This Sunday (12th October) we started to think about our worship, looking at what we do from the perspective of the week’s lectionary readings. We will continue this for the next few weeks.
This week we will think about the ‘Peace’; why on earth, in the middle of an orderly service when we have ‘eyes front’ looking at either the back of the heads of the people in front or even the vicar or readers who are ‘on stage’, do we have this chaotic mingling, shaking of hands and saying ‘Peace be with you’ to all and sundry? …
Listen to the sermon
or read the summary …
This week’s reading from Philippians 4:1-9 may be helpful. It includes that wonderful passage (verses 4-7) that I knew from being a choirboy and learning Henry Purcell’s ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway‘. It seems to make sense to start here, but we will come back to the earlier verses, they provide a hugely significant context.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Must be important Paul repeats it! It goes on …
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
So this rejoicing is more than happy songs, it changes the way we treat each other. Here Paul particularly mentions ‘gentleness’, there is something here about how we treat people who may be a little tender. Paul himself is not always what we might describe as gentle! But whatever the context, how we treat people is always affected by remembering that the ‘Lord is near’.
Now this is where I start to struggle
Don’t worry about anything …
I have described myself as a professional hypocrite – yes, I do worry and yes, I am telling you not to because I recognise the truth of what Paul is telling us but I have not got there yet and sometimes progress seems veeerrrryy slow. But Paul now says something that I find really helpful …
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.
In prayer I am to let [my] requests be made known to God. Paul is not saying that what I pray for will happen (this is not whatever you ask in my name, that I [Jesus] will do) that is a different sort of prayer. All that this is saying is tell God what you want and then you will find peace, peace that passes understanding.
In this sort of prayer we are honest with God. We don’t edit our thoughts to make sure they are holy. We just tell God how it is … Dear Lord, I would love a new boat, car, bigger house … Could you please sort out a few people for me, they really get up my nose (how many of the psalms are asking for just that!) …
We are not at all convinced that these are the right things to ask for (we may be pretty sure that they are not) but we ask a loving God and leave it to him. I can just see him rubbing his chin and saying, ‘We’ll have to see about that, leave it with me …’
And so we do, and then,
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus
We should not be surprised that there are different forms of prayer. It is all part of our relationship with God and if in any relationship we only have one way of talking it would be pretty boring. Isn’t it lovely when we go into a shop to buy something and the person serving us asks how we are or even (it’s great to be British) talks about the weather!
OK so far so good, but what about the context?
Two women Euodia and Syntyche (no, I don’t know how to say their names either so lets call them Di and Tich) have fallen out big time and its affecting the whole congregation at Philippi.
These two are great people, they have worked hard for the church and are probably really passionate about their disagreement. Paul asks the congregation to help them sort it out.
I wonder what it was that Di and Tich fell out over, removing pews? changing the time of the service? messy church? women bishops? gay marriage?
We don’t know and maybe that lets us fill in the gaps for ourselves …
So when Paul starts off …
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
… he is speaking to these two women and the congregation that are helping them sort things out.
What do you do when sincere and wonderful Christians fall out?
- Allow God to bring that peace that passes all understanding
So to the ‘Peace’ …
The irony is that when the ‘Peace’ was reintroduced into our liturgy (I can’t now remember if it was ‘Series 3’ or the 1980 Alternative Service Book) it caused some consternation and even argument!
The point is that we have Rejoiced in the Lord, and Let our requests be made known to God, and so now we express the peace that he gives. It is an act of faith (at some times more than others of course) but hear we say that our worship is not a bunch of isolated individuals who happen to come to the same ‘worship shop’ to buy our particular favourite brand of ‘worship’. No, we are the people of God and, as we worship, God works his miracle of bringing that ‘Peace which passes all understanding’.
A Post Script
Have you noticed when you do a ‘Smiley Face’ in text 🙂 – at last I stopped it automatically going to J! – you start with the eyes (the colon) before the mouth (the bracket)? You could easily do it the other way round, start with the other bracket and then type the colon; it would just mean that you had to twist your head the other way.
So, when we pass the peace or just greet someone, and we feel that we really ought to smile, try starting with your eyes rather than your mouth. It’s amazing the difference in the effect – not only does it look more convincing to the person you are smiling at, something might just start to happen inside you too. Perhaps it is something to do with putting effort into the Rejoice bit …