Cultivate - Whakatupu - Joy - Sunday
The beginning of spring is a beautiful time where nature begins to emerge from its season of darkness, bursting forth with new life, buds and blossoms, new shoots of green. In keeping with this season, we are starting a new series around the idea of Whakatupu-Cultivate. Whakatupu is connected to the idea that there is all kinds of potential buried in the fabric of our lives, of our humanness - and its not stuff we have to generate, or create from scratch. Its woven into the very centre of what it means to be us.
But it doesn’t just grow and emerge automatically. There is this sense of a need for cultivation, for our participation with the divine in caring for the soil and environment of our lives so that things grow.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Or, put another way:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
These are not things we create or generate ourselves. Instead, what Paul says is that when we partner with the divine Spirit, when we seek to live in tune with God’s way of being in the world, when we seek to discover what it truly means to be human in the best sense of the word, then we help to foster an environment where this kind of fruit grows.
And what potent and beautiful ideas.
Joy is one of these things that Paul lists as the kind of fruit that we want to see grow in the orchard of our lives.
But what is it?
Joy is more than a passing feeling, although it is emotional. It is part of what the Christian tradition has called the “affections” - that posture of the heart and mind that evokes feelings and an emotional orientation, but without being limited to the transience of momentary happiness. Joy is connected to the way we see the world. Joy is not just about having positive experiences, its fundamentally related to the way we perceive the events that are happening around us, and to us, and in us? Joy is not only about whether things are good or not in themselves, it is about how we perceive them.
We can’t create joy, but if we learn to see the world differently, then we cultivate the kind of conditions that cause joy to flourish. So, what is our stance toward the world around us?
Maybe we’ve lost touch with being able to see the world through eyes of wonder. And I wonder if this is what Jesus means when he says we are to become like a little child. We get so grown up… so serious. So knowledgeable. So experienced. Unable to be surprised.
Or maybe we see the world as a place of threat, of lack, of enemies, of obstacles, of pain? Perhaps, and sometimes with good reason. Sometimes life is overwhelmed with all of these things, and that talking about joy sounds cheap and insensitive.
But the Christian faith also invites us to see through different eyes – even in the most challenging of circumstances. Not a denial of the realities of life. But an invitation to cultivate a different way of seeing. When the Apostle Paul is in prison and contemplating the end of his life… he writes a letter to the Philippian church and he says ‘rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!’. It can sound flippant… but Paul writes this when he’s facing his own execution. Even in this situation Paul wants to remind us that we can see the world through eyes of joy.
This is not ‘all or nothing’. You can have joy in the midst of deep suffering and grief.
And in fact our joy becomes one of the reasons why we grieve so deeply. And it becomes one of the reasons we seek to live differently in the world.
Jurgen Moltmann says this about joy:
Joy in life’s happiness motivates us to revolt against the life that is destroyed and against those who destroy life. And grief over life that is destroyed is nothing other than an ardent longing for life’s liberation to happiness and joy. Otherwise we would accept innocent suffering and destroyed life as our fate and destiny. Compassion is the other side of the living joy. We don’t accuse God because there is suffering in the world. Rather, we protest in the name of God against suffering and those who cause it.
Joy can be the roots of protest. Of resistance. Of revolution. It is seeing the world as one full of possibilities, of life, of love, of wonder, of beauty. it is seeing the world this way that can cause us to throw our energies into partnering with the divine Spirit to resist those things that seek to rob peoples’ lives, to rob their joy.
And the fact that this joy is a fruit of the Spirit, tells us that God is a God of joy. This is fundamentally the way God sees the world. It is what God desires for creation. That when God sees us, ordinary people, a speck of dust in a magnificently huge creation, God experiences joy too.