Text: John 15:10: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
It truly is a joy to be here today. I cannot describe the feeling I am experiencing standing here. This is a familiar pulpit and yet very strange to be standing here. I have stood here before and I am not the only one of my family to have stood here. But as I stand here today I cannot help but feel that things have come full circle; that things have worked out as they should. Not necessarily as I wanted, but as they should. My joy in Christ as a priest, a brother, and a child of Saint John’s parish has certainly been made complete. I cannot thank Mark, or my Mother and siblings, or all of you in this parish family enough for the joy that is in me now.
As we hear Jesus speak to us today, we hear wonderful themes of love, joy, and abiding in him. When I read John’s gospel I cannot help but feel comforted by his description of Jesus as the way, the truth, the life. His portrayal of Jesus is one that that is radically different then the other gospels because John’s Jesus is so relational. Jesus spends a lot of time describing his relationship to his Father, and how we too are connected to God through Jesus. What is so radical is that Jesus has a personal relationship with God, which is something that we do not see in other scriptures and certainly not in other world religions like we have it here. I cannot help but feel that I too can have a personal relationship with my creator through Jesus and that fills me joy and hope. Our joy is meant to be complete because we have the very joy of God in our hearts. Jesus himself tells us that the life, love and joy he has with the Father is so abundant, so overflowing, that it surrounds us.
The life journey that has led to me standing here today has been filled with moments of great happiness and moments of profound sorrow. Through it all this community has abided with me; you have all supported my biological family and me as true community should. Yet as I reflect, my joy has been made complete not just once here and now, but over and over again. As often as I wanted to be open to it. When I was an Eagle Scout; when I started as an acolyte, when I became a diocesan youth leader, when I got into college, when I graduated high school; when I got married to Lauren last June and when I got ordained as a deacon. My joy was once again made complete in January at my ordination as a priest with Mark preaching and several parishioners present. It was the culmination of years of prayer and work and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It was an experience unlike any other. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the incense as it hung in the air. I can still remember my heart pounding because of the excitement. I can still remember all of the people who were there to share in my joy.
While it was joyful, my ordination was not all that I had wanted. I could have been happier if my Father was there. It was hard to not be able to share this with him especially because of all that he did to help me; teaching me about selfless service, honor, and integrity. I wanted to be ordained back here so that I could share that moment with all of you. I wanted to be ordained by my bishop; the mentor who saw something in me that at times I could not or refused to see. I wanted to come back to a diocese that had formed me and given so much to help me follow God’s call. These were all things that I wanted; things that I thought would have made my experience complete. But happiness is when we get what we want, but joy is when we receive what God wants to give us. And what God has given me is more that I could have asked for, even though it was not necessarily what I wanted. My joy was shaped by these painful absences.
So it is fitting then that today’s readings coincides not only with my return but also Mother’s Day. We come together today to celebrate and give thanks for all the mothers in our lives. For me that means my beloved mother. It also means mother church. It also means Mary as the Mother of Jesus and therefore as the Orthodox say, the Mother of God. We rejoice in the joy we have experienced through our mothers and we lament that not everyone is able to have a strong motherly presence in their lives. As for me, you all know my mother very well and she has been a shinning example of self-sacrifice and love that I can only hope to emulate in my family. But she does not, I hope carry the illusion or burden of expectations of perfections as a mother. And whatever the inevitably complex relationships with our mothers are, we have ways to heal old memories and build new ones through the different dimensions of motherhood that we can have in our lives as we care for others and receive the care of God who longs for our best us as a good mother does as well as care for us as a father should. As wonderful a mother as she was, I thank God she is not the only mother in my life because in many ways this community of faith has also mothered me; nurtured me, raised me, taught me the difference between what is easy and what is right. My story is just a small part of the story of this community, and we are all sons and daughters of this parish family.
Together we have all experienced the ups and downs of being a small Christian community in an increasingly secular world. What completes a mother’s joy isn’t the absence of hard times, but it is perceiving that both the world and the mother is changed and better because of the love, pain, and sacrifice, that was poured into the child by her. That is the heart of what we do here each week. We gather together to remember God’s redeeming work in human history. We come here to be changed by the word of God proclaimed and the sacraments of the church celebrated. We come here to be reminded that the world is not just filled with natural disasters, senseless violence and the despair that so easily can abide in us from them. We come so that we may go out into the world reflecting the joy and love that we experience by being in community with one another. I know that I have been changed because of this place, because of you all. We are those who abide together and abide with others as those who, whatever our sadness and incompleteness, can possess the completing joy of Christ.
There were many times on my journey when I could have collapsed in a heap of my own inadequacy and incompleteness and settled for something else or quit all together. But it was the grace and love of God, his and your abiding presence that kept me going. We have been chosen and we have been challenged to follow Jesus. His way is not easy but by following him we will be forever changed and our joy will be made complete. Amen.