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Sermons

Peace in the Noise of Life

October 9, 2011, 9:00 am & 11:15 am & 7:30 pm
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Pastor

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14;

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One of the things it is always difficult to get used to in this city is the noise, especially when you have spent considerable time in the country, whether just up the road in Columbia County, or in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Everything here seems saturated with noise: honking horns, sirens, jack hammers digging up the street that seemed just a month or so ago to have finally been paved. Some deal with this by adding yet another layer of noise: an iPod®, other MP3 players, or incessantly talking to someone on their cell phone. The music coming through the headphones is meant to cover the other noise, and from what I have overhead on most cell phone conversations, it is not much different. When, I wonder, do people settle in, and just think? When they get home? Or are they like so many I know: the moment they hit the apartment, the television goes on, with some talking head shouting over another talking head about matters politic, economic or the most recent scandal de jour. Noise–how do we find some peace in the midst of it?

Aaron wrestled with the noise. The Israelites were clamoring for leadership. Moses, who they had followed thus far, had led them into a covenant with God, and then left them in Aaron’s care to return to the top of Mount Sinai. There, Moses received the rest of the laws of the covenant that went with the ten we heard last week.1 But that had been forty days ago. By now, the silence had undone them; it is why we use noise to drown out noise. The people’s anxiety had gotten the best of them. They wanted a leader and a god they could see, touch and be sure of. “Aaron, come make gods for us who will go before us.” Astonishingly enough, Aaron does! It seems that the silence has been too much for him as well. Taking the gold they had brought out of Egypt, Aaron immediately breaks the covenant by making an image of God. Fashioning a golden calf, he announces, “Here is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”2

Isn’t it interesting the things we give up or cave-in to when the noise of life overwhelms us? Last Wednesday evening, as we explored the Theological Declaration of Barmen–one of the confessions of our church–we noted how easily the German people were seduced into following Hitler, and how quickly they gave him totalitarian control over life. But then, their economy had been in shambles, there were no jobs, and they had been severely humiliated by the Allied powers at the Treaty of Versailles.3 That was the noise of life for them, and they jumped at a charismatic leader who promised them, “soil, blood and...” They were not that unlike the Israelites scrambling for a substitute god.

The Apostle Paul has some noise issues of his own. He is in prison for a capital offence, a death threat hanging over his head, uncertain if he will ever see the Philippians again.4 He knows that his beloved church in Philippi is being besieged by outside forces. To make matters worse, a quarrel has broken out between two of his co-workers, women in significant leadership in that church, and, as such quarrels between leaders do, it is threatening to divide the church.5 What does Paul do?

He pleads with the Philippians to help these women–not by taking sides–not supporting one against the other. That will only bring more division. Rather, he says, “Help them come to the same mind.” They are to stop arguing about who is right and who is wrong, about who did what to whom, but rather to ask themselves, “What is the mind of Christ in this?” Christ, the one who humbled himself and became a servant for their sake. If Christ could behave that way on their behalf, how much more so must those who claim to be “in Christ” behave? What does it mean to find our common ground, not in what our instincts, upbringing, education or political convictions tell us is right, but what does it mean to make Jesus Lord in every aspect of our lives? When a conflict breaks out in the church, rather than set up a court to decide who is right and who is wrong, what would happen if we could ask, “What does it mean for us, as Christ’s body in this place, to have his mind on this?”6 I suspect in doing so, the controversies dividing the church today would soon fade to their proper place and their noises go away.

“Rejoice!” says Paul, once more–the fifth time he has done so.7 Again, he is not telling the Philippians to “cheer up” or “be happy.” Their circumstances seem too bleak for a pep-talk. And, frankly, so are Paul’s. Anyone who thinks that following Jesus and giving your life to the gospel is a talisman to magically take away all your troubles has not read the New Testament very carefully. If anything, it can lead to trouble. No, their reason “to have joy” has to do with the Lord–he is near and they belong to him. Their circumstances are dark, but to the Lord, there is no darkness at all; even the dark is as light as day.8 Is Paul expressing his belief that Jesus will soon return? Possibly. Or is Paul echoing the Psalmist’s sentiment that, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him”?9 Probably both! Regardless, they are to let their gentle, reasonable, equitable forbearance be known–the word in Greek means all of that and more.10 And from whence does this extraordinary spirit of magnanimity come? It comes from having the mind of Christ and finding joy in him and his presence in and among them.

