Plastic Christianity's Failure To Recognize Sorrow And Understand Joy

Text: John 16:16-22

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I have to confess that I don’t have much patience anymore for what I call Plastic Christianity. You know, the kind of Christianity that isn’t real. The kind of Christianity where people pretend that they are happy all the time. The kind of Christianity where you supposedly walk around in the victorious life – free from sin, sorrow, and pain. Yes, I don’t have much patience for Plastic Christianity because it has ruined way too many people - emotionally and theologically. Furthermore, I have no patience for it because it is simply not real. It is fake; it makes a mockery of the Christian life. And it ignores the reality of what Jesus talks about in the reading from the Gospel of John. 


In John chapter 16, Jesus says to His disciples – and to you and me – that in this life, we will weep and mourn. He states that we will have pain. Such is life in this vale of tears. But Jesus also promises us that our pain will turn to joy. 


So, this brings up an interesting question: which one is it? Pain or joy? Yes, pain or joy?  Plastic Christianity obviously responds by saying, “Joy all the time, no pain!”  But we know that this is not reality.  As it has been said before, life is pain; anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.


So, again, which one is it?  Is Christianity joy or pain?  Well, it is neither. Instead, we believe, teach, and confess that this Christian life is pain and joy simultaneously. 


You see, becoming a Christian does not free you from the pain and sorrows of life. Contrary to what higher life spiritual gurus of Plastic Christianity gush, once you become a Christian, you are not lifted out of this vale of tears. Contrary to the plastic sermons of smiling and sappy pastors who act like they have it all together, once you become a Christian, you are not lifted above the valley of tears in some spiritual balloon to utopic bliss. No, Jesus says, that we will have sorrow in this life. There is no escaping the vale of tears. People will let you down. Your body will suffer decay. Sickness may take hold of you. Finances will suffer. War may break out. Heavy thoughts may come and bow your head and make your hearts tremble. Such is life under this sun. To say that we Christians do not suffer, weep, or have pain is na├»ve at best or at worst; somebody may be trying to sell something to line their own pockets. 


This is why the kind of Evangelism that tells pagans to become a Christian so that they can obtain a great life full of health, wealth, and prosperity is so misleading. Does living the Christian life lead to a better life, though? Yes, at times, it does. But a life where a person is free from sorrow, pain, and weeping? No, this kind of life does not exist. It only exists in the imaginations of people who are afraid of their own shadows – people who are afraid of the troubles of life and need to create a pretend world that they imagine is safe, spectacular, and fuzzy. 


So the point is quite simple. As a Christian, you must learn to expect sorrow, weeping, and pain. When sorrow, weeping, and pain happen, well… it must not catch you off-guard, for this is the way that it is in life.  It is the way it is in this vale of tears. 

Dear friends, please keep in mind that we are not living in the Garden of Eden anymore. We live in a world cursed by sin. We live in a world ruled by the devil himself – the devil who is the prince of the power of the air. Furthermore, when we become a Christian, we are not instantly transported to glory. No, we remain in this world. This is why the old hymn writers refer to the Christian as a pilgrim on a journey in a foreign land.


But what of joy, though? Does the Christian have any happiness or joy in this life, or is it all doom and gloom? 


Friends, please listen up!  Jesus promises you and me in the reading from the Gospel of John that our sorrow will turn to joy. 


It is interesting to know, though, that there is a great difference between joy and happiness. That is to say, the joy that Jesus speaks of is not the same as having happiness like the pagan world. You see, when the average pagan talks about happiness, they are typically seeking pleasure. 


Permit me an opportunity to explain. 


The average pagan will feel sorrow and pain, just like you and me. However, the average pagan will then try to offset or replace sorrow and pain with happiness and pleasure. And so, they will try to create happiness. They will even get aggressive believing that it is their right to be happy. This will result in them pushing, shoving, fighting, and demanding happiness at all costs. But in the end, the pursuit of happiness is never long-lasting. Sooner or later, pain and sorrow break happiness apart. Unfortunately, though, (and this is where things get dangerous) pagans - and even Christians - can fall into the trap of fighting back against sorrow and pain by trying to create greater happiness. Like King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes, we can drink every bottle, buy every product, sleep with as many people as we can, and consume as much media as possible to keep a steady drip of happiness flowing into our veins. But in the end, the happiness of the world lasts only a moment.


Joy, though, is quite different. Joy cannot be created or forced. Furthermore, joy does not originate in the depth of our hearts. We don’t have the joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, as the old children’s song goes. No! The joy that Jesus speaks of is found outside the human heart. You see, the Christian’s joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness. Joy is something that is given to the Christian. It comes to us like a stab, breaking through our tears, sorrow, and pain to point to something bigger than the hardships of this life. 


And so, dear Christians, think of it this way. Joy is something that you will permanently receive when you are delivered from this vale of tears – when you are resurrected from your graves unto life. At the great last day, you will have complete joy forever; however, in the time being you live in this vale of tears.


What this means is that you smile through your tears. In other words, we weep in this world because sin constantly attacks us, temptations make our hearts weary, and the world always scorns us. And yet, we smile through our tears because we are given a foretaste or a sample of the joy that is to come at glory. The Lord pierces your heart and gives you joy as He calms your conscience, covers your sin with forgiveness, and strengthens your faith through His Word and Sacraments. 


Baptized Saints, the Lord God wants us to have joy in this life. And so, He gives us good gifts while we experience sorrow and pain in this vale of tears. For example, He gives you gifts such as authority – parents and police to keep you safe… joy. He gives you physical life from the womb to your death bed, as well as doctors to heal your body… joy. He does not want you to be alone, so He gives the gift of marriage – a husband or wife… joy.   And let us not forget, He gives you possessions, a good reputation, and contentment – all gifts, all joy. And finally but certainly not least, He gives you everlasting righteousness, forgiveness, a Christian church, and the promised resurrection. All of these gifts – all for you… joy. 


Baptized Saints, in the Lord, we rejoice because the Lord never stops giving us good gifts; in ourselves, we lament because we never stop living in this vale of tears. In the Lord we have reason to rejoice; in ourselves we have reason to be sorrowful.[1] And so, we rejoice in our sorrow and we sorrow alongside joy. We smile through our tears, for this is neither plastic nor fake, but real Christianity. 


Baptized Saints, smile through your tears for you neither deny the reality of pain nor are you abandoned to your pain. The Lord will continue to puncture through your pain to give you assurance, certainty, and, yes – joy.  He will do this until He delivers you from the valley of tears unto glory, where all pain, sorrow, and weeping are gone forever, and you are given permanent joy. 


In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed. Ewald Plass, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 692.

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