Indescribable and Glorious Joy
1 Peter 1:3-9
That’s the title of a book recently written by Christian author Ann Lamott.
In Hallelujah Anyway, Ann Lamott writes about how certain African Christian traditions say that God created human beings because God thought we would like it.
This idea stops Ann right in her tracks. God thought we would like it? Ann wonders, God thought we would like puberty, warfare and snakes? And what about spiders?
And yet, God thought we would like it because in the words of Ann’s book title: hallelujah anyway. In spite of all the struggle, there is joy; there is beauty; there is laughter; there is singing. In full awareness of life’s struggle, Ann proclaims hallelujah, anyway.
Sometimes, Ann writes, heaven is a new pair of glasses.
Now, Ann’s wisdom, Ann’s book, Ann’s hallelujah did not come to her naturally. In fact in an interview Ann recently gave, she said that – if left to her own devices – she would be much more likely to write a book called Doom.
Have you ever been tempted to write a book called Doom?
In this book, Ann says that she would write about the the worst case scenarios that play in her head and how each one leads to catastrophe. Ann says she could chapters and chapters in this book.
Yet that is not the book she chose to write.
She wrote, Hallelujah Anyway.
A friend of Ann’s recently asked her: When you afraid and anxious for the state of our world, what do you do?
Ann replied, I remember what I know to be true.
Ann said that, rather than going down the rabbit hole of focusing on all the uncertainties of life, she tries to focus on what she knows about God and the world. She knows that God is a God of shocking joy and resurrection. She knows that the rising always comes, even if it is inconvenient and time-consuming. She knows that God loves us and has chosen every single one us by name.
In this, Ann rejoices. In this, she proclaims her hallelujah.
Praise be to God.
In Hallelujah Anyway, Ann tells the story of journeying to Hiroshima, Japan, where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb that caused so much death and destruction. She arrived in Hiroshima, deeply grieved by all that occurred there. In Hiroshima, Ann and visited the Children’s Peace Monument, a statue of a young girl holding a paper crane surrounded by these resilient willows and gingko trees that had somehow withstood the atomic blast. Then, she went down to the river where, much to her surprise, there was a dock full of Hawaiian folksingers, in aloha regalia and leis with their children running around them, singing to the people of Japan.
The United States involvement in World War II started when Japan had bombed Hawaii.
Yet, there was a dock full of Hawaiian folksingers and their children caring for the people of Japan. Enemies had become friends.
Death does not have the last word.
Revenge does not have the last word.
Violence does not have the last word.
There is still glorious joy; there are still beautiful gingko trees; there is still mercy upon mercy.
In the words of Ann Lamott, “grace bats last”.
This is the message that the author of 1 Peter is bringing to a people scattered through Asia Minor, or what is now modern day Turkey.
The author of 1 Peter is writing to a people who know what it is to be outsiders. Their neighbors see them as a religious minority that is worthless and strange. Their neighbors don’t understand their customs and question their patriotism when the Jesus followers refuse to take part in imperial celebrations that honor the emperor as a diety and son of God. They are on the fringe of society. Peter is writing to a people who know what it is to be tempted to write a book called Doom. Peter is writing to a people who could easily imagine all the worst case scenarios that could play out. And yet, it is in this very moment, that the author of 1 Peter chooses to focus not on all the things that these budding Jesus followers don’t know, but on the things they do. It is precisely in this moment, that Peter reminds the local congregations that our God is a God of lavish love and of liberation and of life made new.
Peter calls them to rejoice in the indescribable and glorious joy of God.
Peter invites them to shout hallelujah, anyway, because no matter how powerful the emperor or dismissive the neighbors, there is still a God, there is still a force, more loving, more compelling, more powerful than the forces of evil: Our God, the God of love and resurrection.
Hallelujah for each and every act defiant act of love and grace, of soft hearted kindness and tenacious resilience. Hallelujah for the acts of justice and equality, dignity and courage. Hallelujah for those who go and tell the story and who remind us of who we are and what we about. Hallelujah for sunsets and organ donors. Hallelujah for those who take care of the elderly and those who care for kids at preschool. Hallelujah for the teachers and the singers, who through their voices bring us right into the indescribable joy of Jesus. Hallelujah for this church and the Shoreline. Hallelujah for all the communities of faith that nurture vulnerability, honesty and spiritual growth. Hallelujah for each and every person who shows up, who has faith, who loves, who believes, who works for justice and peace, anyway.
For God’s kin-dom is a-coming because life that is really life has the last word.
“Grace bats last.”
God’s kin-dom is a-coming.
I was reminded of that this week while I stayed over at a monastery in the Hudson River Valley. The monastery observes a period of silence each day that includes breakfast. This Friday, I grab my breakfast and sit down with two of the brothers or the monks. The silence makes me attentive to everything going on. I find myself looking at the other people, looking outside at the river and then back at my food. One of the brothers leaves the table, going through the clear double doors of the dining room to bring his dishes to the kitchen. After he goes through the doors, this old lady runs to enter the dining room, tea mug in hard, trying to wedging herself through this quickly closing door without using her hands. She gets stuck between the doors. The old woman stands there trying to shimmy her way. All of us, eating in silence, watch, unsure what we should be doing. Then the middle aged brother who has just cleared his dishes literally comes sprinting over to help the old lady. She can’t see him. Yet in the silence, his heart had been made attentive to others. We the audience have been made attentive, as smiles tug at our lips. The old lady, facing forward, never sees the monk as he helps her fit her way through the door. But we the audience do.
Is that true of life sometimes? That when we are struck, we are not always aware of the kindness and compassion that surround us.
Sometimes heaven is a new pair of glasses.
For in the midst of it all, God’s kin-dom has come, will come and is coming.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.