Summary: Beyond our three decades of ministry, and in spite of the terrors of this world, we have great reason to rejoice in the Lord! (Context of sermon: Preached on our Congregation's Rally Day and 30th Anniversary.)
[Singing] “This is the day / This is the day / That the Lord has made / That the Lord has made / I will rejoice / I will rejoice / And be glad in it / And be glad in it!”
I worked at a camp in Wisconsin one summer, and we sang this song every day. Every. Sin-gle. Morning. It was the same thing. We’d gather in the lodge at 6:30—no matter how exhausted from the days of continuous activity upon activity you were; no matter how tired you were of kids constantly asking “What’s next? When’s dinner? What’s next?”; no matter how sick of the drama in your cabin during Jr. High weeks; no matter how tired you were from trying to sleep in the heat on a tiny bunk bed—we got up early…for a meeting. We’d sit through that morning meeting, just hating it. And then, we’d all stand and sing, “This is the day,” clapping along the whole time. And, somehow, it always worked. By the song’s end, no matter how tired, stressed or anxious we began the day, at the end of the song we were glad, and we did have joy. And at the end, we would all shout, “HAPPY DAY!”
Such joy naturally pours out with another Sunday School song, too: “I got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay!” You just end up being more joyful after singing it.
Both of these songs, as well as the one the kids all sang during our Children’s Lesson, simply echo what Paul tells us in Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is near; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Those are some beautiful and encouraging words. They’re perfect for a big celebration like today. But come on…rejoice always?! That sounds a tad unrealistic, don’t you think? Don’t be anxious about anything?! Really? Sounds a bit idealistic? I mean, we’ve got problems. Big ones, too. But, it sounds like, according to the apostle Paul, we’re supposed to set our problems aside and somehow conjure up JOY? We can’t just sing a song and shout, “HAPPY DAY!” and make our anxieties disappear. And no naïve slogan like “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS”—a phrase that sounds like it belongs on a motivational poster featuring a tiny kitten toying with a ball of yarn—is going to make those problems go away or any easier to deal with. And what’s this talk about “the Lord is near?” He certainly doesn’t feel near with all of these big problems we face day in and day out. Rejoice always, and don’t be anxious, for the Lord is near? Sure. Easy for Paul to say!
But he doesn’t have five mouths to feed; or a mortgage to pay; or a difficult custody battle to deal with. He’s not looking for employment in this economy; or struggling to keep a marriage together; or trying to protect his children from bad influences. Paul didn’t have to worry about trying to maximize his kids’ scholarship opportunities by signing them up for every single AP course and every single extracurricular sport and activity under the sun; and then figure out how to get them to all of these things. Paul didn’t have the internet and social media updating him, second by second, on how the world is rapidly spinning out of control. He didn’t have to deal with healthcare; or abortion clinics; or the threats of ISIS; or school shootings; or violence against police; or transgender bathrooms; or racism in America; or having to cast his vote for “the lesser of two evils.” Rejoice always? Don’t be anxious? The Lord is near? Sure. Easy for an apostle 2,000 years ago to say!
It can be difficult for us to muster any form of joy in these situations. It’s difficult for us to see the Lord’s nearness with so many terrible things in the world on top of our own big problems. Think about all of the deadly natural disasters we hear about or experience: flooding; tropical storms; tornadoes; earthquakes with death tolls in the thousands. And that’s just a few examples of big, disastrous events that we have absolutely no control over. It sure doesn’t seem like the Lord is near in those times. Easy for Paul to say “Rejoice always,” but tough for us, sometimes.
How about the death of a loved one? God’s presence can be difficult to feel when you’re helplessly sitting at the bedside of someone close when death is sitting right there, too. It’s even more difficult to rejoice when such loss is unexpected and you don’t get the chance to say goodbye.