in the Lord Always
uring our recent hurricane season most of us had a secret admiration for those who decided to hold their ground and not evacuate their homes. Most who rode out the storm, standing firm against the elements, did survive.
In his very personal letter to his dear friends at Philippi, St. Paul gave them pastoral advice to, ...stand firm in the Lord... (4:1, NRSV). In other words, trials and storms will inevitably come our way but by obstinately taking our stand we will ultimately be victorious. God does not guarantee any of us a rose garden, but He does promise that He will abide with us throughout the storms of life. He does not change the course of the storms so much as He changes us.
Later, Paul further instructs the Philippian Church on how to abide in His grace. At first his instruction seems almost frivolous, or silly, because we usually think that standing our ground is serious stuff; but, Paul says, Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I will say, Rejoice. (v.4). Thus we have the notion of Abiding through Celebration.
We were amazed at how those folks who stood their ground against the hurricanes would call in their friends and have a celebration--- they seemed to be almost flaunting themselves against the growing wind. Is that not precisely how Christians have historically fought against evil? Corporate worship is indeed an exhibit of our obstinacy in faith.
Christian Celebration also builds confidence. Worship helps us to not worry and encourages us to express thanksgiving to God for His powerful grace that is sustaining us in battle. One of the secrets of Methodism has been our freedom to express emotion in our relationship with God. Our tradition of worship has stressed passionate feelings. Our hymns and songs and stirring prayers have led to great preaching as the central focus of worship. Ours has never been an inward, private, quiet experience; but rather, an outward and open, experiential, joy in the congregation. It has been through these times of rejoicing that most of us have found our greatest source of strength. We attempt to capture something of this emotive atmosphere in every worship experience. Is it any wonder that much of contemporary and gospel music has found its source in Christian worship?
Tonight we celebrate Southern Gospel Quartet music, which is one particular expression of our decision to persevere through rejoicing. Come and enjoy the ministry of one of the finest quartets, The Melody Masters, at our regular 7:00 p.m. service. Southern Gospel developed from the hearts of poor southern folks who had suffered through The Great Depression and World War II. They had lost their farms, their jobs, their dignity, and their sons too. There was a mood of cultural depression, and the fast, folksy new gospel music brought comfort.
I recall, as a child, attending All Night Singings at The War Memorial Coliseum in Charlotte. We never stayed overnight, to my dismay, but I do recall the tears and arm waving of people who looked like they had driven old jalopies for hours to get to the celebration of grace amid pain.
We usually left soon after my Uncle Joe sang with Wally Fowler and The Oak Ridge Quartet. Joe was the first high tenor in Gospel Music to go into that falsetto voice that they all soon adopted. He himself had been one of the younger of a family of eleven children, who had lost their mother soon after giving birth to her eleventh. The family later realized that they had been held together through their faith in Christ, and their singing. The old neighbors still tell how the community was lit up with song as those kids gathered around an old upright piano and sang their hearts out. Talk about rejoicing in sorrow!
My Dadís little brother Joe had worked his way through high school, with the help of his older sisters and brothers, but had been drafted into the Big War, where he was a tail gunner on a B-25. After the war he was a natural for the new gospel sound. Folks could feel Joeís personal pain as he sang the stories in the gospel songs about hurting, and overcoming through the power of God.
Another group that developed a musical style as a form of rejoicing amid civil disorder and personal tragedy, were the proud Africans rounded up and forced into the holes of stinking slave ships and sold into slavery upon these shores. Their families were broken up forever, and their hearts were hopeless and lost. Perhaps the only good thing that came up out of the hated institution of human bondage was the fact that the slaves began to hear the gospel of freedom in Christ. Less severe slave owners typically allowed their slaves to attend their churches, even if they did have to sit in a balcony, or stand outside the windows. But the good news is that the sounds of victory began to rise up out of the cotton fields, such as, Nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows but Jesus... Sometimes Iím up, sometimes Iím down, Sometimes Iím almost to the ground, Oh, yes, Lord! (U.M. Hymnal, p. 520). Who would deny that our ultimate victory over slavery and segregation was a direct result of the hope instilled by the Christian faith.?
You see, we are not only encouraged to stand against evil, but to stand for justice and a better life. The goal is not superficial comfort, or temporary titillation, but spiritual overcoming which leads to peace. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with your 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. (v.6 & 7). Great universities, hospitals, and businesses have been built upon just that promise, reinforced in rejoicing.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor