Rejoice in the Lord, always! Rejoice?!?

Oct 04, 2020

Sermon 10-04-2020
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Stewardship Emphasis
Text: Philippians 4:1-7
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Rejoice in the Lord, always. Rejoice?!? Let’s list some realities for 2020:
  • We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has gone on for more than six months. Covid 19 has caused the deaths of 200,000 people in the United States and one-million people worldwide, and who knows how many unrecorded illnesses and deaths. Rejoice?
  • Businesses, schools, churches, and the people who depend on them have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Rejoice?
  • The development of a vaccine, intentionally cautious, is slow, and its distribution will be slower. Rejoice?
  • Fires in the west and hurricanes in the south have destroyed homes and lives. Rejoice?
  •  Political divisiveness is at an all-time high in the United States. Rejoice?
  • The sin of racism continues to raise its ugly head. Rejoice?
  • Add to that the on-going challenges of illness, accidents, loss, addiction, and poverty; we might well ask, “How can we rejoice?”
     That is an odd choice for a three-week stewardship emphasis, you may be thinking, especially by Pastor Jean, who avoids descriptions like “happy” or “excellent” or “amazing” or verbs that focus on being “excited” or, you guessed it, “rejoicing”. Just a personal note here – that’s probably because I grew up waiting for the other shoe to drop, that is, for the next painful or difficult or threatening thing to happen in my family. So I’ve always been standoffish about strong descriptors because the minute I felt happy, I soon didn’t, or if I was excited, you could bet something went wrong.
     So, it is ironic that I am encouraging us, in decidedly unstable times, to rejoice! Yet, I am, and I’m also encouraging us to allow our rejoicing to guide us as we think about stewardship – how we share out time, talents, and money so that the ministry of Jesus here at Faith Lutheran Church thrives.
     For three weeks, our focus will be on the fourth chapter of Philippians, and there are several important details for us to know as we begin. Philippi was the first city on European soil – somewhere between Greece and Rome - where a Christian church was founded by Paul. The Christians there were primarily gentiles, non-Jews and the church was small and poor, but generous. The reason for Paul’s letter to them in around 60 A.D., which we label “The Epistle to the Philippians,” was to thank them for a financial gift which they had sent for his support.
     The kicker, though, is that Paul was writing this letter from prison in Rome, a consequence of his sharing his faith in Jesus. Surprisingly, the leading thought in his letter is joy and gratitude; he uses the word “rejoice”, or words similar to it, 16 times. (1) Rejoice? From prison??
     Another interesting thing about Chapter 4 is that Paul begins by mentioning two women described as having “struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.” But, it seems as if there is a disagreement between them, or that they are struggling to remain faithful disciples since Paul urges them to be “of the same mind in the Lord”. Whatever the situation is, it is significant enough for Paul to mention and ask for help in getting them back on track.
     What follows that request is one of the most moving portions of Paul’s writing, verses 4-7. I would not be surprised if many of you have those verses memorized. We often isolate from verses 2-3. But what if we did not do that and saw these verses as Paul’s advice for ending an argument or creating reconciliation or helping people re-commit to discipleship?
     In other words, when times are tough, rejoice! When there is a disagreement, stop arguing and rejoice! When a relationship requires healing, rejoice! When doubts are creeping in, rejoice! When the future is unknown, rejoice!
     Wait … he does not just say rejoice, does he? Rejoice in what? “Rejoice in the Lord, always.” It’s not rejoice in the circumstances, but in the Lord. In other words, find joy in God’s love. It’s not even rejoice in spite of the circumstances, but focus on the goodness of God. God is grace-filled. God is kind. God is a guiding presence. God is merciful. The list could go on and on.
       But, what about the “always,” as in “Rejoice in the Lord, always”? That seems a bit much until we grasp that always is not so much an on-going action on our part, as an attitude that endures because of God’s reaching out to us, not the other way around. It is joy rooted in an on-going relationship, built on trust, that ebbs and flows, but never ends. Now for the stewardship reminder: our relationship with God is strengthened as we serve others, as we worship and learn together. We commit ourselves to give and live sacrificially, and as we follow the “steps,” Paul offers in these four verses.
     We might think of “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again, I will say rejoice,” as step one. Step two is to live in a spirit of gentleness; the meaning of the Greek word is more like tolerance or acceptance, and acknowledge the nearness of God whatever we experience in our lives. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone, the Lord is near.” The third step is to hand whatever it is that stirs up anxiety over to God, thankful for the opportunity to do so. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” And finally, step four is to find peace; it’s the mysterious variety that creates safety in spite of the vulnerability that is a by-product of imitating the character of Jesus. After all, if we are tolerant, accepting, forgiving, humble, and seek justice, we may be subject to ridicule and bullying. This peace offers internal protection. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (2)
     As that peace becomes more and more a part of us, so does, you guessed it, rejoicing. Accessing that peace is a process that, I confess, I’m still working on; some days, it’s more present than others, which directly impacts my desire to rejoice. So, what should I, should we, then do? What should we do in the face of challenges, including, as Paul noted, disagreements or discouragement?
     Go back to Step One. Rejoice! In who? The Lord!  Always! AMEN
(1) The New International Commentary on the New Testament: the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians by Jac J. Muller, Eerdmans, 1988, pgs. 13-21
(2) Commentary on Philippians 4:4-7 by Edward Pillar,