Think about such things

Philippians 4:1-9

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

            Today’s scripture begins once again with a plea from Paul to be of the same mind in the Lord.  Just get along!  This is a reoccurring theme in this short book and I am starting to think that this could be Paul’s main purpose for writing to the church in Philippi.  Be of the same mind; be all in one accord, which would be easier than being in one Civic.  This is important because Christians are called to work together to bring about the restoration of all things in the name of Jesus Christ.  We are called to work together and we are called to live in community with one another.  This is made a lot more difficult if you can’t stand to be in the same room as one another.  Paul never says that they have to like each other, but he encourages them to keep the focus on Jesus.  As he said in the previous chapter, our goal is to know Jesus, but if we are constantly bickering with one another, it will keep us from doing what we are called to do.

            Paul then has this random little phrase that seems to be out of context.  He says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!”  I don’t think that this is as out of place as it might appear at first to be.  I think that this is a part of Paul’s instructions on how to get along with one another.  It is pretty hard to fight when you are rejoicing!  It is impossible to complain about another person while songs of praise are on your lips.

            Paul goes on in verse 5-7, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  If you are going to disagree, be gentle with one another.  I think that Paul is always worried about how Christians interact in part because of the way that it will look to people on the outside of the religion.  Why would anyone want to be a part of a religious group that can’t even get along with its own adherents? 

This is a little funny and also a little sad.  But recently the police near my hometown in Ohio have been working on a series of events that have taken place within the Amish community.  Allegedly there have been numerous incidents where members of one Amish church have confronted members of other Amish churches for doing something that they believe to be outside of what an Amish person should do.  They are Amish behaving badly.  I don’t have any details as to what they were doing, but I can direct you to the newspaper article if you are interested http://www.timesreporter.com/news/ohio/x663890936/Renegades-cut-off-beards-in-Amish-feud.

            Apparently the Amish men that are confronting the other church have been holding down the men and shaving off their beards.  I am guessing that this is to be a symbol that someone is not Amish enough, perhaps because they are too much like the rest of the world.

            Of course I began to ponder how this might go down, and just how long it might take to shave off an Amish man’s beard, especially if the man didn’t want to part with the beard, especially because they probably weren’t using an electric razor!  But then I also thought that perhaps it would be easier to turn the other cheek now that they don’t have the wind resistance from the long beard?

            Like I said, this is almost humorous, but not fully.  It isn’t funny when parts of the body of Christ can’t get along.  And cutting off someone else’s beard is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider all that Christians have done to other Christians just because they didn’t believe the same thing.  Ask Felix Manz, George Blaurock, and Michael Sattler if you ever get the chance.  Pretty sure we missed the part about letting our gentleness be evident to all.  It is not very inviting to people outside of a religion to see people on the inside cutting off one another’s beards or worse, their heads.  Maybe they were supposed to gently cut off people’s heads?

            Paul goes on to instruct the Philippians, Do not be anxious about anything, but pray about it and be thankful for what you have.  And the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Let’s put it together now.  If you are fighting with others, rejoice rather than retaliating, be gentle rather than forceful, and pray.  If you find yourself disagreeing with someone about something, that’s not a bad way to go about fixing the problem.  Even if it doesn’t solve the problem, it makes the problem seem a lot less severe by taking the attention of the issue and putting it on God.

            Paul then begins to wrap up the book of Philippians by saying in verse 8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Final words from the great Paul on how to deal with conflict.

            I learned this week of an assignment given to the 7th grade students here in our city, Staunton, Virginia.  It is a writing assignment that, as I understand it, will be judged in comparison to the other essays by 7th grade students in the city, and an award will be given to the best essay.  The topic for the essay seems pretty straight-forward.  The students are to write their essay as an answer to the question, “Are you proud of your country?”

            When I first heard about this assignment all sorts of questions were going through my mind.  The first question is, “What aspect of my country?”  Are they talking about the land, the soil, the waters?  I am proud to live in such a beautiful place.  I love the Shenandoah Valley, nestled between two mountain ranges with their abundant hiking trails and scenic views.  I’ve seen the mighty Mississippi and the regal Rockies.  I’ve seen the blue skies over the planes of Nebraska and the rolling green hills of Ohio.  Am I proud of the beauty of God’s creation which I am blessed to witness every day of my life?  Absolutely.

