This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 11/14/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: Philippians 4:4-9. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
Rejoice, Paul tells us. Be thankful. Do not worry. Be gentle. The Lord is near.
That last part is key: The Lord is near.
It is this nearness of God that makes thanksgiving possible. God’s creative generosity, renewing and sustaining us each day, each moment, is what we give thanks for.
It is the victory of God in Jesus, his living presence within us, that makes rejoicing not only possible, but unavoidable.
It is the power of God in our midst – his saving hand and mighty arm, his lordship over the heights and depths and all of history – this is what gives us the ability to give thanks. The strength to be gentle.
Because we know the Lord is near.
Do not worry. This is a command that Jesus himself gave the disciples, and Paul repeats to the church in Philippi. Do not worry about anything. The Lord is near.
We are commanded to give up worry, because God is sovereign. He is near. He is powerful. He is loving. He controls our destiny and the outcome of history.
Do not worry. Not because there are not things to worry about, but because – in the words of George Fox – “the power of the Lord is over all.”
Do not worry, because there is an ocean of light and love that flows over the ocean of darkness.
Do not worry, because the troubles we are facing now are transient, mortal, temporary – but God’s promises to us are unlimited and unconditional. God does not fail, and he will not abandon us. Do not worry, because God is faithful and trustworthy.
This is the peace of God that Paul tells us about. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, which will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. This is the peace that Jesus gives, not as the world gives, but a peace that transcends the pain, the confusion, the suffering of this present world. It is the peace that sees to the end of all things, and will see the creation redeemed in the resurrected Jesus. An earth restored.
Rejoice always. Be thankful. Do not worry. Be gentle. The Lord is near.
We can be gentle because the Lord is near. Because we don’t have to make everything turn out right. We don’t have to force it. We don’t have to be in control. Our job is to love. To speak the truth. To act as the Spirit guides us and Jesus teaches us. The Lord is near, and that is enough.
In times like these, a voice in Psalm 11 asks, “When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Rejoice always, even when the foundations are destroyed. Even when the world feels like it is crumbling around you. Be thankful. The Lord is near. In the words of the psalmist: “The Lord is in his holy temple.”
Please pray with me.
Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, make your presence known among us, and within each of us. Feed us with your bread from heaven. Light us with your pillar of fire. Come and dwell in us, your holy temple, so that we may rejoice in you.