“Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!” (Philippians 4:4-13)

“Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!” (Philippians 4:4-13)

As you’ve probably noticed, many people have been saying that this year, 2020, is the worst year they can remember. Maybe you’ve said so yourself. I mean, think of it. The year 2020 has seen one disaster after another: The Coronavirus pandemic got everyone’s attention back in March. Then came the shutdown all across the country. The economy went south in a hurry. The whole thing stunk: People lost their lives. People lost their jobs. People lost their businesses. That was March and April. And then: “Who had murder hornets for May?” And starting at the end of May, riots broke out in many cities, burning and looting and mayhem. One thing on top of another. People were wondering what else would go wrong. What else? Hurricanes in the east. Wildfires in the west. We’re still dealing with Covid. Lots of places are still shut down. There are still more riots. And now we’re just a few weeks away from the election, and everybody’s uptight about that. It’s been reported that, whereas one year ago, 8% of Americans had symptoms of depression, now that number is up to 28%. All in all, then, 2020 has not been the most joyful year.

But now here today, St. Paul comes along and tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Always? Are you kidding, Paul? Don’t you realize, Paul, this is 2020? How can anybody rejoice during this year, of all years? Easy for you to say. You lived all those years ago, all those centuries ago. You didn’t have to put up with all that we’ve had to put up with here in 2020.

Oh really? Well, actually, Paul and the folks back then did have to put up with quite a lot. They suffered a lot. Christians back in the first century encountered persecution from all sides. The Jews didn’t like them. And the Greeks and Romans didn’t, either. The persecution came in various forms: Physical violence; Christians were beaten or killed. They were economically marginalized. They were socially ostracized. So it wasn’t easy for them. Yet Paul tells the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And the message is still the same for us today: “Rejoice in the Lord Always–Even in 2020!”

Our text is the Epistle reading, from Philippians 4. It begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Boy, Paul is really doubling down on this “rejoice” thing, isn’t he? Rejoice! This is a message we need to hear. Because, even in this horrible year, you and I have reasons to rejoice. Today I want to tell you about some of them. In particular, these three reasons to rejoice: peace; access; and contentment.

First, peace. Paul opens this letter–and basically all of his epistles–with a greeting of peace: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” You’ve probably noticed that I open every sermon with that same apostolic greeting. And now here, toward the end of his letter, Paul returns to the peace of God. And it’s the same words that I close every sermon with: “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We’re talking about reasons to rejoice, and the first one I want to talk about is peace. God’s peace. Because there is no joy without peace. But when peace is established, then joy will follow.

This peace of God–that is, the peace that God establishes and bestows–has two dimensions, objective and subjective. The objective peace that God has established is true, whether we realize it or not. God has established peace. He has made peace between himself and mankind. How? In the person of Christ.

We were at odds with God. We had rebelled against our Creator and had become God’s enemies. It started in the Garden, and it carries on to our day. It carries on in us. We too sin and go against the God who made us and who knows what’s best for us. We go our own way. We break his commandments to love him and to love our neighbor. This is sin, and it brings death. We were estranged from God, alienated from him, unable to find our way back to him.

So God took the initiative to bring us back to him. God’s will is to end the strife and restore us to life. God has done everything necessary to reconcile us back to him, to establish peace between us and him. And it happens in Christ. Christ Jesus came and made peace, in his body, on the cross. He took all our sins and rebellion and the curse that it brings, and he bore that unbearable burden for us on the cross. The cross of Christ is the peacemaking bridge between heaven and earth. Now peace has been established. It is objectively true. Christ has provided the righteousness necessary to establish our peace with God and to bestow it on us freely.

And because this peace is objectively true, it is also the basis for our subjective experience of peace. This means that now we can experience peace in our hearts and minds. When all the world around us is swirling in chaos, we still have the peace of God to stand guard over our hearts and minds and to keep our souls at rest and peaceful. The objective peace leads to our subjective experience of peace.

How has your heart and mind been during this very horrible year? Have you been letting the chaos and the madness have the upper hand? Let the peace of God rule in your heart. You have peace with God. It is objectively true. Christ has made the peace treaty, written with his holy blood. There is no greater force in the universe than that. God is at peace with you. Nothing can disturb that peace. Listen to the words of your Savior: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

So peace–peace with God, objectively established and subjectively experienced–is the first reason to rejoice. Next is access. You have access to God. You can bring your anxieties and your prayers to God’s throne of grace. Paul writes: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

“Do not be anxious about anything.” It is so easy for us to become anxious, isn’t it? We worry about everything. Will we have enough money to make it through the month? Will I have enough savings in order to retire? What’s the stock market doing? Will I have a job next year? Will my salary get cut? And what about my health? Will I catch the Covid? This getting-older thing isn’t going so good. The aches and pains are just getting worse. What about the cost of my health insurance? Can I afford it? But how can I afford not to have it? What if something happens? What if. . . ?

So much for us to be anxious about. So many worries. But Paul here is reminding us that we have access to God. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Friends, turn your anxieties into prayers. Every time you feel a worry coming on, turn it into a prayer. Turn it over to God. He cares for you. He promises to hear your prayers and to do what is best for you. No matter what happens, you know that your heavenly Father is watching out for you. And accompany your prayers with thanksgiving. Recall how God has blessed you in the past, and that will bolster your faith in God’s goodness for the present and the future. Access to God is a second reason for us to rejoice.

And the third reason to rejoice is contentment. Paul writes: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Paul here is speaking of contentment. Contentment means being satisfied with what you have, no matter how much or how little you have. Your contentment doesn’t rest upon how much money you have in the bank. It may be a lot. It may not be as much as you’d like. One way or the other, your heavenly Father will take care of you. He feeds the birds of the air, and he clothes the flowers of the field. He will surely take care of you. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him graciously give us all things?” He will do this. He will provide for you.

Do not worship the false god of Mammon. You have far greater treasures waiting for you in heaven. This is the secret of being content in whatever situation, in whatever circumstances, you find yourself.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” This is a message we need to hear. Note: Rejoice “in the Lord.” In the world you will have tribulation. In the Lord, though, you have reasons to rejoice. What are they? Today we have looked at three of them: peace, access, and contentment. Peace: You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is both objective and subjective. Objectively established in the cross of Christ. Subjectively experienced, as this peace guards your heart and mind. Second, access: You have access to God’s throne of grace, to bring your anxieties and your prayers to the God who cares for you. And third, contentment: Like Paul, you and I can be content, regardless of our circumstances, rich or poor or anywhere in between, because we have far greater treasures waiting for us in heaven. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll let you in on a little secret: You do have reasons to rejoice in the Lord always–even in this year of 2020!

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will indeed keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Published in: on October 10, 2020 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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