Eighteen Sunday after Pentecost 12 October 2014
(Isaiah 25:1-9 Psalm 23 Philippians 4:1-9 Matthew 22:1-14)
“Hearing The Music. . . . .With Nothing Playing”
I really like the Lighting Racer! And Skyrush is absolutely breathtaking! I’ve not yet ridden the Fahrenheit! The best thing about the Sooper Dooper Looper is that my six-year-old grandson is tall enough to ride it with me! But the Comet is still my favorite! Of course, I’m talking about a few of the 12 roller coasters at Hershey Park! For me, roller coasters have a whole lot to do with my being “Hershey Park Happy!” And part of the happiness has to do with the anticipation as I’m slowly going up the initial hill, people screaming with their arms in the air, then the thrill, the speed, the rush and the fear of the downward plunge, the twists and turns, being thrown against the person sitting next to me! “Hershey Park Happy” it is!
But. . . .then the car comes back into the station, the bar comes up and it’s time to get out. Walking down the ramp, this joy soon begins to fade. “Hershey Park Happy” doesn’t last forever.
So, when Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always…..,” I guess he’s not talking about “Hershey Park Happy!” So what is he talking about? What is Paul really saying when he writes that we should “rejoice always”?
Let’s look closer. There seems to be some conflict within the leadership of this Philippians faith community. Paul mentions a few of the leaders by name as part of today’s text, but even in the previous chapters we find out that there are some disagreements. But (here’s a first lesson), Paul does not get stuck, either in the arguments nor the reprimands; but he immediately goes back to his theme of rejoicing always in the Lord.
One of the things that seems so very clear is that Paul is urging his community not to become victimized by the problems and their pain, whatever they are. He is emphasizing that joy and gentleness must always make up a large part of any church’s witness to the world. The joy and the peace which any church community can know (as well as individually), can never have its source in us—but rather, with deep faith in God.
And then, Paul uses a seemingly strange depiction. He describes peace in military terms: “The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What Paul is saying is that God’s peace will “stand sentry, stand guard like a soldier, so nothing unauthorized from the outside will be able to enter.” Because Christ is near and because the peace of God stands guard over us, we can then rejoice always!
Paul doesn’t really solve their problems, but he does offer the assurance of God’s care which will continue to surround them. Because God’s peace is on duty, God’s peace is standing guard over you, you do not have to be anxiously waiting for the next shoe to drop. Please hear this clearly: This is not about not caring; but rather, about not being controlled by doubt-filled concerns for one’s own well being.
And remember: Paul is writing from prison; he has no idea which day will be his last. That’s why he can say [vs.9], “Keep on doing the things you see me doing….” If anyone has the right to be controlled by fear and anxiety, it is Paul in prison!!!
And I know many of you feel imprisoned by pain and separation from loved ones, and by health issues, by financial stress, but this is Paul speaking with powerful conviction, to be open and aware to the ways and works of God whenever and wherever they appear. This is Paul saying that our redeemer God is also our creator God, creating life, and Jesus Christ is the one Lord.
This is Paul, sharing his soul, deeply, deeply, believing that God loves us and that God pays close attention to us, even, and I’d say, most especially, in our suffering. And for us to deeply believe in God’s love is to begin to see with the eyes of God. Then, quite unexpectedly, we discover what the poet Mary Oliver calls, “the music with nothing playing.”1
I think that comes so very close to what Paul is writing when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” Another translation of this verse says, “Celebrate God everyday.”2
Hear the music, with nothing playing.
Know God’s care, even when tragedy and pain and conflict are close at hand, even when that is all the headlines report!
I think of a story from my seminary year, a life-changing story for me! As students, we were studying the documents that had come out of the Vatican Council, which was the Council of Catholic leadership in the late 1960s that, many will say brought, the Catholic Church into the modern world. But we students were studying one of the writings, when it was soon to be released, called, “Faith and the World.” The original opening lines of this entire piece of writing were: “The grief and the anguish…..” We learned that not long before the final editing process, the bishops decided to change the opening words “The grief and the anguish” and replace them with “The joy and the hope….” As far as I know, no new data had rushed in upon those bishops; nor had the world changed suddenly.
What I believe is that, at a deeper level, these leaders realized the world differently. And I also believe today that deep faith is able to move us beyond grief and anguish to joy and hope.
One final story. I flew home from Orlando this past Thursday evening. We were actually early in boarding, so the pilot came on to say we would sit for 15 minutes because if we got to our destination early, we’d have to fly in a circle until we could land. So, he said, it is better to wait on the ground in Florida than to fly in the air around Washington. I was in the middle seat and there was a woman by the window, and at some point I noticed she had just finished her third bag of potatoes chips and was drinking a Pepsi, with another one o her lap. Finally, she looked at me and said, “Do you fly often?” I said, “Well, no not a whole lot.” She said, “Well, I hardly ever fly and I’m scared out of my mind.” So we began talking and eventually it came out that I was a pastor. And then she said the neatest thing. She said, “When we take off, could you hold my hand and say a prayer”?
And so that is what we did. When Frontier Flight 1326 from Orlando to Washington, Dulles, took off 20 minutes behind schedule, there were two strangers sitting next to each other in Row 4—one a pastor heading home to Gettysburg, and the other a woman celebrating her 40th birthday with girlfriends in the nation’s capitol—these two strangers holding hands, eyes closed, praying for God’s caring presence at a time of fear and trepidation.
Celebrate God’s presence daily! “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Know that the peace of God stands guard over your heart and your mind.” May you hear music, even with nothing playing! Amen.
1.From the poem, “Freshen the Flowers, She Said,” in the collection, A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver.
2. The Message. Eugene H. Peterson.