Summary: This is a sermon about having the right perspective.
Text (Philippians 4:4-7 TNIV)
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
"Surprised by Joy"
A small child in the pew in front of you suddenly turns around and smiles a huge grin. He looks from person to person, smile stretching all the way back to those in the back pew. He isn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, tearing apart the hymnbooks, or rummaging through his mother’s purse. He is just smiling. Suddenly, his mother jerks him around, and with a stage whisper that everyone can hear, she says, “Stop grinning. You’re in church.” With that she gives him a slap on his backside, and as the tears roll down his cheeks she adds, “That’s better.”
Smiling in church…. How dare he? Church is not a place for joy. Especially when there is so much on our shoulders, so much trouble in the world. Smiling? And then there’s this text today. Rejoice in the Lord always? Paul obviously just doesn’t get it. We live in a real world with real troubles. We look to the text to find answers to the trouble within, and here is a text so free of trouble we can’t even use it anymore.
“Rejoice in the Lord always”… What is there to be joyful about?
“Let your gentleness be evident to all,”… like we are some great example.
“Do not be anxious about anything,”… that is easy for people without problems to say.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” well… you know the rest.
Sure, this is all great. But it is entirely useless in the real world… where the real trouble is.
Imagine for example… a man who has lost everything. He’s been beaten. He has been abused. He has been verbally assaulted, threatened, and locked in the coldest, darkest, wettest prison room they could find. Worse yet, lets say this man is facing the death penalty. Without saying… this man, is really bad off. One could easily assume that God has abandoned him. What does this text have to say to him? What does this text know of his anxiety?
Surprisingly… this text knows everything about his anxiety… for it was written by him. Yes… Paul wrote these words in prison and facing death. Yet… “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How can Paul rejoice?
We’ve been there ourselves. Not there specifically, but there with him. We all know something about the pain this world offers us. Without drudging up some great personal tragedy for an example, I instead turn to the example of “Chippie” the parakeet.
It all began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean out his cage with a vacuum. She stuck the nozzle into the cage to clean up the bottom of the cage. Suddenly the phone rang. She reached for the phone with her free hand and not realizing it… her hand holding the nozzle rose slowly upward and sucked Chippie into the vacuum cleaner. Realizing what she had done, she dropped the phone and turned off the vacuum.
With her heart in her mouth, she opened the vacuum bag to rescue poor Chippie. Chippie was stunned and covered head to foot with gray dust… but thankfully he was still alive. She grabbed him and rushed him to the bathtub, turned on the cold water full blast and held him under the water giving him a power washing. Then it dawned on her that Chippie was soaking wet and shivering, so she did what any compassionate pet-owner would do. She snatched up the blow dryer and blasted him with hot air.
You may be wondering if Chippie survived all this. Yes… yes he did, but he doesn’t sing much anymore. He mostly just sits there in his cage watching out for vacuum cleaners. It is not hard to understand why Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore. Being sucked in, washed up, and blown over can steal the song from anybody’s heart.
We have examples like that, and then we have today’s text. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say it: Rejoice!” Paul knows what it is like to really hurt. Paul knows what it is like to be in a really bad way. Paul knows what it is like to be sucked in, washed up, and blown over… and in response he writes “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. This world tossed everything it had at Paul and he writes “Rejoice in the Lord always.” What on earth is the source of Paul’s joy? You know… Philippians is only four chapters long, yet Paul finds at least ten places to sneak the word joy in.