Joyful In Hope

NOTE: I was really excited to preach this sermon today… but when I arrived early this morning at the church to begin prepping for our Drive-Thru Food Bank, I heard a distinct dripping sound and noticed significant water damage in our auditorium. We’re assessing it now, but it’s obviously not safe to hold a service indoors today so we had to cancel. Anyway, here’s my sermon:

Romans 12.12

Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble, and faithful in prayer.

Romans 15.13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.

Author Karl Ove Knausgård said,

“There is only one thing children find harder to hold back than tears, and that is joy.”

Last week I talked about the faithfulness of God.

God is faithful. Always and forever.

After the service, a confident little girl (around 9 years old) holding a german shepherd stuffed animal under her arm came up to me and said, “I’d like to talk to you.”

It’s funny how my first reaction was to be kinda scared because, well… church PTSD (I’ve had some bad experiences that started out with those words, “I’d like to talk to you.”

Anyway, this girl was wonderful—she wanted me to know that they’d just moved into their new neighborhood and when they left for church this morning, their car didn’t work.

Their old neighborhood had a neighbor who helped them with their car before.

But today in their new neighborhood, a very kind new neighbor came to their rescue… and they made it to church, just a few minutes late.

She concluded her story by saying, “So, I think we agree. God is faithful.”

There was a pause, and then she asked, “Um, what is faithful?”

I love it. I think she knew in her heart that God can always be trusted because God is always good.

But big words can be tricky.

I stumbled around for a few seconds offering other big and tricky words:

“Reliable. Trustworthy. Constant. Dependable.”

I could see that no light bulb was going off.

So then I said, “God always keeps his promises. He’s always good and we can trust him.

That’s what faithful means.”

She nodded and agreed with me. “Yeah, God always keeps his promises. That’s right.”

“And the devil tried to keep us from getting to church this morning, but God is faithful.”

I laughed and said, “Yes. And I’m so glad you came.”

God IS faithful. Amen?

Yes, God is, always and forever.

God always keeps his promises. God is always good and we can trust him.

In Father G’s most recent book “Barking to the Choir,” he writes about Lety…

Lety, a homegirl who has been through the wringer and then back again, sits snug up to the front of my desk. Name any horrific, terrible thing that could befall a human being and it’s befallen her: prison, drug addiction, domestic violence, kids taken away. It would be a far shorter list if you wrote down the horrific things that haven’t happened to her. In fact, I can’t think of anything.

I would not have survived one day in her childhood.

She’s asking me for help when she suddenly says, “I wish you were God.”

I laugh, but I see that Lety, a famous chillona (crybaby), is starting to well up.

“Why do you wish I was God?” I ask.

She needs time here—for composure, not composition of thought. “Cuz… I think you’d let me into heaven.”

This blindsides me and now I become a chillón. I need my time to formulate a response as my eyes well over. I grab her hands and pull her as close as I can across the top of my desk. I look her in the eyes. We are both crying. We gaze at each other for a long time.

“Lety,” I begin, “I swear to you, IF I get to heaven and you’re not there… I’m not stayin.”

Father G goes on to say…

We believe that God is ready to decline our credit card, that our account with God has insufficient funds. We don’t understand God’s generosity—it flies in the face of our human allergy to having the wool pulled over our eyes. But God is not who we think God is.

At Homeboy Industries, I suppose the task is really about looking into each other’s eyes and pulling each other across the expanse of a desk and seeing what God sees.

This generosity with each other is gratuitous and abundant and who God is.

*     *     *

This is what I have been trying to say.

That God is faithful.

Always and forever.

Every promise God makes God keeps.

God is always Good. And we can always trust God.

Our own hurts and failures make us doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God.

But God doesn’t change because we wander. 

God does not become petty, mean, or vindictive because we were.

And God is not ashamed of us when we are full of shame.

God is faithful. Always and forever.

Every promise God makes God keeps.

God is always Good. And we can always trust God.

*     *     *

Father G writes about Hector – who has his four young kids for the weekend and takes them to the Central Library on a Saturday morning.

The kiddie floor is a little crazy, so he takes a couple of books and leads his crew to the adult section, which is nearly empty. They plant themselves in a corner on plush, spacious leather chairs, the kids’ little legs barely reaching the ends of the chair’s cushions.

Hector, both a recovering gang member and heroin addict, begins to read in a hushed tone.

But he notices the librarian, a gentleman in his thirties standing behind the desk, giving him what he thinks is the hairy eyeball.

Hector feels a flush of self-consciousness. Maybe I shouldn’t be here, he thinks to himself, feeling judged.

He finishes the two books, corrals his gaggle of four, and makes for the door. But the librarian waves him over.

Hector readies himself to be chewed out for reading to kids in the adult area. He situates his kids at a distance, in case what the librarian says takes everybody south for a second. But the librarian only looks kindly at Hector, smiles, and says simply, “Good job.”

Father G continues…

We are forever fretting over things we think ruffle God’s feathers. God is not feathered, though.

A homie once told me, “I think God has disowned me.”

But Wisdom 11.24 says,

“You love everything that exists; you do not despise anything that you have made.”

Why is that so hard for us to digest?

We are always trying to make a good impression, but God is not so interested.

Dressed for a job interview, a homie once told me, “I just want to make a good expression.”

That’s more like it. Our lives, fully expressive of God’s pleasure, delight, and loving kindness.

