First Mennonite Church
April 26, 2020
Rejoicing and Giving Thanks in Every Circumstance
I want to use two passages from Paul’s letters, one from Philippians and the other from 1Thessalonians.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry 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.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
When I announced that beginning March 22, we will not be gathering, but until further notice, I said the pandemic will test us at various levels, both physically and spiritually, not to say mentally, emotionally, financially, and other ways. Now that we are four weeks in this lockdown, we have an even better idea of what we were about to experience than when we were just entering it. Speaking with Dorothy Claassen this week, she said to me, “You know, I have lived a long life and have seen many things but what we are having these days is very different. We are living in a different world.”
People have characterized what is happening today in various ways, such as: “unprecedented times,” “a global human health crisis,” “a global catastrophe,” and others. Some Christians have referred to it as “one of the end-times signs” taking Jesus’ words in Luke 21, verses 10 and 11. That is how some preachers in Belize are referring to Covid-19.
The other day, a gentleman came and knocked at the church door. He had come from time to time to give me materials his ministry produces and chats with me for a while and then goes. He had usually entered the church building, unannounced, but this time the door was locked. This time, he only handed me a DVD and said to me, “This is the last one, the rapture is coming soon,” and turned and went away.
During the last four weeks we have had to make adjustments regarding our jobs, in the way we relate to others, do our shopping, continue celebrating our worship services, and above all, about taking care of ourselves and of our loved ones. Being sheltered at home has not been easy. Not being able to dine out has been an inconvenience, even if we only did occasionally. Not being able to visit friends or relatives has only proven how much took for granted. Not being able to gather for worship, because of social distancing, has highlighted our need of God’s presence in the midst of all the uncertainties, fear, and inconveniences we have today.
I am certain that you like me have read the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4, many times. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. This might be one of those difficult commandments we have these days. It is not hard to understand the frustration, restlessness, and even recklessness we see being displayed these days because many have grown weary of not being able to do what they were used to. Someone told me, somewhat jokingly, that boredom has traumatized him, and that if given vacation time soon, he might prefer working for free than staying at home again.
Paul’s command to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of what is happening does not mean to pretend we have not been affected by what is going on. It means, however, that our joy is not dependent on outside factors. Restless and frustrated are direct reactions to outside forces, on the other hand joy and peace are the fruit of God’ Spirit guarding our heart in Christ. Therefore, we can rejoice, no matter what the circumstances are.
Paul goes even further in his command: Do not worry about anything, but in everything/situation by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Paul’s commandment to rejoice in the Lord was giving to a suffering Philippian congregation. It was in the middle of persecution and hardship that he asked these Christians to let their gentleness be know, to worry not, but to pray, making supplications and giving thanks to God. It is basically the same instructions Paul gave to the church in Thessalonica. And to this, Paul added, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The current situation is a real test on Christian character. How do we rate ourselves in terms of rejoicing in the Lord these days? Have you brought in prayer to the Lord the ways in which Covid-19 has affected your life, your finances, and the limitations that are in place? Is there something positive in the midst of this pandemic for which you can give thanks to God? What have you learned about yourself, the world, or the love and grace of God in the midst of the lockdown?
What can we give thanks for?
We can give thanks for God’s care and protection. We can praise God for his peace that guards our heart, that whether we live or die, we are his. We can give thanks to God for the opportunities he has given us to be of help to others, either by showing our concern for them or by doing something for them.
It is also a blessing, although pretty much unusual, to spend more time at home with our loved ones. I am sure that because of the shelter-at-home order, many family have been able to reconnect or strengthen the family bonds these days. As for church, we must admit, never before had we been able or in need to see the faces of our brothers and sisters for 20 or 30 minutes, as we now do through Zoom. In church, we usually see the back of people’s head during the worship service.
How about prayers of intercession?
Every time I call someone from church or from my family, offering to pray for our safety is a common reassurance. Concern for the wellbeing and safety of others should lead to come to God in prayer. Let us remember in prayer those who are weak and ailing. Let us remember in prayer those who are in authority. Let us remember those who are in the frontlines, doing essential work: grocery store workers, field workers, healthcare workers, and many others. The current situation is a good opportunity to come to God in prayer for those we love and for those who need to experience God’s love. I want to thank you for praying for one another.
I pray that once the current situation is over, not only will we be able to appreciate the everyday small things we cannot do today, but that we would also continue practicing the positive things we learned. I pray that our hearts would not grow weary and desperate, but that would search to identify what other lessons about ourselves, others and especially about God we have learned
In both passages Paul concludes with a promise. In the Philippian passage, Paul ends with this promise: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And in the Thessalonians passage, Paul says: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
In these times of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, God’s peace wants to keep your heart and mind in loving and protecting hands of Jesus Christ. He is the faithful one. He called you, not because you are able on your own but because he empowers you to live according to his will. Let us allow the Lord to hold our hand and to guide us as we go through this pandemic.
Let me close with the words of Paul to the Romans: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
May the Lord bless your heart with his word. Amen!