"Defiant Rejoicing" - Sermon by Joe Ellis on Philippians 4:2-9 - November 21, 2021
This morning will look a bit different than some of our Sundays. The sermon will be woven throughout the service, with times for personal reflection, and times for sharing. So, I invite you to consider how you would like to engage — will you take a leap of faith and consider sharing your heart? Would you consider turning on your camera so people can see you on Zoom? Or do you need for the congregation to gather spiritually around you and we can hold you in Christ?
For now grab your journal, your pen, and your Bible — and let’s begin.
Heavenly Father, yours is the Word of life — thank you so much for this opportunity to gather together in Spirit. We pray that you would open our minds, hearts, ears and eyes to the deep and powerful ways that you are speaking to us this morning — and we do trust that you will speak to us through the gathering of the Saints. Amen
We’ll start with reading through our Scripture passage in its entirety, and then we will walk slowly through it together throughout our time of worship. As you read the passage, keep a lookout for the specific practices that Paul is calling us to in our joyful formation in Christ.
In the first part of this letter, Paul begins writing to the Philippians about his situation. The Philippians had sent their friend, Epaphroditus, to give Paul a gift of money and provisions because they had heard Paul was in jail. So, Paul opens the letter telling the Philippians about how his jail time is going — he says, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel…” Then he says something truly astounding. He says that despite the fact that there are fellow Christians who are preaching the Gospel in a way that will actually make life more difficult for Paul in prison — Paul sees that and says, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that in every way, from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.”
This is astounding. Picture Paul, there in his prison cell — chained… chained to two imperial guards — forced to depend upon his friends in a distant city to provide him with the most basic means of sustenance. Yet he rejoices that Christ is still proclaimed!
Many of us are in a tough situation right now. Our world at large has reason not to rejoice, and it my seem that we have good reason not to rejoice. There is such a place for spirit-filled lamentation. Two weeks ago, Chris and Stephanie led us in a very rich and meaningful service of lamentation.
Yet there is also a place for defiant rejoicing. Rejoicing despite it all. It’s the sort of rejoicing that melted the heart of the Grinch when the Who’s still rejoiced despite the fact that their Christmas was stolen from them. Defiant rejoicing.
Throughout this letter we find Paul defiantly rejoicing. How can we join him? How do we cultivate this joyfulness in all circumstances? In this passage Paul gives us four practices to take on — Rejoicing, gentleness, prayer, and meditating on that which is praiseworthy. Those are four practices that will cultivate joyful formation in Christ. So let’s practice these together.
So — the first practice towards cultivating joyful formation in Christ is… rejoicing. That sort of feels like a “well… duh” moment. Of course, that isn’t at all obvious when we are feeling less than joyful, when we are miserable in our circumstances. That’s where we are challenged with that idea of defiant rejoicing. Rejoicing despite our circumstances. That’s what Paul is doing in prison. Again, he’s chained to two guards awaiting his trial in which the outcome may be death — and he rejoices! In an introduction to the song, “God’s Highway” Sandra McCracken talks about the old African spirituals as singing not about where you are, they don’t sing “My feet are tired and I’m in a fog and I’m oppressed.” Instead they sing, “My feet are strong, my eyes are clear, I shall be free.” They sing not about where they are, but where they were going — and they trust in God’s power throughout it all. So, let’s practice defiant joy: Defiance of our circumstances, defiance of the powers holding us down, defiance of the the sickness in our body — joyful defiance.
How do we do this? Joy, rejoicing and thanksgiving all have the same root in Greek: Charis.
Let’s practice some defiant rejoicing this morning through thanksgiving. As you listen to Wendell Kimbrough’s song, “Give Thanks,” I encourage you to reflect on some very concrete specific things for which you are joyful. Or maybe you’d like to share a Bible verse that has given you strength — but use this time for praise and thanksgiving.
Would anyone like to offer some defiant rejoicing and thankfulness? Share something you’re thankful for? Share a Scripture passage? Here are some responses:
- our broken furnace is being replaced
- a good time of brainstorming with a small group of people
- God is with us even in our sorrows, loss and pain
- new puppies
- the milk truck will be able to take our milk to Red Deer
- family contacting those at home alone
The second practice for joyful formation in Christ is gentleness. Paul says in v. 5, “Let your Gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
So, how does “gentleness” cultivate our joyful formation in Christ? The significance of the word “gentleness” has always alluded me. But I was really challenged when I learned that the Greek word for gentleness, epieikes, is strength under control. Strength under control? How powerful. Aristotle extrapolated on this by saying a person is gentle when they don’t need to insist on “every right of the letter, of the law or custom.” It’s holding your need for justice together with gentleness. Paul challenges the Corinthian church to this sort of gentleness when a couple of church members were suing each other — he says, “Why not be wronged! Why not be cheated!” Jesus challenges us to this sort of gentleness when he says, “If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn to them the other also.” There may be times when wrongs really need to be addressed — but we do so with Gentleness. Gentleness is strength under control.
