Good Rejoicers

Posted: January 28, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horan

I love movies.  Most of the communication between my brothers and sisters involves quotes from movies.  There’s a perfect movie quote for every situation, and when the four of us are together, you can feel confident that one of us will come up with it.

I feel that, sometime in the last 20 years or so, movies have shifted.  When I was little, the good guys always had a happy ending.  They won the game, fell in love, solved the crime… whatever seemed to be the goal—it was always reached.  But somewhere along the way, movie makers decided that they were getting too predictable.  Now it seems that the best movies actually don’t give you the happy ending you were expecting.  I’ll never forget the empty feeling I had when I watched a movie called Friday Night Lights.

Now, a key element of my sermon here requires that I talk about the ending of the movie.  If you’ve never seen it before and want to watch it without knowing the ending, please cover your ears.

It’s a great movie about a high school football team that overcomes all of this adversity in order to make it to the state championship game.  The crowd is cheering the movie theater is cheering everybody is feeling a championship coming on, but they lose.  In real life, the good guys don’t always win—this is true—but wow.  What a let down.

So, to counter this trend, I like to break out my favorite sports movies where the good guys win in the end.  I love to watch Rudy, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Miracle, or For the Love of the Game.  I love to sit through these and anticipate the good ending.  No matter how bad it gets for the characters in the story, I know that it all works out in the end.  No matter how bad it gets for the characters in the story, I know that it all works out in the end.

Our Scripture this morning is Zephaniah 3:14-20.  Zephaniah is a Hebrew name that means, “Yahweh has protected.”  He was a prophet at the end of the reign of Manasseh and the beginning of the reign of Josiah.  Manasseh had a long and evil reign as king of Judah, and the transition from Manasseh to the reforms and revival of Josiah.  You may recall from a month or two ago that we preached about Josiah as our example of Scripture reflection from the GROW series.  The Book of the Law, which had been lost for generations, was found, and Josiah had it read in the presence of all the people of Jerusalem.  From there the people repented of their sins and changed their ways.  Some believe that the ministry of Zephaniah would have been instrumental in that revival.

Remember also that much of the Old Testament was written down years and years after the events that they describe.  Most likely, Zephaniah 3:14-20 was written down after Israel was taken into exile in Babylon, which was an experience that caused Israel great shame and suffering, but which ultimately led to their purification and renewal as well.

Zephaniah is just three chapters, but they are three chapters about what will happen to the idolaters within Israel, what will happen to the oppressors of Israel, and what will happen in order to display the glory of God and his love for his people.  Then it ends with the passage we heard today.

It starts, “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.”

Zephaniah declares—remember who you are, and remember who God is!  Your impurities have been (past tense) wiped clean, your sins forgiven, and your oppressors resisted.  The ending in store for you is cause for celebration.  No matter how bad it gets for the characters in the story, I know that it all works out in the end.

I’m not sure you know who Scott Adams is.  He was a software designer, but found the work intensely unfulfilling.  After doing this work for several years, he began to think about a dream he’d always had, but had not yet achieved.  So, one day he wrote something on a piece of paper and tacked it to the wall of his cubicle.  It said, “I am a syndicated cartoonist.”  He read that to himself every morning for years.  I’m wondering if you’ve ever seen this guy in the paper?

Dilbert is written by former software designer and cubicle dweller, Scott Adams.  Sometimes focusing on the outcome can help us bear the disappointments that come before.

Now, this is not going to be an “If you can dream it you can do it” sermon.  That’s not the message of the Good News.  The Good News is that Christ has come to save—God has come into the world as one of us to redeem and restore all of creation, and his intentions will not be thwarted.  Our victory over sin and death is a forgone conclusion.  The end of all things is that God will be praised and glorified.

Perhaps knowing this can allow us to approach joy in a whole different way.  We’re not called to rejoice when our circumstances dictate it.  We are called to live in light of our destiny—that our sins are forgiven, that our salvation is assured, and that God is at work restoring the Creation.

We are called to rejoice.  Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll always be happy, and that your experiences will always be good.  This means that, as it says in Romans 8:28, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him.”  We know the ending, and knowing that can give us peace through the hard times.  No matter how bad it gets for the characters in the story, I know that it all works out in the end.

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