Rejoice in the Lord…Always?

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on October 11, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.

Philippians 4:1-9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

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.

What brings you joy?

I love to bake. It’s one of the things that brings me joy. I love creating something out of nothing, and then getting to share it with others. My least favorite thing about baking though, is the time it takes to do all the steps. There’s the measuring, the mixing, the scooping, the chilling, the cleanup, and I’m missing some steps too. I just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies this week that were delicious, well worth the time they took. But between mixing and baking, I had to let the dough chill, an important step, but one I have zero patience for. Still, once I waited it out, great results came from it. 

Sometimes I think about joy in a similar way, a process and a journey, and overall, still worth it in the end. Joy is not always an immediate positive. And joy can look different to everyone. Sometimes joy is easy to recognize, and sometimes it’s something we really have to search for. In our passage today, Paul is doing his best to define joy to the people in Philippi.

Our passage starts out with Paul addressing the issue at hand, a disagreement between these two women. Something interesting to note, is that the Phillipians valued women, in that they played an important role in their community. Which is seen by the way Paul speaks of them, and the way he refers to them by name. He acknowledges that they’re not on the same page, and urges them to remember the true purpose, which is to be on the page of Christ, to “agree with each other in the Lord”. Paul is stepping out to remind these two women what really is important, the way God calls us to live, which goes beyond the human sides we try to employ. 

Being a kid, I remember this experience well. My sister and I would fight about something silly, and my parents would respond with some form of ‘in the big picture of life, does this really matter’. Sometimes it did, and often it didn’t. So what Paul is doing here is not unlike that. He’s asking us to consider what’s worth fighting for, and what we hold our moral reasoning in. 

Paul is asking these women to pursue unity in Christ, and that, Paul goes on to say, is the source of joy. It’s worth it. 

You may or may not know that there’s a pretty big election coming up in our country. Several big elections actually. We each come to this place from different backgrounds, different experiences, different identities. And what that means, is that we may also vote differently. So even in the church, we experience a sense of division, but because we are the church, we have the chance to still unite amidst the division. We can go about things a different way. 

So we go from arguing to joy. Paul is trying to define joy in these verses. And joy is complicated. Like a recipe with many parts, joy is bigger than something that makes us happy. And given the context this is stemming from, joy has something to do with unity, being united for a cause bigger than ourselves, and bigger than even our human desires or issues. 

We as Christians have been given the invitation to seek joy, even when we disagree. We are asked through Paul, by Jesus, to ask ourselves what really matters, and then go after that joyfully. It doesn’t mean we fake agreeing, or that we just don’t talk about politics in church, or that we turn the other way to avoid conversation. It means that even in our differences, we have so much in common. 

You see, we follow Jesus. We as Christians share this bond with a story, a sacred text, which outlines the journey of God and God’s people, of God’s son, who was sent to earth to live among us, to teach us, to inspire us, and to approach difference and disagreement with love. Jesus listened and learned from people of all walks of life. He prayed with sinners and ate with those regarded as the least important, and Jesus worked to make the world a more just and compassionate and joyful place. 

This bond we share, this story, this divine hero in the story, that is the thing we need to remember. When we, like the women in our story, find ourselves arguing over policies or money or taxes, we can remember that we’re invited to see the story differently, through the people, to find unity in Christ. We’re invited to remember the one who broke boundaries of all kinds, of gender, of social status, of political ideologies, all so that God’s kindom could be present here on earth, as it is in heaven. 

That, my friends, is what joy is about. Rejoice in the Lord always doesn’t ask us to believe that the world is perfect, but it does invite us to continue seeking the unity we share in Christ. It invites us to consider that perhaps the story we are telling can be told in a more just way. It invites us to consider the least of these in our own lives, and to regard them as the heroes instead of the ignored. It invites us to honor our unity in Christ above the political symbols that too often are treated like God herself. 

Joy is revealed in how we treat others, how we reach out to people in need, how we recognize gratitude, how we respond to people who aren’t treating us the best, and more. Joy is a complicated recipe, but one worth making.

And when the world doesn’t feel so joyful? That’s okay too, Paul says. Because joy is complicated and very much a process. Even when we don’t feel especially joyful, we are invited to continue seeking it. Even now. 

My final question I want to ask, is where you’ve seen joy, even in these challenging times.

Are there ways that you’ve seen joy in unexpected ways these past six months?

Are there surprising ways this unity in Christ has been revealed to you through joy?

As we leave this place today, may we continue looking for joy. May we remember that amidst earthly division, we share a common thread, our unity in Christ. As Paul says, “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.”

Let us pray: 

God of grace and goodness, we thank you for teaching us about joy. Give us grace to find togetherness and unity in even the most divisive times. Remind us of the many ways you have called us to rejoice, not because everything is perfect, but because we serve a God whose love is perfect. In your name we pray, Amen.

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