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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


14th December 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Advent 3

'Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, rejoice.' Philippians 4.4

Somebody tells you of their misfortune, an illness, a redundancy, the stresses of everyday life. You reply, 'rejoice.' They would be a least surprised by such a reply if not offended. Yet that is what St. Paul says. 'Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, rejoice.'

Those words were written from Paul's prison cell where he faced trial and execution for his faith in Christ. They were written to the Christian Church in Philippi, no doubt made up of widows, orphans and slaves facing all the hardships of life in those times together with opposition to their faith. In what would they rejoice?

Paul gives us the answer, 'in the Lord always.' It is the presence of the Lord in a person's life that makes the difference. The inner transformation that comes through faith in the Risen Christ makes it possible to rejoice in all circumstances. Paradoxically it those who have least, slaves, the poor whose worship is most joyful. Their faith in the Lord is all they have and yet in having that they have all.

In our worship today, our prayer is focussed on our desire for healing for others and for ourselves. We can hear St Paul's words as addressed to ourselves. 'Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, rejoice.' Going very much against the grain of our times, counter cultural and rather subversive, they have great converting power.

Paul goes on to elaborate. 'Let your gentleness be known to everyone.' In the face of adversity it is normal to respond like for like. The world is concerned with the exercise of power whether through lawful means or through aggression. Gentleness is seen as a sign of weakness and failure. Yet in its quiet way it slowly affects and changes those who see it. It is seen in the life of Christ and that of the saints. In the end it won over the Roman Empire.

Such gentleness is rooted in faith that 'The Lord is near.' 'Near' here means 'very close.' The Lord is so near that he is to all intents and purposes here already. Soon, very soon, believed St. Paul the Lord would return to herald in the new age. Against the backdrop of eternity that remains true even if we don't have the same sense of urgent expectation. A gentle prayerful sense of the nearness of the Lord enables us to rejoice in all things.

'Do not worry about anything.' We know that nothing is achieved by worry and yet we worry about everything. The foil to this says St. Paul is to redirect it. 'But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.' Worries can be turned into prayer and supplication for all things. Instead of worrying we can do something, pray.

Just as rejoicing in all circumstances is deeply subversive so is thanksgiving. Ours is age where duty has been replaced by the demand for our rights. Instead of being thankful for what we have, we demand yet more. When demands are replace by thankfulness everything changes. There is a marked improvement in our relationships with one another and with God. So pray with thanksgiving, use 'The General Thanksgiving' as an aid.

The healing that we all long for can be summed up in the single word, 'peace.' It is one of those rather overused words, not least in the Church. Behind it lies the Hebrew word 'shalom.' It suggests a deep inner peace, going beyond the absence of conflict to a profound 'at oneness' with God and our fellow human beings. If, says St. Paul, we rejoice in the nearness of the Lord, turn our worries into prayer, give thanks in all things then we will know that peace.

'And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.'

Amen

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Last updated 07/12/2002 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd