Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash: Healthy Spirituality: Inside Out – Joy and Sadness

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How can joy and sadness be spiritually healthy?

For many, joy and sadness would be an unlikely partnership. However, for Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash the exact opposite is the case. Happiness is healthy, so is sadness and both need to go together. She based her text on Psalm 139 and John 16:16-24 and concluded: “My prayer for us is that Joy and Sadness are woven together in such a way that we are spiritually healthy and that our joy is rooted. “

Inside-out-d150_13cs.sel16.101   Inside-Out-Joy-Sad

 There is a small part of me that is thankful for the blizzard last week. Let me explain. As I moved through the week preparing my sermon on Joy, I became more and more concerned that Joy and Sadness really needed to be together. In order to fully understand the healthy roles of these two emotions, they need to be brought together as a team. So because of the storm and canceling worship last week, I have been able to do just that. We will see how this unlikely partnership helps us as we seek to be spiritually healthy and whole.

A focus of Inside Out is the grounding of happiness. In a society that seeks joy in comfort, silliness, and diversion, Pixar presents a different picture of the full life. Being happy is not about eliminating or even minimizing emotions not named Joy. No one in history has ever succeeded with that approach. Inside Out refreshingly declares that the good life is not free from sadness or anger, but allows joy to live in a harmony with those other less comfortable emotions.

As we’ve mentioned previously the film enters the mind of a preteen, Riley, whose life has been disrupted by a cross-country move. The film’s brilliance is in embracing the brokenness we all face. We all experience it, and yet so few stories on TV and on the big screen help us process and endure it. In Inside Out, life is hard, but not hopeless. Grief and sadness are meaningful, even valuable experiences.

We see Joy as the irrepressible Pollyanna of the emotions at work within Riley—she flatly refuses to let life’s problems get her down and by extension, bring Riley down, so when Sadness comes on the scene during Riley’s infancy, Joy sees her as a problem to be overcome. As Riley grows, so do Joy’s frustrations with Sadness, particularly when she discovers that Sadness has the capacity to turn the glowing golden orbs of Riley’s happy memories sad by touching them. When Sadness causes herself and Joy—along with Riley’s core memories—to be sucked into the larger world of Riley’s mind, the two emotions must work together to make their way back to Headquarters and set things right.

It is on this journey through Riley’s mind that Joy begins to see the need for Sadness, and more importantly, comes to a deeper understanding of what joy really is. To this point, Joy has seen herself as a cheerleader—the one around whom the other emotions rally in order to help Riley make happy memories, leading (as Joy describes it) to perfect days, weeks, months, years, and ultimately, a perfect life.

Joy in comfort, in silliness, in sports can be happy for a time, but there are no roots, at least not strong ones. It’s fragile. One embarrassing moment in front of the class and it all comes crashing down. If life is about preserving that simple, child-like, playful happiness, then we’re all lost and helpless.

Eventually — and sometimes very early on — life removes its kid gloves — the unexpected move, betrayal, divorce, sickness, failure, loss. Life will steal a child’s happiness at age seven or seventeen or thirty-seven, and if we don’t have a plan for joy after sadness comes, we’ll be left frustrated, confused, and bitter. The film displays the futility of shortsighted, over-protective happiness.

The story begins with Joy frantically — though relentlessly cheerfully — micromanaging the team of emotions, striving to keep everything and everyone calm, predictable, and happy. The simplicity of a child’s life lends itself to lots of simple and repeatable pleasure. By the end, though, Joy cherishes and cooperates with the others, seeing their inevitable and even critical roles in Riley’s life.

Inside Out  grounds joy — which in and of itself sets it apart from so many other movies — but still leaves it rootless. The joy is real and even mature, but it’s not safe or reliable. It’s not made or even expected to last the stormy waves that will crash into our lives. When one island of personality falls — whether silliness or hockey or friendship — we’ll start building another.

