Joy and Summer

I think everyone needs Summer. Everyone needs to sit outside on the back porch and go inside only after darkness falls and the mosquitoes come out—or even better—when the pillow beckons more loudly than crickets and cicadas. Lemonade and home grown tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, a cold beer with the smell of freshly mowed grass filling the air—these things enrich life, especially when too much of our daily existence is front of LCD screens and being bathed in florescent lighting and freon-ified chilled and recirculated air. We all love our shows and movie spectacles, our social networks and computer games, but those “loves” are so vapid and ephemeral to the deeper joy of a supper shared outside while the kids are cackling with delight in the backyard.

It’s Summer time and living is easy. It’s lake living and it’s good. It takes work to live like this, though. It’s easier to hide inside with the screens. Or even to venture outside with phone or tablet in our hands and stare at the screens out there. It takes some effort to pack for the lake, to bring the meal outside, to fight the bugs and the heat, but even for the “indoor people” it’s a deeper joy when you commit to it. It’s a deeper joy, but it is enriching. It’s worth it.

So I get it. I get how easy it is for a lot of people to say, “I worship God outside. Golfing. At the lake.” I get it. They are experiencing a Joy that doesn’t exist at work or inside or at home and they like it. They recognize that something different and natural is happening. Something that connects them with the Creator. The Psalmist writes, “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psa. 19:1 ESV).

We Christians recognize a Joy even deeper than this, however. It is the Joy of Communion—fellowship, one-ness with God that He gives us through the mystical waters of baptism. The Divine presence and Joy when the ancient words are spoken again and again, ever unfolding, ever deeper with peace, and the ordinary bread and the drops of wine are life and Joy beyond Joy.

This is work to see this. It takes patience and faith. It takes trust to know that there is Joy here even if we don’t feel it yet. We can attend Church for years and be somehow hardened to it. We can go for months and only catch a glimpse here or there. And sometimes we forget that it exists. Sometimes it is dull routine and we think “What’s the point?” Maybe going-to-church was a phase. Maybe it’s just boring or frustrating.

But this happens to the golfer too. And the boater. And the otherwise “inside guy” who loves the early days of Summer. Boats break down, sunburns hurt, the nasty slice returns and mosquitoes and heat drive us inside. The Joy we feel comes and goes.

It comes and goes. This is the hard truth. Joy comes and goes and the harder you hang onto it, the more elusive it seems. Our emotions, our capacity for joy, our feelings are gifts of God, and yet God would have us to be more than just a bundle a feelings. And God calls us to more deeply drink of Him and His Spirit, to become more than we are today, and to enter more deeply into His Joy. This is how Jesus characterizes the Kingdom of God. Not in clouds or harps, not in passive pleasure or relaxation, but Joy. “ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:23 ESV).

So we pursue the Joy of our Master. We find hints and tastes and samplings of this in all Creation, in all the gifts God gives of hearth and home and sun and shade, of food and family and water and trees. Even more fully in the deeper and more lasting peace and joy of His Word attached and made manifest in Baptism and Eucharist, but even this is not the end, not the completion, not the goal. For even these blessed sacraments and sacramental worship is but a foretaste of the feast to come—the eternal feast, the Joy that we will not experience, but enter.

Waiting on God’s Table

I remember it distinctly. I was sitting in one of those miniature chairs in one of the classrooms at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Liberty, MO. I may have been five or six years old. My Sunday School teacher was old—at least in my mind’s eye. There may have been a felt board involved. I’m not sure.

“When you get to heaven,” she said, “you will be serving God. Heaven is about serving God forever.”

She was smiling as she said this, but my little five-year-old heart just broke. The words seemed to crush me. I knew what serving was. I imagined a long table with Jesus sitting at the head of it, all the disciples sitting around Him, surrounded by white fluffy clouds. And there I was, given a large platter, a towel over my arm, walking behind the disciples and Jesus, filling their drinks, taking away empty plates. That’s what a server did— wait on tables.

Forever.

Forever waiting on tables for Jesus and His friends. That had to be what serving God in heaven meant. And even though I hadn’t started yet, I was already dreading showing up for work in heaven.

But then something happened. I realized that Heaven was supposed to be good and joyful. I remember this distinctly. With the firm resolution of a pre-schooler I decided that if Heaven meant waiting on tables I guess that was my lot, and I had better just accept that it wouldn’t be so bad when I got there. It didn’t sound so good, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I was a strange little kid.

Of course you know that Heaven does not consist of waiting on tables, yet it is service, as is this life as a Christian. St. Paul tells us to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21). Paul instructs us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3) When we put others before as in importance and significance, we do nothing but serve them. We help them, encourage, sacrifice and put the other persons’ needs, comfort and happiness before our own. In this we follow the example of Christ who sacrificed all for us, going to death and the grave for us and in our place. Serving others at home means placing your spouse ahead of you. Serving at church means volunteering for things which need to be done, participating in worship and fellowship, giving gifts to the Church and offerings to God.

Serving God is something different, however. God likes to do things backward—honoring the last-born instead of the first-born like everyone would expect. He shows His glory by dying on a Cross. He shows His power in whispers and weakness. So serving God means first letting Him serve you. “The Son of Man came not be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). God serves us by giving us life and salvation, forgiveness and blessing, joy and peace in Christ. We serve God by entering His Courts and receiving His life. In other words, by simply coming to Church, listening to His Word, speaking it back to Him and to one another in our songs and hymns and responses, by receiving the blessed Sacrament we serve God.

God serves us. We serve Him by serving others. Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does” (Luther on Vocation, 10). As we emphasize the Culture of Service at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church this summer, first let God serve you. Take advantage of all the opportunities we offer to be served by God, both here and at home. This is the foundation of service, after all, the Divine Service with God as our waiter, serving Table to us.

Do this, and then consider your vocations and your neighbors—your pew neighbors, the Church; your family and friends across the street; your coworkers and employees. In those relationships you have, how can you serve? How can you speak, be, and bring Christ to them? Pray on these things.

And when in doubt, seek God’s service to you in His gifts. This is what Heaven will be first and foremost: God serving us with His infinite joy and peace.