2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Ideas For 1 Thess 5:16-24 Part 3

Rejoice always...

In Greek as in English the verb "rejoice" (chairein) is related to the noun "joy" (chara). But do joy and rejoicing lie within us? Or do they come from without? Philosophers differ. Locke understood joy to be from within, "a delight of the mind" (Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, XX, 7-8). Schopenhauer believed it came from outside. "Joy and sorrow are not ideas of the mind, but affections of the will..." As such, they cannot be either recalled or renewed (Further Psychological Observations).

Whether joy belongs to mind or will—Locke and Schopenhauer agree—joy belongs to the joyous. Joy differs then from ecstasy (from the Greek meaning "to stand outside"), which separates us from ourselves. See, for example, Bernini's exquisite Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1646).1 In the life-size marble, Bernini captures Teresa's vision of the small and beautiful angel who thrust into her heart with his long golden spear, piercing her "entrails." "When he drew it out, he seemed to draw them all out also and to leave me all on fire....The pain was so great that I cried out, but at the same time the sweetness which that violent pain gave me was so excessive that I could not wish to be rid of it." Bernini portrays a moment between thrusts and shows the saint's body writhing in a blind paroxysm of pain and pleasure. But Teresa is no longer in her body. Drawn out of her are not only her entrails but her very soul.

Barnett Newman's fascinating Genetic Moment (1947) depicts a joy that not only dwells within us, it inheres. In his early work Newman attempted by use of biological and botanical forms and mythological images to discover the mystery at the heart of humanity. Against a plasmic background, Genetic Moment sets down roots and lifts up branches. It is an extremely difficult painting to de-

scribe, but clearly present in the thrust and parry of branches and roots are the letters Y, O, and J. "Joy," Newman seems to be saying, "is born in us. It is part of our essential make-up. It is in our human genes."2

If so, it can burst forth with great energy. "On with the dance! let joy be unconfined," writes Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (III, 22). This is the raucous, rhythmic, physical joy of Pieter Brueghel's The Wedding Dance.3 (Byron describes his dancers as "merry as a marriage bell" (III, 21).) It is the somersaulting joy of Cleve Gray's Joy Unbounded (Resurrection Series) (1985). Gray's work in the mid-1980s was much influenced by a visit to Prague and a concern with the Holocaust. But death, he is convinced, is not the last word. In Sleepers Awake (after Bach) bodies begin to stir. In Joy Unbounded they stand and leap and somersault in a continuous mass that resembles an abstract Eadweard Muybridge photograph.

But joy is not always energetic. It can be quiet and sober as in Edward Hicks' The Peaceable Kingdom with Quakers Bearing Banners. Hicks, American sign and stagecoach painter of the early nineteenth century, is known almost exclusively for his many paintings of the Peaceable Kingdom. This particular version was painted during

a time when tension and separation had

split American Quakers into two groups. So it may be fitting that joy is depicted not so much "in" the historic figures that make up the background of the picture as surrounding them. The foreground depicts the peaceable kingdom: Leopard lies down with lamb; little child embraces lion. The background is peopled by somber men, but they are connected by a banner that declares, "Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy." The sinuous ribbon with its beginning in the mists of eternity weaves its way through and among them braiding them together.

May joy be found then both within and without? Henry van Dyke's famous hymn, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, acknowledges both possibilities. Joy surrounds us, and joy wells up within us. In verse two, God's works surround God (and us) with joy:

All Thy works with joy surround Thee...

Call us to rejoice in Thee.

But God's forgiveness makes God the "wellspring of the joy of living" (v. 3). Finally, "joyful music leads us Sunward"; in joy we march "ever singing" (v. 4).

How can we be "ever singing"? How rejoice always (or pray without ceasing)?

The words of verse three of van Dyke's hymn refer to John 4, where Jesus describes the water he gives. To any who drink it, "it will

become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life" (4:14 NRSV; cf. KJV: "A well of water springing up into everlasting life"). It is the Christ in us as "living water" that brings us constant joy.

But there is also the joy of anticipation that lives both within and outside of us. We see how that "works," in most everyday terms, by taking a short trip to the land of Cervantes' Don Quixote.4 The mad knight of la Mancha secures the services of the practical Sancho Panza as squire by promising him an island or kingdom of his own. For that is common custom "among knights-errant...to make their squires governors of the islands or the kingdoms that they won," and Don Quixote is "resolved that in [his] case so pleasing a usage shall not fall into desuetude."

Nor will it, if Sancho has anything to say about it. Don Quixote may rest content to leave the matter to God, "and he will give you," he tells his squire, "whatever is most fitting; but," the knight goes on, "I trust you will not be so pusillanimous as to be content with anything less than the title of viceroy" (ch. 7). He will not, Sancho informs his "illustrious" master. Again and again. Having received Don Quixote's promise, Sancho will not let it go. The kingdom that he will govern remains ever before him, like Christmas before a small child or many a larger one.

Richard S. Dietrich


1. A photograph of Bernini's masterpiece, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, may be found in almost any history of art. There is one in Elsen, p. 183; also in Sheldon Cheney's A New World History of Art (New York: Henry Holt and Co., Inc., 1959), p. 508; in H. W. Janson's History of Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1970), p. 408. 2. Barnett Newman's Genetic Moment (plate 155), Cleve Gray's Joy Unbounded (plate 179), and Edward Hicks' The Peaceable Kingdom with Quakers Bearing Banners (plate 86, detail plate 87) are all reproduced in John Dillenberger's fine study, The Visual Arts and Christianity in America: From the Colonial Period to the Present (New York: Crossroad, 1989). 3. Pieter Brueghel's The Wedding Dance is reproduced in Cheney, plate 5. See the similar The Peasant Dance (1568) in the Time-Life Library of Art's The World of Bruegel (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968), pp. 136-137. 4. Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha in The Portable Cervantes (New York: Viking Press, 1951), p. 109.