November 24, 2019 – Reign of Christ the King
Bible Reading Colossians 1:13-20
This is the final Sunday of the Christian year, and so before we cycle back to anticipating the birth of Jesus; this day fittingly reminds us in these sometimes conflictual days -- that because of all Christ has done in his life, through the expansion of his true church and his final appearing as: the beginning and the end, the center of the universe, the ruler of history -- and through whom all things started and all things will be fulfilled. Paul sums these thoughts in the book of Colossians…
For we must never forget that he rescued us from the power of darkness, and re-established us in the kingdom of his beloved Son, that is, in the kingdom of light. For it is by his Son alone that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven.
Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross. (PHILLIPS)
Hymn # 176 Majesty
Message The Joy of Gentle Peace Philippians 4:1-2,4-9
It is important to remember that the risen Christ is the majestic King of kings, that in spite of all appearances, he is on his throne and authorized by his Father to rule the world. When we read texts like the one we are about to read, it can be like music to our ears, but it is also easy to think that Paul, from so long ago, couldn’t possibly understand what we go through in our modern, complicated, pluralistic world and that is why he is able to write what some might consider to be flippant, cliché-like platitudes that sound beautiful but don’t really work in our harsh world today. As one classic western song says -- Do you remember when You walked among men? Well Jesus, You know, if You're looking below, it's worse now than then. Cheating an’ stealing, violence and crime…
Apparently, the Middle East has always had a reputation of being place of simple, harmonious peace. (That was sarcasm). I imagine Jesus would reply, “Did you notice how I was treated for being a good person?” And even though the Good Samaritan was a parable, don’t you realize it based on a real, common events?
Likewise, Paul isn’t using Pollyanna (blindly optimistic) words written from some ivory tower (separated from the real world). For preaching about Jesus, he had just been attacked, beaten, drummed out of town, and was imprisoned while he wrote this letter to the Philippians who were facing similar threats. He was teaching them how to remain encouraged and faithful in the midst of constantly lurking danger, oppressive, depressing and seemingly hopeless circumstances.
Paul is encouraging them, and us, that we can’t back down from the life of love and service. We can continue to experience the peace of Christ by living life as Christ lived; with His values, priorities, passions, and mind set. But how? He begins by reminding them how much he cares.
1) Dear friends, I love you and long to see you. You are my pride and joy. Keep your relationship with the Lord firm! 2b) work together in the Lord...because [you] belong to the Lord. 4) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5) Always be gentle with others. The Lord is near. 6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, with thankful hearts let God know what you need in prayers and requests. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, my friends, keep your thoughts on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable— whatever is excellent or praiseworthy— follow my example. Practice what you’ve learned and received from me, what you heard and saw me do. And God, who gives peace, will be with you. (From Philippians 4:1-9 (Blend of CEV GW NIV NIRV))
He not only reminds them how proud he is of they are faring; he tells them to live in unity. In this letter he is confident that with the help of a mutual friend two specifically known people can work out their differences and he encourages them to do so because they are both Christians working for the Lord. In Romans, a more generalized letter, he recognizes that agreements can’t always be reached, and so he teaches us to do what is right in the eyes of everyone and that if it is at all possible, do what is within your power to live at peace with everyone. (See Romans 12:17b-18)
He says this because nothing diminishes resolve to a purpose more than disunity Most of us have probably worked on a job; be it career or volunteer; where it seems like all we do is fight against the people that are supposed to be on the same team. When siblings get to warring with each other, even in fun; the sheer volume of the thing can drive a parent up one wall across the ceiling and down the other. But when families share those moments when all are pulling for each other, trying to help when help is wanted so that success can happen —there is nothing more joyful and fulfilling.
Few things are more motivating or appealing when everyone is joyfully working together to achieve a worthy purpose. No wonder Jesus said that his followers would (should) be known for how they love each other. (John 13:35)
Paul gives us four focal points to help us find and maintain that unity.
Rejoice in the Lord
First, find a way to rejoice. Dr. Victor Frankl, a Jewish WWII camp survivor, learned the hard way that you can take a person’s relatives and family, clothes and physical freedom, but not his freedom to how to respond to what happens in his life.
But it is better if we don’t have to go it alone, to know we are loved and supported in any situation. The encouragement, the joy of unity is like motor oil -- it lubricates parts and helps them to work together towards a common goal - making the car move forward. Without oil, the parts, instead of working together; cause a lot of friction, heat, and may even grind each other to a halt; when the engine locks up; freezes; and turns your car a really big paper weight.
Joyful spirits and positive humors are lubricants that move us toward a spirit of cooperation that can reduce tension and increase the joy and unity. As someone said: "A sorrow shared is half the sorrow, while a joy shared is twice the joy." We really do need each other.
And because we need each other, when we find ourselves on different sides of a topic, Paul encourages us to not become biting, sarcastic, or to angrily rant and rave, but rather to make our point with gentleness. The original word literally means “sweet reasonableness, without harshness”. As Proverbs says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:2) We can choose to inflame or diminish relationship issues by how we respond to each other.
The Lord is Near
We respond gently because the Lord is near. Probably, partially, this refers to hanging on because it won’t be long before the Lord returns and makes everything right, but it also means God’s Spirit is near us with here and now with his reassuring peace, power and presence.
