Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Oct. 12, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-13
Sermon Theme: “Rejoice! Through Him We Can Do All Things”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas and examples; Emphasis Online Illustrations).
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Tony Campolo was invited to preach at a Lutheran church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the pastor began the service calling the people to worship by saying, “Let us make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Let us come into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise!” You can imagine his surprise when someone in the balcony jumped up and yelled, “All right! All right!” and started clapping. And before long there were several young people on their feet shouting praise and applauding wildly.
Dr. Campolo later said, “I don’t know what he was expecting when he told the people in the church to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, but I do know that the last thing he expected that Sunday night was that anybody actually would!”
In general, Americans are not doing a lot of rejoicing. A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that one in five Americans are dissatisfied with their lives. A World Happiness Report in 2013 found that America ranked only 17th among the happiest nations in the world.
When Paul said in our text, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, “Rejoice!,” he intended us to celebrate our faith in a happy, positive way. Abe Lincoln once said, “Folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The main difference between “happy” and “joyful” is that the second one is possible only through a right relationship with God.
The people who sell smiley face stickers make a fortune off them. The smiling face is a symbol of happiness, and if that Pew Research Center poll is accurate, then sticking them on notes and letters is wishful thinking. I’ve had un-churched people say to me, “I like coming to church, because church people smile a lot, and the people I’m around all the time never smile.
With Jesus in your heart, how can you not smile? However, there are different smiles and different interpretations of them. Of course, we know that most wild animals interpret a smile showing your teeth as a sign you are about to attack them.
But with human beings it is different. When members of the congregation shake hands and smile at me at the end of the service, I can see love of God, love of their church, and even love of their pastor shining in their eyes, coming from their hearts. But not everyone interprets the Christian’s smile correctly.
I am not fond of hospitals, because I know the pain, discomfort, anxiety, and even abject fear you can suffer there. Whenever, I have visited hospitals, my heart has always gone out to the patients being treated there, and I would always smile at everyone, with sincere caring in my heart, even stopping to say something to, or pray with, those who were not my parishioners, — well, mainly because it’s my wife’s personality to do that, and I learned it from her.
On one visit, as I passed an older woman in a wheelchair, with her leg and foot hugely swollen, I felt such compassion for her and smiled warmly at her. As we passed each other, she said in a loud voice to the man pushing her wheelchair, “Why is that SOB laughing at me?” I have never been so crushed before in my life, that she could misinterpret the loving compassion in my heart!
As life unfolds, we find many causes for happiness, and, if we are Christians, filled with the Spirit’s joy, we can be not just happy, but joyful, in good times and in bad times. Paul, in our sermon text, reveals the true source of rejoicing – in the Lord.
How joyful should Christians be? Our Creator-God notes our condition at all times and always blesses us with causes for happiness and joy. And such rejoicing is endless. We are God’s children, not only every day and year, but even beyond time into eternity. Certainly we should be moved to rejoicing over that fact.
Knowing the promise of great joy beyond time into eternity is our source of continuous joy, says the Apostle Paul. He is referring to blessedness – joy in Christ and salvation – spiritual joy which nothing on earth can take away or destroy. It is the peace of God within our hearts as we contemplate God’s eternal love for us, so great that He sent His only Son to die for us for our salvation.
In our text, Paul tells the congregation at Philippi and us to pray about everything, — everything ought to be prayed about. We are blessed through prayer, this communication with God, bringing our concerns to Him, freeing ourselves from fear and guilt, offering us hope and happy thoughts about the future. He goes even further and says, “Do not be anxious about anything!”
That’s a rather startling statement, isn’t it? “Don’t worry about anything!” How can a person not worry when so many things can go wrong in our lives today! Our health can deteriorate. Our job can close down. Our financial situation can worsen. Our family relationships can go through difficult time. Global warming can bring terrible storms. Wars around the world can threaten the lives of those we love.
How can a person NOT worry?
He says that instead of worrying, we should talk with the Lord about whatever it is that’s troubling us, — in other words, pray with the Lord about anything and everything that’s upsetting us. Thus by prayer (discussing our concerns with our Lord), by supplication (asking our Lord for help), and by thanksgiving (thanking our Lord for all that He has done, and will do, for us) – by doing these things we can free ourselves from constant worrying. It will help us to know the peace of God which passes all understanding.
In emphasizing the difference between eternal joy and mere earthly happiness, I don’t want to leave the impression that neither I, nor the Apostle Paul, would want to leave, — that as believing Christians, we can expect only the divine joy of eternity but not happiness on earth. Paul himself expresses his appreciation for the material gifts the Philippian congregation gave him, an action that met his earthly needs and brought him happiness and made his day to day life more pleasant.
There are many things that make life pleasant, and other things which make life miserable. Here are some suggestions: One, find pleasure in simple things; two, make the best of your circumstances, as everybody has sorrows; three, don’t try to please everyone; four, do not cherish grudges, as hate poisons the soul; five, avoid people who make your unhappy; six, don’t brood over past mistakes; seven, keep busy; and final, but foremost, take Paul’s advice in our text and contemplate positive thoughts.
Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And he concludes our text by saying, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Realize, of course, that what Paul says in our text is not PMA, the modern world’s substitute for God. “PMA” stands for “Positive Mental Attitude,” a worldly philosophy that has filled the bookstores with many self-help books. PMA is the mental attitude that if you believe you can achieve something, you will achieve it. You even hear PMA preached from the pulpit of some churches.
Now here’s the problem. While PMA can help you in accomplishing some of your goals, it is not faith. It is not what Paul is talking about in our text. Faith is trust in God, not in a person’s own abilities. Faith, not PMA, was the source of Paul’s can-do attitude!
Please note that Paul begins our text with “Rejoice in the Lord always.” In the Lord! And our text concludes with Paul saying, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Through Him.
“In the Lord” and “Through Him” make all the difference in the world for having both true happiness and true joy, both God’s wonderful gifts to us! Thanks be to Him! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.