January 8, 2012

Rejoice

During Advent we looked at how various people in the Nativity saga responded to God’s call on their lives and how their response can help us say with Mary, ‘behold the servant of the Lord.’ How do you keep alive the fire of your first call, your first love of the Lord? As time passes, it is easy to forget the joy and delight you felt when you were sure that God had singled you out for some ministry-big or small.

From now until Lent we’ll be looking at two parallel passages from Paul’s letters as ways to help us live and remain faithful to our life in Christ. The first is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-20. Scholars believe this was written to the young church in Thessalonica soon after Paul established it (50-55 AD). He moved on to Corinth in his missionary journeys and wrote back to the church to encourage them. The second passage is Philippians 4:4-9, written it seems after Paul was in prison (61-63 AD) and nearing the end of his life. The church in Philippi was the first church in what is now Europe. When Paul established the church in Philippi he was stepping way outside his comfort zone by leaving Israel and Asia Minor. (This blog explored Paul's journeys in Acts during Pentecost.)

Interestingly, the passages are very similar in tone and advice though separated by about a decade of ministry, travel, and travail. The two churches and believers through the centuries have been encouraged to Rejoice-Pray-Give Thanks-Be at Peace-Practice Faith-Do Good-Fulfill the Will of God. Download them both here.

I encourage you to read through one or both of the 2 citations daily over these next few weeks. Each week we’ll look at one part of this advice, starting this week with the admonition to “Rejoice in the Lord always”. This line is very special to me because when I was confirmed the Bishop gave each ‘class’ a memory verse. This one has stuck with me for these many years since the day I made an adult commitment to my Lord as a High School senior.

As you read the citations you’ll notice a little difference. To the Thessalonians, Paul says simply, “Rejoice always”. Years later when writing to the church in Philippi, he expands it, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” 

What does “rejoice” mean? The root is the Latin word gaudere (be glad), becoming the Anglo-French rejois or to welcome and enjoy again. If we are trying to rekindle our first love of the Lord, welcoming [God] again is a good way to start. If we are just feeling a bit down, welcoming gladness is also helpful in turning the depression around. It’s not an easy admonition to follow though.  Too often we let circumstances remove our joy. How do we “rejoice always”? There are so many things to cause us to worry and not rejoice. Isn't it interesting that Paul repeats "Rejoice" when he is in prison and facing death. If anyone had reason to be fearful and not rejoice, you would think it would be someone in prison for his faith.

A long time ago my favorite book was called “The Contented Little Pussy Cat” (by Frances Ruth Keller). In it, Abner was the contented kitten who never seemed to worry. All the animals come to ask him why he is “so happy and contented all the time.” At first he cannot tell them, but eventually comes up with an answer: “I never feel sorry about what happened yesterday nor do I worry about what might happen tomorrow.” His friends are struck by the wisdom and vow to practice it.

Jesus says the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body…your heavenly Father knows you need them all.” (Matthew 7:25-32)

Jesus tells us that God will take care of all our needs, so we don’t have to worry ‘that it might rain tomorrow and I’ll get my white fur all spotted’ as Mr. White Bunny told Abner. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul says that we are to “Rejoice IN THE LORD.” It is not in our own power that we can succeed in rejoicing. When we focus on God’s provision, though, we are more able to let God take over the things we worry about.

You may remember a Sunday School song-Rejoice in the Lord Always. It will stick in your head and help you remember to rejoice. You can find it on YouTube if you want to sing along.

Next week we will consider how Prayer helps us live into our life in Christ.

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