Monday, August 21, 2017

Guarding our Hearts and Minds (Philippians 4:4-9)

"they are changing Guards at Buckingham Palace, and Christopher Robin went dow with Alice..." You might remember this line from an AA MIlne poem from your childhood. In our world of increased security worries the Guards at Buckingham Palace are still a postive icon image of Military guards. 
Paul, who wrote the letter to the church at Philippi, had a lot to do with Military Guards in his life. You can see this in the last few chapters of the book of Acts. In Jerusalem, the Roman Guard turn out as Paul’s appearance at the temple sparks off riots and violence. They arrest Paul as a trouble maker but also save him from a vicious beating and possibly worse. He is guarded against plots to have him killed culminating in being escorted by a detachment of seventy horse men and two hundred spearmen in a journey from Jerusalem to Caesarea. As he was a Roman citizen he had appealed to the emperor and he is escorted to Rome by guards under the command of a Centurion who is named Julius, from the Imperial regiment. Once in Rome we know Paul is under house arrest for two years waiting for his appeal to be heard and in that time he is guarded day and night by soldiers. 

For the people of Philippi like most other ancient cities they would have been aware of the importance of the guards who manned the city walls and city gates. But beyond that Philippi was a strategic point along the east west trade routes. Its founding and its history of changing hands in the rise and fall of empire had been because of that strategic value. It was important to have a garrison of soldiers there to guard the region, its resources and the trade that flowed through it.  

And at the end of his letter, Paul gives a quickfire series of exhortations to his readers, designed to help them stand firm in the face of persecution. We shouldn’t be surprised that he uses the metaphor of a guard to give them encouragement. But it’s not the presence of Soldiers that gives them a sense of security and safety, rather it is the presence of the God of peace who will give them that. He finishes each of the two paragraphs we had read to us today with that assertion. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (v4). And the God of peace will be with you (v9).

 Over the winter months we’ve been working our way through Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi. A letter he’d written to thank the church for their support for him while he was in prison. A letter in which he takes the opportunity to encourage the Church to stand firm in the gospel in the face of persecution from without and troubles within. He had emphasized the importance of unity for the church to live a life worthy of the gospel, and deals with some situations, attitudes and false teaching that can affect that unity and rob the church of the fullness of joy that they have in Jesus Christ. Now, as his letter ends, he gives them a series of almost unrelated exhortations to help them as they face persecution. Exhortations which are as helpful to us on our journey following Jesus as they were to his original readers.

This morning we are going to explore those exhortations. Look at the five things Paul tells the Church to do, rejoice in the Lord, react with gentleness, in every situation pray, see the goodness in God’s world and put into practise Christian ethics.  We could slow down and look at each of these things in a separate sermon, but this is in keeping with Paul’s rapid-fire bullet point manner. For the church at Philippi and for us this is not fresh new stuff. Paul is pointing out places where the God of peace can be encountered as he stands guard over our minds and hearts.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!

"there changing Guards at Buckingham palace and Christopher Robin went down with Alice"... Perhaps these guards outside buckingham palace are the most iconic images we have in our modern world of a Military guard. They are the feel good positive face on providing security for people... 
In his letter Paul had used the word Joy fourteen times. In the face of persecution Paul wants his readers to know that standing firm is not just a teeth grinding, white knuckle hanging on for dear life, but rather to know in their lives and to share the fullness of joy that comes from Jesus Christ.  It is a joy that Transcends circumstance, that is not dependant of situation or emotion or feeling. To rejoice in the Lord is to find our joy in who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  he has made the world and all that is in it, he is the God who is sovereign in history, who has shown his faithful love for his people, who send Jesus Christ to be one of us, Jesus Christ who showed us God’s great love, who died on the cross that we may be forgiven and reconciled with God, whom God raised to life again, who promised to be with us until the end of the age, who poured our his promised Holy Spirit on all of us. Who leads and guides, who is working all things for good not for harm, who will come again to put all things right. That’s just not our theology, that is our hope its our source of joy. When its going wonderfully well, we need to remember it is because of God’s goodness, when its going bad, we need to remember it is still true.

Paul himself had given the Church at Philippi an example of this. While in Philippi he had been arrested beaten and thrown into jail. Instead of grumbling and sulking, he and Silas had sung psalms and given praise to God. The Church would have been aware that as they were doing that an earthquake had happened and their chains had been broken and the cells sprung open. Even if they hadn’t I think Paul and Silas would have kept on praise God and rejoicing.

