You hear me say it almost every Sunday morning as I plagiarize the Apostle Paul without giving him any credit because I trust that his words are in the public domain when he says to his sisters and brothers at Philippi, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The difference for Paul is that his statement is not a prayer as I make it out to be. Whereas I will say, “May the peace of God,” Paul uses a declarative tone and tells his people that the peace of God will guard their hearts and their minds in Christ Jesus. For Paul, such peace is a given as long as they rejoice in Jesus always, let their gentleness be known to everyone, worry about nothing, and in everything let their requests be made know to God through prayer and supplication. Within the context of this peace of God, Paul then suggests that his sisters and brothers concentrate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable in the sight of God.
Just imagine what the world would be like if we all could and would concentrate on what is true, what is honorable, what is just, what is pure, what is pleasing, and what is commendable in the sight of God! Notice that I did not say, “In the sight of other human beings,” because whatever is true for one person may not be true for another person, and whatever is pleasing to one person, may not be pleasing to another person. We don’t always have to live our lives based upon what the neighbors will think. However, if we are going to do the things that are pleasing to God, then it would be good to know what God desires of us. This laundry list of attributes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians probably is a good place to start, and that is exactly what we are going to do this morning.
“Rejoice in the Lord always” and again I will say, “Rejoice.” In this day and age, joy is a rare attribute, unless, of course, the Seahawks or Sounders are winning or a healthy newborn baby arrives in our midst. There is so much going on in this world today that can drag us down and make us depressed. All that you have to do is come to the Adult Forum this morning and listen to Joan Chittister talk about the narcissism, the profiteering, and the militarism that infect our country only to be reminded that we are on a trajectory of no return if we don’t get our act together and repent. Well, Paul has one suggestion for how we can repent and get out of this morass in which we find ourselves living. He tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, no matter how terrible things may be in this world or how powerless we may be feeling about being able to bring about any major change for the good.
Although we may be feeling such powerlessness, we always can be doing something that will contribute to the common good of all—like letting our gentleness be known to everyone. Gentleness may be one of those attributes that falls into the category of sexism. Oh, it’s alright for a woman to be gentle, but not so for a man. A man is supposed to be macho, tough, strong, aggressive, in control, domineering, and mighty, especially in warfare. Gentleness for a man is a sign of weakness, or so the mythology goes. Well, it’s time to repent and to let our gentleness be known to everyone—no matter whether we are a man or a woman. If we all are gentle in this manner, then we all will have reason to rejoice and perhaps even cause St. Francis of Assisi to jump for joy in his grave.
Oh, but I can already hear the skepticism filling the air waves—a skepticism and negativism that reveals our anxiety about how someone might take advantage of us or even walk all over us if we are too gentle in our demeanor. Paul reminds us that we are not to worry about anything. In this day and age, that’s easier said than done. Next to fear, worry or anxiety is the best way to upset and destroy any relationship or any community. People who lead workshops on healthy congregations cite anxiety or worry as the number one factor that contributes to an unhealthy congregation. Amplify this dynamic to the world scene and we can understand how we, as a country, are so anxious and will do anything to protect our national security which actually means our financial viability and the sustainability of our standard of living. Did I just reveal my cynicism to you? Perhaps! However, along with my cynicism, which actually can be construed as constructive criticism, I still can trust that I do not have to worry about such things, because in the end, the love and peace of God will rule the day.
Here is where the value of prayer and supplication with thanksgiving comes into play because by being in constant communication with God, we cannot go wrong, especially if we do so with a thankful heart and mind. It is fortunate that we never have to worry about asking God for anything so long as we trust that God will hear our prayer and answer according to God’s good will and timing. All that we can do is be thankful that we even have a God with whom we can be in communication and whom we can trust to love us unconditionally and forever. The steadfast faithfulness of God’s love for all of us in this world is what will give us peace in the worst of times and in the most difficult of situations.
