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Peace: Pass It On!
The Reverend Shanea Leonard
September 8, 2019
A Reading from the Letter to the Philippians
Do not worry 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 surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Let’s share for a couple of minutes on the title of “Peace: Pass It On.” So, if you’ve read the mini bulletin this morning, you can probably guess that my life is super busy. It tends to be pulling in every direction all the time. Since I’ve landed in Louisville for about 11 months now, I have been in my house probably about 15 days a month. I’m constantly on the go, and I kinda love it and I kinda hate it at the same time. But when I am home, I try to make time to just do what I want to do. And I try to make time to do things that give my spirit and my soul rest.
One of those things I like to do is plop myself on my couch and watch television, and binge out. Does anybody else do that, too? Does anybody else like the Mix-n-Chill? I do. Even by myself. I suspect that I might not be the only one in this room. And these days, some of the commercials are just as entertaining as the programming, am I right?
One of my favorite commercials on TV right now is the Pepperidge Farm cookie commercial. It’s the Milano cookie commercial where the mom has locked herself in the bathroom, and what you see is the tub filling with water, and the tub is also already filled with children’s toys. And the mom has kinda positioned herself on the floor in front of the tub, and she’s enjoying her Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie all by herself right there on the floor. And as one of her children stands at the door on the other side of that locked barrier saying, “Mom! Mom!”, she deepens her voice and pretends to be her husband so the child will go away. I’m sure there are some parents here who, if they confessed right now, have done the same thing. Or at least have dreamed about doing it. And I believe if you know the commercial I’m talking about, you probably have found it amusing and you kinda like it and have found it kinda relatable, just like I did. For in that moment, what is being conveyed is that all she wants is peace. That just beyond that door she knows is the chaos and confusion that comes with work and marriage and a house full of kids and all that is life. But in this moment, she has tucked herself away, has locked the door, isn’t even taking a bath, but that no longer matters. All she has done in the midst of the storm that is her life is that she has found her peace. And isn’t that something all of us have a desire for? Peace. That peace that is able to free us and deliver us to a realm where the issues and problems and chaos of life cannot enter.
The actual definition of peace is freedom from disturbance. Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced freedom from disturbance. It seems like everywhere we look in this world today, there is and obstacle to disrupt, to disturb, to disconnect, and distract from our places of peace. And it often seems like peace is the last accessible virtue that is possible to obtain. If this sounds familiar, you can go ahead and give me an “Amen!” I need those now and then. I grew up Baptist where people say, “Amen,” all the time. So every now and then, I need to be reminded of where I come from. Thank you!
I believe that Paul understands this dilemma in the fourth chapter of the book of Philippians that we enter into today. And what we encounter in this particular pericope of scripture is Paul speaking to the church of Philippi while he is yet in prison. Paul is speaking to the church about how to live a faithful Christian life, despite what they may go through. He tells them, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Do not worry about anything? Is he crazy? Whatchu mean, don’t worry about anything? Everybody worries about something. For some of us, saying don’t worry about anything is the same as telling water not to be wet. It ain’t gonna happen. He addressed what some of us have even manifested into even our spiritual gift – the ability to worry about anything and everything. Sometimes, that worry and anxiety and stress have a way of just nesting, sitting, taking up residence in our lives. It’s true to believe, though, that that anxiety is often Satan’s tool of distraction and disillusionment to deter us from the course we are on and the race we must run.
I’ll say that again, because it’s really important. Sometimes, I believe that that anxiety and that stress and that worry is a tool of Satan to distract us and give us disillusionment to deter us from the course that God has put us on and the race each of us must run. The stress comes to worry us to death, so we don’t have to focus on the goal set before us. The anxiety comes to debilitate us so that we can’t even move to the next place in life. It just seems like all the time, it becomes too much, and it just makes you want to holler, what are they doing to your life? Sometimes, I feel like the issues of life try to choke the life out of life, the joy out of joy, and the love out of love.
Stress, anxiety, and worry. Does anybody have any of those in your life? Oh, you’re in Austin, Texas, you’re making Austin weird, you’re fine. I’m the only one suffering from allergies over here. Oh, I am not alone!
