Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 15, 2017

17.10.15 “The Gift of Peace” – Philippians 4: 1 – 9

Central United Methodist Church
The Gift of Peace
Pastor David L. Haley
Philippians 4: 1 – 9
October 15th, 2017

phil 4.7

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord 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 about these 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.” – Philippians 4: 4 – 9, The New Revised Standard Version

 

Is it just me, or has it seemed lately that the news has been nothing but bad? Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, left people cleaning up and Puerto Rico in darkness. Then the Las Vegas shooter. Now the Northern California forest fires and people fleeing for their lives on short notice; some of us have friends who live there; we worry if they are alright.

Then, there is President Trump not only rattling sabers with North Korea, but governing like a bull in a china shop. The things now broken are almost too many to list: immigration, health care, Dreamers, climate change and the environment, UNESCO, and last week he threatened the 1st amendment – freedom of the press – when he threatened NBC’s license. As someone said, “It’s a good thing President Obama didn’t pass the Law of Gravity, because for sure we’d be repealing that too.”

These are only the things happening in our country, those who follow international news know bad things are happening elsewhere as well, like the massacre of the Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar, which United Nations officials have called a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. So far, despite horrific stories coming to light, the world has mostly looked away.

As if that’s not enough, John Tiffin had the kindness to send me an article warning about the mega-volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park, which geologists are warning could spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash – 2,500 times more material than the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 – potentially blanketing most of the United States in ash and plunging the Earth into a volcanic winter. So we’ve got that to look forward to . . . (Thanks, John!)

I know, you say, it’s bad, but there’s only so much bad news I can handle, only so much I can do. Besides, I have enough problems of my own. Recently in a conversation someone said, “All these issues? For most people they are right over their heads, because most people are just trying to make it through the day.”

I understand, but it’s not true: when we take our eye off the big problems, they don’t go away or get smaller, eventually they come back to impact us. If you’re a Dreamer and suddenly you’re subject to deportation to a country you’re never even visited, that’s a problem. If you find out you have cancer or any other life-threatening disease and can’t afford treatment, that’s a death sentence. If you don’t have access to clean water and air, your life and your children’s lives suffer. If you turn away from gun violence and say there’s nothing we can do, then it may come back to threaten you, just as it took the life of the 64 year-old Chicago School teacher – Cynthia Trevillion – at the Morse Ave. EL stop in Rogers Park on Friday night. Such an incident is a real and tragic example, of how these larger issues can come back to impact us.

So – as it turns out – when I speculated in my email this week that we often seem to be living in a pre-apocalyptic, pre-dystopian world, and how long it might be before we live in a world that looks like Bladerunner, where it rains constantly, and is so dark and cloudy you can barely see, I may have been more right than I wish. All we need are a few replicants, which some of us suspect already exist as members of Congress. Sadly, this is becoming the world we live in. Is this what we want for our children and grandchildren?

I know, by now you’re saying, “Thank you, Pastor; I come to church to find strength and encouragement, and – two pages into your sermon – so far, I have NONE, because you have become Chicken Little, saying “THE SKY IS FALLING!”

Cluck, cluck; you are right, but this is the kind of world we live in, and this is why we come to church. In the midst of such fearful and frightening times, we come to hear words such as these:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord 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.”

These inspiring words were written by a first century Jew turned follower-of-Jesus, the Apostle Paul. As he writes late in his life, it’s not that he has nothing to worry about, he has plenty to worry about. He’s under house arrest in Rome, and likely knows he will never see his dear friends and colleagues in Philippi, ever again. He may or may not know he will be executed, which is what happens. So you might expect him to say something like: “Get ready, watch out, be prepared, run! Something terrible is about to happen!”

But incredibly, what he says is: “Rejoice! Don’t worry! Pray! And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Think about it: here’s Paul, under house arrest, perhaps chained to a guard. What he is saying is, this peace that we gain through prayer – this peace God gives us – is like this guard I’m chained to, standing there keeping watch over us. Who wouldn’t want a peace that stands like a sentinel over us, guarding our hearts and minds from the frights and fears which assail us, of which we have a lot right now.

So how do we get this peace of God? Contrary to what you might think, there are not three simple steps and no magic formula. The gift of peace is not like the guy who came running up to a priest during a hurricane carrying a crucifix, asking: “Hey, Father, how do you work this thing?”

For Paul, , his peace is centered in his relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Whether by that Paul meant the peace that was seen in Jesus, who in the midst of his ministry never appeared ruffled, who against death threats never threatened retaliation, who taught his followers to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecute them, who told his followers, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Or perhaps Paul meant the peace he found in his relationship with Christ, whom he had met on the road to Damascus, a relationship which he drew upon daily in prayer: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

It has been my experience that when I am faithful in daily prayer and meditation, I have more peace in my life; when I am not, I do not. When I do not, the harder it is to do so, because my fears and anxieties spin out of control. “How can I possibly sit in silence and prayer, when I have so much to do?” Sometimes I pray in silence by attending to breathing, sometimes I pray the Lord’s Prayer. I love the prayers of St. Teresa of Avila, and most of all, I love the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. . . .” All means and forms of prayer become a means of fulfilling Paul’s word to us: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

But there is one more thing in St. Paul’s prescription for peace, it is this: don’t focus on the bad, focus on the good:

“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. 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.”

This is not the Power of Positive Thinking. I have always liked what former Illinois Governor, Adlai Stevenson, once when asked what he thought of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Stevenson replied, “Yes, you can say that I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”

As Monty Python put it, “Always look on the bright side of life.” For some of us, especially if we are prone to depression, this may mean NOT watching the news, and staying off Facebook. For some of us, it may mean we need to be more particular about who are friends are. If we want to be good and radiate good, we’re got to think good things, and fill our lives with art and music and literature and nature, not garbage. This is not escapism, it is sanity; it is why such things as art and music were created, to elevate ourselves, to make our lives better, to balance out the bad in life. Think about such things, in order that we are not overwhelmed with the bad.

Though Paul didn’t make it out of Rome, what he wrote to the Philippians has inspired Christians through the centuries, helping anxious and fearful people like us through difficult times.  In our own time, few people have given us a better contemporary example than the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, whose final book was entitled, The Gift of Peace.

As leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, wrongfully accused of sexual abuse (his accuser later recanted), then diagnosed with terminal cancer, Bernardin wrote only a month before he died on November 14, 1996, words almost as eloquent as St. Paul’s:

“As I write these final words, my heart is filled with joy.  I am at peace.

It is the first day of November, and fall is giving way to winter. Soon the trees will lose the vibrant colors of their leaves and snow will cover the ground. The earth will shut down, and people will race to and from their destinations bundled up for warmth. Chicago winters are harsh. It is a time of dying.

But we know that spring will soon come with all its new life and wonder.

It is quite clear that I will not be alive in the spring.   But I will soon experience new life in a different way.   Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, he is now calling me home.

What I would like to leave behind is a simple prayer that each of you may find what I have found – God’s special gift to us all:  the gift of peace.  When we are at peace, we find the freedom to be most fully who we are, even in the worst of times. We let go of what is nonessential and embrace what is essential. We empty ourselves so that God may more fully work within us. And we become instruments in the hands of the Lord.”

Like Paul, like Cardinal Bernardin, may we be instruments in the hands of the Lord. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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