Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jeremiah 31:1-6- “Oh, the Joy!”

Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, April 24, 2011

From what I remember seeing this one Milwaukee band play a few years ago, I think he might have sung backup vocals, but not so much. Mainly the reason the guy was on stage was to play the tambourine. And he really played that tambourine. Played it all sorts of ways, played it like his life depended on it, played with abandon, played it as part of his dance, played it with the flourish usually left to electric guitar players, ducking and fronting and raising his eyes to the sky.

Oh, it was just a rock band playing songs about love and loss and whatever else, but when I think about those verses from Jeremiah chapter 31 and that verse that says: “Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful,” when I think of that verse that talks about playing tambourines and joining the dance of the joyful, the dance of the merrymakers, when I think of that verse, I think of that guy in Milwaukee playing his tambourine with all his might. Oh, the joy! Oh, he played with such joy!

It’s that kind of joy that we have today, isn’t it? The joy of Easter, the joy of praising the Lord for what He has done, the joy of knowing that Jesus rose from the dead, the joy of knowing that death has been conquered. That’s the joy we have today, the kind of joy that makes us want to play the tambourine, the kind of joy that makes us want to set aside everything else, to join the dance of the joyful, the dance of the merrymakers, the whirl of the dance of the ones who dance and make music to the Lord. It’s the joy that makes you forget about what other people might think, the kind of joy that just calls you to celebrate the Lord with whatever kind of dancing you can muster.

But maybe you’re not really feeling it this morning, maybe you’re not so sure about that joy, maybe you’re not feeling as if you could dance and play the tambourine today. And I don’t mean just because we don’t usually dance or play tambourines on Sunday mornings, I mean, you’re not feeling it in here (your heart), you’re not convinced that today is much different than any other day, you’re not sure you can even say the words, “Oh, the joy!”

If that’s a struggle for you, if you’re here but not sure what all the fuss is about, if you’re here but not sure you’re caught up in the Easter moment, well, perhaps it’d be helpful to go back, to go back and remember that it wasn’t always this way, there wasn’t always an occasion for joy, there wasn’t always reason to dance and play tambourines. In fact, in our lives, if we really look at ourselves honestly, there’s plenty of reason that we shouldn’t be joyful—shouldn’t be joyful because we’re so separated from God, we’re sinners, we’re turned away from God. Where’s the joy in that?

But the verse in Jeremiah says “Again you will take up your tambourines,” again, as if there was a time when you didn’t “take up your tambourines,” a time when you didn’t “go out to dance with the joyful.”

Saying again really implies there was a time when there wasn’t any dancing with the joyful, there wasn’t any merrymaking going on, there wasn’t a party, there wasn’t music.

In fact, these verses from Jeremiah are written about the fact that Israel was split in two, with the northern kingdom, Samaria, being under foreign rule. And Jeremiah was prophesying that the southern kingdom, Judah, would also be under foreign rule, would send the people into exile. There’s destruction in the North, and there’s destruction approaching the South. So there’s this great sense of loss, this great sense of having everything you know and love, everything you trust in be taken away from you.

So when Jeremiah speaks the word of God, the word of hope and consolation, when Jeremiah says that again the city will be built, again they will play the tambourine, again they will plant vineyards and enjoy the fruit, when Jeremiah says again, he means again, once again, a new time, a new day, a new happening to replace what the people had been experiencing.

Again, it’ll happen again. It happened once long ago, but now it’s going to happen again. It happened once long ago, but that got lost, so now we wait for it to happen again. Again the city will be built. Again, they will dance and make merry. Again they will plant vineyard and enjoy the fruits of their labor (Howard Wallace).

In a way that’s what happened with this band from Milwaukee. The tambourine guy, well, he saw the band playing and just felt like the music needed a tambourine, so he kind of talked his way into the band, started playing tambourine, and once again, the music took on its power and joy.

Like the tambourine guy stepping in to help the band, God saw that the people needed joy, so He stepped in to provide the reason for joy. He stepped in and said He’d forgive their sins. He stepped in and said He’d bring them back from exile. He stepped in and gave them hope for a future day when they’d return to the land and be His people once again. Oh, the joy!

Spiritually, you and me, we’ve been overrun, we’ve been sent into exile, we’ve experienced the consequences of our sins. We’ve faced punishment for our sins, and we face the punishment of death. Because of our sin, everything that brings joy has been taken away. We’re separated from God.

But God steps in like the tambourine player, steps in to bring joy again. God’s Word points to a time when there will again be joy, again the city will be built, again we will play the tambourine, again we will plant and enjoy the vineyard.

Today is about the AGAIN, making AGAIN possible.

Today is about God stepping in to play tambourine for us, bringing us the joy we need.

Jesus on the cross canceled the past.

Jesus rising again brings the joy and hope.

Today is about God stepping in to play tambourine in your life, to say “Oh, the joy!” for you. Even if it’s hard to see the joy in your life, even if it’s hard to remember why Easter is about dancing and tambourine playing, still the Spirit is working today in your life, working to bring that joy into your life. He will be your God, and you will be His people.

Where do you need God to play that tambourine for you? Where do you need joy? Where do you need the hope of Easter in your life? Where do you need God to step in and remind you that He has done it all for you, that He has made eternal life possible, that it’s all about what He’s done? Where do you need God to step in and be your God?

Last week we showed the film Race to Nowhere, a documentary that looks at whether we’re pushing our children too much in school, pushing them to achieve so much. It was a great event, had almost 90 people here, and had a great discussion afterwards. What struck me in the film, though, was the sadness of some of the students that they interviewed. The sadness and anxiety in their lives as they try to well, really well in school, and try to accomplish a lot in extracurricular activities.

We didn’t really get a chance to talk about it that night, but what I saw in those students was a real need for God to step in. They needed God to step in with a message of joy, to step in and play tambourine for them, give them music for dancing, give them hope beyond what they saw in their lives. The students seemed so broken, so overwhelmed, and I kept thinking, “They need hope. They need Easter hope. They need hope beyond their stressed out lives.” They need to hear that God steps in to play tambourine for them, give them the joy of knowing Jesus.

Today, Easter, is the promise that He brings that joy to you, that He works that joy in your life. God has stepped in to play tambourine in your life—He’s brought you the joy through His Spirit, brought you the hope of eternal life. Today is about the fact that God has stepped in, God is your God, God has made you to be His people, God has done everything that’s necessary for you to be His people and have eternal life.

So even if you came today and didn’t feel like playing the tambourine and dancing, even if you feel as there’s not joy in your life right now, I want you to walk away remembering that God has stepped in to play tambourine in your life, that God has stepped in to bring you joy, that God has stepped in to bring a joy that goes beyond anything that’s going on in your life, a joy that is eternal and lasting, a joy that will eventually win the day and bring us back from exile and brings us AGAIN to be with God forever. Today is about the AGAIN. Today is about making us God’s people AGAIN. Today is about giving us life AGAIN. Today is about playing the tambourine AGAIN.