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From the Pastor's Pen — Sermon Message for September 2, 2012
 




Bob

 Bob Kerr

 
"The Fourth Valley"

Three Valleys

Last Sunday we shared that in life everyone goes through three valleys" the valley of weeping, the valley of suffering, and the valley of the shadow of death. No one escapes the journey through these valleys. Sorrow touches each of our lives from time to time. None of us makes it through life without experiencing suffering of one kind or another, and suffering is a theological problem with which we humans have wrestled since before the days of Job in the Old Testament (the oldest book in the Bible). Death is a reality for us, as we both lose loved ones and eventually face our own demise as well. When we contrast these realities with the words of Jesus, we find that we face something of a dilemma. For Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly," and "I have come that you might have joy and that your joy might be full." He promises the disciples on the eve of his crucifixion that they will know deep grief, but that their grief will turn to joy! Throughout the writing of Paul he affirms that no matter what circumstances he finds himself in—whether knowing abundance, or knowing want—he still experiences joy.

The Promised Presence

o how does one hold on to the promise of abundance and joy when journeying through these three valleys? How can one weep and yet find joy and comfort? Recall Jesus' words in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." That comfort implies a recovery of joy. Two weeks ago we spoke about Paul's imprisonment and suffering, yet in the midst of it, he held fast to the joy of his salvation. Both the presence and the promise of God were so overwhelmingly real to him that his suffering paled by comparison and he found not only purpose in that suffering, but joy in it as well. As for the valley of the shadow of death, what more joyful and serene words can we find about that than in the 23rd Psalm. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," David writes, "I shall fear no evil." And why not? "For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

These are just a few examples from the scriptures that tell us that when one walks through any of those three valleys, it is the presence of the Lord God with us that restores the joy of our salvation! We find that the valleys of weeping, suffering, and shadows become transformed into a fourth valley, the Valley of Joy and Happiness.

The Fourth Valley

I love it whenever a member of the congregation gives me an indication that they were not only listening, but also really thinking deeply about what the sermon was suggesting. Last week, on the way out of worship, Bob Pratt shook my hand and said, "There is one valley you didn't mention this morning: the valley of Joy and Happiness." So here we are today, talking about the fourth valley.

Created for Joy and Communion with God

I am a firm believer that when God created humankind, it was with the great desire and intention that this "crown of God's creation" would know joy and happiness and would experience it in daily communion with the Creator. "Let us make man in our image," the Creator says, and then creates them, male and female,and blesses them. Now, whenever that phrase "blesses them" is used in scripture, it implies that the result of that blessing is joy and happiness for the recipient. God gives them everything they need to experience that joy and happiness. Looking over all that has been created, on the evening of the sixth day God declares, "It's all good."

Paradise Lost

Living in Eden, Adam and Eve have everything they need and their lives are full of joy and contentment, including daily communion with God, walks and talks in the garden with God. That is, until the day old Free Will kicked in and they succumb to the temptation to be disobedient to God. Prior to that, there was no valley of weeping, or suffering, or death. But when sin enters into human experience (and this is basically defined as disobedience to God), Adam and Eve find themselves cast out of the garden. Paradise lost.

Paradise Regained

As history unfolds, we find that God yearns to once again be in covenant relationship with humankind, so prophets, priests, holy men and women are raised up, a covenant is established, law is given, all so that those who walked in the valleys of weeping and suffering and shadow might once again walk in a valley of joy and happiness, in communion with the Creator. Ultimately, God robes himself in human form and comes to dwell among us, offering His Son for the sins of the world, that through him we could once again know and experience the love of God and enjoy daily communion with him in the Valley of Joy and Happiness.

The 23rd Psalm

David describes it wonderfully for us, and remember as we read that these words are written by one who has spent more than his share of time in each of these other three valleys: He has wept with a humbled and contrite heart because of the grievous sins of murder and adultery; he has suffered heartbreaking loss as a result of his sin; he has fled for his life and lived in grief over the death of his rebellious son, Absalom. But now, having humbled himself before God, having received God's forgiveness, he writes these beautiful words about the valley of joy:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want for anything.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside still waters,
he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil.
Why? Because thou art with me,
thy rod and they staff the comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

There is such serenity and such deep currents of joy in David's description of this meadow that one can easily imagine oneself resting peacefully and contentedly beside those still waters, enjoying the beauty of God's creation and the presence of the Good Shepherd.

Bringing Your Own Weather to the Picnic

Yesterday, as my wife Linda and I returned from Asheville where we attended the 16th birthday party for our granddaughter Courtney, Linda read the following phrase to me from a book she was reading: "We bring our own weather to the picnic." The phrase is referring to attitude. We have two choices when we arrive at a picnic and find that it's raining: we can grumble and curse the weather that's ruined the picnic and be thoroughly miserable, or we can move under shelter and enjoy the food and fellowship with each other and have a great tie. We bring the capacity for that with us to the picnic. The same thing is true as we journey through life.

The Valley of Joy

If we have grounded our lives in Christ, and are nurturing that relationship, we live in a fourth valley, the valley of joy—and that valley is not a place, it is an attitude grounded in our relationship with God. When things are going well, we are filled with gratitude and joy for the many blessings of life, and when sorrow and suffering or the shadow of death visit themselves upon us—as we journey through those valleys, we are not robbed of our joy. We've brought our own weather to the picnic, because we live in the valley of deep and abiding joy made possible by the love and grace of God.

Seven Points to Ponder

Last week we asked, "How do we make it through these three valleys that can cause the heart to tremble and not lose our joy, not lose our happiness in the Lord?"

  1. Remember that you are created in the image of God.
  2. Remember that you are a child of God, precious to the Lord.
  3. Remember that God has promised to never leave you nor forsake you. God will be with you always and in every circumstance.
  4. Remember that joy isn't found because of the circumstances that surround your life, but is experienced sometimes in spite of those circumstances; its origin is in your relationship with God.
  5. Remember, it is God's desire that you know joy and happiness in your life. "I have come that your joy might be full," Jesus said.
  6. Stay centered in Christ—he is the source of lasting joy in life.
  7. And in those moments of your life when you are feeling particularly blessed and happy, when circumstances are positive and good, and there seem to be few clouds on the horizon, take a deep sigh and give thanks to God.

Our three-week journey with David and Solomon ends now with these selected verses from Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation,
whom shall I fear?
The lord is the stronghold of my life,
of whom shall I be afraid?
I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
For I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!

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Rehobeth United Methodist Church • 9297 Sherrills Ford Road • P.O. Box 356 • Terrell, NC 28682
Copyright © 2011 Robert L. Kerr, D.Min
Used by permission