Turning Sorrow to Joy
Scriptures: John 16:16-18, 19-33
I love this scripture that Marsha just read for us. Jesus
says to his disciples, "A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me," and the disciples say, "What does he mean? We don't know what he is talking about." Which I am not sure we do either. So let's listen to Jesus' response.
[Read John 16:19-33] There is a scene early in the book Huckleberry Finn where
Huck describes one of his first encounters with prayer. He says,
Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing came of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way (Huckleberry Finn, p. 15).
This scene reminds me of Jesus' words in our scripture
reading: [Slide 1]
Verse 23: "Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you."
Or verse 24: "Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive so that your joy may be complete."
Might that not include fishhooks?
This story was passed on to me through the internet. A church in a
small Texas town started a prayer vigil to block the building of a new tavern. The tavern was built anyway. But the week before it opened, it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The church folks were rather smug about this. But then the tavern owner sued the church on the grounds that the church was responsible for the fire. The church denied this, leaving the judge to observe, "It appears to me that we have here a tavern owner who believes in the power of prayer, and a church that doesn't."
Prayer is a tricky thing. We know that prayer is not like a
vending machine where you put in the right coins and a beverage comes out. But what then does Jesus mean when he says, "Ask and you will receive that your joy may be complete"?
Again, let's remember the context. This conversation takes
place at the last supper. Jesus knows he is about to be crucified, and he wants to prepare the disciples for that event. So he says to them, [Slide 2] "A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me."
To us, knowing what is about to happen, the meaning seems
obvious. Jesus means that in a little while he will be put to death and buried, and the disciples will no longer see him. Then in a little while he will rise from the dead and they will see him again. Simple, right? Except that Jesus is talking here about more than one kind of leaving and more than one kind of seeing. Yes, the disciples will see Jesus again when he rises from the dead, but then he will leave them again. Jesus is clear about this. After his resurrection he will ascend back to the Father, and once again the disciples will not see him, and they will be left alone in their grief.
When Jesus says, "A little while and you will no longer see
me, and again a little while and you will see me," he is talking on two levels, as Jesus so often does in the gospel of John:
1) [click 1] The time between his crucifixion (you will not see me) and his resurrection (again a little while and you will see me).
2) [click 2] The time between his ascension (you will not see me) and his return (and you will see me).
This is important because we live in the second time period. We live
in the time between Jesus' first coming and second coming.
In verse 20 Jesus says, [Slide 3] "Very truly, I tell you,
you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain." In this between time Jesus does not promise that God will exempt us from pain. Whatever your pain is-loss of a job, loss of health, loss of a loved one, loss of an election-whatever it is, God does not promise to take away the pain. But God does promise to bring your through it. "Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, [Slide 4] but your pain will turn into joy."
What will turn our pain into joy? Verse 22: [Slide 5] "So you have
pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." There are actually three ways that Jesus comes to us after not seeing him: [Slide 6]
1) [click 1] Coming to his disciples alive again after his crucifixion.
2) [click 2] Coming again to the world bringing God's kingdom after his ascension to the Father.
3) [click 3] Coming to us even now through the Holy Spirit while we wait for his coming in glory.
It is this third kind of coming, this third kind of seeing Jesus, that answers our prayers, giving us hope and joy in the present. [Slide 7: Blank]
Some of you may remember the story of Joni Eareckson Tada.
At the age of 17 she was diving into Chesapeake Bay when she hit her head on a rock and broke her neck. Her injuries left her permanently paralyzed from the neck down. At numerous times in the years that followed she was reminded by well-meaning Christians of the words of Jesus in John 16: "If you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." So she prayed repeatedly in Jesus' name for healing. But nothing happened. Like Huck Finn, she couldn't make it work.
She then entered a time when she felt hurt and depressed, so hurt and
depressed she could not even to talk to God. Later in the scripture reading the disciples finally claim to understand Jesus and believe in him. But Jesus says to them, "Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone."
Here again, Jesus' words have a double meaning. He is talking not
only about the first disciples who desert when he is arrested. He is talking about all future generations of disciples who abandon him when their faith does not seem to work, when their prayers are not answered in the way they had hoped. We too struggle to hang on to Jesus when we cannot see him.
At that point Joni had a choice. She could live as a broken human
being with no faith, or as a broken human being who clung to her faith. She could live as a disabled person with no purpose, or as a person with disabilities whom God might yet use in unimagined way. She chose the latter and began working seriously at her physical therapy. Since she did not have use of her arms or legs, she learned to use her mouth. She learned to paint with a paint brush held in her teeth and became quite good at it, selling some of her paintings in a gallery. Then she took some public speaking classes and discovered she could be a compelling public speaker. Again she used her mouth. She shared her story and the lessons she had learned with audiences all over the United States. Finally, she worked with a ghost writer to tell her story in a book that was eventually made into a movie.
Near the end of the movie, Joni has a soul searching
conversation with a wounded Vietnam veteran named Dick. Dick says to her, "I want to know how you managed." Joni replies, "I'm sure of only one thing. I know who put me back together, and I'd rather be in this chair knowing him than on my feet without him."
The answer to our prayers is not in the resolution of our
problem but in the relationship we establish with the One to whom we are praying. Jesus came, and still comes, not to spare us from pain, but to bring us himself. And that is where our restless hearts will finally find joy.