11-16-2020: Twenty-third Week after Trinity

My hope is that all is well with you, and that you are already finding opportunity to rejoice in the Lord, not only today, but each and every day.

I say all of this knowing full well that so many of you are experiencing struggle after struggle, and affliction after affliction. I know your stories—your families, your workplaces, your lives. And even if I didn’t, still, I know you’re just as human as me. This means I know this world is in pursuit of you just as it is me. It’s laboring tirelessly to instill fear, sadness, and quite possibly, despair.

Still, I say rejoice in the Lord, and such words are not given emptily. Just as I know you to need a Savior as much as I do, I also know you believe in that Savior. Together we’ve staked a claim in Jesus as the only source for real peace. And so now, as those purchased and won by the blood of Christ—God’s holy people!—we know ourselves to be those who’ve been remade by the Holy Spirit for faith, and by this, we can rejoice even in the midst of suffering.

If you don’t believe me, consider Saint Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4-7.

“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.”

Even though this particular bit of God’s Word wasn’t an appointed text for yesterday’s worship, I included it in the sermon I wrote and preached, anyway. I did so not only because it fit safely within the theme, but because I know it matters right now, perhaps more than ever before. I used it to remind you that Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians—namely, these words—from prison. Even more intriguing is that as he wrote, he knew his execution was likely on the very near horizon. Still, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and then he turned up the volume on his enthusiasm with, “again, I will say, rejoice.” Paul knew by faith in Jesus Christ the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, and he wanted the same for his readers. He wanted us to know that this world can consume us, but it doesn’t own us, and even if we die, we will live.

While handling the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, Luther preached the same in a sermon in 1532. Paul wrote in verse 17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” and then Luther expounded:

“For a Christian is a new creature, or newly-created work of God, and he speaks, thinks, and judges all things in a different way from the world’s speaking and judging. Because he is a new man, all things do become new to him, here in this life through faith, and afterwards in the life to come, through openly revealing their nature. Now, the world cannot help judging death according to its old nature and ways, that it is the most terrifying and frightening thing on earth, and the end of life and of all joy. But a Christian, on the other hand, as a new man, is equipped with very different and even contrary thoughts, so that he can be courageous and happy, even when he is passing through hard times; and in his heart he remembers that he possesses a great treasure even though he is poor; he is a powerful prince and lord when he is in prison; and surpassingly strong when he is weak and ill, and in highest honor when he is disdained and reviled. Similarly, he will be quickened into newness of life, if he now has to die. In short, he wins a new heart and courage…” (W.A. 36. 255.)

Sitting here this morning pondering these things, something else comes to mind. Essentially, it’s that such a confidence in Christ has the potential for seeing opportunity in adversity. In other words, knowing that we have the divine right to smile in the face of hardship, who’s to say we can’t also be those who see ourselves as privileged to mine it for whatever gems it might keep in secret. In a roundabout way, Ovid’s thoughts on Hector come to mind.

“Who would have known of Hector if Troy had been happy? The road to valor is built by adversity.”

I’m not suggesting valor or notoriety as the Christian’s goals, but rather faithfulness to Christ—although, I’ll admit from Luther’s observations that valor is a likely byproduct of such faithfulness, and I don’t know about you, but I certainly take notice of the Christians who, when faced with misfortune, stand their ground, holding firmly to Christian conviction. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m suspecting these things will emerge. All along the way of this faithfulness, as more and more adversity finds its way to the Christian’s doorstep, it’s possible to discover a mounting courage that’s ready to meet each one and embrace it as an opportunity to become less malleable to the hammers of the imposing world around us. A Christian can discover in each moment of combat his or her insides becoming less queasy for the next wave of fearful things on approach. And when the assaults land, a Christian can begin to see the blade of misfortune for what it is—something that can be taken by the handle, ultimately using the dagger to the Lord’s glory and the benefit of salvation (whether that be ours or another’s), or by its razored edge and find oneself mortally wounded.

I say take it by the handle and rejoice. In that sense, you’ll have turned it on your attacker and quite possibly ended, or even benefitted, from his assault.

As a pastor, I’ve seen this happen here in our midst at Our Savior in Hartland. I see it happening more and more. People are finding, by God’s grace, the otherworldly innards for rejoicing in the midst of adversity, and the legs to stand in opposition to the world’s encroachment. For me, truly, there is little else that compares to such scenes. Even better, there’s a special kind of contentment that stirs when you see God’s people living in ways that prove very little can mount a successful campaign of terror against Christians rightly prepared to sing Paul’s refrain “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

And by the way, it always brings a smile to my face when I see the enemies of the cross—the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh—retreating to their burrows to recalculate their efforts. Yes, I know they’ll be back. I know to expect them. But I also know the Lord’s promise to care for me forever stands.

So, while I’m not necessarily interested in inviting trouble, still, I bear the inclination to say, “Bring it on.”