Rejoicing and Anxiety

The Season after Pentecost  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  15:54
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This morning, Isaiah prophecies a feast upon the mountain of the Lord, the Psalmist’s cup overflows, Paul commands us to rejoice, and Jesus tells a parable about a wedding. The common theme here is that a party is going on, so we should get on board.
I hear from a few of you each week who graciously say, “I thought you were preaching directly to me.” I assure you. I am never preaching at any of you. If there is anyone in that building I am preaching at, it is me, and that is especially true this Sunday. If the sermon happens to help you as well, that is a bonus.
Those who know me well know I have been frustrated lately. I will not get into the specific reasons because this is not the appropriate time for that conversation. Nevertheless, I have been frustrated. I have been anxious. I have been nervous. Some of it has to do with Synod. Some of it has to do with this church. Some of it is personal. All of it concerns money, which is probably my least favorite topic to address. I do not know how to say that our annual giving is down for the year without sounding like I am asking more from you, but I assume you are already giving what you reasonably can. I do not know how to convince the diocese that spending money for the kingdom of God is good but also has to be paired with wise stewardship of God’s gifts. And it feels like all these things and others are coming to a head, and I am a wreck because of it.
And then, I sit down to sermon prep, and I see verses like this:
Matthew 22:4 ESV
Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’
Psalm 23:5–6 ESV
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Isaiah 25:8–9 ESV
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Philippians 4:4–7 ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So what it is the Lord is telling me through these verses.

Christians Should Always Be Celebrating

First, I should always be celebrating, or to put this more broadly, Christians should always be celebrating. We should always be rejoicing because our joy is not based on our present circumstances but on the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This logic is why Romans 8 is so important. Without it, Philippians 2 is unreasonable and perhaps even unethical to say to anyone going through difficulties and hardships in their life. If all we have to say to people is, “Rejoice, the Lord wants you to be happy, not sad, so put a good smile on and soldier on,” we not only unfairly gloss over the pain people experience now but also fail to put that pain into a proper redemptive perspective.
As he does on two separate occasions, Paul can only say that he rejoices in his sufferings because his perspective is on his finite, present moment. Paul’s perspective is eternal and theological. He believes that nothing in all of creation can separate us from the Love of Christ Jesus our Lord. And so, with Paul, we should not be fixated on our present experience. I am not saying that we should negate them or gloss over them. I am saying we should place them in their proper context, which means that whatever is going on today, this week, or even this year, the end of our story is always eternal, resurrected life with the triune God, and if that is not a reason to rejoice, then what is?
So, if life is weighing you down, if you have been like me for the past several weeks, maybe even months, and you feel like there is this black cloud following you around, if you find yourself constantly grumpy and agitated, spend some time reminding yourself, or hang around with people who will remind you that despite whatever may be happening in our present there is nothing in this finite moment that can keep you from eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of this, Christians ought to be the happiest, most celebratory people on planet Earth, not because our lives are perfect, but because we put our lives within the context of our life with God in Christ.

All Christians Should Bring their Anxieties to God in Prayer

Second, I should bring all my anxiety, worries, concerns, and fears and lay them at Christ’s feet. Or, more generally, all Christians should bring their anxiety, worries, concerns, and fears and lay them down before the throne of God. Paul says:
Philippians 4:6 ESV
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
When I had a particularly bad day, guess what I did? I did two things. First, I came to church. I showed up here on Wednesday morning not to preach, celebrate, or even be the pastor. I sat in these pews you are sitting in now and listened to the liturgy, the sermon, and the celebration of communion, but mostly, I prayed. You don’t have to do that here. You can do that at home. You can do that in the car (albeit with your eyes open). You can do that at your desk at work for a few moments. You can do that in the park. Regardless of the where, the most crucial part is that in everything, in all the finite moments of our lives that can bring us so much worry and concern, we bring those moments to God and say, “God, you know what to do with this. I do not. Help me.” ‌
So, the first thing I did was pray, but the second thing I did was ask other people to pray for me. You need to find, whether they are in this room right now or not, several people who you know, if you say to them, “Please pray for me about X,” they will stop right then and there and lift you up before God. Being a Christian is not an individual activity. Being a Christian is a group project, and it is one that we are engaging in together here at St. Dunstan’s. That is what this is. That is what a local church is. It is not the place that we gather together to hear the pastor preach, heaven forbid. A local church is the primary place where we gather to be Christians together. We pray together. We study the Bible together. We celebrate communion together. We eat together. And we should be experiencing life together as a Christian community, sharing each other’s burdens as best as we are able, and most importantly, lifting each other up to God in prayer.
We pray and lift each other up in prayer because prayer is the path to peace. Notice what Paul says:
Philippians 4:6–7 ESV
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
If you are worried, if you are fearful, if you are anxious, prayer is the path to peace. The peace of God, which surpasses all our human understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus if you bring your fears, anxiety, and worry to God and lay them down at his altar. To be clear, that is not to say that Christians should not seek professional help in dark moments. They absolutely should. God often works through what appears to be purely natural means. Nevertheless, while we seek professional help or even help from friends, prayer must be a vital part of the process. It is God, ultimately, who will protect your heart and mind.
So, if you are like me and feel you have had a bad couple of weeks, maybe a bad couple of months, I want you to do two things. First, I want you to spend time each day trying to rejoice. Try to give thanks every single day that our lives are not defined by finite moments but rather by our eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Second, when you try to rejoice, and especially if you are unable to, I want you to take all your anxiety, worry, and fear and lay it at the feet of Christ in prayer. Tell God everything on your heart and mind, and his peace will guard both. Today. Tomorrow. And forever.
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