When we worry incessantly, we are telling God that God’s not getting the job done and we’re taking things into our own hands. We have responsibility, yes, but we are not responsible for everything.
The Scripture from Philippians 4 is woven into the sermon.
“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….”
What a beautiful greeting by Paul to the new church development in Philippi. OK, they were ALL new church developments back then. He lavishes his love, and God’s love, upon the people, and he prepares them to hear what a Christ-follower looks like; what being the Body of Jesus Christ is while living in a world of turmoil.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”
Always. That’s a big world. It has no beginning and it has no ending. When we are growing up, we use it on our parents, “you always say no.” We use it like a neuralizer, that thing in the movie Men in Black; Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones holds it in front of someone’s face, it flashes, they forget what they’ve seen. Maybe our parents will believe that they do always say no and that they never let us do anything, that now is the time for yes. We learned that the neuralizer has nothing on parents.
Always is a big word and Paul uses it on purpose. Always is an eternal word. Rejoice always. No matter what. Even when you don’t want to. Even in dreadful times, one could point to God’s grace in the simplest of things. Paul presents an urgency to see what God sees, not what we see, that God is with us even when things are bad. Really bad. God knows something about a Son and a cross and will not abandon His children, even when they think He has.
God is with us in good, too; let’s turn our attention there. Human nature tends to forget God more in joyful times, and beg for God in the bad ones. We forget God in the routine of life, but we are never (another big word) forgotten by God.
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” This is not a run-over-me-I’m-a-big-weakling gentleness. No. Gentleness is an insistence that there is an even more excellent way. An insistence that Jesus Christ, in His compassion for all people, shows us what gentleness looks like….even when his disciples are confounded by Him:
You give them something to eat.
When you don’t show compassion to the least of these in My family, you don’t show it to Me.
Has no-one thrown a rock at you? Neither do I.
You want to sit at My right and left? You have no idea how much you cannot possibly do that.
Jesus’ gentleness was not of the world, and not of the religion of the time:
He insisted on loving the unlovable, and wanted his followers to also love them.
He touched lepers. And gave the disciples the same ability.
He healed the demon-infested.
He ate with sinners.
He went where He wasn’t supposed to.
His gentleness made it hard on the disciples, who thought He was in dangerous territory. “He is not supposed to talk to a woman in the daylight in plain sight, much less a Samaritan. OK. Whose going to tell Him?” “Jesus, we’ll get the parents of all these children to take them away from You, to get them out of the way.”
They were with Him, and had a bad case of “this is not how we do things.”
The Lord is near. You can reach out and touch Him and He showed us how. Care for the widow, the orphan, the destitute, the alien, and the outcast. Work for justice on their behalf. The comfortable have earned their reward. “To whom much is given, much is required.”
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Don’t worry. Be happy. Don’t worry, everything will be fine. Well. For someone who worries, that’s empty advice because they feel like it won’t be fine.
I want to make a distinction between anxiety disorder and the worry to which Paul refers:
Anxiety disorder: You cannot tell someone to just stop worrying and think that will solve anything at all. Physiologically, someone who suffers from chronic anxiety has a chemical imbalance. That is, the fight or flight mechanism is broken. So, one is always (big word) ready to fight or run. This means that adrenaline is always pouring into that person’s body. It is misery. For some, medication helps. It doesn’t erase anxiety, it eases it. Because the next reality is that we need worry—sometimes there is, in fact, a need to fight or to run.
Worry is different, and Paul attacks it as a spiritual disorder. It has a dark side that you know all too well and so do I. We expend energy on things that probably won’t happen. We imagine outcomes that probably won’t come to pass. We cannot predict the future, but boy howdy do we ever try.
Worse, while we are in the process of making ourselves miserable, we are trying our level best to exert our will over God’s will. Worry is a sign that we dearly want to be in charge, that we don’t believe God is doing a good enough job, that we don’t trust God to be God, and we do not trust each other. Worry does not look like submission to God. Worry blows our own self-importance way out of proportion. Worry is a neuralizer—We forget that God is sovereign, God is in control, God is molding us as God chooses, even when it’s difficult. We worry when things are difficult because somehow we have come to believe that life and love should not be difficult, and that God has us in the palm of His mighty hand no matter what.
I, too, fall into it. I have been in a season of it. I called Patrice Hatley on Thursday, she’s our presbyter, and when she answered I said, “I am not responsible for everything.” She asked, “Is this an Epiphany for you?” “Yes, yes it is.” We know all this in our heads; sometimes our hearts and souls need to catch up. I’m taking proactive action and have committed to meeting with a spiritual director. What do you need to do and how can I help you?
Excessive worry is bad for our mental health, our physical health, and our spiritual health.
“Do not worry about anything.” See that word? Anything. Another big word. Impossible, we say. Yet we are fast approaching a season where we are assured that “with God, nothing is impossible.”
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything (another big word) by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God.” Respond to the Holy Spirit’s call to be in prayer, in relationship with God who yearns for us. Trust God to hear, and to answer—when you like the answer, and when you don’t.
Stand firm. Rejoice always. Be gentle. God is closer than our next breath. Don’t worry. Draw close to God in prayer. Then what happens? What happens if we could do these things? Is there a spiritual benefit? Yes, yes there is.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Who among us does not need the peace of Christ? We have glimpses of it and we can have it all the time. Stand firm, rejoice, be gentle, acknowledge God’s presence, don’t worry, and pray. Paul is speaking about spiritual discipline. The temptations of this world steal us away from spiritual discipline and formation.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, 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.”
Paul is breaking open the treasure that is before them if they’d only receive it. God’s peace. It is God’s peace that I pray for you. And that moment when we share the peace of Christ must never (big word) become rote or routine. We remind each other of the gift before us and within us.
Today we are gifted with this gift of Christ, His Table.
Out of this rich text today, what touched you? Why? What is the Holy Spirit saying to you, stirring within you? Bring that to the Table and lay it before Jesus Christ.
You are welcome to this Table, each and every one of you who claims Jesus Christ as Savior. You do not have to belong to this church to reap the benefits of His grace. You only need come.
The first part of the prayer today is from Thomas Merton. The responsive prayer at the end is a paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer.
The Holy Spirit is calling us into relationship with God, so let’s respond in prayer.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Thomas Merton