June 18, 2023

    06.28.23 |

    June 18th, 2023                       Scripture: Acts 8:26-39         Sermon: The Fruit of the Spirit is Joy

    I want to start this message with a question posed to all of you: What brings you joy? What makes you happy and cheerful and bright? Could you pinpoint what it is? I’m sure for many of you, you would say love and family and friends. But much of society, when asked this question, have their if only list. You know what I mean by that? They would feel joy, if only they had a bigger house…if only they had more money…or that new car.. These are common responses when posed that question. However studies show this simply is not true. In fact there is a term for this fallacy, it’s called miswanting- it’s when our brains deliver to us what we want, but they are wrong about it because our brains have been shaped by biases relative to reference points we establish.

    Here is an example of that, using the Ebbinghouse Illusion. Which orange circle is larger?

    They are actually the same size.

    Our minds play tricks on us, based on our reference points, and in this case, it was based on the size of the black dots around the orange dots.

    Our ideas of having more money, more success, more of everything simply do not bring us joy, because our reference points are constantly adapting to those around us. 

    For example, Vogel et al did a study in 2014 looking at Facebook and happiness. And what they discovered was the more you were on Facebook, the lower your happiness, because the lower your self-esteem, as your mind is bombarded with images of what others have and you do not.

    Our comparisons affect our happiness. But what if you could be offered a joy that cannot be compared to anything else, but the pure delight God has in you?

    As we are working through this Fruit of the Sermon series we come to the fruit of joy. Now remember these fruits are the characteristics of God, that we saw embodied in Christ. And Biblically joy is an inner feeling, that endures hardship and trials, it connects with meaning and purpose.  Happiness is an outward expression of that joy.

    When it comes to Jesus, his joy was found in loving and serving God, loving and serving others.. And in return, those he impacted experienced joy too. Consider the joy Jesus gave to the blind, the deaf, the hungry. Think about the joy he gave to the lepers, to children that were shunned, and to his disciples? He gave them joy with his healing, with his love, with his presence. And as his followers we are empowered by the Spirit to continue to convey that joy, just like Philip did with the Ethiopian in our passage today.

    You heard the lesson, Philip is traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, when he encounters a traveling Ethiopian. According to the text, this particular Ethiopian was an inhabitant of the ancient kingdom of Meroe, which covered what is now northern Sudan. He was the chief treasurer of a kingdom wealthy from its iron smelting, gold mining, and trading position. You also heard he was a eunuch, which at that time was a man trusted in servitude in a royal household. More than likely he was returning to Meroe after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of holy the feasts, and now we read he is sitting in his chariot reading Scripture.

    Luke, the author of Acts, invites us to imagine how the carriage is moving slowly enough to allow Philip to approach it on foot and ask, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. So Philip explains how the text in Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus, and if you and I would read Luke’s gospel, we will see the fulfillment and connection of Isaiah’s writing to Luke’s gospel, shown in Luke’s other book, Acts.

    V 32 the Ethiopian read about the Messiah who would be like a lamb silent before its shearer:

    Lk 23:9, He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.

    V33 the Savior was deprived of justice as an innocent man:

    Lk 23:23 they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

    V 33 and how his life was taken:

    Lk 23:46  Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last..

    Philip evangelizes to the Ethiopian about Jesus, and when the carriage arrives at some water, the Ethiopian exclaims, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ They go to the water, the Ethiopian is baptized and the text ends with:  39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing. 

    The Ethiopian experienced new life and he was filled with joy, that enduring feeling of meaning and purpose. In fact tradition says that the Ethiopian carried the gospel back home to the Ethiopian state and founded the church there. To this day half the Ethiopian population follow the Christian faith.

    Our lives can be filled with joy, that is the enduring feeling of meaning and purpose when we welcome the experiences of Jesus, as directed by the Spirit around us. Those experiences include reading and studying scripture, hearing someone else witness to us, or being moved by worship.

    Going back to the studies I shared at the beginning of the sermon, we recognize that sometimes we have to reset our reference points to experience true joy in our lives.

    Another study was done by Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues where they asked their subjects to replay happy memories in their mind for eight minutes a day, for three days a week. They would set their timer on their phone and for the next eight minutes, they thought about a really happy memory they had. Like maybe getting into the school of their choice. Or their first kiss. Or their first time driving or first job. And their exact instructions were, think about the event as though you are rewinding a video and playing it back in order to relive the moment. 8 minutes a day, 3 times a week.  And what they found was this reliving of positive experiences had huge effects on the subjects’ wellbeing. In fact, the people in this study actually increased their positive emotions for up to four weeks later by doing this exercise for 4 weeks. So that’s an extra free month of joy!

    For us as Christians, there are many ways we can consider the joy the Spirit can bring us for 8 minutes a day, 3 times a week. Like the time when we gave a heart-felt prayer, and the answer came. Or when we felt like no one around us understood us, but felt the assurance that God did and was holding us.  Or when you or your child was baptized and claimed by God and this Church family. Those experiences gave us joy, a joy that we can always remember and claim.

    I want to close with a few minutes where each of us can stop to take a few moments and focus on a time you know where God’s Spirit was present, and brought you the joy you needed. And if you can’t think of one, just sit there, and lean into the arms of the Spirit, and see what you may experience.

    Let’s begin: timer of 4 minutes

    In John 15 we hear Jesus say, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. … 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 

    Let us pray:

    God, we thank you for the joy you give us in your Son. The joy of his mercy, the joy of his guidance, the joy of hope. And Lord, we thank you for the Spirit that brings that joy to each of us. Sometimes in recognizable moments while other times in reflections. Each day is an opportunity to know and grow in that joy. As your Church, help us convey that complete joy of your love and grace to each other and to those in this world who need it the most. May your joy surround those who currently suffer from illness, pain, or fear, that such joy can bring healing. May your joy surround those who grieve and feel alone, that such joy can bring comfort.

    May it surround those in our community, and in the world who face challenges, that such joy may bring hope.

    We ask this as we seek to live in faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father…

    Offering invitation:

    Part of our shares of ministry, that is funds we send from the local church to the conference, helps to support the Camping Program of the conference. Church camp offers children and youth of all ages and abilities the opportunity to grow in their faith and understanding of God’s world and each other.

    We are blessed in that our Director of Children’s Ministry, Cassie McCachren leads a camp at Camp Penn, located near the Chambersburg area. This week, she and other adults from the church will teach what they titled Spirit Adventure Camp, where they will challenge campers with authentic, hand-on explorations of nature and God. Some of our adventures include exploring Creation, asking questions, hiking, crafting, serving others, swimming, singing, creek stomping, water and land Olympics, and campfires!

    A portion of your gifts go to bless this camp, thank you for your support.