Then, when worrisome situations come our way, and they will -- we can choose to nurse them into full-fledged chronic anxiety that paralyzes our progress. Or, remembering that God is with us, and hopefully having nurtured supportive friendships, we have a better chance of facing those situations with courage.
Some of us have no problem not worrying about anything. Others of us can’t seem to ever stop. Most of us are somewhere in-between those two extremes. For those of us who do deal with worry, David says, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you and never let you be shaken”, Likewise, Peter says, “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV))
When I went fishing as a young person, I loved to cast red and white spoons. I'd cast it out and reel it in, cast and reel, cast and reel — Everyone else was using a worm and bobber; and catching fish all the time. I think I may have caught one, once. But I just had to have something to do besides watch the bobber float on the water.
Some of us tend to worry that way too, in two possible senses. (1) We cast our problems and worries on the Lord, but then we keep reeling them back, we take the worries back. We don’t leave them with him. And in an ongoing situation, that is normal, human and understandable. So just keep on casting, day by day... But sometimes the worry is not about a situation, but a non-situation created out of an active imagination -- inflated, exaggerated, dramatized, and perhaps eventually fulfilled because we have nurtured the fear by our focus. In those kind of cases, we need to cast our cares on him and cut the line and leave it with God until we are actually faced with a potential reality.
(2) The second metaphor is completely different from the first. Let’s say the worm on a hook with a bobber represents the person who has done everything they need to do in a given situation and keeps focused and confidently waiting on God to act and reels in the answer when he does. The worrier doesn’t do what is needed (a worm on a hook) for the given situation, but prefers to simply keep busy casting (worrying), because worry gives the worrier something to do even though it yields no results.
Request with Thanks
We get our focus off our worries and on the power and presence of God by lifting our needs to God in prayer with thankful hearts because we know that God is in control. Just as we have a choice to nurture our worry, we also can choose to feed our faith through thankful prayer -- and in so doing, our doubts will starve. Do what is in our power to do but leave the results that are beyond our control in the hands of God and adapt the best we can to
Dwell on the Positive
what we face each day by thinking about good stuff. The original word “think” literally means to meditate, to concentrate, to dwell -- on good things.
By now, most of you have probably heard the story of the elderly Cherokee who told his grandson. Within the heart there is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger envy, sorrow, regret, greed arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good -- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandson asked, “Which wolf will win?” The elderly man said, “The one you feed.”
And in spite of our protestations about all the negative news, we tend to gravitate to and feed ourselves on the negative, the inconveniences, the blaming, the gossip, the worst case scenarios, on dreaming up all the possible problems and complications of problems, and our mind runs these negative thoughts over and over like a tape player that has no stop or off button. Now with all that focus and feeding of the problems, we still wonder why we are so depressed and worried and the larger and more insurmountable they become.
But Paul says feed -- fill your mind -- with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. Don't ignore your problem as if it didn’t exist, but don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution to your problem, and on what you can do to face it, or to live the best you can in spite of it. And then this is Paul’s last piece of advice.
Put the positive into practice
It is not just a mental exercise. We don’t just focus on the good things and qualities of life. We need to strive to live them out. I mentioned a song earlier that I feel inaccurately bemoaned how bad it was now compared to then. The positive sentiment of the song requests that Jesus helps us believe in what we can become and all that we are, and asking for his help to show us the way and give us the strength to do every day what we have to do, and to teach us to take one day at a time.
And as we grow into doing these things better and better -- even if our prayers are not answered as we expect, we may sense an inexplainable sense of peace within that no one or no thing can take away.
Guarded peace and joy
For the promise is that the God of peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. The original words conjure up the image of a garrison - a permanent military post with filled with the best soldiers -always protecting our hearts so that worry cannot overcome us.
Summarizing a poem by Edward Sill called "Opportunity": During a battle, a soldier is hemmed in. He thought to himself, “If I only had a sharper sword like the blue blade the king’s son has -- but this blunt thing. He snapped it and flung it down, then he crept away from the battle. Enter the king’s son, wounded and weaponless. He saw the broken sword half buried in the dry sand. He ran and snatched it and with a fresh battle cry he saved his land for a great cause that heroic day.
We often tell ourselves if we only had this or only had that, or if only this happened or that happened then we would have no worries. But the resource we need to win the day is in our hand — don't throw God out! Allow him to guard you hearts and minds in Christ.
All the countless concerns that may bombard our minds can be kept at bay when God is on your side -- or more importantly -- when you are on his side, you need nothing more than to put into practice those positive qualities that you are focused on as you thankfully make known your needs and refuse to obsess over the negatives and recognize how near God is to you, and because of his power, you can be gentle with others as you rejoice in who God is and all he has done and is doing, because he and others care for you.
Closing Prayer Almighty God, someone said worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained. So on this day, guard our hearts and minds that we will not encourage worry, fear, anger, violence or other negative things within ourselves -- or in others. Fill our lives with true praiseworthy things, and so that in the midst of any situation, we can still be calmed by your sheltering arms and celebrate with joy all you have created and are re-creating in your world. Amen.
Closing Music # 89 Joyful, Joyful
Closing Blessing Now go in joy as the God of peace, and the peace of God guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus -- this day and all days. Amen.