Be anxious for nothing. Again, before dismissing it as out-of-hand optimism, remember Paul’s circumstances. If anyone had reason for anxiety, Paul did. But he knew the Lord was near. What are the reasons for our anxieties: family, job, health, children, a relationship, the economy, enough to live on? Is not the Lord near there as well? In fact, over these years of ministry, listening to people share their stories, it was often not until they found themselves stripped of all the things that they thought were giving them life, that they truly found it–found the peace of Christ that passes all understanding in every situation in life.

What does the peace of Christ mean to you? A hint: we encourage you to share it with one another weekly, and it has nothing to do with saying “Good morning!” The presence, power and the peace of Christ is a gift that we encourage you to offer to one another each Sunday, as here we celebrate our redemption in Christ. It is not a time to say “Hello,” or even “welcome.” It is not time to demonstrate our friendly nature and spirit. It is not that those are not good, they are; they are simply not good enough! When we say, “The peace of Christ be with you,” we are invoking Christ’s presence, power and benefits within the other’s life, and the power of Christ’s peace and joy that you and I can know even in the worst circumstances of life. For Christ’s peace does not mean the absence of noise, conflict, or hardship in life. It means peace in the midst of the noise, conflict and hardship–a reality beyond comprehension that surrounds, enfolds and guards our hearts and minds, regardless of our circumstances. The peace is a prayer, an intercession invoking Christ’s presence in the life of the one we greet.

One of the reasons we are to be anxious for nothing is that we have the gift of prayer and the name of the one who is the conduit into the heart of God. Consider the noise and chaos surrounding Moses as he came down off that mountain to find his charges engrossed in a drunken orgy in the name of worshipping God. In his rage, Moses smashed the tablets, burned the calf, ground it to powder and forced the people to drink their gold. Their anxiety and idolatry had stripped them of their wealth. Now their very existence was at risk; God’s wrath was hotter than the fire at the top of the mountain and ready to consume them. But Moses intercedes. He knows God’s name, he calls on it, and throws himself into the breach between God and the people, imploring God to remember his word and promise. And guess what? God changes God’s mind. If Moses can do that for a drunken and debauched people, what can our calling on the name of Christ on behalf of another do?

Peace, Christ’s peace, is here in the noise of life for the asking. But don’t ask for it and then abuse it by continuing to nurture your fear. Rather, whatever is true–honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent or worthy of praise–dwell on these things. My wife suggests we print that up and tape it to the television and computer screen, remember it when we turn on our smart phones, and use it as a guide for our speech.

Paul was saying much the same thing: “Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Notice, it is not just peace Paul is offering, but the God of peace. Practice these things in the noise of life and you will find the King of Peace, Jesus Christ, giving you peace that is beyond all understanding.

The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God!

 

  1. Exodus 20:1-20; see Exodus 24:11
  2. Note that translations of אֵ֤לֶּה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙  “These are your gods” is grammatically most correct, though many modern translations render the phrase, “Here is your God,” or “This is your God,” out of Israel’s later monotheistic context. Having just come out of Egypt, they were, at this time, surely polytheistic. Yahweh just happened to be the god who had brought them forth. They will wrestle for years over whether Yahweh is simply their god among many, the God of gods, or the only God.
  3. Though the armistice had brought a ceasefire six months earlier, the war with Germany was not officially ended until the signing of the treaty of Versailles.
  4. There is no consensus on where Paul is in prison. It could be Rome, Caesarea Maritima, prior to his voyage to Rome, or Ephesus, though given its close proximity to Philippi, and Paul’s intimations of severe affliction in Ephesus [see 1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9], it is probably Ephesus around 52 CE.
  5. Some have even suggested that what Paul is doing in this letter is saying, “Goodbye,” knowing he will not see his beloved congregation ever again. Note the alternate “farewell” in footnote “c” at verse 4. It is an alternate reading.
  6. Morna D. Hooker, “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XI, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000) p. 546f.
  7. Philippians 2:18; 2:28; 3:1 and twice in 4:4
  8. Psalm 139:12
  9. Psalm 145:18
  10. πιεικής epieikes, does not translate easily into English, and is sometimes rendered “seemly,” sometimes “equitable,” sometimes “yielding,” sometimes “forbearing,” and sometimes “reasonable.”

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