For this reason, Paul refers to his sisters and brothers in Christ as beloved, not necessarily because of Paul’s love for them, but rather because God loves them just as God loved Jesus and called Jesus “my beloved.” Therefore, being filled with the love and peace of God, we have every motivation to be true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable in all of our thoughts, words, and deeds. According to Paul, these attributes are what make us worthy of praise because we have been called and chosen by God to reflect these kinds of attributes as disciples of Jesus Christ. Such is the meaning of being chosen by God, not that we are guaranteed a place in heaven as God’s elect, but rather that we have been selected as Jesus’ disciples for the special honor and privilege of following in this way of Jesus.
So, what does it mean to be true? Well, if the word “truth” in the Bible is another way of talking about the will of God, then to be true is to do the will of God. Jesus is a shining example of being true. From the moment that he was baptized until his last dying breath, Jesus was faithful and obedient in doing the will of God as he was guided by the Spirit of God to be true to God’s will. Jesus definitely was called and chosen in his baptism not only to heal the sick and cast out demons, but also to challenge the legalistic piety and the economic disparity of his day.
We also are called and chosen to be honorable. In order to understand what honorable means for a person who has been baptized in the name of Jesus, we would have to take a look at what made Jesus honorable. One thing is for sure—Jesus would never have qualified for an honorable discharge. Instead of taking up arms to fight for his country’s freedom from Rome, Jesus was executed on the cross as a traitor, a troublemaker, and a threat to the authorities of his day because Jesus was more interested in honoring God than honoring those who wrote and administered the laws of his land. In fact, Jesus was so critical of the religious leaders of his day that he was willing to risk his life by exposing the oppression, corruption, and violence of these civil authorities. Would we be considered honorable today if we would follow Jesus in this way?
We also are called and chosen to be just. As I emphasized a few Sundays ago, to be just is not the same as being fair. Whereas being fair has more to do with our human qualification of tit for tat, to be just from a divine point of view is all about loving unconditionally, forgiving without contrition, sharing without an expectation of return, praying for those who persecute us, liberating all who are oppressed, cancelling debts, and the list goes on. To be just is to think beyond being fair, and then to act accordingly just as Jesus did when he forgave everyone who had anything to do with his arrest, conviction, torture, and execution.
To be pure is more difficult to define. In today’s world, we often associate purity with being moral, or even chaste. However, to be pure has much more to do with being genuine, authentic, and full of integrity, while being mindful and considerate of others. Given our sinful nature, none of us can ever be 100% pure. However, that flaw is not meant to keep us from trying to be pure just as Jesus did throughout his lifetime—and look how his life ended. To be pure in this day and age could be deadly, but we have been called and chosen for such a purpose, and in this way, we are to live.
I already have touched on the attribute of being pleasing, and will only remind us that we are to live first and foremost for God’s good pleasure. This priority does not eliminate the possibility of doing something to please others, or of experiencing pleasure for ourselves. However, if we again take Jesus as our role model, we learn how pleasing God can be risky business in a world that is so self-centered, motivated by profit, and driven to be number one.
Finally, we are called and chosen to be commendable. Whereas our pride often can drive us to do everything for the purpose of being praised, at the other end of the spectrum, our false humility can reject any kind of commendation that comes our way. There are things that we say and do in this life that are commendable, especially if the commendation comes from God. Jesus received this kind of commendation at his baptism when he was called and chosen by God and was told, “You are my Beloved, my Chosen, and with you I am well pleased.” All of us have received this same commendation at birth and again when we were baptized, and all that we can do is do our best to fulfill this commendation.
In conclusion, we will never be perfect in however we strive to be true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable. However, we can trust that when we fail in this regard, we will be forgiven. Such is the grace of God that gives us the motivation to keep on following in this way of Jesus and striving for justice and peace in all the earth. As we do so, the love and peace of God that goes beyond all of our human understanding will keep our hearts and our minds ever faithful unto Jesus, our Prince of Peace. Amen.