Choosing Joy

I love the way the first reading from Zephaniah speaks about God: “He will rejoice over you with gladness…he will sing joyfully because of you.” (Zep 3:17-18).  Because of you. Because of me. This divine joy is the very nature of God – creative; like an overflowing fountain – a fountain fullness. A joy that wants to be shared in wider and wider circles. A joy that asks us to join in the OT reading and the Psalm too – both telling us to shout for joy. The words of the second reading are the hallmark of Guadette Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say again: rejoice.From God to us, it is a call for a universal chorus of joy.

But we are not always in tune with the great joyful chorus of the universe. Sometimes we are mired right here in everyday life. What are supposed to do? Ignore the hard realities of life? Reduce everything to “Don’t worry; be happy.”  Truly there are things that demand our attention – some hard and serious things of life. Paradise CA burned to cinders. Mexico Beach, FL blown off the map. A looming trade war. A year of too-many mass shootings. A year when politics and people are getting down-right mean. And then you can add your own items to the list; a hard, serious list of things much closer to home.

Maybe… we all are like the crowd in the Gospel.  We have heard John the Baptist’s calls for repentance – to turn around our lives, to take a new path, to set our eyes upon God.  But life just has us gripped and glued right we are.  And like the gospel crowd we now wonder, “What should we do?

One thing for sure – John does not tell the tax collectors to stop collecting taxes but tells them to do it justly. To the soldiers he says he says be soldiers, not mob enforcers. It is clear whatever we are to do, we can do it within the context of our own lives.   We have to begin right where we are in life and find a way to rejoin the divine joy that wants to fill the universe, wants to fill our lives.

One verse in the psalm: “With joy you will draw water and the fountain of salvation” continued to demand my attention.  Prior my time in Kenya, that was a soothing line of scripture; an image of some day in the future, in some Elysian field, everyone dressed in white, harps in the background, and there in the middle of was fountain gently with the gently flowing waters of salvation. All very neat and tidy.

After I returned from mission, people asked me if I had running water in Kenya – sure …. If you ran and got it.  Do you think “Rejoice in the Lord” came to mind while hauling buckets of water? Well… it is kinda’ your choice – complain, grouse, be grumpy – or repent – and find a way to rejoice in the Lord!

Maybe you just take small steps. “Well, at least we could be thankful we were way upstream from most of the slum where we lived.”  And trust me, there were no Elysian fields where I lived. But in time one begins to look forward to who one might meet the well or the river. There was a joyous greeting and animated chatter about this and that. Right where we were.  People came and went.  Tales were told, gossip passed, friends were greeted, and if you just stepped back a bit, there arose a cacophony of music – a joyous noise of life lived right where it was planted.

I lived in a tough place, with tough people having to endure the worst of times.  The only people poorer than the Kenyans were the Rwandan refugees.  There was poverty, pestilence, sickness, hunger, corrupt government, and more. It was the worst of time, but it was always the best of times.  Every day, there was joy at the waters as we filled our jerry cans.

It wasn’t a “Smile, be happy” kind of a joy. It wasn’t joy from a bottle or a pill.  It was joy because on this day there was water.

We were filled with joy that God brought the rains, enough but not too much.  You heard praise for the holy name of God – because today there was water. They praised God for what they had, not for what they wanted. That’s important: for what they had, not what they wanted. That is a hard lesson to learn.

I can remember sharing some version of this story with people here at home, and hearing, “Well they just do not know how poor they are, that’s why they can be happy.”  Trust me, the people there knew exactly how poor they were. They knew they lived on the edge of destitution and all it would take is one small touch to push them over the edge.  They also knew that life that close to the edge required two things:  God and the community. God would provide the water; the community would distribute it and make sure everyone had what they needed.  And in that there was peace. As St Paul writes in the letter to the Philippians, “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”

Here at home, storms, illness, death, politics and our own personal crises can push us to the edge of devastation and beyond.  In those moments we choose. Choose to part of the universal divine fountain of God’s grace, compassion, comfort, and peace – and choose to be joyful. We can choose to be part of our community that will distribute what is needed. We pray that those families who suffered such loss, those who survive Paradise CA and Mexico Beach, FL and carry the memories – may know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”

What should we do?  This is what we are called to do: find joy in God and the community. Seek out the joy that is right there before you.  And then remember to give a joyful thanks.   Remember to cry out with gladness. Remember to “rejoice in the Lord always.”  For the extraordinary people and love in your life, and for the most ordinary: that today when you go home there will be water. All are a veritable fountain, a sign of God’s overflowing joy for you.

God provides joy is so many ways.  It surrounds you and call you.  Out there and in here

Even now to the Eucharist – the great sign of heavenly love and joy – right here, right now. Come forward with a joyful Amen. Drink deeply from the waters of salvation.

God will provide. It is our job to distribute right where we are here in Tampa.  We are called to share they joy we have within us, to ensure everyone receives the joy they need.

rejoice in the Lord always. I say again: rejoice.”

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