my father, but that I had to love my father despite all the great hatreds and evils he harbored in his heart. My father wasn’t a good man, but he was mine, and that meant he needed my love.
And from that interaction on, my imagination, my childhood, my worldview would never be the same. Much of who I am is informed by stories; fairy tales, adventures, epics, poetry, plays, films, novels, and comic books.
* I love Batman because he’s always prepared. Because he weights himself down in fear and suffering, so that he can stare a living city of murder and insanity in the eyes and say, “Not another one. Never again.”
* I love Sherlock Holmes because he’s the embodiment of the belief that men can thwart evil if they wholly dedicate themselves to the power of intellect, reason, and observation of the world around them.
* I learned how to be cool from Bogart and have for so long tried to emulate his speaking pattern in my own voice.
* I memorized lines of Shakespeare because his words captivated something powerful within me, that made me want to be great. (Here I performed the first fifty lines of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech which you can view here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-yZNMWFqvM&index=7&list=FLZ3t_D1t23Kbgo-55hncT_Q)
* I found my drive to be a great man from the lines of Tennyson, –
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
But out of all those narratives, out of all those stories, all of which bring me an indelible happiness, there is only one narrative that brought me Joy, and it did not do so gently. You see for so long, all I wanted in life was to tell great stories. I wanted to move people with words, because words have such a power to move me.
Let me set the scene for you again- It’s 1998, I’m a freshman in high school. I am a racist, a bigot, a liar, and over all, a pretty ridiculous person wrapped up in myself. And then, one day, like any other day, I go to church with my Brother. Where a man in a suit is talking and he’s informing me about another man, a man who wore a seamless white garment, who came and lived that I might know him, and who died so that I might live. The man in the suit told me that all I needed to do was give myself over to this man named Jesus, and that I’d go to Heaven.
Didn’t think I was going to find a better deal than that. So I went up, accepted my sinfulness and let Jesus take it from me. And for the longest time, I was happy with that. I was so very happy to be a Christian, who just so happened to still be a racist and a bigot, and a hater of my neighbor. But I was happy. I had Christian friends, Christian community, and Christian music on K-Love. Positive. Encouraging. K-Love. I had it made in the shade with my pink lemonade. I wanted for nothing then, thinking that I had found Joy in my youth.
Then came college, and a lot of suffering – my Grandfather dying, Nanny Joy getting cancer and dying, my parents divorcing, having everything I’d ever held true about the Bible being challenged, trying to figure out who I was, who I was going to be, working for a church that in the end cast me out because of my beliefs on love and acceptance. And when all those things happened I realized that I had not only lost my happiness, but that I’d never known true Joy.
And I don’t know when it happened, probably when I started accepting the fact that God loved me for who I was, and not for who I had been or who I was trying to become. Me. And that’s when I found Joy. Just as I am. As he loves you. Longs for you. Has given up everything for you. And now lives with you.
The Mountain, Beauty, Natural Longing
The Heart of David –
God, through Jesus Christ, has shown us that mountain C.S. Lewis was talking about, the place where not only all the beauty has come from, but the place from which all truth originated. That truth is this – that you need no longer feel shame for your infirmities, for they are covered by love; that you no longer need feel alone, unwanted, or afraid, for yours is the God who endures with you, weeps with you, triumphs with you, and immeasurably loves you. He is the God who finds his ultimate strength when you, his beloved child choose to submit and love when indifference is easier. God finds Joy in your service to others, and so will you.
But we all endure wanting to be good enough, longing for someone to invest in us, tell us that they love us. Because life, and its cruel variables are far too tremendous to endure alone. We need the love of others to find Joy. And we need to give that love even more so, because it is the application of your love on another which blossoms the fruits of Joy in the human soul.
But I know that it is hard, I know that like David during his flight into the wilderness, you and I have, how many times prayed, “How long must I pray to you O’Lord?! How long must I wait? How long will you keep your face from me.
Don’t I matter?
Don’t you love me?
Am I not enough?
If I’m not enough for you, then why was I even born?”
To which, the God of your fathers and mothers says, “For infinite happiness, you can step out into it at any moment.” You see God isn’t up in Heaven alone. He is amongst us, actively participating in our reality. All true Joy is found in that love. Loving God and loving the everyday neighbor – The homeless, the despised, the criminal, the orphan, the widow, the prostitute, the lazy, and those who the world declares as entirely without worth. For as Jesus said, speaking on loving one another as the purest Truth in John chapter 15, “These things I have spoken to you so that my Joy may be found in you, and that your Joy might be complete.
The Transformation of our Fundamental Reality
The Deep Magic of Christ’s Story –
Like I said, my whole life has been informed by narratives, stories which touch the root of my heart, and there is such a story that is not only powerful, but also true. You see, there came a day, many years ago, long before you were born, when the powers of death and darkness waxed to their height, when humanity and sin collaborated together, and the Son of God was crucified and died the death of all men. Darkness came and swallowed up all light. Death began to sing his victory song.
But then, the power of God swooped down over all the earth, as it had not done since the very creation of all things. The fundamental reality of all the universe broke and was rewritten by its creator. And three days later, the fulfilment of man’s Joy came wrapped in the form of a resurrected man, and on that day life prevailed. Life prevailed through resurrection. Misery, Death, and Enslavement were forever crushed, for through the resurrection a tomb becomes a Throne of Power, from which sits a Prince clothed in white, the funeral garb of a dead man has become a robe of life.
God is victorious, through this Prince in White. But who is he? He has so many names and titles.
We call him Jesus of Nazareth, but in truth he is the Root of David, High Priest of Man, Balm of Gilead, Prince of Heaven, He that sits upon the Mercy Seat, Sin-Destroyer, Peaceful Champion, Son of God, Healer of All Affliction. He that is mighty in power, mightier still in submission; Beloved Counselor, Gardener of all Fruit of Joy. Messiah. Helper. Lover. King of Resurrection. Chain-breaker. Alpha. Omega. The Eternal Fount from which flows the springs of deathless power.
For He who shall wipe away all your tears, save all your days, avert all calamities, is here.
And his greatest desire is that you might have life, and the eternal Joy which is sewn into it.
It was through my interaction with this man, this counselor by which I found that Joy. The bright flame kindled in the heart of man which cannot be extinguished by pain, loss, or death.
You see, to Christ, to God, none of you are just someone, none of you are just anyone.
You matter. As you are. God in his great mercy has declared to all the void of the cosmos that you matter.
Right now you are tiny candles of faith shining a small but infinitely important light into the world around you. But you cannot remain candles all your life, for if you cling to the capstone of Joy found in Christ alone, and are willing to be shaped and molded, you will find your foundation and ultimately be architected into towering lighthouses. Rock steady beacons illuminating the holy light of God’s love and mercy into the vast, stormy seas of life’s tremulous ocean.
And from that moment on, you’ll spend all the rest of your days guiding others to safe harbor. To Home. Where Joy is waiting.