October 11, 2020 Sermon, Rev Jen Van Zandt – Philippians 4:4-7
“Rejoice, and again I say, Rejoice!” With all the things that we are contending with now, that certainly seems like a tall order. I’ll tell you what…let’s come back to that.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gee that seems like a hard one too, these days. Perhaps you are gentle. Perhaps you are gentle to your spouse or you are gentle to your spouse and your children, or you are gentle to your spouse, your children, and to your neighbors. But maybe you are NOTgentle to yourself.
Paul also writes “Do not worry about anything.” Huh…How many of us are sleeping like a baby right now? How many of us are just gliding through life without a care in the world? And how about thanks- true thanks-givingin our prayer life? Supplication… (things we ask God to supply for us) … Yeah, we are good at that. But a true, glad-hearted thanksgiving in our prayer life…well…maybe not so much.
The exhortations in Paul’s letter here keep coming… “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just… pure… pleasing… commendable…excellent…worthy of praise…”
My friends, I don’t think I have to tell you what a long, deep and challenging list that is, and then he says,”Keep on doing these things (as if we are alreadydoing them) and the God of peace will be with you”? I feel like I haven’t even started and I definitely need that peace of God.
We wantto be all these things. We seekto be all these things. But right now, it just seems like it’s awfully hard to be anyof these things with the worries on our minds and hearts. How is Paul writing all of this, upbeat, inspiring and confident, while he himself is in prison? I don’t know about you, but I kind of feel like I am in prison right now with all of the things that are hanging heavy on my heart and all of the places and the people I can’t see, including all of you who are not here today except for Kim, who is thankfully sitting in front of me so I am not preaching to a truly empty sanctuary.
So how do we get all of these things to be the first thingson our mind: when we wake up, and during the day when things go badly, and then before bed? Well, Saints, the secret is actually hidden in the text itself. In verse 7, Paul writes, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I am going to read that again, and I am going to invite you to close your eyes and see if you can’t get that deeper into your soul.. “And the peace of God, which surpasses ALL understanding, will guard your hearts and your mindsin Christ Jesus.”
Now when Paul writes this, the Greek translation literally means stand sentry watch. Guarding your hearts literally means stand sentry watch. Because God stands guard, we not only canaccomplish this long list, but we canrejoice. Fred Craddock, who unfortunately is no longer with us but was a beloved scholar and pastor who did not carry the ego that sometimes comes with scholars, says it like this…“Because God’s peace is on duty, we do not have to be anxiously scanning the horizon for new threats. Alert? yes, but anxious, NO.”
BOOM – That’s a mic drop!
Friends if God is guarding our hearts and standing watch for us, then indeed we do not have to be anxious,
we don’t have to be fearful, we don’t have to worry. We CAN, but it certainly eats up a lot of our time, and for some of us it is a chronic habit. But if God’s peace is “on duty”, then we CAN sleep through the night; we CAN stop worrying about our future because it’s with God, no matter what! We can also rejoice in small things that somehow we swat away because we’re still worried about the future and certainly there is still plenty on our minds.
A few weeks ago I was looking for some peace,and I sat on my deck which faces the woods and I was trying to find peace–sometimes that is a good exercise for us. Spiritual directors will say if you are really struggling to hear God’s voice,get back into nature. And so I was sitting there and I was) ignoring all of the squirrels that were running around my deck), but then, these two little boys ran around my deck and around the entire building. They startled me. When I moved to that condo 7 years ago, there were no children in the neighborhood. Now it seems that there are more children than adults. I don’t see how that is possible but it is. And then…the quiet. Ahhh.
Then a little girl, who had on a headpiece of some sort and some sort of cape, came running around the corner and said to me “Which way did Zotor go?” and I said “He went THAT way!” and she said “Thank you so much!” And with the deep intensity of a 4-year-old trying to capture the ‘evil’ person, (who is probably her older brother) …I am getting chills just thinking about the purity and intensity in her eyes. All she wanted to do was capture that person, with her cape on, and her headpiece and restore peace to the neighborhood!
Friends, God’s peace is on duty. It doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be happy clappy, but it does mean that we can rest, we can trust, and we can shed the worries and help others do the same, because that is our calling as Christians. Now more than ever, the world needs our faith and the modeling of rejoicing, even in the midst of difficulty.
May it be so.