A homily by Patrick Sahm on Philippians 4:2-8 from Sunday, August 12.
"Dear Liz, I would be delighted to help with the homily on August 12th."
That was part of my response when Liz asked if I would share some thoughts on today’s reading from the book of Philippians. I was genuinely happy to have been asked. At the same time, I also was genuinely worried. It turns out that I worry a lot. Perhaps you do, too.
And, yet, Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always.“ His instruction seems superfluous when things are going our way. When we are getting along with our spouses, children, and parents. When our friends are kind and generous. When our work is fulfilling and rewarding. When we and those we love are in good health. When we have enough money to buy that car, iPhone, or dress we desire so much.
But, how often is this the case? It is much more likely that we want more or something different than we have. We feel that we cannot find a job we like or that we are not progressing quickly enough. That our friends are more interested in their needs than our own. That our spouse, children or parents gets sick. Or, we are unable to afford that new thing we are desiring so much. There are all kinds of reasons why we worry or feel stressed, every day.
Feeling alone. Unloved. Unable to keep up. These are painful feelings and my guess is that we all have had them at one time or another. Perhaps we feel this way today. Paul is instructing us to seek out our Father in Heaven, and to share our burdens and needs with Him in prayer. Nothing too controversial thus far. However, he goes a step further: Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart.” Do so without worry but with a thankful heart.
This raises at least two questions in my mind: 1) How are we to be without worry and thankful in the middle of difficulty? and 2) Why might our posture be important in our spiritual formation or growth? Regarding the first question, it is an immense relief - particularly in the midst of a crisis - to know that our Father in Heaven loves us, and that he knows what we need and when we need it. Who wouldn’t be relieved and thankful to have a father that is engaged and caring, 100% of the time?
To the second question - I think that our posture is important because it often signals our intentions. The biggest gift to me is not whether my Father in Heaven answers a specific prayer but that He seeks a personal relationship with me. When we visited Holy Trinity Cathedral, an Anglican Church in Maryland, last weekend, Bishop Lipka emphasized that our relationship with God should be about the gift giver, not the gift. The gift is temporary. God is permanent.
I think this is what Paul had in mind when he said that "the peace of God, which surpasses our understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ." We may not always understand God’s answers to our prayers, or why our life takes certain unexpected turns, but we can be certain that He is there, listening. And that He cares for us even more than we can imagine.
A side note, as it relates to our budding church plant here at Incarnation Anglican: A Christian community is a tangible expression of God’s love on earth, as well as a reminder of His presence among us and our promise to Him and to each other. It is through each other that we can get a glimpse of God’s love and care. My sense is that we are well on our way to building this kind of community at Incarnation. A community that supports each other, listens well, and ministers to the needs of those around us.
For this, I am thankful. Because sometimes I still worry a lot.