Joy in the God of Peace
This is a sermon preview for Sunday, May 21. It is the 6th week of the Eastertide sermon series “Easter Joy: A Walk Through Philippians.”
"Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”
"...It is genuinely odd, even bizarre, for a man in prison to urge others to 'celebrate.' But again in Philippians, he repeats this order. Celebrate! Throw a party!.. God's people in Christ are meant to celebrate because the gospel is still spreading the good news and power and joy and hope to people far and wide, and it still brings good things to the imprisoned (Paul) and the persecuted (the Philippians).” - Nijay Gupta
Have you ever met someone too aggressively happy? They spin everything, performing Olympic-level gymnastics to find the best way to spin every negative experience. They seem incapable of recognizing that hurt can be real, that a circumstance in life could be truly bad. In cartoons, they might smile and say, “It’s not so bad! It could be worse. It COULD be raining!” We know what immediately happens then. It rains.
To use some examples from children’s literature, I’m not trying to be a sad Eeyore the donkey from the Thousand Acre Woods moping about. But I think for many of us, a call to rejoice always might be seen as “Pollyanna-ish.” Pollyanna was the main character of a 1913 children’s story. Now, her name is synonymous with what Merriam-Webster calls: “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything.” Relentlessly. Annoyingly. Chipper.
But Paul is anything but! He knows his situation brings real trouble. But if he is naturally realistic about his situation, he is supernaturally hopeful about the peace we have in God.
Too often our culture confuses “realism” for “nihilism.” Being hopeless is not any more realistic than denying the bad around us.
The reason nihilism is not more realistic is that the God of hope is the source of all: and therefore his hope is the realest reality we could ever encounter.
God's peace comes when we focus on what is true, noble, just, perfect, excellent, and spectacular in the Gospel. It comes in knowing that the good news is still at work and still being spread. The Gospel is news that we hear that is truly Good. It's also a life we live in, we inhabit, and a new lens through which we see the world.
So how can we be “anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6), in a life full of difficulty?
Anxieties will come. They certainly did for Paul. In fact, in this same letter, Paul uses the very same word translated as “anxious” here is used when Paul talks about sending Timothy to the Philippians, adding “who will show genuine concern [the same word as “anxious!” in 4:6] for your welfare.”
But our concern for ourselves, or even others, need not consume us. It doesn’t need to take away our joy. It will always be the middle of the sentence, not the end. There is always a comma or a semicolon right after anxieties. There is a “And yet God…” to come after them all. And in that way, we can be free from their constant presence. Their overwhelming power. Their oppressive weight.
We can be gentle in a violent world because the God of peace is near (Philippians 4:5).
We can give thanks and ask God for anything because it’s God’s good pleasure to listen to his children (Philippians 4:6, Luke 12:32).
The pageantry of God’s grace, the great drama of salvation, has wrapped us up in its glory and splendor and given us a gift that can’t be taken away. It’s God’s peace which surpasses understanding which guards us (Philippians 4:7)
And so we put to practice Christian joy by dwelling on the good things of God. We recognize the difficulty of all circumstances. We live in the promise of the reality of God’s goodness. And that means the final word could only be “Amen.”
“And the God of peace will be with you…” (Philippians 4:9)