We spent the month of October talking about joy. In that time LA Lakers and the LA Dodgers both won the National Championships. For me, that’s reason alone to rejoice!
But today is also November 1. And that means…KNOWvember is here. If you are not familiar with this little tradition, it’s a challenge I made up that forces me to meet 30 people in 30 days. The goal is to look for things that connect us instead of focusing on the stuff that divides us.
On a spiritual level KNOWvember helps me stay focused on the Divine image that dwells within all people. And at the same time allows the Divine to shine through me. It’s in this simple action, I’ve come to discover that joy can be experienced in a way I think God originally intended – being in community with one another. Often a city can become united when their team wins the World Series.
But Christ calls his followers together on a much deeper level and for a much greater purpose. So we can “Rejoice in the Lord always,” a phrase Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi. Before we jump into our final look at this letter of joy let’s remember Paul is writing it from prison where the threat of being executed constantly looms over him. And yet, so too does his joy.
This is a perfect reminder to us all, that joy is not about having everything perfect. Joy is not, “Every cloud has a silver lining” kind of happy emotion. Let’s face it, some clouds are dark and thunderous. Joy is also not about having all together. Being rich and successful doesn’t mean your life doesn’t unravel or that someone can’t steal your joy. It just means you can cry in a nicer car or a bigger house.
It makes me wonder if we all have to suffer at some point, if only to grasp the fullness of Paul’s idea of rejoicing always. Tom Holliday notes, “Joy is applying God’s truth and power to our imperfect and sometimes terrible circumstances and realizing that God is right there,” in the midst of whatever life throws at us.
Like I said a few weeks ago: when life kicks the joy out of you, God kicks it back in. No matter what obstacle you’re facing, or struggle you’re dealing with, you can still find joy because joy first found you. And loves you no matter what. All because true joy begins with God, and when God is at the center of your life you can experience the fullness of God’s joy. And always have a reason to rejoice.
READ: Philippians 4:1-9
In this final chapter, Paul hints that there’s some tension happening between two women. Perhaps this is why he was writing the letter in the first place. But Paul doesn’t give us details about their dispute, because the details are not important. It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. What’s important is this tension is making their joy incomplete. They’re not being of one mind with Christ Jesus.
This is not to suggests we have to be the same or think the same. Christianity isn’t a robotic ritual. But there’s plenty of commonality to focus on. For example, Jesus calls us into a way of life built upon the strong bond of God's love which has been poured into us. If we want to find real joy, the kind that allows us to fully rejoice in the Lord always, then we have to be of one mind, and one heart. That is to be in oneness with God.
Recently, a disagreement happened between two friends it was over something as trivial as politics and led to one of the friends cutting the other out of her life. This kind of stuff is happening all over our country. Families are split, friendships are broken, and even churches are losing people because they’ve chosen politics over love.
I suspect in a couple of days half the country will be gloating from the outcome of our elections. That means others will be left gutted. How can we rejoice, muchless find real joy if someone we care for is hurting? Abraham Lincoln knew, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
We might not always see eye-to-eye. That’s okay. Some of us are liberals. Some of us are conservative. In our house, some of us are Giants fan. While others are still enjoying the Dodger’s World Series victory. Yet we still manage to love one another.
Here’s what I want you to know: In spite of our differences, when we love as God loves us, we become one instrument of God's joy. Moreover, if God’s love is at the center of all we do, then we can confront and reconcile the things that steal our joy. The Bible tells us that Christ came to reconcile us back to God. This tells me that reconciliation leads to joyful living.
Perhaps you know what it’s like to work out your differences with a friend or a loved one. There’s a sense of joy and happiness that makes your bond that much stronger. Through Christ, God’s love and joy are given to us so that we can do the same for one another. As Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Be imitators of Christ, as beloved children. And walk in love.” When we do that for each other, we become not only closer to one another but closer to God as well. That alone is reason enough to to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Like Paul mentioned, you are able to rejoice and find our joy when you “let your gentleness be known.” It seems to me that God works best through our compassion; in the kindness and love that Christ put in our hearts. Jesus was gentle. He did not push people away, but instead drew people to him through love. He didn’t put up a wall or separate people from who is worthy and who is not worthy of his love. Instead Jesus crossed over social and tribal boundaries to share God’s love and show God’s grace to everyone who needed to feel it or receive it. It didn’t matter what they believed or how much faith they had Jesus showed gentleness and compassion to all, because that’s how its done in the kingdom of Heaven.
That’s how joy is given and received with God in Christ Jesus. That’s how Paul is able to rejoice always in the Lord knowing that God is always present and always one step ahead of him to receive him with open arms at the finish line. This is our assurance as well when we chose to walk in the footsteps of Christ. Instead of hurting people, Jesus comforts, heals, and forgives no matter what. And he calls us to do the same, to be little Christ in the world, sharing the love of God to all.
Once again the acronym for joy is Jesus Others and You. This is an invitation to be like Jesus who served others so that you can find your everlasting and eternal joy. We see this throughout the gospels. For example, on the night Jesus was handed over to his death, he gives his disciples one final lesson. After washing their tired and dirty feet, Jesus told them to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Everything Jesus did was based on this one simple yet profound sentence. As Sara Miles poetically noted, “(Jesus’) human body was God’s language, as much as his human speech.”
Jesus revealed God’s glory in the way he loved others. He continues to do so today , in the varied ways he shows his love to us. It’s in this love, in the receiving and in the giving, we are one with Christ who is one with God. Just as we share in God’s love we also share in God’s joy. And when we share God’s joy, the world can help but rejoice always!
I can’t overstress the importance of this love ethic; especially as we struggle to find joy in our lives. Our nation is divided. People are hurting. The pandemic and the politics behind it are not helping. Too many of us are allowing these things to steal our joy. In his final commandment, Jesus gives us an important clue to God’s nature: Love and Joy cannot be separated.
Without God’s love at the center of our life, real joy cannot and will not ever exist. Not in you. Not in me. And not in the world. If you are lacking in joy in your life, if you are angry with someone or if something is causing you pain, look within yourself, look for the divine who is inside you (whether you know or not God is in you because you are made with God’s DNA) and you will find a divine light flickering in you.
And be like the light that shines in the darkness of the world, be the joy of Christ who gave his life so that others could live life, a life eternal. This is what it means to love one another as God first loved us.
Therefore, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable" go and do those things for others by being like Jesus who humbled himself – not for his glory, nor for his need to be right, but for the righteousness of God’s glory.
I will leave you with a quote from Herni Nouwen who wrote, “When God’s love is at the center of all we do, then we are able to offer our joy and peace, our consolation and reconciliation to others; especially in moments of crisis or conflict.”
Once we start living intentionally with this kind of conviction, then our joy can never be defeated. No matter what the world can throw at us, we remain as God's beloved children. For that alone, let us "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice."
Let us pray: Holy and Merciful Creator and Lord, we lift up our hearts with thanksgiving and praise for all that you have done in our lives today. For that we say thank you. Amen.
Holladay, Tom. Philippians: The Eight Places Joy is Won or Lost. El Toro: Saddleback Church.
Miles, Sara. Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Day Book of Wisdom and Faith. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 1997.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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