Aim Low to Reach Higher #6 in the Series
I want us to open the sermon this morning by singing the old round, “Rejoice in the Lord, always and again I say rejoice.”
Did you know that the word rejoice or derivations of the word appears 221 times in the Bible? Of those 221 occurrences, 28 were by Jesus and 31 were by Paul? So, what difference does that make? Well, you know I’m pretty much of “the glass is half full” kind of guy. I didn’t grow up in a household that was very optimistic about anything or anyone.
I don’t remember my Dad really praising anyone, except maybe himself. I’m not sure he knew how to rejoice with those who rejoice. As I look back, it makes me kind of sad. I can give you all kinds of reasons for his attitude, but I never really understood them; especially after I gave my life to Christ. In Christ I found so much hope, so much love, and so much joy that I can’t imagine not rejoicing with those who rejoice.
As we continue in our series Aim Low to Reach Higher today I want us to focus on the call to Aim To Rejoice.
PRAYER Our passage should be familiar to you by now.
Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)
 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I want to focus on four verses. Verses 10, 12, 15 & 16 “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.”
I. GOD IS GOOD:
A. The first thing I think we have to focus on is the Goodness of God. God Is Good. I believe that. God IS Good all the time. When we remember that, when it’s imprinted on our hearts and ingrained in our spirits then even in the most dire circumstances and situations, we can rejoice in God because God IS Good All the time. But being able to accept that is a matter of faith and a matter of mental and spiritual focus. It’s a decision of the heart.
Two different people woke early and started getting ready for Sunday morning worship. One hummed a hymn while he was getting ready for church. On the way to church he said to himself, “This IS the day Lord has made, and I WILL be glad in it.”
He saw a cardinal flitting in the trees and praised God for its beauty. He saw icicles hanging from the same tree but noticed the beauty of the sunlight as it sparkled on the ice. He entered church and began greeting everyone he saw. When he finally sat in his pew, he bowed in prayer, he rejoiced in the music and sang with joy what the music minister had picked, even though he didn’t know that particular tune. He also noticed beauty of church architecture and was particularly moved by one of the illustrations in the sermon. His heart was full and he went forth rejoicing in God.
The second worshipper reluctantly got of bed saying, “I would rather stay in bed.” He made his way to the church filled with resentment against those who wouldn’t there. He got angry over the noisy greetings of everyone around him. He hurried to his pew and found someone was already sitting in HIS spot. Once he found another seat, he critically analyzed the music, the sermon and his neighbors. When the worship service was over he went left unchanged, untouched and dissatisfied wishing he’d just stayed in bed.
It was the same church. It was the same music. It was the same sermon and the same worshippers who gathered, but there was a world of difference in the two men. Why?
B. One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that was going on inside each and every one of us. He said, “My boy, the fight is between two wolves.”
That got the boy’s attention. “One is evil,” the old man continued. “It snarls and gnaws at our spirit and tries to fills us with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”
“What about the other wolf, grandfather?” the boy asked.
“The other wolf is good,” he said. “The other wolf licks our hand and wags its tail and tries to fill our spirits with Joy, Peace, Love, Hope, Serenity, Humility, Kindness, Benevolence, Empathy, Generosity, Truth, Compassion and Faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “So, we all have these same wolves fighting inside us, right grandfather?”
“Yes, that’s right my son,” the wise old man said.
“Then, which wolf wins the fight?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Being able to say God IS Good all the time is easy. But being able to BELIEVE that God IS Good all the time is a matter of faith; a matter of mental and spiritual focus. It’s a decision of the heart.
So, how’s your heart? Which wolf are you feeding?
II. GOD IS IN CONTROL:
We can rejoice not only because GOD IS GOOD but because GOD IS IN CONTROL. With everything that’s going on in the world; with all the various crises facing us; with all the uncertainties of life how we can say that?
It’s easy. I can say that because of this book. From the very first word of Scripture to the very last word of Scripture, this book tells me that no matter what has happened, what is happening or what will happen, God is in Control. This is God’s world.
And that means that life and the world isn’t like the Olympics where victory hangs in the balance until the very last second. This isn’t like some playoff game where the crowd sits on the edge of their seats waiting to see who will prevail. This is God’s world, God’s universe. God has already triumphed. There are forces that want us to think otherwise. But the simple truth is those forces are liars, they were defeated before they ever nailed Jesus to the cross.
Victory was certain but they couldn’t see it coming. And when it did come, they wouldn’t accept defeat. Even after the resurrection they wouldn’t lay down their arms. The skirmishes are still going on. The propaganda is still being spread. But the truth is that the Victory has already been won even if the struggle continues. We can rejoice because GOD IS IN CONTROL.
III. GOD CARES:
A. Because GOD IS IN CONTROL God has our best interest at heart. God wants the best for us. GOD CARES FOR US. Because GOD CARES FOR US, God shows us that care in lots of little, sometimes subtle ways.
It had been a pretty stressful week at the church. That week seemed to be filled with crisis after crisis and the pastor hadn’t had the sermon prep time that he normally had. So, late one evening, he was home working on his sermon. His little girl came in and said, “Daddy, can we play?”
