Philippians 4:4-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Rejoice in God always; again I will say, Rejoice.Let your gentleness be known to everyone. God is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with 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 Jesus.
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 aboutthese things. 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.
In the context of the church year we are approaching a new year with the beginning of Advent next Sunday and today we’ve just ended year C of the three year rotation of scripture readings. This is also considered to be Reign of Christ Sunday that marks the end of this Ordinary Time and serves as a prologue to the festivities of Advent.
We can think of the Reign of Christ Sunday as a marker within the church that’s similar to New Year’s Eve – without the noisemakers or fireworks. When you enter the sanctuary next week the green paraments will be changed and the colors for the advent season can be either purple or blue. First Christian Church traditional color is purple.
But today we’re focusing on the Philippians passage that tells us that we have access to God through prayer and supplication. As with last week’s letter when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he is now writing to the people of Philippi to encourage them to stand their ground and to keep going when things get tough – to coin an old hippie phrase – to keep on keeping on. The context of this passage comes in the awareness that some are having second thoughts during this time of the early, budding church, and are struggling in their understanding the cost of being a disciple and what it really means to be a follower of Jesus.
Philippi was the first city on European soil where a Christian church was founded by Paul. Timothy, Silas, and Luke were present with him. Lydia is converted and Paul and Silas were imprisoned. According to Rob Jackson “Paul loved this church. It was comprised primarily of Gentiles who were very poor, yet generous. The leading thought of Paul’s letter is joy and gratitude. The word rejoice appears sixteen times in this short letter and it was written during Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome.”
Paul is encouraging others to rejoice of the circumstances they are dealing with even though he finds himself is in prison. (Edward Pillar, Working Preacher) “It is not even that they are to rejoice through gritted teeth, but rather that they rejoice in all the goodness that is found in God and God’s blessing in spite of the difficulties. The road we travel may be difficult – even distressing – but we can look to God and rejoice for God is good, kind, loving merciful and forgiving. God’s faithfulness never fails.
Sometimes we may feel weary. Sometimes we may feel we need to give up and toss in the towel. Even through those times God does not give us on us, walk out on us, shun us, or ever stop loving us. Paul certainly knows what it means to stand firm in his faith through the many changes and trials of his own life. Paul has had to change his perspective on life – more than once – now acknowledging that he considers all things as loss compared to the great value of knowing Christ.
We know that life can be difficult and challenging and sometimes we are faced with more than a bump in the road. God is not present, we say. Or, Life is not fair. Or, Why me? It is easy to get stuck in these mantras, but sometimes we need to move from holding onto the moaning and groaning – whatever it is – and recognize that we possibly need something as simple as an attitude adjustment, to perhaps therapy or medication.
My recent attitude adjustment was recognizing my time with you would be longer than expected. Just changing my understanding helped me to readjust to what that means. And yes, I’m staying for the duration. All is good.
An attitude adjustment can be just what we need to help us move from feeling like we are a victim to empowerment by being able to see all that we do have in plenty and in want, and to be grateful every day for these things. Some of those things may be tangible like a home or car. But mostly, the things that bring us the greatest reason to rejoice and be thankful are not things. They are family and friends, coworkers and other students, mentors, neighbors and people who care deeply for us along the way, and who love us enough to gift us to tell us the truth about ourselves. How often are we blessed with laughter and dancing, soul deepening stillness and music, silence and nature, moon glow and sunshine, seasonal changes that bring heat or cool, rain or snow, and God’s unfailing faithfulness and love for each of us. You get the point.
And another point Paul makes is “one of the key challenges of following Jesus is the commitment to adopt the character of Christ in one’s everyday life. Paul encourages them to continue to live in the spirit of gentleness. We all know that gentleness doesn’t always go down well in our culture.
Some of you may know Louise Penny’s character, Armand Gamache, who is a gentle and kind man, and a detective. Many of those who come up against him learn too late not to confuse gentleness or kindness as weakness. As one commentary noted: “To live in gentleness is to provide a stark contrast to the harsh, acrimonious, and sometimes cruel values that are the norms of the ethos of our culture. The character of Christ is our prime example of gentleness, and his gentleness was often met with hatred and violence.”
Being gentle and kind and loving may make us feel vulnerable. It is not in physical might that we find our strength and spiritual depth as seekers and followers of Jesus.
Paul instructs us to hold onto the nearness of God. “At the heart of the good news of Jesus is the announcement that God is near. God is not a distant and aloof deity, requiring sacrifice before drawing close to us – God’s creation of humanity. Whatever we go through, God is near. Even in our questioning and doubting or certainty of our faith, God is near. This understanding can bring comfort and consolation, and encouragement to everyone who has ever stepped out on the journey of discipleship.
Paul encourages us to pray with thankfulness. Pray for everything that’s on your heart. In prayer, don’t worry; let anxiety drift away from us as we share our concerns and troubles and trials with God. I know that sometimes that’s easier said than done, but worth the effort. I read recently from a Facebook posting: “If it’s all you can do to get out of bed in the morning, I want you to come to church in your pajamas.” Not a bad idea, is it?
Yes, don’t worry, be happy. Stop worrying. My mother worried about everything. That unnecessary worry robbed her of the ability to rest in God. It eventually caused her a heart attack and triple by-pass surgery. Worry and anxiety do not add anything to life except high blood pressure.
Corrie ten Boom said this about worrying: “Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength. Carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows; it empties today of its strength.
Paul is emboldening us to not be overly anxious for nothing. He is not making light of any troubles but wants us to know that God is greater than all our troubles. (Rob Jackson) We give thanks to God – not for the trials – but for God, God’s goodness, presence and listening ear.” A UCC logo tells us that “God is still speaking” we know that God is also the still listening God. Yes, prayer helps but sometimes that is not enough either. Attitude adjustments help but sometimes that is not enough to help.
Thanksgiving – the official kickoff of the holiday season that we experience for the next several weeks. There are many of us who find that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s trigger so many emotions within us at this time of year: depression, anxiety sadness, loneliness, grief, wishful thinking for days gone by.
Sometimes an attitude adjustment may help. Just knowing the season is relatively brief is helpful. But sometimes more is needed. A personal story: In my 40’s I was going through a particularly difficult time. I had embarked on talk therapy which had helped me from time to time. But this situational depression I needed more help. Under the guidance of a psychiatrist I began taking antidepressants. It took some time for the depression to lift and when it did I realized I had been living in a very grey and drab world. As the depression began to lift, my world became vibrantly multi-colored again. The process involved finding a good level of medication, letting that level work, and then tapering off. The timeframe was about 8-9 months. The period of time in my life was still troubling, but the help I got allowed me to live through it with a very different mindset.
It is so easy for us to talk about all of our physical ailments and what we do for physical wellbeing and relief. However, we are not so good about talking about our struggle for mental wellbeing and relief. There are many ways to get help. We are not alone.
In many ways, this is a Thanksgiving Day sermon. Even the scripture is not listed for today’s lectionary, but to be used on Thanksgiving Day. I find, however, there are so many things in our history as a culture that make this day troublesome for many. So rather than putting so much meaning into the fourth Thursday of November, I encourage each of us to begin thinking of every day – every single day – as Thanksgiving. We can keep the turkey and the fixings for that holiday in November. But the reality is that every day is a holy day. And every day brings us “opportunities to experience God’s peace through acts of living that are live-giving.”
May the peace of God keep watch over you and guard your hearts and minds as we continue to understand what it means to rest in God’s love, and the challenges of what it means to be followers of Jesus. Amen.
Copyright DMC, 2019