THE RADIANT LIFE

8 Jan 2019 by William Tibben in: Sermons

THE RADIANT LIFE

by Rev Robert (Bob) Smith

This sermon is based on Psalm 34:5

We live in a society that is strong on pleasure, but weak on joy.No previous generation was so protected from want and disease. We are more highly educated and enjoy a degree of comfort and access to information and leisure that, in previous generations, was unknown even to the wealthy.

 

Yet whether we are significantly happier than our forebears is doubtful; indeed, considering the number of people suffering from depression and the rate of actual and attempted suicide, many would say that we are less happy than previous generations.

 

Most people agree that joy is the great goal to which we all aspire, but the problem is how to achieve it.

 

However, the wise people of the world have always taught that our basic problem is to look for the answers to life in the wrong places.For most of us, the search for happiness means a feverish pursuit of success, which is usually identified with accumulating money and status. Even though life teaches us that it is a futile exercise, most of us never stop doing it.

One of the great sadnesses of life is to reach a goal that we thought would bring us happiness and then find it doesn’t.

For some of us the search for happiness follows the pursuit of status and success. We drive ourselves to reach the top, whatever that might be, only to discover, if we get there, that it’s not what we’d expected. Like that Leunig cartoon, which pictured his little man climbing the ladder of success, and when he reached the top he looked out into the nothingness of space and said sadly: ‘There’s nothing there.’

 

There’s nothing new about this dilemma. It’s as old as humankind. One of the most poignant expressions of it was penned one thousand years before Christ by King Solomon, the wealthiest and most powerful ruler in Israel’s history.

 

Solomon was a man blessed with fabulous wealth, enormous power and great intelligence. In the book of Ecclesiastes, he describes the way he set himself the goal of discovering the secret of happiness, using his wealth, power and intellect to do it. Under his leadership, Israel achieved its highest point as a world power. He ensured peace and prosperity for his people. He commissioned great public works like the Temple in Jerusalem - one of the architectural wonders of the time.

 

He used his wealth and power to sample whatever form of material, intellectual or sensual pleasure his heart desired, including marrying 600 wives and keeping 300 concubines.

 

Yet, at the end of it all, this is what he wrote: ‘Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.’

 

The wisest people have always known that the secret of joy is within us, not outside of us.We either have it within us or we don’t have it at all.

 

The Bible describes joy as one of the ‘fruits of the Holy Spirit’;that means one of the outcomes of having Jesus in our lives. Jesus taught that those who have faith in him receive the Holy Spirit and their lives become infused with His life.

 

One of the fruits of this transformed inner life is the capacity for true joy, the sort of joy that is present no matter what the outward circumstances might be, because joy, essentially, is a spiritual quality that comes from within us, not, as we often suppose, from the environment outside us.

 

There is a wonderful verse in Psalm 34 that says it all. It’s verse 5 and the Revised Standard Version’s rendering of it expresses the thought beautifully; it says: ‘Look to Him and be radiant; so shall your faces never be ashamed.’

 

Those who live with a constant awareness of that spiritual reality will be suffused with those spiritual qualities of love, joy and peace - qualities that produce a radiant life. Those who stifle it will continue to live with empty hopes and emptiness of spirit.

 

Years ago, I visited a Christian Community group in the South Bronx, at that time one of the most depressed and violent parts of New York. I had hardly settled into my room when I discovered that armed intruders had broken in to ransack the house. That was my introduction to life in the Bronx.

 

After they’d gone the pastor’s wife explained the rules of survival to me: like never riding the subway after dark, having my keys ready to quickly open the door and lock it behind me when returning home, not looking people straight in the eye on the street, but at the same time not looking frightened.

 

I remember thinking to myself that this place was a jungle and how much I admired those young people who had left comfortable homes in the suburbs and country towns to become part of that Household of Faith, as they called themselves, and had chosen to live and work in the Bronx as teachers, welfare workers and nurses.

