The Gift of Joy

The Gift of Joy

James 3:16-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37

And so we are called to be children of God. We are called to shed ourselves of the things that we have gathered around us in the world…

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen, please sit. When I read this gospel, the other instance of of Jesus pulling children towards him makes itself apparent in my mind where he tells the disciples to stop, stop getting in the way and stopping children come to him and tell him to stop it and let children come to him. And the poor disciples get they are often the steel against which Jesus makes his point.

And we are like the disciples in that we are Christians and we follow Jesus. But sometimes we just don’t get it. And it’s like this with the disciples. Jesus is telling them what he’s there for. And yet he’s still trying to stop people come to him.

They’re not hearing what he’s got to say. And that made really apparent in today’s gospel. Jesus was telling them who he was, the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men. He was making it really plain, but they couldn’t hear him. They couldn’t hear what he was saying because they were caught up in the world and we’re all guilty of that.

We’re all caught up in the world around us because it’s how we brought up. And it’s because it’s how the world teaches us to be.

I will tell you my story because I hope that my story of how I came to become a priest, which is what this is will help you understand those things of the world that are collecting around you.

I grew up in the South Wales valleys as my accent gives away. And the world taught me that to be successful. The world taught me that to survive.

The world taught me that what I needed to have were things and respect from my peers that I needed to be successful in what I did. If I went to work for a company, I had to work my way up the structures, to be in charge and to be in charge was what it was about. Because if you were in charge, you controled the lives of the men and women around you. And if you were in charge, you earned more money. And if you were in charge and you and more money and you control the lives of people around you, then you got a nice car and a nice house, and then you could have a family.

This is what the world teaches us is the right way to be. And I did that. I did that. I did that for 20 years, I worked my bottom off, my little feet did not touch the ground. I wore my fingers to the bone.

At one point in 18 months, I circumnavigated the globe six times. My wife didn’t see me, literally from one month to the next. My family didn’t see me. But I was successful. My gosh, I was successful.

I had a really good car. I mean, in all honesty, that’s the only thing that ever draws me back to that life is that really good car. We had a lovely house. We had staff.

We were living the dream, as the world teaches us, is the dream. But was I happy? Absolutely. I was delirious. I was so happy.

I was living the best life. And in all that travel. And in all of that work, God had got farther and farther and farther away from so much so that when I was living in Melbourne, if I was out with friends at dinner and they were talking about how silly it was to believe in God and how silly these Christians were. I was, yeah, you’re right.

What a silly thing to believe. Yeah. Okay. I’m not Christian anymore. What a silly thing to believe.

I lost my faith.

There was a hunger in me to search for something. And I explored Buddhism and other spiritual practises to help me find calm peace in this busy life. But it wasn’t really getting anything. I meditated in Melbourne, I meditated in San Francisco and Austin and in London. And then one day I was meditating in my living room in the cottage in Oxfordshire, and I realised that I wasn’t meditating, that I was praying and that all of this time when I thought I had been meditating, I’d been praying.

Except it wasn’t me that was praying to God. It was God praying that I would come back to him. He’d never left me in all that time that I’d turned my back on him to pursue success in the world. He’d never left me. And so that Sunday, I went back to our Parish Church, and I prayed for the first time, really, in two or three years.

And I felt something of myself break off and I felt vulnerable and I felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t pleasant, but something had started to crack around me and I didn’t know what it was. And so I carried on going back to Church. I picked my Bible up again and I started reading Scripture. I started receiving the Sacrament at Christ Church in Oxford, where I was working in the morning and slowly but surely the armour that I had gathered around myself in order to be successful in the world was being torn away from me.

The things that I learned to be successful in the world were actively blocking me from hearing God’s call in my life.

And it came to a point when Edmund was born, and as I sat in the delivery room with Edmund and I experienced the love of a father for his son. All of a sudden those parts of scripture about how a parent loves their child made sense. And another bit of the armour fell off and God managed to get through the crack, get hold of my heart and say, all right, so now what? Now you can hear me, now what? I felt like those disciples on the road with Jesus.

