Thursday, October 13, 2011
Rejoice in the Lord!
Normally I might focus entirely upon the Gospel lesson for today with its wonderful description of election but today I want to address the epistle. I see so many struggling to find joy and confidence amidst the terrible news we hear and read and the uncertain economic future. I think it is time for us to remember from whence our joy, peace, and contentment comes.
Remember Lucy and her little booth giving counsel to Charlie Brown? Or all those great cartoons with the long bearded sage sitting on the mountain top dispensing advice to those who come to him with the great questions of life? We come to God in search of happiness, in search of contentment, in search of peace, and in search of joy. Today St. Paul give us the sage wisdom of Christ, that contentment, peace, and joy are not a program but the fruit of believing. It is precisely Christ who is our contentment, peace, and joy. Were we listening? Did we hear what he had to say to us?
Let your resonableness be known to all. Be reasonable, is that all? Let me unpack that term. He is not telling to be moderate, avoiding the extremes. He is not telling us to think things through and not to have expectations that are too high to be realized. Resonableness is a bad word for what the Scripture calls graciousness. To be gracious is to practice restraint in the face of provocation, to resist the impulse to do to others the hurt they have done to you. This restraint in the face of provocation is the very opposite of anger and its source lies in the mercy of God. Reasonable people are not those who see every side to every point. Rather, here Paul points us to the gracious heart of God that forms in us a gracious attitude, a merciful heart, and a patient and prudent response to provocation.
He says to us not to be anxious. This does not mean to give no care to the troubles, trials or responsibilities of life. It means not to live captive to our fears. It means to live in such confidence of God's grace and in such dependence upon that grace that our hearts are not anxious or fearful. For when we are captive to our fears, there is no room left for joy or peace. Truly our hearts are limited in room; filled with anxiety leaves no room for joy. So to keep our fears in check we need to fill our hearts with an awareness of God’s promises and the sufficiency of His grace.
This fear is the source of much anxiety arising from our sin and guilt. When we labor under the weight of guilt, when we carry the heave load of sin dragging us down, then peace and joy are undermined and destroyed. Forgiveness is key to relieving our anxiety and our fears.
St. Paul says to pray. But the nature of this prayer is that we do not simply pray out our troubles God but we pray out also our confidence in God. The reason we struggle in prayer is that our prayers only rehearse and remind us of the things we do not like about ourselves and our lives. We must learn to pray the promises of God as well as our troubles. We must learn to pray our confidence in God as well as our awareness of the troubles and fears that focus our lives. Look at the Psalms. Look at the great pray-ers of the Bible and you see that they not only pray from the vantage point of their troubles and need, they pray the grace and promises of God. Listing out all that is wrong only steals our joy unless we also list out the promises and grace of God who is greater than all that is wrong.
Now this is important. Paul is not offering us counseling wisdom or the sage advice of experience. Paul is speaking to us from faith and calling us to faith. Faith is the perspective that gives peace, contentment, and joy to our lives – especially when they are most tested by troubles and trials. The graciousness or reasonableness that Paul speaks of is the fruit of a mind transformed in Christ, a perspective shifted from me, myself, and I, to others. What we see in Christ shapes us in the grace that gives to our lives hope, peace, contentment, and real joy.
When Paul speaks of not being anxious he is not telling us we have nothing to fear or no real problems. He is telling us that we have the grace and mercy of God on our side. This release from anxiety is the fruit of the heart that is confident of God's grace and trusts in Him without fear.
If God be for us, who can be against us? This is the perspective of faith. We know the all surpassing grace of God in Christ. What is stronger than this grace? What can overcome what mercy has done for us in Christ? So when we pray, it is not a call to list your troubles and give them to the Lord. It is the call to list with your troubles the grace of God, the mercy of God, and the power of God that you know in Christ. Praying the promises as well as the burdens of our hearts, we are able to add the hearty AMEN to those prayers.
Now St. Paul is no oracle of wisdom. He is no counselor or therapist or psychoanalyst. St. Paul speaks the specific wisdom of the cross, the specific grace of Christ our Savior, and the specific power of the Gospel that is at work in us, among us, and through us. So then contentment is not some treasure we must find nor is it the end result of following a set of rules. Contentment, peace, and joy are the blessing of Christ to His people, the gift of Christ in the cross, and courage and confidence that flow from knowing and believing in the promises of God which we know in Christ. It is not simply rejoice, but rejoice IN THE LORD!
Do you want to be happy? Do you want to be content? Do you want to live in peace? Do you want to know joy in your life? These things begin in Christ, they flow from His sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection, they flow from the means of grace and our life together in worship, and they are the fruit of faith that trusts in Christ. Christ is no last resort when all else fails but our first priority. There is no contentment, happiness, peace or joy that lasts out the burdens of life except it be the contentment, happiness, peace, and joy that flow to us in Christ and through us to those around us.
It is this comfort that the Gospel speaks to. We are the elect, the chosen of God. We are the beneficiaries of His grace and mercy – not only for our future salvation but for the grace in which we stand today and through which we withstand all that troubles us. May the Spirit lead us to the contentment, peace, and joy of faith that we may not lose heart, may not grow weary, and may not lose patience or confidence in the Lord. Amen.