This past year, we as the church and as individuals, have had lots of opportunity to show strength with varying degrees of control. We have had lots of opportunities to demand our rights, to flex our strength when our rights have been removed, dismissed or violated. It’s been hard to be gentle with our community and with each other.
There was a rock band in the 80s called The Smiths. My brother had one of their T-Shirts. It had the lead-singer crouching by some pigeons with the quote: “It takes strength to be gentle and kind.” It does take strength. It takes great strength. Especially in stressful times. Let’s take a moment — two minutes exactly — and reflect on times when we lost control of our strength, and lost our gentleness. Write them down as confessions — as Paul says, “the Lord is near, he is listening.”
Hear this Word of assurance:
Paul says be gentle because the Lord is near. Where we have lost control of your strength, there is grace. You and I are forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus forgives you. We are Gentle because the Lord is watching. We are Gentle because the Lord is near and he gives power through His Holy Spirit. Be at peace.
The third practice for our joyful formation in Christ is prayer:
Paul says in v. 6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of Christ, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul repeats three different words for prayer: “with prayer and petition, present your requests” — he’s using three words to say one thing more loudly: PRAY. When you are worried: Pray!
First — a disclaimer. Let’s recognize that God answers our anxious prayers in many, many ways — two of the ways he answers those prayers can be counselling and medication. It’s by God’s grace that we have both. Let’s not be anxious about still being anxious after we pray and still need to have meds or counselling. I’ve experienced both as a gift from God.
This has been an anxious time for so many of us. Anxious times can be a special blessing because they draw us so much closer to God. When we are worried and anxious, we know that if it were not for God’s hand upholding us we would be sunk. Sometimes God may in fact hold us in that anxious place, that depressed place, that worried place so that we can continue to draw closer to God through prayer. And when we are in that worried place praying, what worries us might still be there after we say Amen. Our depression might still be there, our anxieties might still be there. Yet their ultimate sting is removed because we know that we are under God’s protection. Paul puts it this way, that when we pray, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Look at the word, “Guard.” Paul wants us to imagine a legion of warriors guarding your heart and your mind, like a precious treasure. Paul wants us to picture God’s peace doing battle for us. That’s what happens when we pray.
As we listen to this next song, I’ll invite you to write down things that are worrisome to you — and as you write these down, remember you are in a safe place, you are guarded like a precious treasure. After the song, we’ll come back, share our cares with each other, and we’ll pray together. If you are willing to pray for others, please let me know after the song.
Song: Safe Place by “Enter the Worship Circle”
Now let’s share our concerns with each other and then pray for these things:
- TCC’s future in this time of change
- grief over the loss of friends and family from depression and addictions
- pressure on the medical community to say and do the “right things”
- Hope House
- creation is groaning over climate change
- those out of their home because of flooding and destruction
The fourth practice for our joyful formation in Christ is meditation on the good. Paul puts it this way in v. 8-9: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
Meditating on the good is one reason we meditate on Scripture, pray the Psalms, read uplifting books, encourage each other in our conversations, take in good movies, plays, concerts (when we can), eat good food (when we can), and look at inspiring art. We are doing what Paul is urging by attending to that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Meditating on these things is part of our joyful formation in Christ.
This doesn’t mean that we have our head in the sand and ignore any disparaging news — but it also doesn’t mean we lose sight of the bigger picture: Christ is on the throne. The Kingdom of God is not in trouble!
Our community and culture have been in a vortex of attending to the scary, the fearful, the depressing, the angry. We’ve all been meditating a lot on these images, and it is making us sick.
Our community needs help meditating on the good. Our community needs a beautiful reminder that there is HOPE!
This is what we did last year at Christmas time when we put up the “Hope sign” with the lights and the trees — I got so many positive comments from people outside the church who were so appreciative for that proclamation of hope.
Just because our PHOs say we can’t meet in person doesn’t mean that we cannot be visible. It doesn’t mean that we can’t plant signs and seeds of hope throughout our community. Our community needs our help right now. We need help right now to focus on the truth that Christ is on the Throne — The Kingdom of God is not in trouble.
Psalm 46 puts it best:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
We and our community need to know this. He is our refuge and strength.
As you listen to this next song, let’s dream of how we might be present to each other and with our community with this Good News this Advent. Let’s gather with each other to share and wonder after the song.
Song: Your Labour is Not in Vain.