Sermon: “Rejoice in the Lord”             

LSB Series A; Proper 22

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 11, 2020

Epistle Reading: Philippians 4:4-13

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

          Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

          One might be inclined to say that Paul is trying to make a point here. After all, he not only tells the Church in Philippi to rejoice, but he even goes so far as to repeat the command. In fact this short book of the Bible contains the word “joy” in various forms sixteen times. So, yes, Paul was trying to make a point.

          What was there to rejoice about? That might have been what the Philippian Christians were wondering. How could they rejoice when they faced constant persecution? How could they rejoice when their very livelihoods, and even their lives were at stake? How could they rejoice when they could not freely practice the faith that had been handed to them. Rejoice? There was nothing to rejoice about. Easy for Paul to say.

          Was it really easy for Paul to say? Paul was writing this letter from a prison cell. He looked around and saw bricks and bars in every direction. His dining fare was prison rations. His body no doubt stank of the horrific odor of clothes worn out and dirty, and the body of a man who desperately needed a bath. There was no light to encourage him from the shining of the sun. Prison was an awful place to be, and yet Paul still called upon the people in Philippi to rejoice.

          He calls upon us to do the same. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

          What is there to rejoice about these days? The Twins are out of the playoffs…again. The Vikings are having a pretty rough start. But hey, at least you aren’t a Detroit fan.

Sports aside, what is there to rejoice about these days? We are now nearing seven months in a pandemic that has altered our lives in ways that no one could have predicted. We have been cooped up in our homes, told to function in ways that are simply not natural to us, and we are separated from those we love and care about. Rejoice?

          Many of us if we would dare to venture out find ourselves doing so in fear and trepidation. Riots and unrest have us rethinking how we will spend our free time. Do we venture into the Cities? Do we travel to that state, whatever state it is? Rejoice?

          The presidential election is nearly upon us. Many of us are looking to rejoice in the hopes that our candidate will win, come the day after the election. But if we have learned anything from our current political climate, a decision by that date seems unlikely. Though we certainly all need to vote, there is a caution to all of us not to look to our leaders to save us and serve as a form of savior. If we do so, this is a time of great fear and uncertainty. Rejoice?

          Then if that is not enough, we have our own ‘stuff’ going on in our personal lives. Diagnoses, depression, dementia, discouragement. Kids learning at home and stressing us out. Parents trying teach lessons to kids, and kids getting stressed out. Teachers trying to balance home life and distance learning. Everyone trying to adjust to Zoom this and Zoom that, and we simply crave human interaction. Isolation and loneliness abound because we have been cooped up and restricted for far too long. Not being able to see our loved ones, not being able to hold their hand or give them a hug. Rejoice?

          It would seem that Paul’s command is simply impossible to obey. Rejoice? We can’t rejoice if there is nothing to rejoice about. And I am confident I did not cover all of the reasons not to rejoice. No doubt the Philippians could add a few to the list as well. 

          But there is a key distinction here in this command of Paul’s that we need to make note of. Paul does not simply say: “Rejoice.” He says: “Rejoice in the Lord.” Always. Again I will say, Rejoice. 

          Note that this rejoicing is not in the circumstances of this world that is fallen and in decay. This rejoicing is solely based on Jesus and the gifts He gives as we live in this world of sin. It is vital that we understand that so that we can, in fact, Rejoice.

          A couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to attend a conference being sponsored by the Synod in partnership with DOXOLOGY near Wichita, Kansas. The conference was called “Take Heart”, based upon the words of Jesus as He was walking on the water towards His frightened disciples in the boat being rocked by the waves on the Sea of Galilee. Yet, in their fear, Jesus called out to them “Take heart, it is I.” What comforting words to storm tossed sailors…and to us as well as we are tossed by the storms of this world.

          Throughout the conference, I spoke with several pastors, and heard of the great hardships and discouragements that they have gone through as of late. They spoke of the challenges of the fact that even though there was less going on at the church, everything simply takes more time and energy. Plus, everyone in church, including the pastors are all a bit more restless and on edge these days because of all of the discouragement and the fact that there still seems to be no end in sight. They spoke of the aching reality of not being able to visit their people and interact with them as they once had. It was not easy to listen to, because in many of the conversations, it was like listening to the thoughts that were inside my own head. 

          Yet, through it all, we took several times, six to be exact (in 48 hours), to pause for worship. It was in each of those moments that we commended our cares and concerns for our congregations, our families, and ourselves to the Lord, while at the same time, we heard of our God who loves us, never leaves us nor forsakes us. We sang praises to our God in hymns and psalms, and we each were refreshed by the great care and concern of our Lord who loves His bride, the Church.

          And then it was time to go home. A retreat after all, is a temporary thing. In fact, it is as the chaplain there told us, “a retreat is a military maneuver. It is meant to be a time to step back, regroup, and then return to the battle.”

          For myself that battle remains ongoing here, and I Rejoice in being a part of it with you. We do not know how much longer this pandemic is going to go. We don’t know if the racial unrest and rioting will cause us harm and danger. We do not know what will come of the elections. But what we do know is that we have a Savior and God who will not abandon us though the war wages on. 

          I can’t emphasize that enough. In a world of so much isolation and separation, there is this beautiful truth that remains for us to rejoice in. It is as constant as the rising sun over the fields ripe for harvest. Jesus is present with us. We may look at the circumstances around us and think otherwise, but that would be to look for him in the wrong places. Jesus is present with His people right where He said He would be. 

          As I have told you before, Jesus is the worst at Hide ‘n’ Go Seek. He tells you where He is. He is in His Word. Just think of that for a moment. Each time that you open up your Bible, you are paging through the very love letter of the Savior who bled and died for you. It’s no wonder that many Bibles have the words of Jesus in red. The Bible just drips with the blood that Jesus poured out for you on Calvary.

          He is also in His Sacrament. Many of us here have had the privilege of once again receiving the Sacrament now that we have returned to in-person worship. But there are those who are still worshipping at home on-line. Though some came to our trial service this past week for those over the age of 65 and those especially vulnerable to the virus, there are those that have yet to return. If that is you, and you desire Christ’s holy supper, please give the office a call, and we will set up a time of private communion for you. 

          You see, when it comes to rejoicing, what greater gift is there than to be able dine on Christ’s feast of forgiveness that He gave to His disciples on the night that He was betrayed, on the night before He died on the cross to take away our sins.

          In fact, our Old Testament Reading and Gospel reading speak of feasts. On this day, we rejoice in being invited to the feast. Sinners that we are, we are welcomed to the table of the Lord. We are clothed in a wedding garment, a robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are directed by Christ to dine on the delectable delicacies of His body and blood, given and shed for us.

          Yet this is only a foretaste of the feast to come in the resurrection. There is much more that awaits us, a holy buffet in the halls of heaven. It will be a feast of rich food and well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined, as Isaiah tells us. And there, our God will swallow up death forever and He will wipe away the tears from our faces.

          And what will our response be to this gracious gift? Isaiah tell us: “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and REJOICE in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

          Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

          What may sound like an unreasonable demand is really anything but. Our Savior who loves us beyond measure has turned our eyes from the circumstances of this world to the feast that awaits us beyond this world. And there, serving as our host will be none other than Jesus, our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

Let us pray. (This is the collect for 5th Sunday of Easter as the Church rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus.) O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.