In a challenging, frightening world, Paul invites us to focus on the grace and gift of God that is our hope and our life, and find God’s joy and peace.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Day of Thanksgiving, year C
Text: Philippians 4:4-9
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Someone gave me a piece of bacon this week.
We were at the regular pastors’ text study at Maria’s on Tuesday, and one of us got more bacon than she wanted. She gave me one of the extra pieces. Let me tell you, a free piece of bacon on a Tuesday morning is a very good thing. A colleague who shares her bacon is a colleague worthy of praise.
This may seem like a small thing. It is a small thing. But it was a moment of gift for which I was thankful. It was a little piece of joy in the day.
So I’m thinking about that bacon this week.
Because that’s what Paul told us to do. He might seem simplistic today, urging us to think about the good, the excellent, in our world. But there is so much negative in this world that demands our attention, and we so easily find things that lead to despair, sadness, anger. What’s there to lose trying Paul’s way?
Maybe we can rejoice when someone gives us a piece of bacon.
This encouragement concludes a beautiful letter from Paul.
There is love and encouragement both ways. The Philippians love and support Paul, even financially, as he travels in ministry, and now in his imprisonment. In turn, Paul lovingly praises their partnership with him in the Gospel, their shared relationship in Christ that gives him hope and life.
In this letter, Paul speaks of the challenges of life in Christ, of witnessing to Christ with their lives. Doing that has landed Paul in prison; some of them are also encountering hostility for their witness. Paul calls them to share the mind of Christ, who emptied himself of divine glory and became human, facing death on the cross. Such is the life in Christ, Paul says. A mature faith willingly takes on suffering as Christ did, for the sake of others, for the sake of the Good News.
This is a letter of encouragement to people who live in a difficult world and whose witness to God’s love in Christ causes challenges, suffering, possibly even death. It sounds familiar. But today we hear Paul’s conclusion, and it is a light in the darkness.
Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul says. The Lord is near.
The times may be hard, and taking on Christ’s life is not easy. We can be afraid, and anxious. So, Paul says twice that we can rejoice in Christ, because our Lord is near. We are not alone in this life and witness. We are loved by God in Christ forever. So rejoice in that!
If Christ is near, we can release our anxiety and worry. That’s easy to say, but Paul says the way to let go of worry is to pray with thanksgiving about everything. Bring all worry, all anxiety, all fear about the world to God in prayer, and give thanks at the same time. We thank God while we ask because we know we’ll be heard, and calmed, and given hope. And we’ll find joy.
In our prayer, the peace of God that is beyond our understanding will come to us, and keep our minds and our hearts in Christ Jesus. The circumstances we face aren’t the issue, Paul says earlier in this letter. What matters is to know the peace and joy of God who is always with us, always loves us, no matter what happens.
Living in God’s peace then frees us to focus on the good, the true.
Think about honorable things, what is just and pure, what is pleasing and commendable, what is excellent, what is worthy of praise. Focus your mind on these things, Paul says.
Paul’s no blind optimist. He sees challenges and faces them head on. He names evil and preaches against it. He critiques his congregations and calls them to new life. Paul’s a realist.
So when he says to these people he loves, let your mind dwell on things that will edify you, bring you happiness and joy, he’s saying that from a realist’s perspective. There will always be problems and things that need us as Christ. This world is filled with pain and suffering, we struggle with evil.
But don’t let it overwhelm you, Paul says.
Take some time to smell the roses. Enjoy a piece of bacon. Delight in a child’s smile.
There is grace, there is good, there are excellent things. Think about them.
Yes, there are problems out there. But there are also wonderful people who are dedicating their lives to make a difference. Think about them and rejoice. There are people standing with the oppressed, people creatively seeking solutions to our society’s problems, people praying daily for the life of the world. Think about them and rejoice. There are people of faith, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and many others, who witness to their faith not with hatred and violence but with love and gentleness, and are making a difference. Think about them and rejoice.
Psychologists tell us negative thoughts and emotions cling to our mental pathways like Velcro, but positive thoughts and emotions are more slippery, like Teflon, and easily disappear. Recently I heard a neuroscientist has discovered that might physically be true. But it seems if we hold to positive things as Paul encourages for at least 15 seconds they stick to our neuropathways, they stay with us. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes sense to the wisdom of the ages. It makes sense to Paul.
Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is excellent, whatever is honorable, whatever is worthy of praise, think about these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
Actually, isn’t this exactly why we have a Day of Thanksgiving?
Sometimes when things are going well we forget to be grateful. But when they’re hard, when there are so many things people fear, when we’re worried about our future and our country and our world, isn’t it a gift to hear Paul today? To do what he says, and focus thankfully on what is beautiful, what is good, in people, in nature, in life?
So let us rejoice. God is near, and loves us and this world beyond our imagining. Let us pray with thanksgiving alongside our requests. And the peace of God will take away our anxiety and fear. Fear and anxiety may come back, because the problems we face will still be there. But we’ll handle them far better with God’s peace and joy filling us. So let’s keep thinking on these things of excellence and beauty, dwelling on the grace and the good and the gift.
And I am so thankful for that bacon. God is good.
In the name of Jesus. Amen