Peace That Surpasses All Understanding. St. David's North Austin Medical Center Worship Service 05242020. Given Virtually May 24, 2020. The Scripture is Philippians 4:6-7.
I, Ch David Little, am grateful. Grateful that you have taken the time out of your day to worship with us, and grateful for your friendship and journeying with me through this pandemic. We wouldn’t have chosen this, yet times like these where we’re in crisis together draws us close, and bonds us in a strange way that lasts forever. For that, I am blessed to know you…
Picking up a little on Ch Mike’s Sermon from last week, and my sermon from Easter, I am going to talk about the peace that comes from the Creator of the Universe. My scripture is Philippians 4:6-7, and I will get to it later in this sermon, but let me set the stage beforehand.
Unbroken: by Laura Hillenbrand, about the life of Louis (Louie) Zamperini (2010)
I am a military man, a United States Marine, and I am fond of military books. As I was coming back from my stroke, a book came my way from a family member called Unbroken. It was the story of a man from Italian descent, who was an Olympic runner, an aviator in World War II, a Japanese POW, and finally a Christian that gave back, even after the suffering that he had witnessed and endured. It is a spell-binding and heartfelt book that I recommend, but take your handkerchiefs if you are going to read it!
Louie Zamperini was an aviator in the U.S. Army in 1941 (they didn’t have the U.S. Air Force until 1947). In November 1942 the airplane B-24 SuperMan that he was assigned to headed from California west to Hawaii. When another B-24 disappeared over the Pacific, 1st Lieutenant Louie and crew went to look for the plane aboard the B-24 Green Hornet, because the SuperMan wasn’t airworthy. It turned out the Green Hornet wasn’t either, and they crashed in the middle of the Pacific. Of the eleven men that boarded the Green Hornet, three men survived, until the 33rd day. As the two men said goodbye to their buddy Mac – their tail-gunner, Louie prayed that “if God would save them, he would serve heaven forever.” (165). The 46th day they saw land, and were about to make landfall the 47th day, but were captured by the Japanese in a Navy boat (171). The two men (Louie – the navigator, and Phil, the pilot) had lost half or more of their bodily weight while adrift. They were in for an even more traumatic experience as prisoners of war.
The rest of the book I leave for you to read. There were two movies – Unbroken (which came out in 2014) and Unbroken: Path to Redemption (which came out in 2018). I believe God is too sovereign, too holy, too majestic to bargain with – which Louie attempted in his prayer… nevertheless, the God of my faith is relational and listens. Louie started the relationship that day, and it grew years later to a lay minister serving God. But I want to say that in chaos or crisis, or at times when you don’t have anything left to give, you turn your proverbial eyes upward, or get in touch with your spirit.
I talked in my last sermon about the medical shift to viewing the person as mind, body, and spirit in a holistic fashion in the late 20th century and early 21st century. The spirit is thought to be – in some medical circles – part of the whole self. In theology, we of course, agree with that, and with the postmodern world, we are talking about a relational God. The Christian Triune God has one person – Jesus Christ – who was part-man, and thus we have a suffering God. During my and Ch Mike Adams sermon’s since Easter, we have talked about a Creator who is relational, suffers, and walks along with people – especially struggling people.
Since time began people have been looking for a Creator or God to relate to… It takes different shapes, this mysterious God, and different forms, from Isis of the Egyptians, to Zeus of the Greeks, to Jupiter of the Romans, to YHWH, Allah, and the Triune God of the Abrahamic Religions, to name a few. I believe that most people would say that we humans are longing for something spiritual. Or, simply put, we have a God-sized hole in us, waiting to be filled up.
In my last sermon, I talked about controlling what you can – and necessarily, releasing control of the rest. Mike talked about letting go and letting God in the sermon last week. You pray to God and let the Creator help you in times of grief and loss. Peace, according to Mike, is where you will end up eventually, and that’s where I want to pick up.
How do you get to peace, and what does that look like, especially in crisis or when you’re struggling?
In my Easter sermon, I talked about “Peace.” Specifically, peace that comes from Jesus; and peace that you carried with you, and could give to someone else by walking along with them. And I talked about greetings that people of other cultures or religions have, like “Shalom Aleichem” (or “peace unto you”) in the Jewish context, or “Asalamalakum” (which means “Peace be unto you”) for the people of Islam. In fact, the word Islam is from the root Arabic slim, and connotes peace. If you’re Christian, you know that “Grace to you and peace” was part of Paul’s introduction to his Epistles (or letters) and is still part of the Christian heritage. Indeed, peace is the essence of all religions, says one Islamic scholar.
