Monday, July 16, 2007

"Goodnight Irene"

Sermon for July 15, 2007
Robert Lyons, Pastor

Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-8

The church at Philippi was a beautiful one. There were no stately steeples or anything else to mark its grandeur. Their beauty was from the heart. As a class, the people of the church were the dregs of society. They were the lower class. A Pharisee would have characterized them as “tax collectors and sinners”. They owned no gold jewelry, had no fine clothes, they did not sleep in mansions. They were poor.
While they did not have enough money to pay attention, they did support Paul’s missionary work. In fact, their contributions were among the only ones he would accept. They were a paradoxical mix of poverty and open-handed support of Paul’s mission to people they would never know. They were very attached to Paul and he to them.
And yet they still had some of the same difficulties we have today. In chapter 4, verse 2, Paul asks two of the women in the church to quit bickering and get along. His final words to them are some we can live by. The title of this message is “Goodnight Irene”. The Greek word for peace is Irene (åéñÞíç). In this day and age of many creature comforts, many have no peace in their heart. Irene has left their building. Paul writes to them about things we might be missing in our lives.
The practice of living in peace and without worry requires a focus. In chapter 4 and verse 4 he gives them his focus. A current paraphrase might be to “dance a jig for Jesus.” Oh, and do this ALWAYS! Then, in case they didn’t get the message he takes up precious paper and writes it again! REJOICE!!!
There is a simple principle involved in the human brain. We can only think about one thing at a time. Just one! Another simple principle is that we can choose what we think about. Paul encourages us to make that choice our God. Chapter 2 of this letter contains one of the oldest passages in the New Testament. It was a hymn sung by the earliest Christians. We know this because the Greek style here is very different from the style in the rest of Paul’s writings. Beginning with verse 5 he writes:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So he writes to his church to remember what God did for them.
Next he tells them to put on a mindset. In verse 5 of chapter 4 Paul tells his people to let their “gentleness” be evident to all. The word translated as “gentleness” is one of the most difficult in the entire New Testament for us to understand. That is because we do not have an exact English equivalent. If we did it would be something like: your good natured, sweet spirited, easy to get along with-ness. And he tells them to let that aspect of their personality stand out like the hood ornament on a Mack truck.
“Don’t worry about anything.” Worry is a nasty thing. The word itself is a derivative of an old Anglo-Saxon word that means “to grab you by the throat and choke the life out of you.” In the Matthew 6:25 and following, Jesus indicates that worry was prevalent in the human condition. We know this because he addressed it:
Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet the heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
He then tells his people to give up worry for communication. We have two different words here. The first is prayer. Now, that’s not exactly prayer the way you and I know it. It’s more of the type of thing that I do when I have a lot on my mind and I am driving, or walking, or otherwise engaged. It is that internal conversation one has with God on an ongoing basis.
Then we come to “petition”. That is the sort of thing one does on their knees or in a prayer meeting. Petition is for those times when we stop for a conversation with God. Those conversations must be a dialogue to be effective. Paul tells us to simply turn these things over to God.
He inserts a wrinkle to prayer that we seldom hear from the TV preachers. He says “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
He then tells us in verse 7, that by following the above steps: that if we rejoice in the Lord, keep a good natured spirit, do not worry, pray, petition God, that a peace will come over our life. The peace of God will arrive. Oh, and it’s one of those things we cannot understand. That’s how encompassing it is. This peace guards our hearts like armed bodyguards around a Mafioso meeting or the doorkeeper in a club.
Finally he tells us to exercise a little mind control. If it’s good, think on it. If it’s noble, think on it. If it’s right, think on it. If it’s pure, think on it. If it’s lovely, think on it. I think you get the picture.
Do all these things. Then, the åéñÞíç (peace) of God will be with you. It will be with you forever and ever, Amen.


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