The message of Inside Out says that joy in this life can be real even when mixed with darker, harder memories and experiences. The film creatively and effectively protects us from thinking life is meant to be easy, fun, and carefree. True joy, the kind that survives suffering and endures pain, is not cheap or easy. It’s laced — woven through and through — with sadness. So it is with Christ in an even more profound way. We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” and our joy is all the deeper and more enduring because of the grief.

Joy is a frantic (albeit happy) character trying to run the show. She vigilantly guards against Sadness getting too much time at the control panel and from touching any of the memories and turning them blue/sad.

Check out this clip where Joy tries to keep sadness in her place.

To continue, click https://princetonumc.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Rev.pdf for full text.

 

Phoebe Quaynor: Joy and Wonder in Routine

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Phoebe-Quaynor

A day is like a thousand years in the eyes of the Lord!
Two days (or two thousand years) ago we were in the thick of things. Sitting in wonderland as spiritual mystery happened. A fairytale was weaving all around us. Two women, Mary and Elizabeth; their ordinary first century world had been interrupted by God. They had been drawn up into heaven’s activities and timetable. The narrative reads like an epic tale like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy being drawn up into the whirlwind. This however was not fiction. It was historically true
Today, 12 years later we are with this family as they go on their usual yearly trip to the Temple.
The parents of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. The Old Testament commanded such a trip for three festivals a year But by the first century, God-fearing Jews made only one journey a year because of the distances involved.
Even though a long time has passed since Mary’s scandalous pregnancy I wonder if tongues are still wagging. Are the women still giving Mary and Joseph funny looks?
After the supernatural events surrounding her pregnancy i.e. the angels announcement, the visit from the wise men and shepherds then Simeon at the dedication…there had been some strange events surrounding Jesus’ birth.
After all these things, what must be going on in Mary’s mind? There was a lot for this young woman to process as the days become months and years and life had to go on…
How does one return to being normal?
How was the miracle baby growing up?
Was Jesus doing strange supernatural things at home or was he growing up as a normal boy? We don’t know. What we do know is that life was moving along as usual…
“Each Year, his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover” the text says.
We know that on this 12th year, they did it again, went to the Temple in Jerusalem
This was routine! This was something they did each year. Their lives were normal and ordinary in that sense. Each year, their faith required them to go to the temple and they did. Just as we routinely come to here to PUMC every Sunday.
However, this year was different! (I guess that’s why we get to read about it). Something happened this year. There was a problem. The problem was that the Boy Jesus went missing. Continue reading “Phoebe Quaynor: Joy and Wonder in Routine”

2nd Sunday of Advent: Regifting

In her sermon, “Regifting”, on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015, Pastor Kaleigh Corbett explores fundamental questions of Jesus’ love in a world filled with hatred.

While it may not be appropriate to re-gift our Christmas presents, it is OK to re-gift the greatest gift of all – the love of Jesus. Yes, we are called to share his love with others especially in light of recent acts of terrorism around the world.

In the second scripture lesson for that day, Luke 1: 68-79, God sends John the Baptist, (whose birth like Jesus’ was also foretold by the angel Gabriel), as the forerunner to go and prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Lord.

We see promises made by God to his people – a reminder of our hope in the birth to come, and that hope never leaves us. The story of Zachariah would not be complete without that hope, as is the story of Mary.

When we share stories of people in the Bible we are regifting. For example, the story of Jesus being refused a place in the inn mirrors that of refusing asylum in our country to Syrian refugees. And yet, we are called to regift the love that God has for us when he gives us his son.

In the first scripture lesson for that day, 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, we are told that we gain nothing without love and that love conquers all.

Advent heralds the coming of Christ into this world. Yet, how much longer must we wait for the Messiah to come and to renew our faith? We must, therefore, ask ourselves what we can do to bring hope, joy, peace and love to this world.

During this Christmas season we must begin to act by regifting the Christmas story. We will let ourselves feel at least some of the pain of those we consider our enemies. We will do our best to show each other the courage to act in love and justice in our particular life.

