Philippians 4:1-13 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert 12 October 2014
Back in 1988, Bobby McFerrin sang, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” More than a decade before that, 1973, Stevie Wonder sang, “Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing.” And a decade before that, the Beach Boys sang, “Don’t worry baby” and BJ Thomas sang, “I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining. Because I’m free. Nothing’s troubling me.”
Are we worriers? Yes, I think so. And for generations we have been anxious and needed reassurance! Way back when the Israelites were about to end their time in the wilderness, Moses was passing the torch to Joshua, and he said, “Be strong and bold. The Lord goes before you. He will be with you. God will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8) The Psalmist reassures himself: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27) Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
God is holy, awesome, and powerful. Perhaps we are anxious because we have forgotten that. When we forget that God is in charge, then we think we have much to fear. Worry is not a new phenomenon, although we all seem to think sometimes that we are the only ones worried. And how many times do we make comments about how bad our problems are today? Like today’s problems are beyond God’s ability. God has dealt with far worse than what we are experiencing, and God can handle it. God’s not worried about you, about your mother, your child, your move, your school work, your bills, your job, your future, your conflict, your country, your relationship issues, your weakness, your mental illness, your addiction, or whatever it is that has you worried. God cares but God is not worried.
God can handle it. You cannot handle it, but God can, and with God’s help, you can get through it gracefully, even joyfully. Our problem is lack of trust in God. The first commandment. Remember those Ten Commandments from last Sunday? Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not worry about what you’re going to eat or drink or wear.” Believe in God, believe also in me, he said. I’m sending you the Spirit, your Advocate, who will never leave you. So don’t fear suffering. Don’t fear death. Don’t fear the powers and principalities of this world. No, actively put your trust in God. Hear now what Paul says about worry and how to find contentment and peace.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(New Revised Standard Version)
Do I need to remind you that Paul wrote this letter from prison? Yes, prison. Does he say, “Help! I’m so desperate. I’m so upset. How can this possibly work out? I’m in such a bad place.” That’s what we’d be saying. We’d be whining about how hard and unjust life is. But not Paul. He writes his most joy-filled letter from prison to encourage the Christians in Philippi. “Stand firm in the Lord. Be of the same mind.” And if you were here two weeks ago, you know the same mind he is talking about – the mind of Christ. Have the same mind as Christ. What kind of mind was that? A mind that looks out for the interests of others, even suffers for the sake of others. And now Paul is trying to get them to be filled with the same mind – the mind that can rejoice even in difficulty, the heart that can be content, whether empty or full. The life of peacefulness.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Yes, rejoice. Let your gentleness be made known to all. By that, I take it Paul is saying, “Let your tender side show.” Don’t try to be so strong by yourself, so tough, so doggedly determined. Your gentle side knows how to relate to people. Make it clear that your strength comes from God, which means you can feel both weak and strong at the same time. The Lord is near, the One who protects you, comforts you, and invites you into the growth place of suffering. You can wallow in your hard times or you can grow. It’s up to you.
The Lord is near. Scripture does not just invite you to trust this, but commands you to trust in God. You shall trust and love the Lord your God, more than you trust in yourself, in your family members, in your doctors, in your teachers, in your friends, in your government. Trust in God. Because the Lord is near, you do not need to worry about anything, but by prayer and seeking wholeheartedly God’s strength, with gratitude in your heart, make your needs known to God. Thank God and ask for God’s strength. You’ve heard the story about the tour of heaven, haven’t you? There were prayer reception rooms full of angels fielding all kinds of prayers for this and prayers for that, and then they arrived at an empty room with one angel who looked bored and distressed.
And what room was that? That was the thanksgiving prayer room. Oh, how we love to ask for help and forget to do it with thanksgiving. God is seeking grateful hearts. Our hearts were made for gratitude.
We have guard stations all over SW Florida, as if these gated communities provide us protection. But Paul says the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. A heart and mind fixed on Jesus is guarded by peace. A heart and mind that is continually praying to God with gratitude and requests will find what that heart and mind most need – peace.
