I brought some show-and-tell tonight – nothing crazy – I brought some money. Two bills, two different bills. One bill is graced with the portrait of the esteemed George Washington, a dollar bill, the other is that of my good friend Benjamin Franklin, a one-hundred-dollar bill. Now, if I were to offer to you tonight the choice to pick one of these bills from me and keep it for yourself, I think I know which one you’d take, you’d all choose the hundred-dollar bill. Why is that? Both bills are similar in shape. Both bills have basically the same color. Both weigh about the same, are made of a similar material, and contain similar ink. So, is Benjamin Franklin just that much more attractive than George Washington and that’s why we’d go for the hundred-dollar bill? Is the design of this bill more attractive than this one? Maybe, but ultimately we’d all go for this hundred-dollar bill because it holds more value than the one-dollar bill.
As a society, we’ve all agreed that this bill with the number 100 on it is worth more than this bill that has a one on it, even though the make up of the two bills isn’t all that different. And we do this with all kinds of things. We ascribe value to just about everything we own. You have a net-worth that includes your home, and your vehicles, and other assets. Game shows exist where you guess how much something is actually worth and all of that stuff holds value because we as a society says it does. Yet, at the same time certain things might be of more worth to you than to someone else. Maybe there is a family heirloom that to you is priceless but to someone else it’s junk. Right, so in the end, value is how much significance we ascribe to something, and, in general, we’ve standardized value using currency.
Now, here is the catch, God says, “Look I’ve placed you in this world and you need to navigate the value system of this world, but I want you to have an overall value system that is completely different from the way that the world operates.” Tonight, the apostle Paul, shows us what makes this value system from God – a system that’s unique to you and to me as believers – so much greater.
Look what Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” This is interesting. Here is Paul, and he’s actually writing these words from prison. Paul is in jail in Rome, and he’s commanding the Philippians and us to rejoice – commanding us to have joy! And here is my question for you tonight. What would bring you joy? Right? Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It’s a day to give thanks. Maybe you’ll be gathered with some family and have some good food. Will that fill you with joy? It might, but for how long? What would it take for you to have joy “always” as Paul says here? What would you need? More money? Better health? A different job? More time to yourself? More friends? New friends? What would it take? I mean Paul can’t just command joy and expect us to jump up and say, “Okay! I’m up and I’m rejoicing, Paul!” It’s not that easy. Yet, here is God through Paul telling you to…rejoice! So, what would it take for you to do this, to have this joy?
Uh…there’s this show on Netflix called Tidying Up, you’re maybe familiar with it, and the main character of the show, Marie, she has an organizational method – I think it’s called KonMari – and this method of hers it’s derived from the Shinto religion and it teaches you how to assess value by holding something in your hand and asking yourself this question, “Does this thing I’m holding, spark joy?” If it doesn’t you toss it, and if it does “spark joy”, you keep it. Now, there are some flaws to this method. Like my toddler in the middle of the night screaming in my arms doesn’t spark joy, and I’m not going to toss her.
Here is what I’m getting at: we so often look for joy, and we want joy. And we hold up different things in life, things that we think have value, or things that society says have value, and we’re expecting these things to give us joy, to make our lives better. Right? This money buys me things that I want. My job brings me real feelings of fulfillment. Spending time with my family puts a smile on my face. Being healthy and exercising makes me feel good. Helping others and being kind, gives me purpose. And so it’s easy to hold up these things and to say, “Yes, these are the things that bring me joy.” And we so badly want that to be true because these are things that we can do to change our outlook on life. These are methods and things that we can use to accomplish what we want by our own power, drive, and will. But here is my question, “How’s that going for you?” Do you have joy…always?
Look, I have three kids and they’re still quite young, but when I give them what they want, a toy, some candy, yeah it might make them happy for a day or two, or their happiness might only last a few minutes until they’re badgering me for the next thing. When you value things here, the happiness, the joy, it’s temporary. But, I don’t need my kids to teach me that, I have the same problem. I’m never content. I always think I need more. I always want more. I’m uber happy one day, and down in the dumps the next. And, no it’s not because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s because like the rest of the world I can’t help but value the things here right in front of me. But when I do that, when you do that, we end up undervaluing the very God who gives us all these wonderful things in life.