What Paul is trying to say, friends, is that God has equipped each of us with some weapons to fight against anxiety, and worry, and stress. The text doesn’t just tell us not to be anxious for anything, but goes on to give us the formula for how to turn our heart and our mind muscles to abandon worry through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. And the type of prayer that is mentioned here, when you translate it from the Greek, it literally translates “pro-su-he.” And if you attended my class yesterday at the seminary, you know that I am terrible at languages, so the fact that I just pronounced that is right there a magnificent feat. “Pro-su-he” in the Greek. It not only means to pray, but to create a place of prayer when there is an absence of the temple or the synagogue. To create a place of prayer when there is an absence of the temple or synagogue. So, in essence, the Israelites or the Jews would “pro-su-he” whenever they were outside the proximity of the religious place where God’s spirit dwelled. The believed that God would show up wherever they created a space and they called on God’s name. So, even when they were in the wilderness, they were “pro-su-he.” When they were in the battle, they were “pro-su-he.” When they were ostracized, they would “pro-su-he.” Wherever they found themselves outside of the temple, they still found a way to make prayer and invite the presence of God.
And maybe one of the reasons we struggle with finding the peace of God in our lives, is that we’ve forgotten how to “pro-su-he.” In the board room, you gotta “pro-su-he.” In the kitchen, you gotta “pro-su-he.” At the grocery store, you gotta “pro-su-he.” At the school, you gotta “pro-su-he.” Prayer is our first weapon and line of defense in understanding how we can make it in this thing called life.
When was the last time, you “pro-su-he”?
And he says, not only prayer, but make your requests known to God with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving implies that you believe God can do it. You’re thanking God for what you know God can do. To me, that sometimes seems like the hardest thing. Do we still believe that God can do exceedingly and abundantly above all that we could ask or think? Do we still believe in a God that is faithful? Do we still believe in a God who is just? Has the world made us so jaded that we have forgotten to believe? For so many Christians, coming to church and being involved in religious practices is nothing more than ritual, because somewhere along the way, we have forgotten to believe. I’m so thankful—we are so thankful—because we believe and give thanksgiving, because God is with us. Amen? Amen!
Remember, in the text, the problem that is presented is our anxiety, our worry, our stressors. The method of action is our prayer, our petition, and our thanksgiving. And then what happens? I didn’t forget where we anchored; verse 7. Once we remember our “pro-su-he” and our petitions and remember to be thankful to God, the result is that the peace of God shows up. The peace of God shows up. See, there’s a difference between the peace that you get from the world and the peace that you get from God. The peace that you can get from the world is temporal. It comes and goes—you’re peaceful when you’re with this person, but you’re angry when you’re with that person. Is that just me? I’m sorry. (laughter) You’re happy when you’re in this situation, but you’re all out of whack when you’re in that situation. The peace of the world is temporal. It’s based on what’s happening in your life at any given moment. But God’s peace can last beyond and in the eye of the storm. God’s peace is not just predicated on where you are and who you’re with. God’s peace is eternal in the heavens and in the earth. God’s peace has a way of sustaining you, no matter what is going on around you. There’s a difference between the world’s peace and God’s peace.
And Paul goes on to say that God’s peace passes all understanding. For many of us, if you turn on the news every morning, and look at it, and you observe what’s going on in our world, it’s hard to find peace anywhere. For many of us, if you have an ear to hear and an eye to see, there is calamity all around us. Maybe not in your house, but in our nation, there is no peace. In our world, there is often no peace. And it seems that we should be in an uproar at all times, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on. But the thing about God’s peace is it has a way of superseding what you can understand and bring you to a place of solace, despite everything else around you. There’s a calmness that doesn’t even make sense. So even though my life is falling apart, I can smile, get up, go to work, and have a good day, because I know that I’ve got peace that rests in God. Even though things are falling all around me, I know that I’m gonna be all right because I have the peace of God sustaining me. Does anybody here understand what I’m talking about? A peace that passes all understanding.
