Philippians 4:4-13 – Pentecost 18
St. Paul says to ‘rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!’
And all the people of God said: about what?
Such is the attitude of we who live in these last days; there is indeed seemingly very little to rejoice about. No doubt any bit of good news is met by an overabundance of bad news.
Turn on the news on any particular night, and you will see that there are wars and rumors of wars in a multitude of places. And there are constant rumors about how serious this latest disease will be. Not to mention equally discouraging news on the economy and climate and a host of other issues.
Politicians declare that they are the ones to fix all the problems in the world; and yet sometimes it seems that they often cause more problems than they solve.
And so you resolve to turn off the news, as it only brings distress into your life, as opposed to the joy that St. Paul tells you to rejoice in.
And yet, it turns out that the news was only a distraction from the bad news at home.
As ailing small towns facing the realities of decreasing population and shrinking jobs, there is little to rejoice in even when one opens the front door and looks around at the once familiar street of the community. Even when we gather in this place, it is hard to ignore the facts that there used to be a lot more people here to hear about the joy St. Paul speaks of, then there are today.
The world does not allow for much joy; in fact the world does more to take joy away from us than it does to bring joy into our lives. There might be the good news of the birth of a baby, or the opening of a new business, or hostilities ceasing between long warring parties; but whatever joy there might be, is quickly muted when you consider how many challenges one must face in this world; or how short lived any previous joy has been.
And as believers especially, there is the general assumption that joy is off limits to us. As believers, we have been told our entire lives that the Christian life is one of suffering; that as Christians today we should expect persecution and possibly even death. As believers, we have been told that life will get especially harder the longer we are on this earth. Our confirmation vows even ask if we would be willing to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the Christian faith.
How can one experience the joy that St. Paul speaks of, when we are constantly of the mindset that we should sit in sackcloth and ashes, repenting of our sins, unworthy of any joy that might try to infiltrate our lives of repentance.
Where is the joy that St. Paul speaks of?
Surely St. Paul must be speaking of an other worldly joy; a joy that is reserved for when we stand in Paradise. Surely St. Paul must be speaking of a spiritual joy that we experience when we hear the words of the absolution spoken, or when we receive Christ’s body and blood. Surely St. Paul must be speaking of the Christian joy that we find in the communion of saints here each and every Lord’s day.
Surely St. Paul has a joy in mind that is not the typical joy that we think of; because when we look around at our lives and at this world, there is not much joy for the Christian.
St. Paul of course knows all of this. He has been beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and otherwise not really experienced a very joyful life since his conversion on the Damascus road. More than anyone, St. Paul can look around at his own life, and ask where is the joy?
And more than anyone else, we can look at St. Paul’s life and say that there is most certainly no joy in his life; there is suffering, there is pain, there is sadness, there is hurt; and there is most certainly no joy.
And yet, who is it that write the words: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say Rejoice?
It is St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul who was beaten on numerous occasions for the sake of the Gospel, says to Rejoice.
St. Paul who was imprisoned several times for preaching the Gospel in hostile communities, says to Rejoice.
St. Paul who was shipwrecked more than once on his way to preach the Gospel to peoples who had not yet heard it, says to Rejoice.
And he says the same to you.
In a world that is overrun by sin and death, St. Paul says to Rejoice.
In a world that does nothing but point to its own gloom and distress, St. Paul says to Rejoice.
In a world that has a very bleak future as we approach the coming of Christ in glory, St. Paul says to Rejoice.
So to you, St. Paul speaks these words: Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.
And all the people of God said: about what?
And to that the answer is: about Jesus.
Rejoice in the Lord always for Jesus has come into the world to redeem you.
Rejoice in the Lord always for by His death and resurrection, Jesus has overcome the world and opened to you the gates of eternal life.
Today there are wars and rumors of wars, but rejoice that in Christ Jesus there is peace and security.
Today there is suffering and there is death and there is persecution in this world, but rejoice that in Christ Jesus there is a new glorified body and eternal life.
Today there are challenges in this world with numbers and demographics and uncertainty as to what the next generation will have, but rejoice that no matter what, Christ Jesus is present here in the Word, in the water, and in the bread and wine.
There are charges against you from Satan, he has come to you and pointed to what you have done wrong, and asked how God could ever love you, but rejoice, for out of His great love for you, God sent His one and only Son, Christ Jesus, into the world to redeem you from Satan.
Rejoice, for the Lord of heaven and earth has given you much. Rejoice, for the trials and tribulations of this world are for a moment, but in God there is no beginning or end.
Rejoice in the Lord always, for on the Last Day, Christ Jesus will stand triumphant over those who forsake Him in this life.
Rejoice in the Lord always for your sins committed in thought, word, and deed are forgiven by your Father in heaven.
Rejoice in the Lord always for He has secured for you a place in His kingdom for you to spend eternity with Him.
Rejoice in the Lord always for this world is but for a moment, but life with Christ is forever.
St. Paul says Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say Rejoice!
And all the people of God said: Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord for the many and various blessings that we have received in this life, and for the ones that we anticipate in eternal life, for which we rejoice over, both now and forever.