Sermon- “Rejoice, the Lord is Near,” Pastor Joe Asher, Kaiserslautern Ev. Lutheran Church, Germany, Office of International Mission- LCMS, (10/11/20) *IN NOMINE JESU*
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, the apostle Paul tackles the topic of Christian engagement in this fallen world. While we certainly live here, the missionary apostle makes the case that this world is not our home. In the middle of humanity’s conflict, tragedy, and need, we really are aliens in this place and we are looking forward to our final destination in heaven. (John 15:18-19)
Yet over the centuries, and even today, believers in Jesus have always been engaged in this world’s problems. While we look forward to heaven, the Church and individual Christians have always been at the forefront of trying to respond to the needs of humanity. The Church does its best to respond with food to famine-stricken areas. We provide shelter for the homeless… and this includes helping many in desperate need after fire and weather emergencies.
Christians have also begun orphanages and adoption agencies, hospitals, drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics. We have given guidance and counseling in response to racial conflict, while at the same time trying to bring people together. The Church has provided schools and universities to give an opportunity for a better life to hundreds of thousands each year.
But today in Philippians 4, Paul again reminds us that this world is not our home. Verses 4-5-
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; (or NEAR)
In other words, since Christ is coming, live your lives looking up! With the result that since Jesus is near, Christians can rejoice! And if you didn’t hear the apostle the first time, or your brain was wandering somewhere else, Paul repeats himself-
…again I will say, rejoice.
Now, I don’t know about you, but my first response to Paul is always:
With all the tragedy and conflict in the world, how can I possibly “rejoice in the Lord always.”
But Paul gives the answer-
The Lord is near.
And for Paul, and for all of us, the nearness of Christ is what makes all the difference. Jesus, Who died on the cross, Who paid for our sins, Who rose again for our salvation, He is near to us in two ways. First, He is coming again on the clouds to receive us to Himself. And second, everyday He is near to all who look to Him in faith. For Christ said,
And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
So the reason we can rejoice in the face of all the tragic reality of our world is because Jesus is our source of joy. And He is near to us, and we will soon see Him at His appearing.
So the best way for Christians to think of this world is to remember that for the short amount of time we are here, we must understand that we are IN the world, but not OF the world. (John 15:18-19) Essentially, this means that while we are on this planet, we do all that we can in the Lord’s will for good, but that we also recognize that this world is notour home, and our primary focus and joy is Christ our Lord.
The apostle Paul understood this truth very well. Most are astonished to learn that when Paul wrote this letter to the Philippian church, he was also sitting in a Roman prison! Yet twelve times in this short letter, the apostle writes about the joy we have in Christ. In spite of the hardship he faced, the deprivation, personal sacrifice, and shame and injustice of his incarceration, Paul found his joy in his Savior.
Is this some kind of naïve, Polly-Anna, crazy rose-colored glasses perspective on our broken and fallen world? Or is it the true Christian conviction that God has not abandoned our world, and that there is hope in Jesus for He is always with us, and that Christ is coming again? For again, God’s Word boldly declares
The Lord is at hand/ NEAR!
As Christians, we must take the second view. For us, Christ makes all the difference as we live our short lives in this world. Because Jesus is near, joy is possible for us in spite of any circumstance we face. And that includes COVID, and conflict between nations, and political discord, and racial strife, global warming, class economic disparity, malnutrition in developing countries, and all the problems of the universe you can name. As followers of Jesus, the mission of every believer is to do what is possible for God’s glory as we live our span of years in this place, but we also balance out our commitment to the world with the faith understanding that this world is not our home, and we will soon be in perfect joy in the presence of Jesus.
So with Jesus in view, and with our joy in Him complete, Paul next gives us direction on how to handle the myriad of crises this world delivers to us. Verse 6-
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
This verse gives clear direction and offers genuine hope to the believer in Christ. Do NOT be anxious. Don’t worry. Why? Because we can pray to God, Who is the power of the universe, and we can let Him handle the things we face.
The size of our worry often indicates how big and capable we believe our God is. If we are constantly worrying, then that betrays the fact that we must imagine our God is very small. But if we fearlessly trust in God to contend with and work His will through the problems of this world, then we will see our God for Who He really is, our Lord Who is in control.
There is no need to fret and worry about the way things are. The solution is to give the problems we face over to the only One who can actually do something about them. The Philippians are to pray in every situation, bringing their petitions/ requests to God and offering prayers of thanksgiving for what God is doing and what He has already done.
Paul does not promise that God will do every single thing they request. They were not being handed a blank check. But he does promise that, when the Philippians pray about things, God will do His perfect and holy will and additionally change the Philippians themselves: (Philippians 4:7)
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
When they really pray about their problems, Paul assures the Philippian Christians that God will give them peace.
What about us today? Will God give us peace about COVID? Yes! Peace about the future? Yes! Peace about everything? Yes! Because when God gives peace to those who look to Him in faith, it surpasses all understanding as it directs our attention away from this broken world to Jesus Himself.
But here is the problem. Often, we forget to pray. Or, we believe prayer won’t do any good. But God always acts in concert with His will. And here is the thing: God does not promise to change every situation to our liking. What He does promise to do is give us peace during any situation. In other words, God may or may not change the circumstance, but He will change our disposition toward it.
There are a few lines in a song written by Tony Wood and Kevin Stokes that clearly sum up the teaching of Philippians 4:6: the lyrics are these-
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered “peace be still”
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child.
So we rejoice in the Lord, and always keep Jesus in view. Rather than worry about this world, Christians spend time in prayer, and we put all our concerns in God’s hands. And the promise is that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will be ours because our attention will be directed away from this world to the only One Who can do something about it, Jesus Himself.
And as the Lord cares for us, Jesus our Savior gives us all the more joy.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
+Sola Deo Gloria+
KELC Prayers of the Congregation- Pentecost 19, 10/11/20
Gracious heavenly Father, help us always to keep Christ in view, and give us complete joy in our Savior. Help us to remember to PRAY, so that all our anxiety will be removed in the peace which You give to Your people. And finally, keep us in Your care in this problem-filled and fallen world.
Lord in Your mercy……………………………………………………….. Hear our prayer.
Blessed Jesus, Savior, as we continue through this time of fall harvest, we thank you for the fruit of the earth which sustains our physical lives. With famine and food shortages in many regions, you have continued to supply our lives with abundance. Make us truly thankful, and give us hearts to share with those in need.
Lord in Your mercy…………………………………………………………… Hear our prayer.
Eternal Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacraments, Your desire is always to lead sinners to the Savior Jesus Christ. Draw us to Him. Deepen our trust in Jesus. Lead us to trust Him with our whole heart.
Lord in Your mercy……………………………………………………………… Hear our prayer.
Finally, Heavenly Father, in our families and among our friends and co-workers there are many who are in need of Your care. For those who are sick, hospitalized, away on duty assignments, traveling, unemployed, lonely, and for all other needs, we name our loved ones in our hearts before you now…
Lord in Your mercy……………………………………………………………. Hear our prayer…
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.