And then Paul says that it shall keep your heart and your mind. But, why those two? Why not my pinkie toe, and my left ear? Why my heart and my mind? I ask questions like that; I don’t know about you, but that’s who I am. I like to ask questions all the time. Why my heart and my mind? I think it’s because the heart and the mind are the muscles that dictate our actions and our deeds. Everything you do is because of your reasoning or your emotions. Think about it: the heart and the mind dictate our actions and our deeds. And so, it’s interesting, it makes perfect sense that God would want to give peace to that which controls the outcomes of our lives. God wants to control where our issues lie. Because in the mind is the battle and the heart is the turmoil and if God can give us peace in the places where we battle the most, we can live a life that’s free of issue, concern, stress, and worry, knowing that God is gonna make it all right. God wants to get it together in our hearts and in our minds.
Peace can speak to the wind and the waves and silence the noise and the voices in our hearts and in our minds. See, once you let go of the anxiety, and the worry, and the chaos, peace has got to show up. Or else, the Bible would be a liar. The more you worry, the more Satan wins. And I’m gonna say this to you as a word of advice, even if you never see me again: this might help you. I believe peace comes when we stop trying to be God and let God be God. Peace comes when we stop trying to be God, and rule and control everything, and let God be sovereign, and let God do what only God can do. Peace is your gift from God. Peace is your birthright, through Christ Jesus. Peace is your privilege, through the Holy Spirit. Peace is your safe place, when everything else around you is not safe. Peace, I give you.
Now, God never promises us calm days and sunny rays, I wish would, but that just don’t seem to be the case in my 40 years of life. But God does declare through the Apostle Paul the promise of peace in the midst of calamity. See, our peace is connected to the fact that we are connected to a God who is bigger and greater and more powerful than anything else we could go through. I don’t care what you’re gonna face on Monday morning, your God is bigger and greater and more powerful than anything you can go through. See, peace doesn’t come in what changes and gets out of the way in your life. Peace comes in what remains the same. Peace doesn’t come in what changes in your life. Peace comes in what remains the same, and remains the same is a God who is the same yesterday today, and forever, who is keeping you, even right now. Peace comes through that God.
So it’s fitting that when we come to the sanctuary, we pass the peace among ourselves. It makes total sense that when we gather together in communities of faith, we pass the peace among believers. And what do we say when we do that? What is it saying when we pass the peace of God? When we say, “The peace of God be with you.”? What it means is that I am reminding you, my sibling in Christ, that you can make it. I am reminding you that you are not alone. I am reminding you that you have an advocate, and a champion, and a comforter, and a healer, and a protector, and a sovereign God who is with you, even to the ends of the earth. So, take this peace, and pass it on. Passing the peace is the greatest gift you can give the fellow believer in Christ. Take this peace, and give it freely. Take this peace, and share it widely. Take this peace, because it helps you be reminded that you are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus.
We don’t know what each of us who walks in the door is burdened with, nor do we know what each of us is going to encounter when we leave this place. Sick children, foreclosure, craziness on your job, facing death, broken relationships, broken hearts. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. But when I come to church, and I come into the sanctuary, when I come into the house of God, because I know here, at least I can find some peace, I want to share that, one to another, heart to heart and breast to breast. Because we are encouraging one another that we’re not in this fight alone. Here, I can find some relief for my weary soul. Here, I can some solace in knowing I am in the company of the faithful, and here is where I receive peace.
Pass the Peace because your neighbor needs it. Pass the Peace because you need to be reminded that God is with us. Pass the Peace because someone is hurting right beside you. Pass the peace because it’s crucial to your life. Pass the Peace, people of God, and do it with glad hearts, and compassion for one another. Do it with a prayer on your spirit. By God, siblings in Christ, peace: pass it on.
Let us pray.
Holy God, we thank you for the gift of prayer. We thank you for “pro-su-he” and know that your Spirit is with us. Thank you, God, that you are faithful, and we can trust that you can do exceedingly and abundantly, above all that we can ask or think. But in the midst of life, God, even when our faith gets a little weary, thank you, God, for peace. Peace that holds us and sustains us, no matter what comes our way. Peace that we can share with our siblings in Christ. Peace that keeps us from week to week as we are reminded of how good and how loving and how gracious you are. Thank you for peace that is a freedom from disturbance. Peace that is our solace place, where we can lock the door of our hearts and minds and rest solely in you. Thank you, God for peace, and we promise we shall pass it on. In Christ’s name we pray.