“Joy anyway”

“Joy anyway”

This is the sermon Bishop Scott Mayer preached at the diocesan worship service for the Second Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2021. Watch it below or on YouTube. The text is below the video.


Lent 2 B

By now you know that we lost. In the course of a long interview this week,  I told a news reporter that I grieve with you, and I hurt for you,  but that I’m not worried about you. He was taken aback,  and asked,  “Why not?”  I said,  “Because I know you.”  I’ll say more about that momentarily.

In our faith tradition – along with Roman Catholics and most mainline traditions – we have assigned readings for every Sunday of the Church Year.  The Lectionary is what it is called,  and it can be found in the back of your Book of Common Prayer.

I wonder if the timing for a set of readings has ever been more perfect than this Sunday’s readings,  particularly the reading from Mark’s Gospel – a reading where Jesus tells everyone what is going to happen; a reading where Jesus tells us that everyone, including Jesus, loses something.

He tells his disciples that he will undergo great suffering,  and be rejected by the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

And Peter – the same Peter who moments earlier declared that Jesus was the Messiah – begins to rebuke Jesus. Jesus looks at his disciples,  and says to Peter,  “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things,  but on human things.”

And then Jesus elaborates.  A growing crowd has been following Jesus and the disciples, so he calls the crowd and says, “If any want to become my followers,  let them deny themselves  and take up their cross  and follow me. For those who want to save their life  will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.”

Those who want to save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel will save it.  Whatever you choose, you lose something. Everybody loses something.

I wonder how many times Jesus tells the crowd – even warns the crowd – about  the cost of discipleship. Sometimes he tells them in plain one-syllable words. Sometimes he tells a story, but he does talk about this a lot. It doesn’t seem like a good evangelism strategy to me – if by “evangelism” we mean church growth.

To one particular enthusiastic crowd of followers (and Luke tells this story), Jesus says, if you want to follow me on this journey to Jerusalem,  then first,  calculate the cost. And then Jesus gives a couple of examples: first,  the story of the tower builder.  He says, “Who intending to build a tower,  does not first estimate the cost to see whether he has enough to build it? Otherwise, if he fails to complete it,  he will be ridiculed.” And then Jesus gives another example, saying:  “What king,  waging war, won’t consider whether he has enough troops to win?”

Two examples of calculating the cost;  two examples Jesus gives, so that every person in the crowd can ask themselves:  “Do I have what it takes?  Do I have what it takes to finish the mission?  Do I have what it takes to do the job, to win the battle, to emerge victorious when we arrive in Jerusalem?  Do I have what it takes to win?” At least,  that’s how it sounds.

Undoubtedly,  Jesus is telling the crowd to count the cost. That’s true. But I wonder if the challenging question is really:  “Do I have what it takes to win?”  I wonder if it’s another question.  You probably know.

For it seems to me that the examples Jesus gives of calculating the costs (the two examples,  the tower builder and the king waging war)  are not necessarily examples to follow.  Maybe more so,  they are simply observations of how we typically behave.

For example,  we DO calculate ahead of time  whether we can finish a job,  because we don’t want to be ridiculed if we fail. Jesus makes that observation. We calculate ahead of time,  because we don’t want to be embarrassed; don’t want to be seen as someone without the fortitude to finish the job; don’t want to be seen as someone without the character to follow through.

We don’t want to fail or lose. We calculate the cost,  Jesus says, because we don’t want to be ridiculed,  or be seen as losers,  or failures,  or have our character questioned. So, I wonder,  maybe Jesus is not so much challenging the crowd – and us – to ask ourselves:  “Do I have what it takes to WIN?” but rather, “Do I have what it takes to lose?”

Maybe he’s saying to potential disciples:  “Are you prepared to fail?  Are you prepared to fall short,  unable to finish the mission?  Are you prepared to be  laughed at  and ridiculed? Are you prepared to lose – lose everything – even your life?”

Do you have what it takes to LOSE? – the vulnerability, the humility, the faith to lose?  If you need to be a winner; if you need to be seen by others as a winner to be validated; if you need to win to feel affirmed; if losing, and associating with the outcasts (the cultural losers) of the world  is beneath you … then don’t follow me to Jerusalem.

