Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving
Senior’s Luncheon
Wednesday, October 8th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Philippians 4:4-9

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
-Phil 4:4

St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” It is, of course, easy to rejoice when things are going well. As our annual celebration of thanksgiving comes around and we see the bounty around us in this wonderful country, in this community, and even in this church, it is easy to find words of thanksgiving to God for all the ways in which we have been blessed.

Thanksgiving has two sides, though. There are those who go without the necessities of life on a daily basis – people who we cannot see in far away places, and people we choose not to see in this our own community. It then becomes somewhat more difficult for me to give thanks for what I have because then I must examine, why do I have so much and why do they have so little? Where is the justice in that? Where is the mercy of God? Is it easy for them to give thanks?

However, there is a reality that these two portraits fail to present. Even the wealthiest amongst us are not without pain, suffering, regret and some kind of poverty or another. Those who have much have much to lose, and often they do. Even if all our financial and material needs are met, we still lose loved ones to tragic illness or tragic accidents; we still face broken relationships; we still face the reality of a broken world. We have much to rejoice over, but we also have much to lament over.

And who has not seen blessing in the eyes of the poorest pauper? I remember talking with a street busker once who was not a wealthy man, but he constantly gave thanks for his life and all that he had. His spirit of thanksgiving was a blessing to those who passed by and spoke with him and heard his music. Who amongst us has not been touched by the generosity and gentleness of one who has less than we, and yet is thankful for even the slightest thing?

Be we rich or poor or middle class, each of us has within us poverty and wealth. When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was impeded from being with them because he was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Yet, he exudes great joy. Was he suffering? Certainly – he was in prison. Was he conflict? Certainly – he longed to leave this realm to be with Christ. What St. Paul understood, though, was that suffering and joy are not single children. Suffering and joy are twin siblings that walk together. To consider them anything else is to delude ourselves. Paul’s experience ran the gamut from poverty to jubilation – and he experienced both things not as polarities but as partners in his human experience and as the result of his life in Christ.

The Church at Philippi was very likely a wealthy community, funding many of Paul’s missions, and yet, it seems as if they were experiencing suffering under some kind of persecution. There seem to have been conflict in the community. Today’s passage follows an exhortation by Paul for two members (two faithful members who had suffered much for the gospel) to be reconciled with each other. Suffering and joy exist together in an ongoing tension. Indeed, he holds up our Lord and Saviour as the primary model of this suffering and joy, for Christ suffered greatly for our sake but is now exalted so that we, too, might be exalted. God, himself, participated in both our suffering and our joy. Thus, all our suffering and joy is made holy in his suffering and joy.

I suppose then, that this is one of the things that make us both human and hallowed. In our suffering we can taste the suffering of another and not only feel compassion but be stirred to walk with them, help them lift their burden and carry their load. In our joy we can touch the joy of another and celebrate the blessings of each other’s lives. To be truly human, as God created us to be, is to be touched and moved by the life and experience of our fellow creatures.

Let us be stirred, then, to give a hand to those who suffer, walk in poverty, are filled with sadness, and need a companion, for do we not all experience some kind of poverty at some time or another? And let us rejoice with those who celebrate good news and abundant blessing, for are we not all blessed in one sense or another? Let us be of the same mind as Christ our Lord, who suffered and rejoiced, not for his sake but for ours. Let our suffering and joy be made holy, in him, in service to our fellow creatures.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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