Rev. Catherine E. Williams: Beyond Death

Jebutterfly (1)sus said: I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. We honor the lives of those who have died in the context of Christian faith and hope, says Rev. Catherine Williams, believing that the resurrection is central to our faith, and it is ultimately the words of Jesus Christ that sustain this hope of eternal life beyond death.

Beyond Death was the topic of Rev. Catherine Williams’ sermon commemorating  All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2015. Among her references: Psalm 16:11, Romans 8, 1 , 1 Peter 1 and the Book of Revelation. Her thoughts, she said, turned out to be more of an extended reflection than a sermon.  She began with an anecdote. 

I had barely begun here as an intern in the fall of 2008; I was standing in the Sanford Davis room after the first service, scanning the room at my eye level when I felt a tug at my robe. I looked down into the sad eyes of a 4th-grader who without any introduction or small talk asked me pointedly, “Where is Mrs. Fullman now?” I scrambled through my mental Rolodex and came up with a Mrs. Fullman who had recently passed away, and who had given outstanding, compassionate leadership to this congregation. I stooped down. My eyes came to the level of those misty pools of brown in that chubby face. “Mrs. Fullman is in heaven now; she is with God,” I said. “Where is heaven?” she shot back. “Well, I said, “some people say it’s up there or out there. We don’t really know where it is, but we know that wherever it is that’s God’s home.” Slight pause…then,“Is that where my dog is too?” There was no escaping the tinge of hope in her voice. I had no dog in my Rolodex, and to be honest, had never given much thought to a theology of animals. In times like these there are two voices in my ears – the rational theologian on my left shoulder and the compassionate pastor on my right. Sometimes they both help me respond well to unexpected questions, but this time my theologian was quiet for a little too long, so following the pastor’s voice I said, “Oh yes, God made the animals and wants them to be with him after they die too.” My inquirer gave me a brief, satisfied smile and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared, leaving me to marvel at the sacredness of that encounter.

When it comes to the subject of life after death we all have thoughts and questions, even if we entertain them only briefly. But like this child, we grapple with these questions mostly in the context of personal loss. When we are about to lose or have lost a loved one, or when we are confronted with our own mortality, it is natural for us to begin thinking about what happens after we die. People have asked questions such as, What do we do in heaven? It sounds boring! Do we spend eternity with those we love or is it one endless cocktail party with millions of souls? Do we have a form in heaven or are we just spirits? What age will I be in heaven? If my mother is there will I recognize her? How good do I have to be to get to heaven?

I remember being with of one of our members the day after the doctors had told her that her body would only continue functioning for another day or so. As I settled in a chair by her bedside she looked me in the eyes and matter-of-factly informed me that she was going to die. How do you feel about that? I asked. She shrugged, “I’m okay.” Pause. Then, ‘how will it happen?’ she wanted to know. The theologian on my left shoulder began her spiel about how no-one really knows, and I had to put her on mute so I could better hear the compassionate pastor on my right shoulder. “It will be beautiful,” I assured her. “Jesus is waiting to welcome you home with open arms.” She nodded and smiled. I’m not sure whether she was humoring me or my answer really resonated with her, but right then in that room I could sense the unmistakable presence of God. I have to tell you that one of the reasons lately I have come to believe heaven is beyond death is because I have sensed the presence of God at so many end of life horizons – anytime I’ve had the opportunity to be with someone just before, at the moment of, or just after their passing, I have witnessed God’s reassuring presence in ways that are humanly difficult to describe. As one of our favorite Affirmations of Faith ends – in life, in death, in life beyond death we are not alone.

Today we commemorate All Saints Sunday. We honor the lives of those who have died, and we do so in the context of Christian hope. Hope has always been vital to the people of God. Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah is filled with it. Thousands of years before Christ, God’s people learned how to hold on to hope in the midst of a pain-filled existence. Life on earth forced them to look for relief. One such relief was in their hope of a future day where God would vindicate them, deliver them permanently from their national enemies, and be their host around a rich feast of the finest bread and wine. Days of scarcity would be over as God’s abundance would overflow generously. The poetry speaks of God removing the shroud and sheet of death that had been cast over the people. A fitting image for many of our international neighbors today, particularly in the war-ravaged Middle East. The Old Testament Middle Easterners believed God would triumph over death, they declared God would feed them, wipe away all tears from their eyes, and bring them to a place of peace and wholeness in God’s presence. Hope has always been a cherished commodity of our faith.

And it is the writings of Scripture that have not only given birth to our hope down through the ages, Scripture has also fed and sustained this hope. In Psalm 16 the Psalmist sings that in the presence of God there is the fullness of joy. Romans 8 reminds us that it is not only humans who yearn for God’s ultimate salvation but the entire creation groans and waits to be liberated from its bondage to decay. In 1 Corinthians 15 there is a beautiful treatise on death that argues for the resurrection of our glorified bodies. In 1 Peter 1 the apostle fairly sings about this living hope of an ultimate salvation where there is even an inheritance kept in heaven for us. And the writer to the Hebrews puts another spin on this hope by reminding us that as we run this earthly race we are surrounded and encouraged by a heavenly cloud of witnesses that includes people who have died in faith centuries ago.

Then there’s the sublime poetry and prose in the book of Revelation. There the writer has a vision of the Holy City beautifully adorned. But even more than the splendor of the city – even more than streets of gold, walls of jasper, and gates of pearl, the most magnificent aspect of this vision is that it is the place where God dwells among mortals. And the place where mortals call home. When someone asks for my elevator response to the question where is heaven, I say, it is where God is, and where God welcomes the people of God who transition from this life to the next.

We really don’t have adequate language to describe eternal realities. But that doesn’t stop us from using the language we have – to dream, to sing, to reflect on an eternity with a God who loves, deeply, generously, and in whose presence we are forever moving towards wholeness and fulfillment. I prepared for this reflection with my Bible and my hymnal both open. It is no secret that the songs we sing from the base of our operational theology. When it comes to life beyond death we turn to such songs as Abide with Me, with its witness of God’s tenacious grasp on our lives, no matter what the circumstances of our death. We sing songs like When We All Get To Heaven, with its flat-footed assurance that heaven will be worth whatever it takes to get there. We lean on the Spirituals for their earthy yearning for that time when we can steal away to Jesus or be caught up in the heaven-bound chariot that’s swinging low. We might even turn to Natalie Sleeth’s Hymn of Promise that frames our hope in the cycles of death and life found within nature. Hymn of Promise is a hymn that identifies us as people of the resurrection when we sing “In our end is our beginning, in our time infinity, in our doubt there is believing, in our life eternity. In our death, a resurrection, at the last a victory unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Yes! we are people of hope because we are people of the resurrection.

The theologian in my left ear and the pastor in my right are unified that this belief in the resurrection is central to our faith, and to our hope. And it is ultimately the words of Jesus, the Christ, the one whose followers we are, it is those words that sustain this hope of eternal life beyond death. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he had not yet been crucified. His raising of Lazarus from the dead was a precursor for what he was soon to demonstrate that life and death are a divine cycle where one yields to the other. Yes, there is much about this cycle that remains a mystery. Science has proved and keeps probing, making discoveries at a painfully slow rate. But what if the eternal realities are such that there are no instruments to measure them? We look through a glass dimly as we peer into eternity. Our finite human eyes don’t have the capacity to see into infinity. But our faith – our faith, given to us by God – our faith gives us the capacity to receive the words of Jesus who says, “do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. My Father’s house has many dwelling places, and I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that where I am you will be there also.” Our God-given faith gives us the capacity to believe the witness of the biblical accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus who claimed I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. He asks us today as he asked Martha, Do you believe this?

May God grant us the faith of eternal proportions, faith to trust in a God who, in Jesus Christ, lived in death even as he died in life; faith to believe that in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, and we are not alone. Amen.