*     *     *

When we begin to believe, really, deep down believe, that God is faithful, there isn’t room anymore for all the guilt and shame and insecurity that has haunted us.

It is in this place that we come home to our true selves, who God created us to be.

No need for posturing, no need for image control, no competition to be seen and loved, to matter or be successful in someone’s eyes.

There is just an overwhelming sense of security in God’s faithfulness.

It is trust in God’s trustworthiness.

And something really special happens here.

We’re not working hard to be accepted. We know we’re accepted and there’s nothing we can do about it. 

We’re not earning salvation. Salvation has been given and it had nothing to do with our merit or worthiness. 

You see…

We want to be faithful, because God is.

We long to use our freedom to serve others because God does 

Joy takes root in our soul because God is there

As Eugenia Price says, 

“Joy is God in the marrow of our bones.

Maybe we should re-write that Sunday school song to something like this:

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy… in the marrow of my bones, Where? In the marrow of my bones, Where?

In my neighborhood, a mama elk and her young calf keep showing up… sometimes at the park to eat some of the green grass and sometimes in the lake for a nice drink of water. One morning, I even saw them in my back yard!

The other day, we went for a walk around the lake and we walked through the park on our way home. As we walked along the beach, we saw them! It was the mama elk and her calf. They were standing in the water in the park’s swimming beach!

People were standing around, smiling and taking pictures. You’d think it was Rudolph and the other reindeer or something. I took a few pictures – including a selfie with the elk behind us.


This was just a few days after Christmas… after we’d opened lots of presents and put everything away.

I am noticing that it is often the little things, like seeing the mama elk and her young calf, that bring me joy. Presents are nice, but I think joy is something different altogether.

You seem, joy comes from God!

It’s like an internal reminder of how God is always good and is always with us… not just in the happy-clappy moments when everything is going our way, but also when things are difficult and pan-dam-icky.

When I was a little guy, my family would watch a TV show together each week called “Little House on the Pairie.” Back then, there was no streaming service or even DVD’s and the VHS hadn’t even quite made it to the public yet. So, this was a weekly occurrence. Like, Every Thursday at 7pm. We would all squeeze together on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn to share.

As the opening music for the TV show began, my dad would jump up from the couch and dance around the living room. He’s tall and big and, really, a terrible dancer… but it was hilarious and we loved it.

Being together as a family, sharing popcorn—our favorite, and watching our TV show was something that made my dad jump up and dance for joy!

The great Poet Mary Oliver said, 

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it… don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

I really love that! Don’t you?

Joy is not made to be a crumb. It’s something that makes us get up and dance.

To go along with our Christmas dinner this year, we had 3 bottles of Martinelli Sparkling Cider. As everyone sat down at the table, I opened the first one on the countertop in the kitchen—and it immediately bubbled over and spilled down the cabinets and onto the floor. I don’t know what happened—maybe someone shook the bottle!

Joy is kinda like that. It’s just waiting to spill over, ready to jump up and dance… it simply cannot be contained.

I think God loves it when we smile and laugh and jump up to dance. 

Joy is something that comes from God.

He made us to dance and laugh.

The Scripture today is encouraging us to be JOYFUL IN HOPE

Hope is what we do when we’re looking forward to something that is not already here

We can be joyful as we look forward to what is not here yet

Sure, the new year is here, but really what we’re all looking forward to is the end of a global pandemic. Amiright?

God’s encouragement to us is to be JOYFUL IN HOPE.

To have joy as we wait.

Wendell Berry said,

“Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

2020 has done some weird things to me…

Turned me into a legit fan of Taylor Swift

Got me to purchase a subscription to Acorn TV (British shows)

Made me want to sleep outside (which I have been doing every night since May 8)

Turned me away from Starbucks almost entirely

Kept me from leaving the state

Caused me to develop some grocer skills (because of our food bank)

Got me to purchase appliances – panini press, fizzy water maker, newer Nespresso machine

Turned me into a “take the scenic route” driver

Brought me to McDonald’s drive through

The other day I found myself wanting to write a list of things to look forward to…

Some post pandemic things I want to do:

Travel. Right away. Anywhere.

Go to church and hug all the people.

Wander around stores without a clear mission.

Throw a crowded dinner party in my tiny house.

Surprise drop-in on friends, bringing dessert or chips and homemade salsa.

Go out to eat. Din Tai Fung. And good Mexican food with chips and salsa on the table.

Go see a great movie and splurge on some popcorn. (and share it with my people)

See the mouths that are talking to me.

Try on clothing at a store.

Go to a concert!

I know this is basic, but honestly, writing that list was a personal exercise of being joyful in hope.

Maybe that’s something we can all do…

Some kind of personal exercise of being joyful in hope.

I don’t know…

Maybe it’s a creating list of things we’re looking forward to

Or maybe it’s singing that kids Sunday school song, I’ve got the joy / yo tengo gozo en mi Corazon / in the marrow of my bones

Or maybe it’s using our energies to serve others rather than complaining about what’s wrong in our world.

Sister Thea Bowman said, 

“I have tried to make a day-by-day decision that I want to live joyfully. I want to be good news to other people. I’m going home like a shooting star.”

This song, written by Andy Squyres, is called Blue Collar Praise and is sung by the worship collective Common Hymnal.  I love its unpolished  and unbridled joy. It’s a real banger. And I hope it makes you smile.

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I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

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