31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 28, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
I’d like to give credit to a member of Monday morning Bible study for their wisdom, which inspired this message’s title.
I can clearly picture this movie scene in my mind even though this past week, I could not figure out what movie it is from. A father is playing basketball with his grown daughter in the driveway and as they play, he is giving thanks for this moment of joy when everything is peaceful and calm with no major change on the horizon. To which she responds, Dad, this isn’t one of those moments.
It is a rare moment indeed when everything in life is peaceful and calm, our loved ones are all healthy, and there is no major change on the horizon. In this past year, it has been especially challenging to find and hold on to those ‘everything is just right’ moments.
The same can be said about Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ life. In the gospel of John, this triumphant processional, which Christians call Palm Sunday, comes after some very trying moments.
Jesus’ preaching and teaching had become a little too challenging for the status quo. The chief priests and the Pharisees, two groups that did not usually get along, had joined forces and as scripture says, were breathing threats of murder against Jesus. In their fear that they will lose their authority and power and “Rome will come and destroy both [their] holy place and [their] nation.” (John 11:48), some religious leaders had even thrown stones at Jesus. And as if that was not enough, Jesus had also been through the emotional roller coaster of his friend Lazarus dying before Jesus resurrected him.
The moments leading up to this Palm Sunday parade were not particularly peaceful and calm, joyous and wonderful. Nor were the moments to come. In the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worship services, we hear of the moments when Jesus prays alone in the Garden of Gesthesmane, prays his heart out, asking God to remove this cup, this burden from him. And in what are some of the more heart-wrenching stories of our Christian faith, we hear how Jesus was betrayed by a friend and follower, abandoned by other friends and followers, rejected by the crowd, some of whom might have been the same people who a few days before sang and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).
With all the hardship that had come before, with all the worry of what lay ahead, how could Jesus and his followers celebrate and rejoice? How could Jesus lay down these burdens to enter into this moment of joy?
Jesus, being fully human and fully divine, knew that we have to embrace these moments of joy wherever and whenever we find them. The health practice of mindfulness has a lot in common with the spiritual practice of prayer. In both, we are invited to be in the moment, to feel what we are feeling, and be aware of the now. And as we settle into the now and open ourselves up to God, we can discover that what we are feeling is exhausted, disappointed, angry, and sad. We can also discover that squeezed in with all of those other emotions is often joy.
Joy that was covered up by our exhaustion, disappointment, anger, and sadness. Joy in being able to release to God all of those other emotions. Joy in the sunshine. Joy in the food we are eating. Joy in the quiet. Joy in the praising crowd. Even when they feel small and ordinary, it is important to embrace joy whenever and wherever we find it.
And here’s the thing joy, when you focus on it, you create more of it. And that’s what else Jesus knew. Jesus knew that if we only found peace when everything in life was calm, if we only felt joy when all around us was perfect, if we depended on the singing, praising crowd for our happiness, than those moments of joy would be all too rare and fleeting, if found at all.
Instead, in teaching us to pray, in teaching us what we have come to know as the Lord’s prayer, Jesus is teaching us to trust in God, give thanks to God, be mindful of our blessings, and make our own moments of joy, make whole lives of joy by turning to God and connecting with God in prayer.
Through the Lord’s Prayer, we make God familiar, nurturing a relationship in which we reclaim our identity as God’s beloved children, a deep relationship with God that changes our lives and changes the world.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for God’s will to be done in our lives; trusting God’s plan, trusting God to provide what we need. We invite God to open our hands and help us let go of the sin and brokenness that disconnect us from God and others. We even profess our trust that God is watching over us and ask God to keep us from harm. And we end with the reminder that everything belongs to God, the kingdom, the power, and the glory.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we are reminded of all of the reasons why we should praise and glorify God. And like with joy, when we focus on praise and glory of God, we discover even more reasons to praise and glorify God.
As we count our blessings, our eyes are opened to the tremendous joy to be found in this and every moment. With each thanksgiving, we become ever more thankful, until our hearts can’t stop from singing God’s glory and praise, “To God be the glory, great things God has done.”
Just as it is important to sit and be in relationship with God, to trust God and pray for forgiveness for ourselves and for others, it is equally important to praise God, to adore God, to glorify God because through these prayers of praise, adoration, glory of God, we connect with God; we honor God; And we remind ourselves how blessed we are, how lucky we are to be God’s people.
When we give glory to God, we embrace moments of joy. We create moments of joy.
We do not know what is ahead of us on this journey of life; however when we pause, pray, glorify God and count our blessings, we become more thankful; we become more hopeful; we become more resilient. In a way, we become vaccinated and better able to handle whatever times of trial might come our way.
Praise. Adoration. Glory. Joy. They are fundamental aspects of a life of unceasing prayer. Through praise, adoration, glory of God, and joy, we “say out loud that we know that God takes care of us.” That God guides us, that God loves us. (Illustrated Ministry 2019, Lenten Devotions, Reflections on Prayer, Week 5, pg 47).
No matter what is behind us and regardless of what is ahead of us, God always takes care of us. God loves us, and what greater joy can there be in life than that – to know that we are beloved children of the God Most High, saved by God’s unconditional love, and enfolded in God’s blessed arms.