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SUNDAY SCRIPTURES FOR MAY 5 | The gift of complete joy

When we love others as God has loved us, then we will have an experience of complete joy

As we make our way through this Easter season, we hear the stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, as well as some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. We are also reminded of some of the promises that Jesus left before He died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. One of those promises is the promises of complete joy.

Notice how there are no qualifiers, but the word complete is used. That means nothing is left wanting and nothing is less than it could be in this gift of joy. If we try to imagine what complete joy would be like, it is something that is foreign. We are blessed enough to experience joy day by day. In our relationships with one another, in our experiences of God’s great creation, in the abundance of blessings that surround us each day and in the forgiveness that comes in a relationship with Jesus — all are reminders of a certain limited kind of joy. But what does complete joy look like?

We probably don’t have words in our human vocabulary to explain complete joy, but we do know that it is a promise that Jesus gave to us. He told us where it comes from and when we would receive it. Complete joy comes from loving others in the same way that God has loved us. Words connected with God’s love might be unconditional, eternal, freely flowing and never-ending. God tells us exactly how it is given to us. When we love others as He has loved us, then we will have the gift of complete joy.

We know from the teaching of Jesus that it means more than loving just those who love us back. It means more than loving just others who agree with us, think the way that we do or have the same sort of lifestyle that we do. To live without condition and without end means that our commitment in life, no matter who we encounter, is to love. Love does not entail allowing ourselves to be abused or taken advantage of, but it does demand of us a willingness to open our hearts in forgiveness, generosity and abundance to all those who come our way. We know that it is to look similar to Jesus hanging on the cross. It must involve self sacrifice, humility and a willingness to not always be in control. From the cross, Jesus willingly offers forgiveness to those who betrayed and killed him. Complete joy comes from choosing that with our friends and our enemies.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, get used to it. It is the height of arrogance for us to believe that we know whom God will pick to put into our path and whom God asks us to love at any particular time. God is not limited by our understanding or by our plans. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, the Holy Spirit came upon a group of people prior to their baptism. Imagine that. Peter seems to have gotten used to God’s ways of doing things that may seem illogical to us, and Peter responded by baptizing the people who had already received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Are we ready for the gift of complete joy? If we are willing to receive it, the pathway is in front of us. Whomever we may meet in whatever circumstance, love them as God has already loved us. Let them experience our compassion, our hospitality and our generosity. They may not be the people we would choose to be around if we had it our way, but God is sending people our way to experience His love through us.

Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.

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