Rev. Paula J. Elizabeth
Scripture: Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
There isn’t a week, a day, that goes by where we don’t hear of some catastrophe, some turbulence in the universe, in our world, in nature, in humanity. This week it was a holocaust from rampaging and ravaging fires not far from our own doorsteps.
Whether it is nature’s doing or our own, these continuous atrocities keep on keeping on. In the light of that you might ask yourself why in God’s name would I preach a passage that tells us to “Rejoice!” Of all emotions to have!!! Well it is in God’s name – or whatever name you have for God, that we – by all means and intentions – need to be rejoicing.
Paul wrote these words to the disciples in Philippi while he was imprisoned. Rome was the tyrant of the known planet at that point in time. This then, was not exactly a time one would think Paul would be rejoicing either! Yet, he was. And offering that same heart-set to be with those this letter was addressed to. Then, and now, it is a powerful reminder of the heart of a disciple.
And so, it turns out, this is the perfect scripture for times such as these. The more vulnerable the ways of the world, the more destructive the secular ways, the more the ways of God, the heart of God, have to offer.
Paul’s heart, and vision, of “joy” and “rejoicing” is neither superficial nor short-lived. It is, however, firmly anchored “in the Lord,” in Christ, in God, for the long haul, despite all and any obstacles.
Paul wasn’t looking through rose-colored glasses, or some kind of “Woo-Woo”/New Age guru tripping out on a high. Or was he? He surely was ushering in a new age and new way of being, filled with the love imbedded by a faith which gave him a whole new way of seeing and living. And he was passing that on to others – just as Jesus had. Just as we have promised to do as present day disciples.
It is this faith, this ultimate way of being: one with, one in, one a part of, and one filled with the Holy Love called God. Even in the worst of times. Even in the darkest of hours. Even in the mystery and paradox called: life. Perhaps those “What’s it all about Alfie?” thoughts are going through our minds. (I’ll leave the possible symbolism of the words of that song and maybe even the gist of the movie for you to follow through with and contemplate on later.)
For now, how is all that: Be in the Spirit rejoicing working for all of you?
Paul is giving us a set of spiritual practices that will transform our lives bringing forth an outpouring of “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,” way of living in our individual and corporate/community lives. Spiritual formation involves both a life-orientation and a repetitive practice of being in faith.
Ross, Carol Rainey, Ann Johns and I have been taking an Olli (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) course, at San Diego State University entitled: Women, the Word, and the World. It headlines three women who lived their faith in times and ways that looked adversity in the face, stood up to power, and changed the vision of many.
These are women you won’t find on the front pages of our newspapers, but they are women who have made a difference in the world, just because they had the faith that led them and strengthened them to do just that.
Rejoicing emerges from our sense of gratitude, our sense of God’s presence in our lives. The more we participate in it, lean upon it, cultivate it and share it, the firmer (and more tempting) the promise.
And the promise of the scripture is that this way of being is itself transferred to our own affirmative way of thinking and kindness of heart. That in turn is transformed into a behavior of giving to others, so others can also have the joy that resides in our own hearts and spirits.
We can’t help but give the joy we have away! It’s just too luscious to keep to ourselves. Paul calls what we receive from this new way of being in love with the Love of Life, of allowing ourselves to be loved by that same ultimate Lover. This is nothing other than soul food.
We fill ourselves with so much joy, we can’t but help give it away.
“Think about these things” – justice, purity, honor rather than divisiveness, scarcity, and polarization. This is hard counsel today, especially when we are bombarded by the 24/7 news of politicians and their egotistical rhetoric, by disasters around the world, and by a media who sow even more chaos, anxiety, and fear.
Affirmative thinking is not a denial of reality. It is looking beyond the boasts of those who promise everything and deliver nothing but mindless trauma which plunges us into despair and polarization.
Paul’s words are the antithesis of this; and invite us to become agents of a better world yet to be. This passage offers us hope and cause for joy by imaging and living within a different set of values and core beliefs. It is living in Faith! It is trusting in that faith, and generously sharing that faith with others – reaching out to those in need, or in pain with our resources.
Paul knew of what he spoke. Life was hard and dangerous for his contemporaries. It is hard and dangerous for us too. We were never promised anything but just that. It was the life of Jesus and his disciples then – and now.
We are now the light in the world, the presence of safety and assurance. We are not just the fixers, but primarily the comforters. And we lean on our faith to strengthen and comfort us.
We are the first responder when something isn’t right in the society. When there is death and destruction, when there is derision and desecration, when there is brokenness of any sort in the world – we are the repairers.
We demonstrate that caring and giving as people before us have also demonstrated. Now it is our turn. That is who we are in this imperfect world, in this broken world writhing in pain.
If ever there were a time to put our own selfish interests at bay, and to give of ourselves to others, to support this church, to offer our time, talents, skills, experience, caring, and financial assistance, now is the time.
Now is when you can truly make a difference for others. Give of yourself, of your ability and your treasures so that others may also know the joy of a heart of gratefulness, a spirit of caring, and a soul filled with love.
Rejoice in God’s ways always. Be generous in your gratefulness by sharing the blessings and abundance of God with others. Amen.