August 4, 2019: The Four Secrets of Life Abundant: The Pathway to Peace
August 4, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN
The Four Secrets of Life Abundant
Secret One: The Pathway to Peace
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Thirty years ago next month, Bobby McFerrin released a song—the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard 100. The song? “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
Here’s a little song I wrote,
You might want to sing it note for note:
“Don’t worry, be happy.”
In every life we have some trouble,
But when you worry you make it double.
Don’t worry, be happy.
Don’t worry, be happy now.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? The Apostle Paul offered this same wisdom a couple of thousand years before Bobby McFerrin, when he wrote to his favorite church at Philippi: “Rejoice . . . do not worry about anything.” Right. Be happy; don’t worry. Got it. (But not really.)
Confession: I worry. And I’ll bet most of you do as well. What worry did you bring with you to church this morning? What’s keeping you up at night?
· Your job?
· Your finances?
· A strained relationship?
· Your health, or the health of a loved one?
· Growing old?
· The presidential election OVER A YEAR AWAY?
w, you’ll find a stack of index cards. I invite you to take one of these cards, and write down one worry, a source of your anxiety. In a moment, the ushers will collect these cards, and later during the service someone else will receive your card. You may choose to place your name on your card or not. That’s up to you. Take a moment now to fill out your card:
Take one final look at your card and say goodbye to your worry as you place the card in the basket as the ushers come around.
Five years ago, I took my family to Atlanta to my graduation from Mercer University. When they introduced the commencement speaker, it was someone I’d never heard of. When she began to speak, I could tell pretty quickly it wasn’t going to be very good within the first three hours of her speech. She told depressing stories about her family and their medical troubles. Why would you do that in a commencement speech? I turned to my friend sitting next to me, and he told me that Colin Powell had been the commencement speaker at his seminary graduation. We agreed that we felt short changed. Why couldn’t we have an awesome commencement speaker? That same year, a high school in New Orleans had an awesome speaker . . . Sandra Bullock! Bullock’s speech was excellent. She spoke about being so worried throughout her life—so worried about the future that she missed the present.
Stop worrying so much. Stop being scared of the unknown because anything I worried about didn’t happen. Other stuff did happen but not what I worried about. The unknown we can’t do anything about, and I don’t remember any of the moments in my life when I worried so that’s a lot of time I couldn’t get back.
This advice sounds incredibly similar to advice the Apostle Paul gives to the church at Philippi. Paul is writing from prison, not a great situation for him, and yet he tells them, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Like Sandra Bullock said, “Stop worrying so much.”
A while back I was visiting someone in the hospital. As I walked down the hall past the surgery waiting room, I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone; she told the person on the other end of the line, “Just quit worrying.” As I continued walking down the hall, I thought about how futile that statement was. I have no doubt that it was said out of love, but I can’t imagine it was a terribly helpful thing to say to her friend or loved one.
“Quit worrying?” Is it possible for us to take that advice? To turn off our worrier out of sheer will or cognitive prowess? Maybe . . .
A few years ago, I was leading a study at the church I was serving. It was during the season of Lent, and conversation came around to, “Did you give anything up for Lent?” One woman said, “I gave up worrying for Lent.” Everyone laughed. She said, “No, I’m serious. I gave up worrying for Lent. It’s no good for me or my faith, so I gave it up.” No laughter that time. A few weeks later, I asked her how it had gone. She said that it had gone very well. Every time she started to worry, she put the brakes on and thought about other things instead. It paved the way for more peace through her daily life.
And that’s the first secret to Life Abundant. “Stop worrying so much.” Why? Because Sandra Bullock tells us to? Maybe. Because Paul told his friends in Philippi to? Maybe. But more importantly, banishing worry from our lives is a pathway to peace. Listen again to what the Apostle Paul says next to his friends in Philippi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, quit worrying and you might just find God’s peace.
Now, to be clear, “The peace we are offered is not a peace that is free from tragedy, illness, bankruptcy, divorce, depression, or heartache,” Rob Bell reminds us. “It is peace rooted in the trust that the life Jesus gives us is deeper, wider, stronger, and more enduring than whatever our current circumstances are, because all we see is not all there is and the last word about us and our struggle has not yet been spoken. There is great mystery in these realities, the one in which we are strong when we are weak, the one in which we come to the end of ourselves, only to discover that God has been there the whole time.”
Worry, on the other hand, “is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat,” according to Walter Kelley. “Worry is wasting today's time to clutter up tomorrow's opportunities with yesterday's troubles.” Mary Englebreit says it this way: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its trouble; it empties today of its strength.”
When we banish worry, which is always future oriented, we can become free to live today, in this moment. Most of us have lived long enough to know that life is unpredictable. One day is full of happiness and joy and the next we’re given news that rocks our world. Worrying won’t change life’s unpredictability. Ever. But banishing worry will put us on the path to peace that passes understanding . . . peace through whatever life throws at us, curve balls and all.
Earlier, I invited you to write down your most prescient worry and place it in a basket. I’m going to ask the ushers to come back around with those baskets, and I’d like you to draw out a random card—a card held moments ago by some other beloved child of God in this room, who like you and me, is worried. If you remember, I invited everyone to say goodbye to their worry as they placed their cards in the basket. You said goodbye to your worry—and now someone else is holding it for you. And you are holding someone else’s worry.
This invitation this week is simple: whenever you start to worry about your problem, stop! Instead, pray for your brother’s or sister’s worry. And remember that another brother or sister is praying for your worry, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore!
Stop worrying. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.