But how many of us are just determined to keep worrying? Why? What do we add to life by our worry? Nothing. We make ourselves miserable, and in fact, for people over forty, studies have shown that the difference between a worrier and one who handles stress constructively is about six years. Do not worry. The Lord is near. There is the immediate reality of a world in which human beings are constantly at war somewhere, betraying one another, brutally suppressing each other in order to get ahead. This was true of the Roman Empire, and it is true today. But in Christ we know another reality and we are called to be more mindful of that reality by prayer and gratitude.
So Paul spends an entire paragraph on positive thinking. Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, excellent, commendable, worthy of praise, think on these things. But we walk around moaning. I caught myself several times this week dwelling on all that irritates me, instead of all that is great about life. Now I’m not saying that we should never express concern and grief, but some of us do nothing but moan about what’s wrong, instead of expressing gratitude for what is right. And if all we do is talk what’s bad about life, we will live our expectations. It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You cannot have a good life, without expressing gratitude for the goodness that is there. And I don’t care how bad your life is, there is something for which to give thanks every hour of the day. So here’s a challenge for the week: set your phone or another alarm to ding every waking hour, and when it dings, examine your life and thank God for something good. We really have to get better at praising God.
If you are new to Peace and you have never put a gratitude rock in your pocket, pick up one today near the front door. Use the rock as a reminder to give thanks to God. Every time you touch the rock, express gratitude.
This has become a pattern for people of Peace – using an ordinary rock to remind us of God’s ordinary gifts. Those ordinary gifts when we bring them to mind make an extraordinary difference in our lives.
We comfortable American Christian have lost all respect for God, because we so rarely give thanks. And so in losing sight of all God is doing, our anxieties grow because we’re forgetting who is in charge.
It is fitting that in a complex year of global conflict, the Nobel Peace prize should go to persons from India and Pakistan, countries that have been at war with each other off and on again since their countries were forcibly partitioned in 1947. This action left 12.5 million people displaced, a million dead, and hundreds of thousands of women victimized in the worst types of ways. But now a Hindu from India and a Muslim from Pakistan, both working for the protection and education of children, especially young girls, won the prize together. Malala, the Pakistani teen who took a Taliban bullet to the head for speaking up for the education of girls, is still not yet an adult herself, but by her courage she is the youngest prize winner ever. She along with Tailash Satyarthi, an Indian man who has worked for decades to protect children who have been trafficked into slavery, are both great examples of people who have worked for peace by attending to the need for justice for children. What would have happened if Malala and Tailash had just sat at home moaning about how unfair life is?
So we have to actively pray with thanksgiving for change. And then we have to be the change we want to see in the world. It all begins with trust in God. Trust cannot be maintained without prayer, and prayer cannot be maintained without gratitude, and gratitude cannot be maintained without practicing contentment.
But when we trust, pray, give thanks, stay content, then we find that God is near. And we can rejoice, despite our predicament, and we find we can do all things through Christ who is always giving us strength.
We pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties (Oswald Chambers) It is a matter of coaching oneself into this kind of trust, prayerful gratitude, and contentment and peace that makes all the difference.
If you are having trouble with this, I invite you to do things that help you to grow in this way. Set your alarm for every hour or two. Carry your gratitude rock in your pocket and reach in there often. Take a gratitude walk, and instead of worrying, pray gratitude prayers. Come to Wonderful Wednesdays and participate in the small groups. Come to our other weekday prayer and study groups or Sunday school. At home, school, and work - change your grumbling into gratitude by prayer. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. Every waking hour this week, stop and give thanks. In the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul challenges them to pray without ceasing. Don’t tell me you don’t know how to pray. Anne Lamott wrote a funny book on prayer called Help, Thanks, Wow! I’d add Sorry! to the list, and you’ve got a complete prayer. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, and Intercession are the fancy words. But help, thanks, sorry, and wow are equally good. God is near. Christ is filling you with peace. Receive that peace with gratitude and leave the grumbling behind.
There is one more song written for us in 1905. It was inspired by the Christian faith of a couple Mr and Mrs Doolittle, friends of the hymn-writer, Civilla Martin. Mrs. Doolittle was bed-ridden for more than twenty years, and Mr. Doolittle was himself working from a wheel-chair, but they lived with great faith and a positive spirit. When Civilla’s husband asked them how they managed to live with such strong faith and joy, Mrs. Doolittle responded, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” Mrs. Martin went home and wrote the hymn. “Why should I feel discouraged….” (His Eye is on the Sparrow)