Sermon from Sunday 24 July

Keep your nose to the joy trail


Reading(s): Luke 11: 1-13. This sermon was given by Vanessa Lawrence at All Saints and St Mark’s.

Yesterday we had a wedding blessing at St John the Baptist church, and the wonderful Kate Sibley did an absolutely beautiful job of flowers in the church, full of purple and pink and lavender. They looked stunning, and smelt amazing. If you are on social media you may have seen some pictures, but if you are out and about this afternoon while the church is open, I’d recommend popping in.

Kate and I were discussing the beauty and simplicity of flowers after the service, particularly acknowledging how dark the world can feel at times, and how important it is to find the things that spark joy for us. Flowers are one of those simple pleasures that brighten our lives and bring joy. While we were discussing this, Kate used a brilliant phrase that I’d never heard before – she said ‘keep your nose to the joy trail’. It’s a great line, isn’t it?

I thought she was about to say ‘keep your nose to the grindstone’. Now that’s a very different thing! It’s a phrase that suggests relentless effort for little reward and it’s a state of mind that many of us can get into when we are busy, busy busy – work, and family, and housework and shopping – all the things that can make day to day life so humdrum and boring and tiring.

But ‘keep your nose to the joy trail’ – that suggests something very different – a constant sniffing out of fun and laughter and joy in all that we do. Fun is always an option – whether you are putting up flags, or changing altar cloths or moving chairs – but joy – that too is an option. I was trying to think of the difference between fun and joy – I don’t know what you think but I was struck by the definition of joy as being something that gives delight – something intangible and acute – a burst of happiness that can sometimes take us out of ourselves.

Our gospel reading today is all about Jesus teaching the disciples to pray. I wonder how prayer relates to joy for you? Depending on our view of God, we might not really relate the two – we might think of God as an austere and hard school teacher – perhaps we might think God might occasionally answer our prayers if we behave well and say sorry frequently. Joy sometimes feels a long way from prayer.

But in our Gospel reading, Jesus' prayer and the teaching that follows are mutually illuminating. Jesus invites his disciples into a deeply personal relationship with God, encouraging them to call upon God using the same name he uses. He invites his disciples to call upon God as children call upon a loving parent, trusting that they belong to God and that God wants for them what is good and life giving.

Jesus' sayings in 11:11-13 reinforce this invitation. If human parents, with all their faults, know how to give their children gifts that are good for them, how much more will the God of compassion give good gifts to his children who ask of him, including and especially the gift of the Holy Spirit!

Jesus tells the parable of the friend who calls at midnight. Hospitality was of paramount importance in the biblical world, and when a guest arrived — even unexpected, even at midnight — there was no question that hospitality must be extended. So when the man in the story finds himself without enough bread for his guest, he goes to a friend and asks to borrow some, even though he must wake up his friend’s entire household.

“Do not bother me,” the friend answers from within. “The door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.”

Hearers today might empathize with the woken-up friend and think that the midnight caller is pushing the limits of friendship. But in the culture of the biblical world, it is the woken-up friend who is behaving badly.

Jesus says that the man will eventually respond to his friend’s request, not because he is a friend, but because of his friend’s shamelessness. We often hear the word ‘persistence’ but ‘shameless’ is a better translation. His friend displays no shame in asking for help to meet the requirements of hospitality.

His shamelessness comes from a place of deep authenticity, and great intimacy. We can only really be shameless with those we trust deeply, those we know care about us. Those whom we know delight in our existence for whom we spark joy.

God delights in us, and wants to give us good gifts. Sometimes, in the darkness of life, that can seem far away and unlikely. But when we seek joy, when we actively search for those moments in life that bring us delight, then we know that we are joining in the work of God, joining in with the creator who delights in turn with all that has been created.

So, this week, keep your nose to the joy trail! Actively seek out moments of joy and delight, join in with the God who delights in you. Practice the presence of God through prayer – whether the breathing prayer we discussed last week, or saying the prayer that Jesus taught us, or using a prayer app. It is through prayer that we come to be shameless in our ability to love and trust and delight in our faith and our God.