Peace That Comes From God
First Baptist Church
March 25, 2017
Prayer – Father God, be with Jeff and his family, and his father Mr. John Hutchison’s family as they lay him to rest. We are blessed to have John, and sorry to see him pass, but know that he is in your arms. Please give strength, comfort, and most of all peace to his family down here as they grieve. Take my voice away, and replace it with your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Intro – I heard about Mr. John Hutchison from my friendship with his other son, Alan. We go to Sunset Canyon Baptist Church together in Dripping Springs, and are fellow Deacons there. While not getting too specific, pancreatic cancer is one of the worst diagnoses to get, and the aftermath as it takes its toll on the body is horrific. It is not a joy for others to watch, either. I am glad that we know John is in heaven, but the grief that grips others in this world is real.
I was talking to my wife Amy, about my coming here and the reason, and she said Philippians 4:7 – “May you have the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding” - is one of the things she thinks about when grief comes to folks there’s no worldly answer to.
Illustration – I have two stories to tell that talk about grief in those terms. One was when I was a little child (hundreds of years ago). It was when I was in elementary school, and stayed at the Hamrick’s house after school, until my parents came home. It was on my Dad’s street, Lynridge Drive in Austin, Texas. He lived at 3101, and the accident occurred only three houses down from my Dad’s house, and right next door to the Hamrick’s house. They had a pool in their backyard, and somehow the six-year old boy got in, and couldn’t get out. No one was home and he drowned. His parents were the first to find him. What an awful sight! Your six year old boy, blue from lack of oxygen, lungs full of water, lifeless – and just that day you had seen him and hugged him! And now there are ambulances and police vehicles and questions...and no pumping the water out of the lungs, CPR, or prayers to heaven would return the boy to his parents...what do you say to his Mom or Dad?
Or later in life, when I was a Marine, I had this awesome kid in my platoon and then my company that was larger-than-life. His name was Joshua Meadows. You may say, he was larger than life because he was a Marine, and I will thank you for that. But he was larger than life in the Marine Corps. So much that he went to Officer Candidate School and became an Officer of Marines...but that’s not all. He was perfect in the world’s eyes, and went to flight school and became a pilot. He got married and his wife was pregnant when we all got the news: it seems he was in Afghanistan, in a firefight, and did the only thing he could do under the circumstances. He died so that others could live. He was that kind of a guy and I’m proud to have known him and led him for a while. I went to his funeral here stateside. It was in Abilene, Texas, and I got in my dress blues and went to stand up for a brother-in-arms that had given his life so that others might live. As I went over and held his wife Courtney’s hand, with her about eight months pregnant, what could I say? What could I say to her and her unborn child that would make them feel better?
You can quote scripture to them, and some do, but maybe in their grief they cannot hear it and rationalize it...but what can you say to comfort them? To love them? And that’s the rub, especially for men, who like to say anything to fix it...
So what do we do in a situation like those two – or like Mr. Hutchison’s family – in caring for the ones left behind? The answer is: there’s not much we humans can do... but the Holy Spirit – God can do wonders, even in us frail human beings. So let’s put it to work in being the presence of God where God is needed in this world, because the world has no answers.
We as Christians have a rock to lean on in those situations – called the Bible or Scripture – but, as I said, persons may be too far in grief to make sense of it then. So what can we glean from the Bible as participants in providing Jesus’ love to folks that have just had the rug pulled out from their lives? Let’s look to the Bible for answers...specifically, the book of Philippians and the verse that Amy referenced.
Paul’s Letter to the Church in Philippi
In the New Testament one of Paul’s letters was to the Church in Philippi. By the 1st century A.D. Philippi was a fairly small city, approximately 10,000 inhabitants, and was situated in the Via Egnatia – one of Rome’s major thoroughfare that ran east to west through Greece into Asia Minor and hooked up the Via Appia with the Old Persian Royal Road. In the 4th Century B.C. Philippi had been taken by Philip II of Macedon (hence its name) and had come under Roman rule in the 2nd Century B.C. Roman citizens did not have to pay taxes and enjoyed considerable property and legal rights and were the aristocracy. Latin was the official language of the city, and the cult of the Emperor – who enjoyed God-like status – was evident. The inhabitant would have been mostly Gentile, then, and the majority were Greek and Roman.