 

That evening, as we all gathered for dinner, Jack, the pastor of the group read some verses from the Bible which talked about the ‘lines falling to us in pleasant places.’He then spoke about how blessed he felt. I noticed the others all nodding in agreement. Then they joined in prayers of thanksgiving to God for how blessed they were.

 

Well I had actually been feeling sorry for them. I’d been thinking of my house in Austinmer, with no deadlocks and bars on the windows, where we kept the windows open so that the ocean breezes could flow through, wand where the kids played in the streets and ran barefoot through the bush; all so different from the environment these young people lived in.

 

But as I looked at the people gathered around that long table

and saw such joy in their faces, I realised they knew what radiant joy really was in a way I didn’t. I thought it came from a nice environment. They knew it came from the Spirit of Godand being in the centre of God’s will.

In the universal search for joy, our mistake is to look for it outwardly, in a more pleasant environment, a better job, a newer car, another partner. These things may well prove to be more congenial, but they, in themselves, do not produce joy.

 

Joy, in its deepest sense, comes from within. It is a spiritual quality that flows from a deep and intimate relationship with God’s Spirit within. ‘Look to him and be radiant,the Bible says. Where that relationship flourishes, joy flourishes. When it is blocked, joy is blocked.

 

 So, what does it mean to ‘Look to Him.’ Well, firstly, it means a sustained look, not an occasional glance. One-off vaccinations may protect us from lethal diseases, but don’t guarantee we’ll enjoy health and physical vitality. That requires constant daily attention to the basics of healthy living what and how much food we eat, the amount of exercise we take, the harmful substances we avoid, and so on.

 

In the same way, that initial act of faith that brought us into a relationship with God doesn’t, in itself, guarantee that we’ll enjoy the abundant life Jesus promised. To enjoy that we have to nurture the relationship constantly and live in it.

‘Look to Him.’means a sustained look, not an occasional glance.

 

It is also a believing look – a look of faith that, even in the darkest moments of life, when it is very hard to feel joyful, acknowledges that God is still there and holds our lives in the palm of His hand; so that like the Psalmist, we can say, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him.”

 

It is important to remember that our being is a combination of the physical, emotional and spiritual - body, soul and spirit. What affects one affects the others. There will always be times when, for one reason or another, we will feel down. But that look of faith reminds us that though down, we are not out; and this too shall pass.

 

‘Weeping may remain for a night,’ says Psalm 30, ‘But rejoicing comes in the morning.’

 

And, thirdly, it is and obedient look; the sort of look that acknowledges that the only place to be and the only place you can really feel secure is in the centre of God’s will. The sort of look that understands what Jesus meant when he said: ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given you as well.’

 

Do you want to know radiant joy in your life? It’s all about where you look for it. But if you look to Jesus, constantly, trustingly and obediently, you’ll find it.

 

I started out by saying, ‘Most people agree that joy is the great goal to which we all aspire, but the problem is how to achieve it. The Bible gives the answer in six words; “Look to him and be radiant.” Let me conclude with a simple illustration.

If you want to get a suntan – and be radiant in different way – you don’t have to struggle and strive, neither do you have to take special courses. You just get out into the sunlight, and the suntan follows naturally.

 

In the same way, if you want to have radiant joy in your life you don’t have to strive and agonize for success, status and sophistication. Neither do you have to indulge in esoteric practices or seek special illumination. Just expose yourself to the warm reality of Jesus’ presence through his spirit within you.‘Look to him andbe radiant.’

 

 

 

If you want to get a suntan – and be radiant in different way – you don’t have to struggle and strive, neither do you have to take special courses. You just get out into the sunlight, and the suntan follows naturally.

 

In the same way, if you want to have radiant joy in your life you don’t have to strive and agonize for success, status and sophistication. Neither do you have to indulge in esoteric practices or seek special illumination. Just expose yourself to the warm reality of Jesus’ presence through his spirit within you.‘Look to him andbe radiant.’