Rejoice Always!

On December 14, 2014, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Rejoice Always! Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 3, 2014) The Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to rejoice always. Not everything can be celebrated, of course, but in all things, we can find reasons to celebrate. Joy was so important to Paul’s idea of spirituality that he encouraged people to find something to rejoice about no […]

Rejoice Always!
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Advent 3, 2014)

The Apostle Paul encouraged his readers to rejoice always.

Not everything can be celebrated, of course, but in all things, we can find reasons to celebrate. Joy was so important to Paul’s idea of spirituality that he encouraged people to find something to rejoice about no matter what was happening around or even to them. If you can’t celebrate a condition, then even in the condition find something else to celebrate. In all things, at all times, rejoice.

I remember during the early days of the AIDS crisis when everything seemed so uncertain and frightening, some of us found ourselves laughing, inappropriately, and often. One thing we discovered is that we couldn’t be scared while laughing. If we could laugh at something in the moment, we could forget about things that usually terrified us.

Laughing was healing. Finding something to laugh about, to joke about, to smile about, to dance about was like David’s stone hitting Goliath. The problem was gigantic, but joy helped us face it with courage.

I was once at a concert at a church in Dallas in the early 90s. The group singing was performing Southern gospel music. They didn’t appeal to my personal tastes, but one of the four singers was super cute, and that was pretty great. Well, after this concert, a frail man who walked with great difficulty while leaning on a cane slowly approached one of the singers.

He said in a faint voice, “Thank you for tonight. I was so caught up in the music that for 90 minutes I didn’t have AIDS.” Toe tapping, hand clapping, singing along…rejoicing transported him to a healing place, a place where pain was forgotten, where fatigue was diminished, where fear was defeated, where utter wholeness was experienced, at least for a few minutes.

Sometimes religious people are suspicious of happiness; they think that misery is a sign of holiness, or, they are simply so habitually unhappy that they are afraid to let go of their unhappiness. Who would they be if they didn’t find fault with everything? Who would they be without their fear or regret or bitterness? And yet, joy is a gift that healthy religion offers.

In Chinese folklore, the Budai, or laughing Buddha is a symbol of joy. Budai, lived 4 centuries after Sidhartha Gautama (the historic Buddha). While Sidhartha is usually presented as slender and androgynous, Bodai is usually presented as corpulent and beaming with joy. Budai was a poor monk, so he represents the possibility of being content, joyous, at peace, regardless of circumstances. He is an embodiment of the encouragement to rejoice always!

To rejoice always is good for relationships.

Couples who have enjoyed a long, happy relationship often say the secret of their relationship success is that they laugh together every day. People who laugh together enjoy each other, enjoy life together. Of course, to laugh together daily means spending quality time together; and to be able to laugh together suggests trust, so a simple chuckle might not make for a great romance, but the factors that lead to shared laughter are the factors that can lead to shared, lasting happiness with another person.

To rejoice always is good for our health.

A 1994 article in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology stated, “Care should be taken to ensure that humor persists even during the bleakest times…Laughter eases the mind, defuses tension among people, and has positive physiologic effects on patients…”

A 2012 literature review of over 200 studies found a connection between happiness and optimism, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Journalist and peace activist Norman Cousins developed a painful, arthritic condition which was not treatable. He discovered the benefits of “laugh therapy.” He watched hours of Marx Brothers movies and he found that 10 minutes of deep belly laughs allowed him to enjoy 2 pain-free hours of sleep. His condition eventually went into remission.

Maybe the ancients knew that rejoicing was medicinal. The bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17.22).

Now, true happiness is not compatible with selfishness. We can never truly be satisfied if we know that there is injustice that we haven’t addressed. We can’t fix every problem, but we can be a voice of hope, we can be a source of encouragement, and we can experience more happiness by sharing more love with those in need.

Helen Keller said, “True happiness…is…attained…through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

We have voted, written, prayed, spoken out, signed petitions, contributed, worked, waited, and hoped for marriage equality. And in one month, we’ll have it in Florida…but Florida isn’t everywhere. Our work doesn’t end on January 6th.

And marriage equality is just one issue. We also are called to care about mothers who have lost their sons, boys and men who were targeted or treated with undeserved force because of the color of their skin. We don’t need to make the victims into saints or martyrs, neither do we need to bring up their every indiscretion or mistake; whether we would judge them to be saint or sinner we must agree they each deserved to see another day and that the youth deserved an opportunity to see adulthood.

We may not have all the answers, but heaven forefend that we should simply tune out the cries of those who are sharing their pain, their stories, their experiences.

God, I truly believe, wants us to be happy, to be prosperous, to be healthy; but that means all of us. God wants all of God’s children to be happy, healthy, and prosperous. And that isn’t the case yet; so we can’t rejoice that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Illness, depression, violence, economic injustice, racism, homophobia…these aren’t things to rejoice about. Rev Anne recently said during a scripture discussion, we are called to rejoice in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Pain or sadness aren’t things to celebrate; but we can defiantly find reasons to rejoice in spite of pain and sadness, and thereby offer the hope of healing for pain and sadness.

We obviously can’t rejoice about painful circumstances, but we can rejoice that we have a voice to raise in response to painful circumstances.
We can rejoice that we can cling stubbornly to hope even when things seem to be getting worse.
We can rejoice that the human spirit is indomitable.
We can rejoice that the power of hope allows us to imagine better days.
We can rejoice that even in the midst of pain, we can choose to laugh, to sing, to dance, to love, to keep moving forward.

In all things we can rejoice, and in so doing, we can be healers in the world. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2014

I dare to be hopeful.
I dare to imagine better days.
In all things, I dare to rejoice.
And so it is that I am a healer.
And I am healed.

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