They were there with Jesus all of the time, but they couldn’t hear what he was saying. And so Jesus get through the crack when they get home. What is it you want? And it’s jealousy, its ambition. Who amongst us is the greatest?

It’s those things of the world that we’re taught. And he says, he doesn’t say, no, no, no, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. He takes a child and hold the child in front of them and says to them, Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me.

So why? Why a child? Because of the innocence of children. Because we are not born looking for jealousy, looking for disharmony, looking for success, were not born looking for those things of the world. We are born with the love that God gives us. We are born with a love that draws love in from elsewhere.

And there is no armour around a child. There is no deceit around a child. There is no disharmony. There’s no jealousy. And those of you with children or have asked children a question will know that to be true, because if you ask a child a question, they’ll give you the answer or as an adult, after living in the world and building up the things of the world around them, will hear a question will go, are now what’s the best way to answer that question?

And whether or not you would set that, that’s what you do, that is what we do. Well, I’m not going to answer that question honestly because it’s going to upset this person. I’m not going to answer that question honestly because I think this person can be helpful to me in the future. I’m not going to answer that question honestly because this person may be able to help me up the greasy pole. It’s not what it’s aboput, and a child understands that a child’s get get what that means.

And so we are called to be children of God. We are called to shed ourselves of the things that we have gathered around us in the world to make us successful in the world or gathered around us so that we can survive in the world or gathered around us so that we can project successful images of ourselves in the world or not. But whatever it is we’ve gathered around us, we are called to shed that and be like a child because a child has not yet gathered those things around them.

A child is not cynical. A child learns those things.

And I want to speak about the best thing that the children can teach us in their innocence. And it is joy of the gift of life that God gives us. The joy of being together, the joy of being able to be in this wonderful Church, worshipping together, the joy of seeing a friend on the street who smiles back at you, the joy of being a family the joy of seeing somebody happy. The joy of discovering the cocoa pops are on sale in Iceland. I know that sounds silly, but it’s not because as adults, we think those things are silly, but it’s not.

Those are the moments. Those are the moments where everything else is shed away. And we are filled with love and the joy that God gives us. And we should delight in them, not cast them away as silly. We should delight in the small gifts of joy that God gives us.

We should delight in the happiness of the world around us, not be cynical, not gather around us the things there are important in the world, like rules and regulations about who it is, okay and who it is not okay to love.

That is the gift that children give us. That is why Jesus places children at the centre of His teaching in today’s gospel. That is why children are so important in our lives as a Church, because they have so much to teach us about how to follow God in the world.

And that’s how we should think of Sunday school. That’s how we should think of the children in our congregation. What is it that our children have to give us? What is it that our children can teach us?

For three weeks, I’ve been asking for a volunteer to step forward to help run a Sunday school. And for three weeks there’s been no word.

And so having heard this sermon today and how vital it is, the children are in our lives as a Church, I implore you to seek your heart, to shed away the armour that you’ve gathered around you in your life and ask yourself, Is this what God is calling you to do here in this place? Are you called to take our children, teach them scripture, open the door to Jesus Christ, and then show the rest of us here in Church what they are teaching us about the love of God, or do you know somebody that will be able to make that happen here?

Because witout it, without it, we stand to miss out on so much of God’s revelation in the world.

That’s my plea to you this week to pray on this, to pray on it every day, to open your hearts, to cast away the armour that you have built around you and to seek God’s path for you in this place.


One more thing. Do you want to know when the child like joy of our faith in God is most apparent in this place? It’s when we sing the Gloria, every single one of you lights up ‘glory to God in the highest and on Earth, peace to people of good will’.

If I am down, if I am upset, all I have to do is come to church and look at Steven’s face as we start to sing it. So thank you for your gift of joy.