“Joy,” C.S. Lewis wrote in one of his books, “is the serious business of heaven.” If this is true (and I think it is), you would hardly know it from the public debate about faith, politics and policy. I mean, the anger and outrage on all sides, including from those claiming to be spokespeople for the Christian faith, is constant and loud.Love and joy are held up in today’s readings as hallmarks of the experience of Jesus Christ. “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love,” we’re told in the second reading, from the First Letter of John. If that is not a direct enough message, Jesus says something equally, if not more, emphatic: “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”
We are called to love. If we do not demonstrate love, we can’t claim to have much of a relationship with God, who John says is love. Jesus calls us to remain in his love and reminds us that God sent him into this world to bring us joy --- not just any joy mind you --- but complete, full, unshakable joy.
Jesus calls us to remain in his love and reminds us that God sent him into this world to bring us joy --- not just any joy mind you --- but complete, full, unshakable joy.
If we are full of God’s love and joy, then we ought to be perfectly secure in God’s love for us, and perfectly confident in God’s love and power in the world. We don’t have to put God’s work on our own shoulders, defending God against secular thoughts and agenda. I mean, the experience of Jesus Christ has been going on for some 21 centuries, enduring varying levels of human cooperation.
And God’s love and joy ought to make us humble. We did nothing to earn it or deserve it --- those without it are not to be treated with disdain but with a cheerful compassion. We know that God loves our perceived enemies just as much as God loves us.
Some have been working to rule out the unholy from communities of faith for just about as long as there has been a church. It usually ends up badly, because God doesn’t like us telling people they are not welcome, or not legitimate, or somehow out of reach of God’s love. In today’s first reading, Peter illustrates this truth in a beautiful way. Taught to expect God’s love to be limited to people of Jewish ancestry, Peter sees the faith of a gentile, Cornelius, and is moved by the experience. “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality,” Peter announces. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”
Am I joyful? Sometimes. Am I loving? Sometimes. I often feel that I have more in common with the faithless than the faithful, because I see my lack of faith so frequently. Today, though, we celebrate that love is the mark of a person who has experienced God. Joy is the serious business of heaven --- so it’s time to get to work!
Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]