Paul’s letter to the church is one of joy, despite the fact that it was written quite probable while Paul was in a Roman prison facing a capital charge! The letter was probably written to make the Philippian Church aware of Paul’s situation and express thanks for giving to him. It is what is in the letter that we Christians cherish, because it speaks of how we Christians are to live. The “ethics” of how we are to relate to God and how we are to live as a result of that are what is important in the letter, and lead us to the Scripture for today.
In Philippians 4, Paul is telling the church to stand firm in the unity of His words, to maintain Christian virtues, and thanking them for the previous gifts that they have given to him. It is during his words to ascribe to Christian standards that we turn.
Philippians 4:4-9 New International Version (NIV)
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.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
4:4 – Paul is telling the people to Rejoice greatly in the Lord as he is writing from a prison cell. To maintain a spirit of joy in Paul’s example or the church in Philippi, which was being attacked from within and without by Grecians and Romans that were aristocratic or worshiping pagan gods is awe-inspiring!
4:5 – But then Paul says be gentle to all and the Holy Spirit is near – actually inside believers! The Greek word εριεικες (gentleness) is more – its gentle, yielding, kind, forbearing, lenient; to all – even the unsaved persecutors or false teachers – and that’s the hard part, isn’t it? But the Holy Spirit will enable you to do things no human can do!
4:6 – Do not worry or be anxious but present your requests to God instead...It is interesting that Paul is saying not to be fretful, anxious, or have undue concern. Can somebody say “worry”! But we are to turn these things over to God, and worry not (let God worry about it, after all, He can fix it!). We are to pray with worshipful minds, and expressions of need, and things asked for all are allowed – we just need to have thanksgiving because whatever God sends is good!
4:7 – When we do that, the peace of the Lord – which is better than humans can do and then some – because it is Jesus who will guard your hearts and minds. God gives is His peace to act as a sentry to guard the believer’s heart and thoughts from all anxiety and despair.
4:8 – Believers should Do these excellent and praiseworthy things – true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable – do them. Do what is morally and spiritually excellent. Take these exalted things – and these are just examples – and do them. Love one another; do compassionate things; have honesty in your dealings with humankind; whatever is high ethically or morally – do them and you will live like Christians!
4:9 – Finally, Take Paul as an example and do the things I do, and God of peace will be in you! In the oral age in which Paul lived, the standards of Christian belief were embodied by the apostles. If believers did them, then true peace – that comes from God – will be with them.
Illustration: Mary Magdalene
You remember Mary Magdalene from the Bible. She has been getting “a lot of press” in the world lately, as two movies in 2016 had her character in them – Risen and The Young Messiah. She was also referenced in the Dan Brown movies, The Da Vinci Code (2006), Angels & Demons (2009), and another movie from 2016, The Inferno, though the Dan Brown movies are based on Dan Brown’s books and not historically accurate.
The first time Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the Bible is in Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 8). She is listed among those women whom Jesus had rescued from demons. Can you imagine being tormented by a demon? Even if you say that she had a mental illness, she had “seven” demons afflicting her! It is thought by Bible scholars that Mary was the most tortured because she is named and the number of demons is listed. She was suffering! But Jesus saw her tortured mind and immediately banished the spirits that were possessing her, or made her well. He restored her peace of mind and beckoned her to follow Him. And follow Him she did! She is with Jesus even when the other apostles weren’t and this includes the night Jesus was betrayed and the cross. She was at the mock trial of Jesus, there when Pontius Pilate pronounce the death sentence, there at the scourging of Jesus and there at the cross where she tried to get as close as she could to comfort Jesus. She was even the first to see Jesus raised! Mary Magdalene had to have peace to be there for Jesus in the darkest hour.
The peace of God was surely there through Jesus when he changed her circumstance, and Mary Magdalene was changed forever!
Bring Home to the Congregation:
But when grief strikes a person, it is its own animal. The person has to go through grief to get to the other side of it – joy - but it is a journey and everyone deals with it differently. So maybe Scripture at such a time when ministering to a grieving person is not the best answer.
So maybe it makes sense in your rational minds today to be and do like Paul says in Philippians 4. But what if you get thrown a curveball in life? What if grief comes knocking on your door?
