Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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.
CCI: Advent: Time for Practicing Encouragement. For whatever reason the time leading up to Christmas puts a lot of pressure on people. It could be encouragement because they are going through a financial difficulties. It could be they need encouragement because they lost a loved one, or they feel alone. They may need encouragement because they are facing illness. Paul is being encouraging to the Philippians, some of who are going through a difficult time living out their faith and purpose. Practicing encouragement is particularly important.
I was sent this story about encouragement on Facebook.
An old man in Miami calls up his son in New York and says, “Listen, your mother and I are getting divorced. Forty-five years of misery is enough.”
“Dad, what are you talking about?” the son screams.
“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” he says. “I’m sick of her face, and I’m sick of talking about this, so call your sister in Chicago and tell her,” and he hangs up.
Now, the son is worried. So he calls up his sister. She says, “Like hell they’re getting divorced!” and calls her father immediately. “You’re not getting divorced! Don’t do another thing, the two of us are flying home tomorrow to talk about this. Until then, don’t call a lawyer, don’t file a paper, DO YOU HEAR ME?” and she hangs up.
The old man turns to his wife and says “Okay, they’re coming for Christmas and paying their own airfares.”
I am not sure that is the best way to encourage family to come and visit during the holidays.
Last week I preached that Advent was a time not just for preparing for the birth of Jesus but a time for practicing for the birth for Jesus. By practice I meant doing those things that Jesus taught us to do like being kind to everyone, particularly to those who are poor and needy.
This week my sermon is about practicing encouragement another thing the who they were or what they were going through.
In our scripture this morning, the Apostle Paul was being especially encouraging of the Church in Philippi because the church was going through an especially difficult time. Last week I told you how Paul was thankful to them for continuing to practice kindness to everyone. What I didn’t mention was that not everyone they were kind to showed kindness in return. Philippis was a difficult place to be faithful. You will recall that in the book of Acts, when Paul first went to Philippi, he was beaten and thrown into jail. And so the Church in Philippi and it’s leaders were feeling down and dispirited.
So our scripture this morning Paul’s attempt more than anything elese to lift them up and encourage them through what was a difficult situation. Paul concern is how can they practice encouragement much less kindness if they are discouraged.
And so Paul does something unexpected. He tells them to Rejoice in the Lord Always and again I day rejoice. One of the best ways to feel encouraged in whatever difficult situation you are in is to find a blessing. That can be hard in a difficult circumstance because you eye is always on the negatives. It’s not going the way I want. Paul obvious point in telling them to Rejoice is is that there is always something to be thankful for. I think you’ll agree that even in the most difficult situations there are blessing. I think of people who have gone through terrible tragedies and finding a blessing like blessing of the people who have given them aid and comfort. One of the way we can help encourage people is to help them begin find whatever blessing there may be in in their particular circumstance.
After finding the blessings and rejoicing, Paul encourages them by reminding that God has been present with them despite what difficulties they have been experiencing. He tells them Let you gentleness be evident to all. The kind of gentleness that Paul is talking about is not just about being nice to people. It’s a gentleness marked by strength to stand up against the hard reality of violence and pain. You don’t get that kind of strength of gentleness without help from something greater than ourselves. Sometimes we aren’t always aware of how God is working in and through our lives. We can help encourage people by helping them to see how God is working in their lives and that the situation they are going through is making them stronger than before.
After Paul encourages them that God has actively working in their live in the past to help them grow in gentleness and strength, Paul tells that God is with them in the present as well. Paul tells them “Don’t be anxious about anything but in every situation by prayer and petition present request to God. It hard to feel encouraged when you are feeling anxious about what is happening in the present. Praying to God can and does help us in the present to relieve whatever anxiety we may be feeling. I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered people who have been hesitant to pray to d are finished have asked “Have you prayed to God about it.” Many have told me, “I can’t pray to God about that.” Or I don’t think God really cares about me or is disappointed in me. One of the results of going through a difficult circumstance is not just feeling discouraged but feeling disappointment in yourself. You can imagine the disappointment that the Church in Philippi must have been feeling. Another way we can show encouragement to people is to let them know that it’s all right to go to God with their problems and concerns because God cares about them. We can even share with them something that we have been struggling with and praying to God for help with. Paul shares his own problems, like being in prison numerous times in his letter and he asks the Philppians to keep him in his prayers as he endure difficulties like being in prison. Sharing our circumstances and how we deal with it through God is way to encourage others in their struggles.
After encouraging the Phlippians by telling them that God is actively with them in the past and present. Paul tells them that God will be with them in the end and that in the end they will have God’s peace, a peace that is greater than anything. Wouldn’t you feel encouraged in your what circumstance you are going through knowing that God would be there in the end with you in the end to give you God’s peace.
The point of this scripture this morning is to show how Paul was practicing encouragement. All of us here can do what Paul did for the Philippians. All of us can be a mean of encouragement to other, particularly those who are going through a difficult time. We can encourage people people how to find the blessing in whatever they are going through. We can and we encourage people by helping them recognize how God has been moving in their lives. We can encourage people that God is present and care about their situation by praying for them and with them. Let them know that they can pray to God about anything. And we can encourage people by letting them know that God will be with them in end to give them the peace they need. We can do it by sharing our own experiences where we found the peace of God.
Just when I begin to feel down and disappointed about things I feel God encouraging me to keep going.
Rejoicing in god’s blessings is followed by is followed by affirming what God is doing in your life. Paul say” Let your gentleness be known to everyone. How many of us think of ourselves as being gentle. Gentleness is not one of those things that come easy to me. It’s something that I know God is helping me with. One of the things we don’t do enough as Christians is tell people how God has changed our lives for the better. A lot of people doubt that God can help them change their lives for the better. You know one of the best ways to show that God and God’s grace is real is by the way we act.
Affirming what God is doing in our lives is then followed by knowing God is present to hear our prayers and needs whatever they may be, That’s import with us ready to hear our prayers. be known to everyone.. Part of Paul’s efforts in encouraging the Philippians is to remind them that God is with them and encouraging them. That is what I think Paul means when he says “Rejoice in the Lord, again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry 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.”
The problem is that we don’t always think of God as being encouraging. I imagine that a lot of people look upon God as looking over their shoulder ready to jump on them when they make a mistake. What’s more think that God doesn’t want anything to do with them. God doesn’t want to listen to their problems.
You can imagine how hard it is be encouraging of others if you feel like God is looking over your shoulder all the time judging you or that God doesn’t want to have anything to do with you or listen to your problems.
I think one of the things we are struggling right now in the United Methodist Church is whether or not God is a God who encourages us to become better, kinder people regardless of who we are or what we have done, or a God who is looking over our shoulder at everything we do and say ready to jump on us if we make a mistake or sin. Right now the focus in the church is over the inclusion or exclusion of homosexuals in the full life the church including ordination. There are a lot of United Methodist who think that God is looking over our shoulder right now ready to jump on us if we do allow homosexuals to be ordained.