Senseless Joy

By Pastor Josh Zappone

This weekend I have the pleasure of preaching in our Joy Series. The text I am speaking on is in Ecclesiastes. Why Ecclesiastes? May seem like an odd choice when speaking about joy!
I started preparing for this weekend of preaching with a lot of questions:

  • What is joy?

  • Where does it come from?

  • Why do I not feel it now?

  • Is joy an emotion or a mindset?

  • Can joy be stolen?

  • Can joy be given?

  • What is joy vs. hope?

  • Are Christians supposed to be happier than unbelievers?

Whenever there is a question that comes up (or a topic I dive into) I seem to encounter a flood of questions. Some questions that I have thought about before, some entirely new, and some that I have been avoiding. Maybe you are like this- you function on questions, looking for answers, and approach things like a puzzle to be solved.

Self-reflection is not my strongest skill, but this week I have been spending more time thinking about myself – thinking. . . . a lot of thoughts! One thing I realized in this process is that I tend to think that everything, ultimately, logically fits together and makes sense. Questions have answers. Even if those answers are not obtainable by me. Life makes sense - or at least I try to make life make sense and avoid things that I can’t make sense of.

Ecclesiastes is one of those books in the Bible that tells us, “Hey the world doesn’t make sense, and if you think about it, can really senselessly suck sometimes.”

It’s true. I admit defeat. The world/life/God cannot be rationally and logically figured out (probably).

While the teacher in Ecclesiastes gives us his seemingly pessimistic, everything-is-vanity worldview he also leaves us with a strange exhortation: eat, drink, and be joyful in your toil— for this is God’s gift to man. Joy! Joy in the midst of senselessness. Joy when everything fails you. Joy when there is no apparent reason for joy. JOY!

Joy is an emotion. Without emotion joy feels empty— it cannot be simplified and called a mindset. Joy is something we feel. It is not restricted to Christians- my atheist friend can have joy as well and we can even be joyful together! For many people though, joy is dependent on situations or circumstances.

There is something strange, mysterious, and elusive about joy in the Bible. The teacher in Ecclesiastes says everything is vanity/temporary/a vapor on the wind. Yet we are told to have joy... Have joy in the meaningless and the failing. Feel joy when life is senseless.

  • This is the elusiveness of joy that the Apostle Paul discovers in his suffering and loss
    (2 Corinthians 7, Colossians 1:24).

  • This is the joy Jesus tells his disciples about as he heads for death (John 16:22).

  • This is the joy James has in mind when he tells Jesus-followers to count all trials as joy
    (James 1:2).

  • This is the joy of all God’s people that Dr. Marty shared with us last week from Isaiah 35.

There is a joy that God gives through his Spirit that is not dependent on circumstances. When things are senseless or vanishing like a vapor on the wind, there is joy- a feeling of joy. Not just a grin and bear it, mental fortitude joy.

However, as the teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us again, there is a time for everything, and joy would not be the wonderful, surprising, and senseless gift it is without moments of sorrow and mourning (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). So, I am not going to pretend like I have joy figured out— a question I commonly ask is “Why do I not feel joy now?” Yet moments of joy still come. Joy comes in times of worship and prayer, in my relationships, and when I least expect it. Joy comes when the circumstances oppose it. Joy is a gift from God.

In Ecclesiastes, we are taught that joy can be found in the senseless, in the mundane, and in the toil of life. That’s why Ecclesiastes.

Join me this weekend at any of our three services, Saturday at 5:30 pm or Sunday at 9:30 or 11:00 am. If you can’t make it to church, join us on Facebook Live by going to the Washington Cathedral Facebook Page and attend the 11:00 am service remotely.