But, again, where does “peace” come from? And more importantly, how do we get it, especially during times of struggle or crisis? And I’m going to say maybe – depending on your faith - another kind of peace – “spiritual peace” - that we can get from the Creator. We turn to the Christian Bible, the New Testament, and the book of Philippians.
Philippi was a fairly small city in the first century, with approximately 10,000 inhabitants, in Macedonia (or the areas of modern-day Greece and the Balkan Peninsula). It was situated on the Via Egnatia (the Roman Road), which ran from east to west, taking travelers to the Adriatic coast and hence, by boat, to Italy. The city was named after Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father.
Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit from going to Asia, and instead went to Macedonia because of a dream. There were apparently few Jewish people in the area, so Paul's converts would have been entirely, or almost entirely, Gentile. Among other people, he met a woman named Lydia, who was a businesswoman and a worshiper of God. As for the people of Philippi’s previous religious beliefs, the mixed population of the city meant that various religious cults would have been practiced in the city, alongside the official cult of the emperor.
As Acts 16:12 says, Paul and a man named Silas stayed for some days, in approximately 50 C.E. Later, he wrote to the church that he started in Philippi, and the book is called Philippians. The Apostle Paul’s letter was later, while he was probably in a Roman jail and facing a capital charge in the early 60’s. He wrote for several reasons, but ended up using Christ, other apostles, and himself as examples, which is where the Scripture today takes us. If you know Paul, you know that he has been through trials. In 2 Cor 11:23-27 he gives a list. Listen to him from his past endeavors:
23bI have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.[a] 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
That is a tough life, ministering in the name of Jesus. In fact, Paul was persecuted because he was speaking the Gospel wherever he went. Yet, he said to the people of Philippi:
Philippians 4:6-7 English Standard Version (ESV)
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In verse 6, the phrase “not to be anxious” is reminiscent of Jesus' teaching in Matt 6:25-34, which I talked about 2 weeks ago. The phrase “All prayer and supplication are to be accompanied by thanksgiving” is something that characterized the whole of this letter and the Apostle Paul’s life. The result will be that the peace of God will guard their hearts and minds (and yours) “in Christ Jesus.”
In Akoine Greek, the original language for most of the New Testament, “peace” is “είρήνη” (eip’ine) and it can mean 3 things: (1) worldly peace; (2) peace as a greeting; and (3) Kingdom of God peace. In this scripture, it means Kingdom of God peace.
What is Kingdom of God peace – or messianic peace? For Christians, the Kingdom of God was introduced by Jesus on this earth. Think about how Jesus acted, and then think about the whole community, society, even world acting like Jesus, with love, care, compassion, justice, and standing up for those voices who are not heard normally. Then go with hope, for the sin of this world will go away some day, when Jesus comes back to earth. Then, there will be joy, praise, and worship; and pain, suffering, and sadness will be no more.
For those other than Christians, think of peace from your sovereign one or place; maybe it’s achieving enlightenment for Buddhists, Shalom – or tranquility in the world - for Jews, Paradise – the “Home of Peace”- for Muslims, and Dharma (the right way to live) or Moksha (liberation) for Hindus.
The peace promised here in the Scriptures is far more than an absence of conflict. Rather, it is total well-being, and it comes from the Creator—once again, to those who are in Christ Jesus and who share his attitude, so that his “heart and mind” become theirs. It is like Shalom, a Hebrew word that I mentioned before. To the Jews that means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility.
In the Christian thought, then, one of the keys to getting “peace” that transcends yourself is having a relationship with the Triune God. The idea is by prayer and thanksgiving to God, in whom you trust, you in turn will get the peace from God – total well-being. It is not a transaction, but a graceful presence God leaves you with – by the Holy Spirit – once you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. In other words, once you humble yourself, and as Ch Adams said, “let go…and let God” take you to His peace.
What does that “other” peace look like?
