The Thief of Joy

The Thief of Joy


Rev. Jonathan Carey Goodell is a retired UCC pastor and a member of First Congregational Church in Winchester MA.  He writes regularly on the web site

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:4-6,9 (NRSV)

For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Reflection: The Thief of Joy

The Oscars are over. Some of you stayed up, enduring the many small prizes to see who was best actor or best director. Others of you got up to read a summary of the event. And some of you, frankly, didn’t give a hoot. Your favorite director of actor was ‘robbed’. Or you think of this as a puffy institution with little to offer.

The Oscars remind us that comparison can be a slippery slope! Judgment and comparison can distract us from deeper values and more certain common ground.

It was President Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And surely he was echoing an ancient insight. Comparison puts us into a fortress of judgment and limits the field of vision that we use. Instead of asking the deeper question of value, judgment and comparison will only tell us what is lacking. “What’s in your wallet?” goes a recent ad. Surely whatever is in it is not good enough!

The apostle Paul pierces the mind set of comparison in this Sunday’s lectionary reading. “Some of you say that you are spiritual children of Apollos. Some of you claim Cephas as your teacher. Some of you cling to me.” He is criticizing them for handing out Oscars to their favorite teachers. He challenges them to not make their teacher, their system, their party into the best way, the only way. He reminds them of the idolatory of a small vision.

What does he recommend instead? He invites each person to regard the power of God as the true source of life. Remember, he says, that the God that we worship is the source of all life, of your life, of my life ... throughout all time, and beyond time!

Make God the gardener ... and you will not rate the garden. Make God the artist ... and you will remember the particular power of a small moment. Make God the architect and her power to shape will establish that true value and weight. Put Apollos, the teacher and me, Paul, the apostle back on the shelf as mere servants and you will see something better. You will see that you are the beloved, that you are the field, that you are the building! You are the focus of God’s marvelous attentions and intentions!

Community grows from a detached and yet emotionally available form of love. Put away the poison of king or queen making! Disengage from a system that devalues God’s work in you! And seek the growth that may be hidden for a time but now is waiting to be seen.

I have a cardboard box of dahlia bulbs in the cold room in my basement. I am keeping them dormant but plump by pouring a half cup of cold water on the felt that covers them each week. But the growth that we long for in winter months is prepared for by engagement and detachment, by commitment and a willingness to wait.

If you want to reflect further on this Sunday’s passage, take to heart the old Alanon saying “be careful not to compare your insides with someone else’s outsides”. Put aside partisan thinking and open your heart to God the source of all love and all life.

And then open your eyes to the particular power of a small moment, a gift, or even an enduring strength in that other person.


God of all wonder and grace, invite me to strip away false glory and uncertain attachments in this moment. Allow me to value all that is small and vital, all that is growing in me and in others this day. Renew a powerful love within that is both detached and deeply committed! May I see Your Kingdom in others, in myself, and in the world. Praying in the spirit of Jesus ... amen!

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the family of Rev. Taylor E. Roth, a retired UCC pastor and former pastor of the Allin Congregational Church in Dedham, MA. Taylor died on Feb. 8.
  • For the people in China as they struggle to work and retain normal lives due to the reactions to the coronavirus
  • For those suffering or grieving after a shooting in Thailand on Sunday which left 29 dead  and 27 injured

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For those who work with mentally ill children and adults to teach them to be successful in their lives

Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:

Congregational Church of Westborough, Westborough, MA
West Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC, West Yarmouth, MA
The First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, West Tisbury, MA
West Suffield Congregational Church, West Suffield, CT
West Stockbridge Congregational Church, UCC, West Stockbridge, MA
First Congregational Church UCC, West Springfield, MA
Mittineague Congregational Church, West Springfield, MA
Stratford Street United Church, West Roxbury, MA
The Second Church in Newton, UCC, West Newton, MA
First Congregational Church of West Haven, West Haven, CT
Covenant Congregational Church of West Hartford, West Hartford, CT

This Week in History:
February 14, 2018  (2 years ago) A shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, leaves 17 dead and 17 wounded. Using a semi-automatic rifle, Nikolas Cruz entered the school at around 2:19pm with a backpack full of magazines. In less than 4 minutes, he had killed 17 and injured more. He then left the campus and was apprehended later in the day. In the wake of the shooting, several states, including Florida, passed new gun laws. As of Feb 6, 2020, Cruz is in jail, waiting trial for 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

February 10, 2020
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