“Whine and complain in your miserableness; again I will say, Whine and complain. Let your abrasiveness be known to everyone. There is no God. Worry and fret about everything. With obnoxious speech, and with demanding self-centeredness require that everyone be afflicted with the tales of your woe. And ungodly, demonic terror, which promotes ignorance and misunderstanding, will destroy your hearts and minds forever.” Amen.
Do you recognize that awful bit of abomination? I wrote it myself! The blasphemy that it expresses, is a close as I can come, without the least bit of exaggeration, to totally perverting the first paragraph of our passage this morning.
So, why would I write blasphemy and put it into a sermon? I did it, because I think that it is important to hear something like that once in a while, and to hear it out loud, with other people around us to hear it, too! Isn’t it how a lot of people actually live? Isn’t it far more realistic, far more practical than the gushy, meaningless drivel that our Scripture passage delivers up this morning? Look very carefully at the meaningless platitudes that this passage is peppered with! These are the ramblings of someone who has blissfully tip-toed through life and who had nary a care in this world. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice? C’mon get a life! What rock has this guy just crawled out from under? Well, the rock that he has just crawled out from under has been a rather eventful rock. Listen to these words, written by the same gentleman: [ I have been imprisoned, I have endured] “countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and in hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (II Corinthians 11:23-27) “…Afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus…” (II Corinthians 4:8-10)
So, rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. The personal experience of this man sort of changes what seems to be mindless drivel into something quite profound, doesn’t it? Here’s someone who knows intimately both the joys and the horrors of life. Here is someone who has lived an authentic life and who can speak with authority when he invites us to rejoice in the Lord always.
But still, let’s not let him off all that easily, not just yet, because only a few of us here this morning can say that we’ve led anything that resembles a charmed life. Many of us have endured depression, disease, hardship and outright horrors. As a rule, these things do not, generally, lead to much rejoicing at all. So where the dickens does the rejoicing come from?
The answer is at the end of verse seven, the last two words. This is where an authentic life must begin. As Christians, we claim, and pro-claim a relationship with a Messiah, a savior. Jesus Christ came into this world to live the perfect life that is impossible for us to live. But he also lived an authentic life: he suffered and died like a worthless criminal on a cross. Ironically, that death prevents us from perishing and gives worth and value to our lives as we live them out on this earth. In a rather profound sense, the one who became worthless for our sake is the only one who can restore the authentic worth and dignity with which we were originally created. Worth and dignity from any other source is inauthentic and impermanent. Only Christ has the power to give us eternal life, which is the crowning glory of worth, dignity and joy.
So, rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. I think that we would all agree, though, that joy seems to be in short supply these days. Joy has always seemed to be one of the more elusive emotions. It is far easier to whine and complain about something than it is to be filled with joy over it. But I am also convinced that though joy be elusive, it is almost always eagerly sought out. There may not be much joy in evidence but everyone wants it. And so to badly quote a once popular song, we’re looking for joy in all the wrong places. And there is no shortage of wrong places to look for it. But the human spirit is desperate for joy, and without a relationship with Jesus Christ, it will accept anything that comes along, even if it is a rather poor substitute. And a poor substitute is any source of joy that comes from outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. All of these sources are inauthentic and impermanent. Too often these imitation substitutes lead to the destruction of the body and the soul. One of the possibilities that just might help us to stay away from destructive substitutes for joy, is that we focus our rejoicing on the Lord. In fact, that’s just what the passage says. Rejoice in the Lord. It ought to be God in whom we rejoice. We rejoice because God, throughout all of history has clearly demonstrated his covenantal love for us. We have seen his acts of salvation throughout all of the Scriptures. How can we not rejoice and give thanks?
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. One cannot read the Hebrew Scriptures for very long and not discover, in a must profound way, that it is God’s sincere desire to be near us. God’s nearness, though, reaches its climax, when Jesus stepped out of heaven, left behind all of its splendor and glory, and laid down in a dusty manger. And it continues. Jesus said, “I am with you always. Either that is the truth, or it is pure foolishness. Our lives will bear it out one way or another. And here’s where the gentleness thing comes in. In my perversion of this passage I wrote, “let your abrasiveness be known to everyone.” I am firmly convinced that if God is with us, we will be gentle people, shaped and molded by the Good Shepherd. If not, we will be abrasive people.
Do not worry about anything. Worry is the greatest waster of spiritual energy that I can think of. I am too often a worrier. I too often waste spiritual energy. Worrying, taken to it’s extreme, can totally incapacitate a person. That’s why I wrote, “Require everyone to be afflicted with the tales of your woe.” That’s what worriers do. I know this from personal experience. ‘Tis best to never be joyful around a person who is a worrier. It will be criticized as a sacrilege, but it might also help someone to realize that the Lord is near.
There is an alternative to worrying. It is called prayer. Letting our requests be known to God always allows us to let go of them. This, though, requires much practice, because most of us lay hold of our troubles with something that resembles a death grip, and the pun is intended. If we really let go of them and gave them to God, we’d have a whole lot less to whine and complain about. Prayer will actually soften our grip. A key element to prayer, though, is cultivating the ability to have an attitude of thanksgiving. The first step is to know that unlike whining and complaining to the people around us, it is perfectly acceptable to whine and complain to God. God doesn’t tire of us, like other people do. But as we lay off the people around us, we will discover something quite amazing. Behind the screen of our whining and complaining is some pretty awesome stuff to be thankful about that we couldn’t see before. With practice, our times with God in prayer will begin with words of praise and thanksgiving. We might even find ourselves reeling off a joyful litany of God’s acts of mercy and grace in our lives. We might just discover that the Lord is near, that God is good, and that life is better than we had previously thought.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Finally, the gift of God is peace. It is contentment; it is satisfaction with life. It is knowing that God is near in all circumstances. Even if we have to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Real peace is a blessed mystery. It can never be fully explained. It cannot be calculated or quantified, or even measured. The Apostle Paul, who had a mind greater than all of us, simply said that the peace of God surpasses all understanding. This peace surpasses all understanding in part, because it is always present and available at a time when circumstances dictate that there should be no peace at all. This is the gift of God for the people of God. It will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.”