            However, I don’t believe that is what the judges will be looking for.  The judges for this contest will be members of the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  To me, this says that the judges are going to be a little biased.  So when the questioned was asked, “Are you proud of your country?” the answer was never meant to be debated.  The question maybe should have been “How are you proud of your country?” as the expectations seem to be a good, patriotic essay describing why the USA is the best country in the world.

            I do believe that the USA is the best country in the world but that doesn’t mean that I am always “proud” of this country.  In fact, this country has done a lot of things that make me feel the complete opposite of pride.  I am embarrassed by some of the things that my country has done and is doing.

            So when I first heard about this essay, I immediately began to formulate a mental list of the reasons why this country has caused me anything but pride.  The first thing that I thought of is how we acquired this plot of land.  We took it.  We took this land from the Native Americans who had lived here for hundreds of years and put them on Reservations.  Our country also allowed the ownership of one person by another.  These pieces of property could be bought and traded, separating them from homes and family members.

            From the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Ponzi schemes to local events like the tenants of the Beverly Hotel getting kicked out of their homes with one week’s notice and not receiving their security deposits, there are a lot of things about this country that I am less than proud of.  I found no shortage of things to be embarrassed about in the good-ole USA.

            I learned of this assignment on Tuesday evening and I soon realized that I had some repenting to do.  You see, I usually start working on my sermons on Monday, so it was only about 36 hours earlier that I had read these words found in verse 8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

            Why is it that when I heard of this assignment I immediately thought of everything bad about my country?  Does that say something about me?  Does this say something about the human condition?  I think it might.  Evidently Paul knew that we as human beings are prone to focus on the negative stuff and he instructs us to focus on the good.

            When I started thinking about all of the good things that my country has done, I also did not have a shortage of things to mention.  I thought of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of the work that he did for Civil Rights.  I thought of Susan B. Anthony’s work to get women the right to vote.  I thought about the way people in our country have taken the initiative to travel overseas and work in efforts to provide disaster relief and development in places like Haiti.  And I thought about how people come together when there is need, like after Hurricane Katrina or the tornado in Joplin, Missouri to help those whose lives have been turned upside-down by natural disasters.  When I started thinking about these people and the ways that they have done so much for other people, I can’t help but feel a little bit of pride in knowing that they come from the USA.

            I realize now that perhaps I had unknowingly made a false dichotomy in my mind between being proud and embarrassed about my country.  I think sometimes I see people that are extremely patriotic, blind to the sins of our country, and I don’t want to be associated with them.  But then there are those that are on the extreme other end of the spectrum, people that are constantly bashing our country, the anarchists, the libertarians, and I don’t want to be associated with them either.  But it isn’t one or the other; the world isn’t black or white.  The world is filled with grey.

            We have a choice in how we see the world.  I think of it like I think about my extended family.  And this could be a reference to anyone’s extended family as I realize I don’t have a monopoly of strange family members.  We all have that extreme uncle who is saving up ammunition and guns in a bunker behind his house in the woods where he lives off the grid, not even receiving mail so that “they” can’t find him.  Or we have an aunt that seems to be fighting for a different cause every week and doesn’t see any of them through.  One week she is shouting “Fur is murder!” and the next she is buying a coat made of puppies.  We have the cousin that has spent time in prison for embezzling millions from his former employer, and a sister that has six children by seven different men (and we don’t even know how that happens).  But at the end of next month, what are you going to do?  You are going to sit down around the table and watch as Uncle Leo carves the turkey with his Civil War era bayonet.  We will break bread together because we are family and we love one another.

            As you sit around the table with these loved ones that have made some decisions with their lives that you might disagree with, you will have to decide what you are going to talk about.  Are you going to spend Thanksgiving Day critiquing everything in their lives that you believe that they have done wrong or are you going to focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable?

            I want to come back to verse 5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  Whether we are interacting with our government or with our extended family or with other Christians, make sure to be gentle.  I am amazed after preaching from the book of Philippians the last couple of weeks at how much Paul emphasized unity and just getting along.  That’s not to say that we won’t disagree on things from time to time, but it does mean that we put Jesus first.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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