Monday, December 1, 2014


Philippians 4:4-9, Thanksgiving C, November 25, 2014

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”

These are familiar words. We hear them in worship, sing them in Sunday School, and study them in the Bible. Sometimes we can capture the joyful pleasure of this verse, yet I wonder if we truly can capture the pure joy when this verse was first heard?

Maybe some of the back story will help. Paul had many missionary journeys where he would travel from city to city around the region, proclaiming Christ and starting churches. When Paul came to Philippi, he stayed in that Roman colony for some time as he helped establish the house churches there. The Christians came to respect and care for Paul and his colleagues in ministry. 

Even after he left Philippi, he remained in contact with the house churches there. He would send a messenger with his letters, and they sent their messenger Epaphroditus with financial offerings to Paul. Along the way, Epaphroditus (let’s call him Fred) became ill and nearly died.

By the time that Paul composed this letter to the Philippians, he is under house arrest, possibly in Rome. He has heard from Fred that the churches in Philippi are doing well. They rarely have disputes, and they are sharing the Good News. Paul knows that the people there care greatly for the servant Epaphroditus. So, Paul plans to send Fred to them with this letter. Paul dictates while E. writes the letter. Then Fred memorizes the letter, carefully internalizing the message. 

So, Fred travels to Philippi, carrying Paul’s letter in his hand and on his heart. All of the people of the house churches gathered into one location, much as we are gathered here. Just as we do on a Sunday morning, I can imagine them greeting each other with hugs and kisses. They are excited to hear a word from Paul, and they are also so happy to see Fred They had heard that he had almost died, and they worried about him. They are chatting loudly as they anxiously await their beloved servant to rise and speak. The air in the room is thick with happiness when Epaphroditus begins.

There is an audible gasp of joy when they see Fred alive and well. They become quiet as Fred composes himself. He smiles at them as he begins, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi…” Epaphroditus can see their smiling faces as he recites the entire letter. The people there can feel Paul’s joy even as Paul tells them to rejoice!

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!” 

That is exactly what the people of Philippi did, and this is what we are called to do. The Lord has blessed us in so many ways. Christ’s gift of new life in him is such an astounding gift. How can we not rejoice? Even as we hear on the news of tragedies, we are reminded here, in worship, of how grand our God is. We may not find joy in the world, but we can find joy in our Lord.

Many of us will find joy in community this weekend. This Thanksgiving, many of us will gather with our family and friends, greeting each other with hugs and kisses. We will wait anxiously for our distant relatives to arrive, bringing messages from those who cannot make it. Reunited with our families just as the people of Philippi were reunited with Epaphroditus, we cannot help but rejoice.

We also are helping other families to have good food on Thanksgiving. Our churches have provided dozens of food baskets to needy families around Princeton, Pleasant Valley, Argo, and Le Claire. Our food baskets are small yet important gifts of joy. 

Not everyone will have a place to go this Thanksgiving. Some may feel lonely as they eat alone. I pray that you might consider who these might be, that you might bring the joy of Christ to them. 

For Christ is the true joy. Without Christ, we would have nothing. We would be nothing. Without Christ, our lives would be meaningless. Yet we do have Christ. Christ died and rose to new life for us. Christ is the reason why we are here today. Christ is the reason why we can be grateful this Thanksgiving. Christ is in whom we rejoice. 

This Thursday, or whenever you celebrate this holiday with your family, I hope that you share your thanksgivings in prayer. For everything that we have and everything that we are is from God. We can rejoice in the Lord always, because the Lord is good to us. And what is this joy in the Lord?

Joy in the Lord is when the point keeping is done.
Joy in the Lord is in the telling of the truth.
Joy is sharing ministry, working together.
Joy is living practice and discipline, not just emotion.
Joy doesn't supplant grief; it accompanies grief.
Joy is living in that relationship in Christ.

So, let us rejoice in the Lord always, not just during this season of Thanksgiving but throughout the year. Amen.

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