Exodus 32:1-14, Philippians 4:1-9
September 9, 2005
I want us to look at this passage from Philippians 4. In fact, I’m going to look at part of this next week as well. I know the Lectionary goes on to Thessalonians, but I need one more week in Philippians. This is great stuff! I’ll Just have to catch up later.
I want you to think about these words. Are these not great words for our stressed out, weary, confused world? “Have no anxiety 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 passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There’s so much in there!
We’re told that stress is one of the most detrimental factors in our health – apart from actual disease. And sometimes stress leads to or even causes disease. Stress causes physiological changes in us. It changes our mood, our outlook, and our body chemistry. It robs us of our joy – which also has the capacity to change our physiology for the better. Stress takes that away.
Our world searches for peace. Billions and billions of dollars are spent every year in psychiatrist and physiologists offices trying to find that peace. Billions and billions are spent in doctors offices dealing with the physical affects of stress. And Paul knew all that 2,000 years ago as he taught people about this new rabbi who said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or about your body, what you shall put on… But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 7:25,33)
But we blow it, don’t we? We don’t always do it right – especially when we’re stressed. We make wrong decisions. We become short and abusive with those we love. Stressful about deadlines and overwhelmed with urgency, we concentrate on meaningless tasks, thinking “I must get done! I must get done!” We lose all sense of organization – the very thing that would help us prioritize. We despair. We become hopeless. We even set aside our faith. And we’re not alone.
Look at this story in the Old Testament. This is the story of the Golden Calf. When the people of Israel could see no hope, they made for themselves a “god.” And notice, they didn’t just make an idol. They were so quick to proclaim that god their savior! “It is the golden calf who brought us out of Egypt!” We can’t understand that! We can’t even imagine this happening! Not after all that had happened!
We’ve been following the people of Israel for some time now. They’ve been set free from their bondage in Egypt, and they’re heading for the promised land. But it wasn’t easy. And we can’t imagine what it was like! There were over 600,000 of them who went out into the wilderness. They had food problems. They had water problems. And they had them on a grand scale! At times theirs was a desperate situation!
Even Moses himself despaired! Somewhere along the line, he had a time when he was disobedient to God – in a way that’s never really been explained very well. But it was a way I could imagine! Scripture seems to indicate that it had something to do with the incident of the water from the rock. Some have said it was because he had doubted and become angry. Can you blame him?! This wasn’t just a plumbing problem! This was a serious deficiency! It was a crisis, with half a million lives at stake! And they were grumbling at Moses, saying, “You brought us out here in the wilderness to die of thirst!” And I’m sure there were times Moses shared that extreme frustration and despair!
Now, in their despair and their stress, they had set their faith aside. They had given in to the temptation to look elsewhere when God’s help seemed absent. They had not seen God working when they thought they needed him. They saw no way out, as stress often does to us. Now, even their leader was gone, lost in the mountains – for more than a month! They needed a new god! After all God had done for them! This is unbelievable to us! And that was their problem, too. The way God was working was beyond their understanding.
That’s what Paul said to the Philippians – though this time in a positive way! Just as God’s plan was beyond the Israelite’s understanding, and their actions were beyond our understanding, we are told that God’s peace is beyond human understanding. And I’m speaking now in a positive way. God gives us peace that is beyond our understanding, and beyond our explanation. In the upper room, on the eve of his own crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. And it’s peace not as the world gives! Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27)
I believe Paul had found that peace. So from prison, he told this his most beloved congregation of this peace which is beyond our understanding that will keep their hearts and minds. And we need peace in both those places, don’t we? We can have “peace of mind” and our hearts can still be troubled. And vice versa.
So how do we have that peace. And again, Paul is practical. He doesn’t just tell us the theory. He doesn’t just give us the theology. Before he tells us, “Have no anxiety… [have no stress!] he says these words. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I think that’s a great place to start. I believe joy changes us, too! But notice. He says that like it’s a choice. That’s because it is! He doesn’t say, “feel joy always.” or “don’t miss joy when it happens.” He says, “make the conscious choice to rejoice.” “Always!”
Then he says why. “The Lord is at hand.” Know that God is with you. Don’t forget that. Don’t replace him like the people in the wilderness. Our world is full of golden calves, isn’t it? It’s full of places where people are looking for peace. Know that God is with you! And he’s not just with us, in the sense of proximity. He’s not a passive companion. The next part shows us what to do about God being with us.
Here’s what to do. (and every word here is important!) “In everything, with prayer, and supplication with thanksgiving…” Supplication means “asking.” And notice there’s a distinction between the prayer and supplication! We need to have both. We need to have prayer that’s not asking! Some people’s prayer is supplication and nothing else! We need prayers of praise. We need prayers of listening. We need prayers of lament, where we pour out our heart before God. We need all those prayers, by which we share ourselves and our lives with God!
Then we also need prayers of this next word that Paul singles out. We need prayer “with Thanksgiving!” Thanksgiving is part of the asking. And we’re pretty good at that one, I think. But thanksgiving can’t just be part of the “asking formula.” We ask for things and we thank God for them when we get them. We ask and we thank. We need to thank God for his blessings. We need to thank God for his grace. We need to thank God for his goodness and his love for us. And being that thankful person will help us put the focus of our lives on God! And that leads to peace!
Then Paul tells us that the peace of God is beyond our understanding. We can’t understand the peace of God. Just like we can’t understand the love of God. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real! And it doesn’t mean it isn’t beyond us, either. Sometimes we humans think that if we cannot understand something, then it cannot be so! It may seem that way, especially when we think life is “all about us.” God wants us to focus on him, and he will give us peace. We need to do that in all our human endeavors, and in all times of our lives, even times that could be stressful. And (!) we need to do that as individuals, and as a Church. Churches can have stress, too!
As we look to a time of Stewardship, we need to see that stress over finances and budgets can be just as debilitating to the body of Christ as stress is debilitating to our own bodies. We need to have no anxiety there, either. That stress will hold us back. It will rob us of joy. It will cause us to scurry around working on tasks as though they are ends to themselves. And it will take our minds off of the peace and joy of God’s kingdom.
We need to move beyond that by all of us seeking first God’s kingdom. We need to see the importance of rejoicing together, and of supporting the Church – together. We need to pray for the body of Christ in this place. We need to give of ourselves – thankfully. We need to pledge ourselves to God’s kingdom. We need to do these things so we can have God’s peace, and so we can know the peace God wants us to have.
Let me tell you what happens sometimes in Churches. Sometimes, without realizing it, we designate people to worry for us. Sometimes we even joke about it! The rest of us go our merry way, and we leave the Session, the finance committee, the treasurer, the budget committee (and often that means the chair of those groups) to do all the worrying for us. We don’t mean to. But we do so by not pledging and telling them what we have to work with. And I’m not saying we don’t support the Church! That much is clear at Eddington. But many of us “give without pledging.” And that means we don’t know what we have to work with.
It’s important for a Church to know where it stands. Just like it is for us in our own lives. But more important than that, pledging gives a Church the ability to get beyond the anxiety! It helps us eliminate those worries that hold us back. It helps us to be able to plan, to dream, to get to the joy! And there is much to be joyful about here!
So I want to ask you to think about that. Let’s make it a goal that everybody makes some kind of a pledge. We all have a good idea what we will give. Just make it known. That’s what a pledge is. Let’s get beyond the anxiety. With prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving, let us make our requests. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Eternal God, you have blessed us beyond our understanding. Help us to be thankful. Teach us to be faithful people who are part of your kingdom and who share the vision and the joy. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.