When the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian church one of the things he was concerned about was that the Christians there appeared to be losing their joy. The reason was that they were coming under the influence of a group who taught that to be a true Christian you needed to come under the regulations of the Jewish law. As far as Paul was concerned, that was tantamount to slavery: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
To the church in Philippi Paul wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” and to the church in Thessalonica he wrote “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Joy and thanksgiving, then, are hallmarks of the Christian life. They are an expression of the freedom we have in Christ: freedom from worthless religious regulation and law, freedom from the fear of death, freedom from the power that the world tries to get over people – the power of wealth, popularity, appearance, and power itself.
It’s clear that some people are naturally more cheerful and optimistic than others. (An optimist who fell out of the top story of a skyscraper was heard saying “Alright so far” as he passed each floor.) But Christian joy and thanksgiving go beyond how we feel at a particular moment because they are rooted not in how we feel, but in God himself. Paul wrote to the Romans: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of [rules about] eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” The Holy Spirit, then is the bringer of joy because he connects us with the heart of God, and when are connected like that God’s joy can flow through us. Jesus himself experienced this; Luke writes in his gospel, ‘At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth…”’ (Luke 10:21).
September is a month when life begins to get busy again: holidays are over, it’s back to work, back to school, the seasons change, autumn comes and the days get shorter. Here at St John’s our children's groups will start again, the home groups will be meeting. The PCC will have important business to see to, decisions will have to be made about repairs to the church and how we fund them. We’ll be starting the Alpha Course again at the end of the month, and later in the autumn will be looking at the whole area of stewardship of our money. And in all this we need to hear Paul’s words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances…” The circumstances themselves might be hard and tiring, but if we maintain and guard our close contact with God through his Holy Spirit in prayer and worship we will discover the secret that the kingdom of God is a matter of ‘righteousness, peace and joy.’