Are we like Paul, or Mary Magdalene? Can we have the peace of God even through trials? Maybe for some of you trials come and you are strong, and you are to be commended because Christ lives through you!
But when the boss says you’re fired; or finances get turned upside down, so that bankruptcy is the only way out; or you have to tell the kids that you and your spouse are getting a divorce; or your Dad, your Mom, your Husband or wife, and your kid gets some terrible disease; what then? For the rest of us, it’s a little tougher down here on earth, and things in chaos don’t seem to match up to what we think God’s plan is...
So, let’s take it from a different tack: what do you do when you come into a situation of grief for someone else? Take the situations I just gave and think of a friend that’s going through them...For example, when the boss says someone is fired and you’re their friend; or a friend’s finances get turned upside down, so that bankruptcy is the friend’s only way out; or a friend has to tell their kids that your friend and the spouse are getting a divorce; and on and on.... What do you tell them then? (Just a hint, you tell them nothing!)
Maybe what you can be and do to other’s in grief is like Paul says in today’s scripture? Maybe you can be known for gentleness, and do care and compassion to others in grief? Maybe you can be silent and do acts of kindness, like mow the grass in their lawn that they haven’t had time to care for? Maybe you can take them to lunch, or bring lunch or dinner to the hospital...maybe you can walk with them in silence, listening to them...maybe you can bring a casserole to their house, after a few weeks when everyone else has gotten on with their lives and the grieving person is all alone with the memory of what was...
Maybe you can be and do so that the God of peace will be with you, and you can have the Lord of Peace in you; then transfer that by relationship of love to others? Maybe you can be part of the transformation that is occurring in this world; a partnership with God (by God’s actions) that brings people closer to Him by your being like Him (or like Christ).
Illustration: Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
When I think of being like Christ, the name Francis of Assisi comes to mind. I could preach a whole sermon on St. Francis and you would barely know the magnitude of his works. He was a wealthy son of Italian landowners in the 12th century. He started out a knight, was taken prisoner of war (for nearly a year) in the early 13th century, fell ill on his return, and then had a dream while returning back to battle that made him turn round, head back home (to Assisi) and become Christ’s Knight. He founded the Franciscan Order (for men), and the Oracle of St. Clare (for women), and was the embodiment of Christ (as much as he could be) here on earth. There are stories that are verified that he had the marks of the crucifixion (or stigmata) on his body that was put there by an angel! He was canonized in 1228, just two years after his death. The Peace Prayer of St. Francis is poignant and has held Christians in awe for 8 centuries.
The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis -
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in self-forgetting that we find;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.
While few of us can reach the heights of Paul or St. Francis, we still can learn from him and be closer to Christ as a result of his words. The simple lesson we (or at least I) can learn is to be like Christ, and the peace of God will be with you; that, in turn, will help you in trials or grief but also makes you a vicar of the peace of God to other people. We are all in this together, and times of grief are when Christians should gather around the grieving person, and show them the peace of God through our actions and maybe the God of peace will be with them.
Paul is telling the Philippians in Chapter 4:4-9 to be and do so that the God of Peace will be with them. And if the God of peace is inside them, then the Holy Spirit can put the peace of God in other people.
If you are taking notes, now is a good time to listen carefully, because I’ve out it in bullet points: God will put peace in you when you be and do these things:
Be: (1) Rejoice in the Lord; (2) Be known for gentleness; the Lord is near; and (3) Do not worry about anything; instead, let your requests be known to God through prayer and thanksgiving.
Do: (1) whatever is true; honorable; just; pure; pleasing; and commendable; (2) if there is any excellence; anything worthy of praise, think about these things; and (3) Keep doing the things that Paul taught you and you have seen in Paul and the Lord of Peace will be with you.
Doing this for others actually works. Paul thanks them for being a part of his life and giving their gifts to him in the later verses, specifically 4:14. The Philippians had actually done what Paul said is his letter to them. They were embodying Christ, which was his strength. Can we do anything less?
May Philippians 4:7 serve you well in times of grief and console, comfort, and give you peace; and when you come across someone in grief, your peace becomes their peace (if only while you are present with them) and “rubs off” on them. Let your light of Christ shine on them by being gentle and doing acts of love and compassion to them and around them. And let Jeff and his family feel the peace of God through you!
Let us pray.