Maybe that’s the challenging question. Do I have what it takes to lose? For,  we will lose. In the eyes of the world,  on Good Friday  Jesus lost.

We know the story. Jesus of Nazareth travels to Jerusalem. Peter tries to tempt him before he gets started on the road. Jesus is a messiah;  he’s supposed to act like one. He’s supposed to succeed,  to win,  to be victorious and triumphant.  Jesus says:  “Get behind me, Satan!”  Thank heavens,  Jesus has what it takes to LOSE – the vulnerability,  the humility,  the faith to lose. Thank God, Jesus loves us enough  to lose for us.

Losing for someone:  that’s love. And in this moment in history, the world has a question for the Church – a Church called more to humility, and vulnerability, and service  than to pride, and power, and triumph.

What people want to know – especially those who are powerless and hopeless, oppressed or on the margins – is this:  will we love them?  Will we love them enough to lose for them?  Will we love them enough to lose with them?

I know the answer for this diocese,  because I know you. And I know what I’ve witnessed. And I’ve heard the testimonies from others. The answer can be found in the Baptismal Covenant. We say it together at every baptism:  “I will with God’s help.”

For this Season of Lent  we chose a theme for the diocesan worship hosted by St Luke’s in the Meadow:  “Joy in the Wilderness.”  It was chosen with the Pandemic challenge in mind as our current wilderness. Now we have a new wilderness in the sense that we are navigating a new reality with many unanswered questions.

“Joy in the Wilderness”  is not intended to be some superficial cover-up for our grief and pain.  Certainly,  there are ways to find joy in a particular wilderness, whether it be found through a physical geographical landscape, or found through the landscape of our interior lives.

Today I want to speak briefly  about a joy that is not affected by outward circumstances – a deeper joy. When I think of joy like that, I think of someone familiar to many of you – an Episcopalian who made a significant impact on our Church:  Louie Crew Clay.

Louie was a six-time deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Newark (where Carlye Hughes and Andrew Wright now serve). He served two terms on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. Probably more notably, in 1974 he published the first issue of a newsletter named “Integrity” – writing in that first issue that Christ’s Gospel is for all persons. And by that, he meant the Gospel included gay people like him,  as well as his husband Ernest.

Louie died over a year ago in November. At the time of his death, the President of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings,  wrote the following about Louie:  “Louie changed the face of the church with his gentle spirit and fierce convictions. He loved the Episcopal Church too much to let us stay the way we were. Thanks to his resilient witness, we are more just, more faithful, and look more like the kingdom of God.”

Louie’s was not an easy road. There were victories and losses along the way, as he strived to open the Church’s eyes to both his humanity and to the Gospel. But what I will always remember and never forget,  was how Louie signed his name. This person who faced heartbreak, and suffered,  and for a long time was rejected by the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and lost more times than we can count, signed his mail,  his email,  his correspondence in an unforgettable way. He signed everything: “Joy anyway,  Louie.”

Joy anyway.That’s joy.

A few years ago I took my time reading through a book about a conversation between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It’s entitled, “The Book of Joy,” and it gives the reader a perspective on joy  from two people who have endured much suffering in this life. The author of this book – the recorder and witness and participant in this conversation between Tutu and the Dalai Lama writes the following:

“Some might wonder what our own joy has to do with countering injustice and inequality … and the suffering of the world. In short,  the more we heal our own pain the more we can turn to the pain of others.”

“But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience,  and the more joy we experience, the more joy we can bring to others. The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, as the Archbishop poetically phrased it, ‘to be a reservoir of joy,  an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.’”

I don’t know what is next. But I do know that this diocese of the Episcopal Church has had and will have a ripple effect in these 24 counties and beyond. I know that you have had and will have  the vulnerability, the humility,  and the faith to lose for the sake of the Gospel. And I know that you have had and will have the faith to proclaim and embody these words: Joy Anyway!

Joy Anyway!  In the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.