He said, “Honey, I would like to play with you, but I’m just too busy. I’m right in the middle of finishing my sermon. But I should be done in about an hour. Would that be OK? “
With a cheerful smile she said, “Okay, Daddy. But when you’re finished I’m going to give you a great big hug.”
He smiled and said, “Well, thank you very much,” and went back to writing his sermon.
His daughter went to the door but no sooner did she get there than she made a U-turn, ran back and gave him a bone-breaking, breathtaking hug.
He looked at her, laughed and said, “Honey, I thought you said you were going to give me a big hug after I finished.”
With big blue eyes she looked up at him and said, “Well, Daddy, I just wanted you to know what to look forward to.” (1) And at that very moment, he knew that hug wasn’t just from his daughter. It was exactly what he needed. God just used his daughter to give it to him. Because GOD CARES FOR US.
B. Almost everybody knows the name, if not the music, of the great singer Tony Bennett. He was born in 1923 and worked as a singing waiter. He didn’t sing professionally until 1946 when he was discovered by Bob Hope. A crooner whose voice thrilled many of our parents and grandparents, he made a remarkable comeback when he was rediscovered by MTV in 1995.
But a lot of people have never heard about the point in his life when he was so depressed he could hardly get out of bed. It was Christmas Eve, 1965, and he was spending a long, lonely night at the Gotham Hotel in New York City. His 13-year marriage was seriously on the rocks; his wife and two boys were at home in New Jersey.
Professionally, things weren’t looking very good. While he could still get a gig whenever he wanted, he felt that with rock and roll growing ever more popular and dominant, his music was slipping out of style. At age 42, the outlook for the future looked bleak.
The truth is, he didn’t have to be alone. One of his closest friends in life, Duke Ellington, whose orchestra had backed Bennett on numerous occasions, was conducting The Sacred Concert just a few blocks away. He’d been invited, but Bennett was so depressed he couldn’t get out of bed.
While trying to sleep, he began to hear a strange noise. He thought he must have left the television on. So, he got up to turn it off. But it wasn’t the TV. The noise was coming from the hall.
When Bennett opened the door, there stood the entire chorus from The Sacred Concert, singing “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”
Knowing that his friend was down in the dumps, Duke Ellington arranged for a private serenade. (2)
Tony Bennett was fortunate to have a friend who cared so much about him. The Good News is that God cares about us the same way. GOD CARES FOR US. And I believe that God sends people into our lives when we need them the most. Whether it’s simply to give us that hug of encouragement or to pull our spirits out of the depths of depression. GOD CARES FOR US.
C. GOD CARES FOR US and God offers us new life and new purpose when we think we’re of no use any more. That’s what the book and the movie Seabiscuit was all about. One of the opening scenes sets up that very theme which is played out through the whole movie.
Car maker Charles Howard hasn’t had a streak of luck in a long time. But a chance meeting with a trainer, Tom Collins. who intervenes and rescues a race horse who’ll never race again. Howard tracks him down and across a camp fire asks, “Why are you fixing him?”
Collins ponders a minute and answers: “Because I can. Every horse is good for something. Why, he could be a cart horse, or a lead pony, and he’s still nice to look at. You don’t throw a whole life away just cause it’s banged up a little.”
“You don’t throw a whole life away just cause it’s banged up a little.” That’s the theme of movie but it’s also God’s theme for our lives.
A washed up owner, a has been trainer and a one-eyed, too tall jockey came together and out of the trash heap of their lives rose the story and the history of a champion. There are no junk yards for humans. We are all God’s children. GOD CARES FOR US and God offers new life and new purpose for everyone through his son.
IV. REJOICE WITH THOSE WHO REJOICE:
A. God Is Good, God Is In Control, God Cares For Us and finally, because of those, God calls us to REJOICE WITH THOSE WHO REJOICE. And when we do, we not only lift their spirits but it lifts our spirits as well.
You see, Rejoicing neutralizes the toxicity in life. And we know there are so many things in life that can sour us. Rejoicing with others, rejoicing in God’s love and care, rejoicing that God is in control keeps our hearts and minds and souls focused on the source of all being. It keeps us from sinking into the depths of despair. We’re called to REJOICE WITH THOSE WHO REJOICE because it builds them up, it lifts their spirits and ours.
To be honest, it seems easier, at least for some people, to rip others apart because of what they’ve done, what they’ve left undone or what they should have done. But when we rejoice, it changes everything.
I remember the story of a pastor in Florida who caught three boys from the neighborhood stealing oranges from his tree. “Do you know what the Bible says about thieves?” he asked sternly.
“Yes sir!” said one of the boys. “Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise!’”
Now, you can either get mad at the boys for snitching oranges or you can rejoice in the fact that they’ve read the Scripture, they remember it, and they’ve even learned how to apply it, no matter how faulty that application might be.
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Rejoice in hope. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Live in harmony with one another.”
That’s our Aim today to Rejoice in God and Rejoice with one another. Aim to Rejoice.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Rev. David Peterson, revised
2. “Tony Bennett: Older and Wiser,” by Robert Sullivan, LIFE, February 1995.