And that’s why Paul is so clear, ““Rejoice…in the Lord Hold up your things. Hold up your friends. Hold up your job. Hold up your health. Those things may or may not spark joy on a given day but hold up the Lord…that’s joy always. Why…how? Take a look at our gospel lesson. There’s this woman, and she comes to Jesus, crying. And she starts using her tears and her hair to wipe at Jesus’ feet, to clean them. That act, by many, it’s viewed with disgust. But Jesus held up what she did as something valuable, as something important. You see this woman understood who Jesus was and what he would soon do for her. This was her Savior. Undeserved, unearned, but still hers. So, she wept. I can’t help but think that those were tears of joy. It didn’t matter that the people in the room were mocking her. It didn’t matter if her past life was one of shame and sin – as it was – all that mattered was that Jesus valued her…she was someone worth saving. And Jesus made sure she knew that. He forgave her. He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
There is your value system. There is your joy. Jesus has saved you. That’s true whether you’re life is great by the world’s standards, mediocre by the world’s standards, or downright awful by the world’s standards. You want to be thankful for something tomorrow? This one’s a no brainer. Every time you hold up Jesus as your Savior, heaven as your home, that’s going to give you joy, spark joy, – always! You see too often we settle for happiness. Happiness is this positive feeling that comes from desirable, external, circumstances, Happiness is always an outside-in feeling. Something good happens to you and for a moment you smile, but it’s temporary. Joy is what comes from the certainty of an ultimate reality, something like heaven. It’s an inside-out feeling. Happiness is only possible during good times, but joy can happen always regardless of current life circumstances. That’s why Paul, even while in prison can tell you and me to rejoice in the one thing that will bring us joy always… “rejoice in the Lord.”
And when your value system revolves around Christ, who he is – my Savior – and what he’s done – died for my sins and assured me of my eternity, look what this does – Paul’s not done laying down bold commands tonight. Here is his second one: “Don’t be anxious…Don’t be anxious about – listen – anything.” We human beings are a worrying species. We worry about food and clothing, about what the future will bring, and about many other things. And it’s okay to want to plan and be prepared. But when that worry causes you to dob, that’s a lack of trust. That’s a sin. And, you know what else? When it comes to worrying, when it comes to being anxious, it’s kind of pointless. There was a study about 20 years ago now by a Dr. Walther Calvert. Dr. Calvert tracked thousands of participants to see if the things they regularly worried about actually came true, if they were worth worrying about. Do you know what his research showed? Only 8% of the things you worry about actually take place – 8%! That means 92% of those things that keep you from daily happiness, 92% of those things that consume your thinking and keep you up at night, 92% of those things that rob you of lasting joy aren’t actually worth worrying about. Those things won’t happen. What a relief! Except, I don’t think any of that research will stop any of you from worrying, will it? Now, you’re just worrying if your worries fall in that 8% category. So, here is a different option, Paul says, “with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Look, what if each morning when you woke up and each night when you went to bed, you gave thanks to God? You took the anxiety of the upcoming day or the weight of the day you just endured, and you set it aside for just a moment, and you thanked God. You thanked him for all that he has already done for you. You thanked him for everything he’s promised to give you in the future, like an eternity with him, and you thanked him for one more important thing, you thanked him because you know he will answer your prayers in a way that is best for you.
You see what you’re valuing here? You’re not valuing yourself and your wants, but God and his will. That’s the opposite of being anxious. That’s trust and, again, that’s often what we’re missing. And when the trust is there, look what it does. It brings a peace unlike any other. Paul puts it this way, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When you see how God values you, how he loves you, and has moved all of human history in a very specific direction so that he can have you for himself, there is a peace in that. And here is the peace: at the end of your life, you’re going to heaven. It’s true. That’s why Jesus came – for you!
So, “rejoice in the Lord always…do I need to say it again? Rejoice!” We live in a world where everything contains some sort of value, everything is worth something. And you and I often have to use the value system of the world around us. And, I get it, we’d all prefer a $100 dollar bill over a $1 dollar bill, and that’s fine. But what the world tends to value won’t bring you joy, real lasting joy. Only Jesus will, and only Jesus does. Value him; Know that he values you, after all he came here for you, and I can say with certainty that one day he will come back to bring you home to be with him.
Let that truth fill you with joy…always. And may it lead you to give thanks, not just tomorrow on Thanksgiving, but every day. Amen.