The issue with the “other” peace – the Creator’s peace – is that it doesn’t look like anything we can use words to describe. The best we can do is say total well-being in lots of different areas – mostly, wholeness. And it comes when you and God are ready for it – mostly God graces you with it when He deems it appropriate for you to be wholly well. But in grief, that takes time as you go through the stages (taken from WebMD’s site):
Denial, numbness, and shock: Numbness is a normal reaction to a death or loss and should never be confused with "not caring." This stage of grief helps protect us from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It can be useful when we have to take some action, such as planning a funeral, notifying relatives, or reviewing important papers. As we move through the experience and slowly acknowledge its impact, the initial denial and disbelief fades.
Bargaining: This stage of grief may be marked by persistent thoughts about what "could have been done" to prevent the death or loss. Some people become obsessed with thinking about specific ways things could have been done differently to save the person's life or prevent the loss. If this stage of grief isn't dealt with and resolved, the person may live with intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process.
Depression: In this stage, we begin to realize and feel the true extent of the death or loss. Common signs of depression in this stage include trouble sleeping, poor appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, and crying spells. We may also have self-pity and feel lonely, isolated, empty, lost, and anxious.
Anger: This stage is common. It usually happens when we feel helpless and powerless. Anger can stem from a feeling of abandonment because of a death or loss. Sometimes we're angry at a higher power, at the doctors who cared for a lost loved one, or toward life in general.
Acceptance: In time, we can come to terms with all the emotions and feelings we experienced when the death or loss happened. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into our set of life experiences.
Throughout our lives, we may return to some of the earlier stages of grief, such as depression or anger. Because there are no rules or time limit to the grieving process, everyone's healing process will be different.
In this list of the stages of grief, it is acceptance that most matches “peace that surpasses all understanding,” but it is more. More because you know that not only will things improve, you have hope for the pains of this world to someday be gone.
Faith helps You in Grief
One thing I think that can help with the grieving process then, is faith. Not just something to hold onto like a rock in a stream, though having that and Scriptures that assure you of God who is there during those times is helpful. You have to remember that God loves you, and is a comforter. To use the words of Ch Mike on his homily last week, when you grieve, it’s because you loved what you lost. There is – in humans – a beautiful sight when someone grieves over a person, a cause, or an occasion, because it is an expression of love for it. The grieving process occurs – we are all human. And in the human being, one has to let go – or come to the place where you’re okay with the situation. The wound is healed, and the scar – though it remembers – no longer hurts the way it once did. And the peace that surpasses all understanding is there in the journey. Remember, it’s going to be alright, no matter how that looks…
When do you get the peace that surpasses all understanding?
When is a big question, and it’s too big for me – probably too big for any human being, in my opinion. I can say, as a Christian, it depends on your relationship with God, and God’s timing which is for your benefit. Romans 8:28 says: 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. In other words, you have a relationship with the Creator. Pray and meditate, and give your concerns to Him and He will heal them. In the meantime, take the tears as beautiful things that are because you loved a husband, wife, daughter, son, grandmommy or granddaddy – a person, cause or event so much that it grieves you to lose it. And people will be there for you on the road…
What to do this COVID-19 pandemic?
This COVID-19 Pandemic is – at the least – an interesting journey; and make no mistake, it’s tragic for some of you listening to this. I am sorry for the times you’re in, and the struggles you have. I would like to say that I could take it all away, but that would taste and would be a lie. When people have masks and are kept apart from each other, instead of communally living like humans have done since time began, it feels remote. When life seems fragile, work is unstable, and love is unfamiliar – at least in the ways that we show it, it is uneasy. And death – or the danger of it – is everywhere. Do you feel that? How do we get peace in that?
I don’t know, but God knows, and religion generically is based on peace. We know it, down in our souls. You can get it by walking with someone who has peace; but where does the peaceful person get it; especially in crisis? The answer is maybe taking a risk, take a chance, and have a relationship with the Creator! You let the Creator, Comforter, the Loving one give you peace that surpasses all understanding – total well-being or wholeness. If you have that relationship with God, do the spiritual disciplines. There are a number of spiritual disciplines, but here are some from Celebration of Discipline, by Richard J. Foster: (1) Inward: mediation, prayer, fasting, study; (2) Outward: simplicity, solitude, submission, service; and (3) Corporate: confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. These disciplines get you closer to God, and you will get – in His time -peace.
What I can tell you is that my faith tells me God is a pursuer. If you are a seeker, He will meet you in the seeking, and you will grow together in relationship. I’m a Baptist preacher, so I think I know what that looks like, but it is only one thought from my perspective. You seek, and you find Him in whatever way you can, and God will do the rest.