I read the testimony of Czech national Petr Jasek in the August edition of the voice of the martyrs magazine. Petr had visited the Sudan to encourage the local church and on the way out of the country was detained and jailed for espionage. He was kept in appalling conditions packed in with a group of Muslim extremists in what was meant to be a single person cell. He said his attitude to his imprisonment changed when he called to mind the prayer of the angelic hosts in the book of revelations “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God almighty”, and began using that as his public prayer of praise. It didn’t improve his circumstances his cell mates objected to it and became abusive towards him. But just as Paul says to the Philippians he found that the peace of Christ was with him. Later in another cell he shared his faith with a group of people and saw a couple of them come to know Christ. he said this for him was the reason God had allowed all this happen. After four months in prison the Czech government arranged his release.

When we rejoice in the Lord it changes our focus from situation to God, from problem to god’s goodness, from despair to hope. It guards our hearts and minds.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is Near.

It is easy and maybe natural when we find ourselves in confrontation situations or situations where we are facing opposition to want to retaliate, to give as good as we get.  But here Paul exhorts the church to react in a Christlike way. To extend having the mind of Christ, he talked of in Philippians two not only towards others in the Christian community but to those outside.  In Romans Paul speaks of not returning evil for evil but overcoming evil with good. I was reminded of the example of one women in the aftermath of the bloodshed and genocide of Rwanda, who even though up to fifty members of her extended family had been killed, looked after the father of a neighbour who was in prison for leading one of the very mobs that could have killed some of her family members.

Pictures from the Charlottesville riots this week have emerged of local clergy arm in arm across racial and denominational barriers standing silently and peaceably protesting in response to the various white supremacy and racist groups. 

In showing gentleness of meekness Christ becomes the pattern for our behaviour and response and it guards our hearts and minds.

“Don’t be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I don’t know about you but I find myself needing to hear this sentence from Paul. It is so easy to simply worry and b concerned about an issue, to let it sap you of your joy and peace, here Paul says the first port of call is not anxiety but rather in all situations to pray, with thanksgiving. 

 In his testimony that I mentioned earlier Petr Jasek said that as he began rejoicing and focus on Jesus Christ he found himself able to pray. He found that instead of worrying about his family and friends he began to pray for them, he found that his prayers for persecuted Christians round the world became more insightful and deep.  I was reminded of a Sunday school lesson way back when that Joy was in fact a matter of having your priorities right  Jesus first Others second and yourself last. Prayer facilitates us in having those priorities.

It is as we turn to the Lord and bring him our cares and worries that we become aware of the presence of the God of peace and his presence can guard our hearts and minds.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is praise worthy-think about such things.

One of the possible outcomes of facing persecution and opposition from outside the church is that is easy to fall into trap of seeing the world around us as a bad place. We can focus on the negative. I had a conversation with a Christian man last week which started by him saying the world was getting worse and worse. I found myself thinking well no it’s not in fact there are some amazing people and amazing things happening in the world. So I replied well it’s kind of like that Charles Dickens quote “it was the worst of times it was the best of times.”  What we call news in the media these days also tends to focus on the negative stories, violence death and crime because these stories. They don’t present a genuine picture of the world rather negative stories sell the news. Its almost like the macabre fascination with the freak show in Victorian times, we feed of people’s misfortune. Paul invites us here to rather look at the world as God’s world, yes it is fallen but it is still God’s world and there are good, honourable, praiseworthy true and lovely things in it, in our culture our science our art. We can get tunnel vision and not allow these things to inspire and encourage us.

Frank Theilman says that Christians today should meet with the best minds to listen to what they have to teach us about excellence and justice and truth and then to be able to use those things to make us the best followers of Christ that we can be. To do that we also come with minds that are stepped in scripture as well.

Seeing the goodness in God’s world Guards our hearts and minds from turning inward, becoming negative and failing to see the presence of God in his world.

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put into practise.

While we are to acknowledge and appreciate God’s world and not retreat from it , Paul’s exhortation is that how we respond and act in that world is to come from a mind steeped and marinated by the teaching of Christ. We appreciate all the goodness in God’s world and we respond to it with God’s goodness in Christ. God guards our hearts and minds by guiding our footsteps, our reactions and our actions in our lives.

That’s been a whirlwind tour of Paul's quickfire short pithy exhortations at the end of the book at Philippians. A tour of guard posts where God can be found guarding our hearts and minds. In some respect they don’t seem related but they are as in each instance we build our lives around Jesus Christ. we rejoice in the Lord! We respond in a Christlike manner to persecution and opposition, with thanks giving we bring all things to God in prayer, we seek for the goodness in God’s world, we respond to it in a Christlike manner. We will have our minds and hearts guarded by the peace of God because in all those things we become more aware more focused on the God of peace guiding and guards our hearts and minds.

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