Hi friends! As we get closer to the election, I thought it was important to name the political tension, but also hold in light the fact that everyone is in different places right now. Back in 2016, I thought preaching through that election was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but that doesn’t hold a candle to the tension we feel today. It is SO hard. But I believe God is in the business of doing hard things! So we can do this – together.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
October 11, 2020
I Believe That We Can
I used to be a very predictable Saturday night sermon writer. For better or for worse, people knew, that if they drove past the church at any given point on a Saturday evening, my car would be parked right outside the office door and I would be inside trying to decide what the next day’s message would be.
I know this approach made some people in the church nervous, although I always said Saturday night was better than Sunday morning. But the thing is – I want to be a relevant preacher. I want to share a message on a Sunday morning that is made for that moment in time, for the specific congregation I am speaking to. And so very often I draw on thoughts and experiences that I have later in the week – sometimes even Saturday night – in my reflection of the Sunday morning scripture so that message is most relevant to that moment.
My preferred method of sermon writing is a little problematic right now. First of all, I have small children and so sleep on a Saturday night is not necessarily a guarantee at this stage of my life, let alone a solid and quiet block of time where I can sit down and write. Second of all, we are in the middle of a political climate and an election season that is tumultuous and, quite frankly, just awful. So relevant preaching is complicated.
When it comes to talking about politics, I have, at various points in time throughout my ministry, been accused of saying too much, reprimanded for not saying enough and praised for attempting to remain neutral. These are very often three different responses to the exact same thing, which has kind of taught me two things: 1. I will never please everyone – that is just not possible. 2. People are in very different places when it comes, not only to what they believe, but also what they want out of their church experience. Some people want to come to church and talk about political issues and how they relate to their faith and some people just want a safe space where they come and a take a break from the political climate of the world.
To be clear, I do not think either desire or longing is wrong – but it does make it challenging to preach in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible to everyone; it makes doing church really hard in this particular moment in time.
But I always remind myself that God is in the business of doing hard things.
I say this as a way of, like Bill and Wendy Cute said when they led prayers the day after the presidential debate two weeks ago, naming the political elephant in the room. The political climate of our country is on everyone’s hearts and minds right now. And so just know that I am wrestling with these issues as much as you all are right now. In many ways, it hurts to see where we are and wonder how we got here. But I believe, as people of faith and members of this beloved church in the village who stand on various places of the political spectrum, that we can do the hard work that is required to come together and proclaim a message of love and unity despite the seemingly impossible circumstance of the world we are living in. I believe that we can find common ground and have hard, but necessary conversations with kindness and civility. I believe that we can, like Paul says when we talks about Euodia and Syntyche (two women within the Philippian church experiencing some sort of dispute, though we do not know what, exactly), “be of the same mind in the Lord.” I believe that we can be informed by our faith and by scripture, as Paul eludes to at the end of this passage, and allow God’s peace to dwell within us. Though I am not entirely sure how it will work, I believe that we can speak a relevant message of hope amidst our own diversity within this political climate.
Yes we can. I believe that we can.
So let’s talk about this morning’s scripture reading.
We are coming to the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. If you remember from previous weeks, Paul is writing this letter from prison; he is writing to a church he founded that he loves very much. Despite the uncertainty of the circumstances in his own life, he has so much hope for this church in Philippi.
Paul’s words actually bring me a lot of hope right now. Because if he believes God can do hard things and bring unity to this church in Philippi during a time of chaos and confusion, I believe God can and will do the same thing for us during these unparalleled times.
I was really struck by Paul’s words this week in verses six and seven of this passage:
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.
I do not think Paul said these words lightly and I do not read them lightly today. The thing is, it is really hard not to worry about things right now. It is really hard to “let your requests be made known to God” – to just give it to God and then let go of it. It is really hard to just “be in the same mind in the Lord” – I mean, who knows what Euodia and Syntyche were disagreeing about, but if it was half as complicated as the political issues that surround us right now, then we know it could not have been as simple as just agreeing to disagree. It is really hard to trust that God’s peace will “guard your hearts and minds” amidst this painful and stressful turmoil that surrounds us.
But the other option is to be consumed by the pain and the stress and the turmoil and that is not something that I want for any of us. Because our faith offers us a promise of something more, something better. In creation, God made order out of chaos. Through Christ, God brought light into the darkness. And so yes, things are hard right now, but that does not mean God has abandoned us, that just means that we have to work that much harder to not only believe in God’s promises, but also to proclaim the Good News that Jesus taught.
I want to offer you two words of encouragement in this scripture. The first comes from verse four:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
The Passion Translation, which is a translation of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs and Song of Songs, translates this passage the following way:
Be cheerful with joyous celebration in every season of life. Let joy overflow, for you are united with the Anointed One!
This is not easy to do amidst the pandemic, the political climate or anything else that has come our way this year. It is hard to be cheerful when there is so much disappointment, uncertainty and anxiety all around. But I want to remind you that Paul is writing these words from prison; he is in a season of his life where he is being persecuted because of his faith and yet he is standing firm in that faith and rejoicing in the God of creating, redeeming and sustaining grace.
I implore all of us to do the same.
The second word of encouragement comes from verse eight:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, what is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.
Let’s look at how this is translated in the Passion translation:
So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.
In other words, the way we live our lives matters, now more than ever. We need to think about how our words affect others, the consequences of our actions and how we will glorify God. We have to be kind and show mercy and live our lives with honor and truth.
And here’s the thing – I do not have any easy answers or a clear timeline of when things will get better. But I believe that God is with us. I believe, like Paul says in this passage, that, “the Lord is near.” I believe that we can cast our worries on God, because God has planted us firmly within the foundation of this faith which cannot be shaken and which will carry us safely to the other side.
So today I invite you to remember our two pieces of encouragement from this scripture. First of all, rejoice in the Lord always! Celebrate this season of life, as challenging as it is. And second of all, put the Gospel into motion in your thoughts, in your words and in your actions.
And then I believe that we can have difficult and challenging conversations. I believe that we can find unity. I believe that we can overcome starkly contrasted differences. I believe that we can feel God’s peace during the tumultuous times. I believe that we can do hard things. I believe, like Paul says, “the God of peace will be with you.”
My beloved friends – I believe that we can.
Thanks be to God!