Joy in the Journey

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
December 16, 2018
Third Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Philippians 4:4-7
Sermon: “Joy in the Journey”

Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! Let everyone see that you are unselfish and considerate in all you do. Remember that the Lord is coming soon. Do not be anxious about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank God for answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. The peace of God will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.

If you’ve been downtown recently after sunset, you’ve probably noticed the colorful lights spelling “JOY” on the First National Bank building, or seen the many billboards around town proclaiming JOY. It’s part of the bank’s annual holiday season Joy campaign. Retailer store Kohl’s brought back their joy campaign as well with their “Give Joy. Get Joy” commercials. And maybe you are one of the 15 million people who have seen the four-minute ad from Spain for a liquor company entitled Tenemos Que Vernos Mas (We Have to See More of Each Other) based on an algorithm that says over the next 40 years, people will spend six years of our life watching TV, eight years on the Internet, ten years staring at screens, and that the time we spend with those whom we love is much less than that. If people say what brings them joy is spending time with loved ones, why do our actions reveal otherwise? The ad maintains that it’s how our brain works—we are programmed to avoid thinking about our mortality so we think we will always have time to do the things that bring us joy.

Often, those who are very much aware of their mortality are grounded in gratitude for the surprise of waking up each day to the gift of life. But in our culture, it’s tough to be aware. Much easier to be caught up in the daily grind.

The words you heard in our Scripture were written by the apostle Paul, and he wrote these words knowing any day he would be executed. I believe the apostle Paul agonized quite a bit over the people he loved—people across the Roman Empire who were caught up in the distraction of their day that were deterring them from experiencing joy. And so his letters reminded them of the spiritual connection to a Divine Love that Jesus taught and lived. Sometimes, it’s tempting to approach the Bible as if it is boring and full of dictatorship-like doctrine meant to constrict our life, but this passage from Philippians reminds me that the Bible is really a map full of wisdom that provides direction for our life journey, a journey that is meant to be one of joy!

As we journey towards Christmas, being aware of the inner life of the soul translates in how we orient ourselves to the world… Are we treating life as a frantic race to a particular event, or are we grateful for each moment? The response reveals if we carry anxiety around with us, or if we truly can experience peace and rejoice each day. Come Christmas Day, what would it mean to surrender to the idea that we can never receive enough stuff to meet our craving for joy?

Yet, I do believe we can receive gifts that truly bring us joy. I was asked recently what gift brought me the most joy as a child. It’s a question I can answer because the memory time warps me back to when I was seven years old.

It all started when I was watching Mr. Rogers. Mr McFeely, the delivery man, knocked on the door (knock) and entered carrying a rather large box. (Micole enters turtles) What was interesting about the box was the hole on top—was something alive in the box? Why yes, something was quite alive…

While they (Dialup, LP, Rotary) are on their own journey, I want to share an incredible joyful experience that I had a month ago when in Mexico. Our faith, foundationally, is about connection to one another, the world and the Divine—opening ourselves to an awareness to the invitation life offers us gives us strength to be joyful in the sorrow and pain that also exists in the world.

Millions of years before humans arrived in the area of the world we call Mexico, turtles nested along the western coast. The growing human population has dramatically altered the reproductive cycle of turtles, who return to where they were born to lay eggs. Once, tens of thousands Olive Ridley turtles would lay their eggs along the coast, but by the late 1980s, less than 200 turtles would return and poachers would steal their eggs. That’s when Frank decided to dedicate his life to saving the turtles and started a Turtle Rescue (Grupo Ecologico de la Costa Verde).

Outside his home, Frank built a simple shed that now plays a vital role in the life of these Olive Ridley turtles. The Turtle Rescue volunteers find the nests of turtles on the beach, recover the eggs before predators and poachers raid the nests, then bury the eggs in Styrofoam coolers full of sand, record the date of recovery, and ensure the proper temperature 27-29 degrees Celsius is maintained and then monitor them the two months until their little heads surface through the sand. Then it is time to release the hatchings.

Under a starry filled night sky in which the Milky Way was visible, my surf friends and I made our way towards the ocean with Frank, the volunteers, and three baskets, each filled with 100 or so squirming hatchlings. There was this moment, I was caught up in the joy of being able to see the Milky Way as I gazed up, but also wanted to see the turtles make their way towards us—and when the first ones appeared coming down the sloped beach, I could hear Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire in my mind and as these little hatchlings were giving everything they had to make it to the water.

The gauntlet a turtle hatchling has to overcome in the wild is daunting— IF the nest isn’t discovered and the eggs are safe until the hatchling emerges, then the little one has to make it across the sand without a bird swooping down to eat it, a crab clawing it and dragging it into its hole in the sand, or some other predator crushing its life.

As I watched the hatchlings scramble towards the ocean, I thought about the journey ahead—little hatchlings swim up to sixteen miles before stopping to feed—but first they would have to get through the gauntlet of all the predators in the water that feed on them. The odds of a hatchling surviving into adulthood are one in one-thousand.

Yet, watching these little hatchlings—they seemed to have immense joy when the waves would capture them, they definitely got excited, like they realized they were born to swim in the ocean. And I wonder, do I get excited and full of joy when realizing I was born to experience the joy of connecting to the Divine?

Returning to our turtle friends (they are still walking around), I know they have brought joy to the many children they’ve encountered. There’s something about connecting with a species that was alive long before we humans roamed the earth. Turtles can teach us quite a bit.

I’m truly amazed at the concept of natal homing, when adult animals return to where they were born to lay eggs. Scientists theorize that unique magnetic fields are part of our Earth and that the turtles imprint to a specific magnetic field when young and return years later to the exact place they first entered the ocean.

And I wonder for us, no matter the gauntlet of life obstacles that are thrown before us, does joy occur when we resonate with a place we existed before we were born—a magnetic field of spiritual union with our Creator? I believe joy comes when we take time for meditation on who we are and from where we come and we discover our inmost being, for when we access our unconscious we come closer to a mystical connection, like feeling the ocean awakening us to our own purpose so we can embark on a journey of joyful connection. Some survive the journey; some do not. The gauntlet of technology, the Internet, Social Media, screen time, endless distractions….deter us from experiencing the joy we were created to experience. Advent becomes a time of preparation not only for the birth and gift of the Christ child, but also a time to return to an awareness of our own birth and gratitude for the life our Creator gives us.

So….that gift that brought me joy as child? My first memory of a turtle came when watching Mr. Rogers—so of course I wanted a turtle for Christmas. Of all the gifts I’ve ever received, the one that brought me the most joy when I was seven years old was Pokey, the turtle. An immortal turtle.

In the words of the Apostle Paul, may we be aware of more than what the human mind can imagine. During Advent, we are to be aware of the turtles among us. To appreciate stillness and slowness. Joy comes when we are connected to a spiritual source that is like a magnetic field calling us home.