Word of the Week

With Joy

Yesterday I finished a month-long sermon series on Paul's letter of joy, Philippians.

2843734685_a9ce24036eThough this particular book is filled with some of the most beautiful lines of scripture, I mean who doesn't love "I thank my God every time I remember you" or "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" or "My God shall supply all your needs according to God's riches and glory in Christ Jesus" but never less, Paul is hard to preach week in and week out (note: the previous month I was in James, another New Testament letter).

It is especially hard for this preacher who likes stories. Stories are often what give your preaching "the hook" that it needs to relate to listeners whose lives are in the  middle of one story or another played out.

There were only so many times when I could say, "Paul's in prison. He's writing exhortation to a people that he loves. Paul is giving instructions on Christian discipleship . . . " without getting tired of hearing my voice.

But, regardless, we (the congregation and I) got through it. And, in the end, I personally found myself taking in  lections of Philippians more than I normally would. So this made we wonder about you, congregation. What was your experience?

My own stop to pause came last week when I found myself dealing with this passage:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

At first sight of this text, my reaction was: "Oh my goodness, what am I going to do with that? This seems too pretty to preach!"

I don't go into sermon writing for my own purposes, but what I often find is that God speaks to me as I'm learning how to speak well to the congregation.

But, the more I let in sink in, the more saw a gem in his passage. It is not just about the power of positive thinking or being Pollyanna like, but about discipline.

"Rejoicing in the Lord" and "thinking about excellent things" speaks to the need that all of us have to gain another viewpoint on our lives by looking at them from God's perspective.  The practice of stopping more times than not and allowing our mind to not wallow in self-pity or doubt, but with joy!

Joy that comes as we think about all that is praiseworthy in our lives. Such takes practice and conscious effort, but is possible to do.

Last week, I sat in a couple of uncontrollable situations where I had more time on my hands than I wanted and nothing immediate in front of me to work on. So, I let my mind stay with the themes of my own sermon just to see what would happen.

What I found is that I really liked the process of "setting my mind on praiseworthy things" because as I did I was transcended into a place that is more beautiful than just the daily norm. 

Instead of complaining or worrying as usual about why this or that is not right in my life, I caught a glimpse of how some not so fun situations in my life might reach a happier place. And, I was able to give thanks for this, even though nothing has changed in the immediate future.

So maybe this is more of the point of Paul's letter "with joy" is about. The discipline of mediation?

And, though I would have prefered to preach on almost anything else than this book I assigned myself for stewardship month (can't wait to get back to the lectionary), I am glad I did. What I found is another perspective in my own life, from the gift of joy.