November 8, 2020 – “Practicing Peace: Attend to the Good” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

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First Reading = Psalm 118:1-19

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! 2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 3Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 4Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” 5Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. 6With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? 7The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals. 9It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes. 10All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! 11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! 12They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! 13I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. 14The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 15There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly; 16the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” 17I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. 18The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death. 19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.

Introduction

We are still in our series about practicing peace. Peace is something we can cultivate and increase in our life. We have talked about focusing on the things that are actually in our hands, and giving the rest to God. And we have talked about taking a breath, taking a pause, by finding a place, where you can be silent and alone, and pray to receive God’s words. I sent out a video last Wednesday to try to help us try to cultivate peace in our lives using these tools – four minutes of peace with Pastor Cody. Hopefully it helped you if you watched it.

This week we are going to hear from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi. In this part of the letter, he has to address a deep division within the church between two of the matriarchs of the community: Euodia and Syntyche. Listen to what he urges these divided leaders and the church community to do within that deep division. Maybe we can learn something here.

Sermon Reading = Philippians 4:1-14

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. 2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, 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. 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Noticing the Good

As most of you know, I started learning guitar around the time I came to First Pres Littleton about five-and-a-half years ago. And I have barely scratched the surface of the venerable six string. In fact, let me tell you a few things I can’t do yet. I’m pretty weak on B chords, especially B-minor. I can only play C-major, none of the variations on C. I struggle with bar chords, so I can only do a dinky little F-major chord…and even that’s a bit spotty. G is another major-only chord for me. And don’t even try to get me to do one of those slash chords with a different note on the final string. No sir!

I can do rhythm guitar strumming, but my finger picking isn’t performance-ready by any stretch of the imagination. I can give you backup chords on the electric guitar, but I’ll pass on being the lead. I am exceptionally limited on the guitar.

But most people don’t know that. In fact, a few years ago one of our congregants asked me how I learned guitar so quickly. And I told him my secret. I just learned the chords that went along with my vocal range and skipped all the rest! I figured out that I could learn everything in the key of G, and I could use a capo to slide it up a few notches depending on the song without having to learn new chords.

Henry Ford once said that customers can have the Model T car in any color they want…as long as it’s black! I’m like that with guitar. I can play almost any song you want…as long as I can play it in the key of G.

Instead of trying to learn everything I didn’t know, I focused on figuring out how to make music within the key of G. I know over 70 songs now because I focused on the small slice of playing a guitar that I knew instead of trying to learn everything I don’t know.

So now you know my dirty little secret. I am an exceptionally limited guitar player. But I’m fine with that. Because I know what I can do, and it matches what I want to do most of the time. There are hundreds of things I can’t do with a guitar. But the handful of things I can do enable me to sing over 70 songs and counting. By focusing on the very narrow list of things I can do with a guitar, I am comfortable playing and singing in front of people. Whether those people are comfortable with me playing and singing in front of them? That’s up to you, I guess.

But I think that’s an example of what Paul is talking about in our text today. Paul could have written about how terrible Euodia and Syntyche were for creating this division within the community. But instead, he wrote, “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.” He highlighted the good within them.

He tells the community to rejoice! He tells them to be gentle with one another. He encourages them to be of one mind by focusing on their shared faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and lord. He says not to worry. He says to take everything to God in prayer. And the result of this attitude adjustment, Paul says, is “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Our attention affects our attitude. If our attention is focused on divisions and problems between us, our attitude will tend to be combative or depressed or resigned. If our attention is focused on the image of God that is found in us and in these brothers and sisters around us, our attitude will tend to be peace which surpasses understanding.

Jesus covered this in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:22-23 he said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

If you are focusing your attention on the garbage stinking up your life…well…garbage in and garbage out, right? But if you are focusing your attention on the diamond in the rough, on the light in the darkness, on the antique in the midst of the junk, on the moments of laughter in the midst of sadness, if you are focusing your attention on those little moments of peace? Well peace in and peace out, right?

Our children’s director, Kate, has been doing fabulous Sunday school videos. And two weeks ago, this text from Philippians was the main focus. And right after my boys and I watched the video, we went upstairs to eat dinner. Now, my younger son is a bit particular about his food. Our older son is like a human incinerator. But our younger son has opinions, if you know what I mean.

He really loves noodles with parmesan cheese. And that’s exactly what my wife had on the table for him for dinner. But he started crying uncontrollably. “I…don’t…like…those…NOODLES!” Right dinner, but wrong noodles. Oh, the humanity!

But we had just watched the Sunday school video about this, so I reminded him what we had just watched. The kid in the video started very grouchy. But after hearing our text today, he decided to try to notice the things that were going well instead of the things that were going poorly. And by the end of the day, he was in a good mood even though some things had gone poorly throughout the day.

So I asked our younger son to tell me the things he did like on his plate. So he noticed the fruit he liked. I think it was strawberries. He pointed out that he does like parmesan cheese. There was something else on his plate he liked. And in the process of listing what he did like, he got out of his grouchiness and was able o eat his dinner with enthusiasm. It turned out those noodles, while not ideal, weren’t all that bad after all.

Tool: Praying Scripture

In case you’re running low on ideas of what’s worth celebrating in your life, here’s a list from Paul in our text today: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

In fact, that’s our first tool today. Take Philippians 4:8-9 and make a mental or physical list of everything in your life that fits into one of those categories. Pray these two verses of Scripture and notice your reasons to celebrate.

You may be all worked up about people being duplicitous. Sometimes we have to call that out. But Paul says to put your mind on the things that are true. What’s true in your life?

You may be all worked up about people being cutthroat. Sometimes we have to call that out. But Paul says to put your mind on whatever is noble. Who or what has been noble in your life?

You may want to shout about an injustice. Sometimes we need to work toward a fix for that. But Paul says to put your mind on whatever is just. What is worth noticing because it is just?

He keeps going with this list. What’s commendable? What’s excellent? What’s worthy of praise?

Think on THESE things!

So that’s our first tool. Pray Philippians 4:8-9 and make a list of everything you can think of that fits into one of the categories Paul mentions. Spend your time thinking about these things.

Tool: Share Your Blessings

For our second tool, let’s consider the story of the great composer Handel. He had an amazing early career. Beethoven once said that he had to bow his knee to Handel’s composing talent. But as Handel aged into his fifties, he started to get stale. Unable to reach the incredible heights he once attained, he began to feel depressed. Without a major hit in a while, he was in debt. On top of these professional challenges, he suffered a stroke that made it hard to use his right hand.

In this dark time for Handel, he started thinking the journey of his savior, Jesus Christ. He started reflecting on the wondrous promise of Jesus’ birth. He started reflecting on the depths of pain Jesus went through on the cross – and that Jesus did that even for worn down, depressed people like Handel. He started imagining Christ in his full glory as the risen savior.

And in those reflections, in those holy imaginings, Handel’s heart moved. And so did his hands. For three weeks, no one saw Handel emerge from his house. In fact, he rarely left his chair. This depressed, washed-up, formerly-great composer emerged twenty-one days later with a mammoth 256-page score. You may have heard it. It’s called, “Messiah.” It’s one of our church’s traditions to invite the congregation forward on Easter to sing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah. It’s one of humanity’s masterworks.

That’s a great story. But it’s only part of the story. Remember that Handel was in debt. Moved as he was by his reflections on Jesus, Handel wanted to share the good news with everyone. But he especially wanted to share the good news with his fellow debtors. In those days, if you were in debt and couldn’t repay, you could be thrown in debtor’s prison until you could pay. Well, actually, you were there until your family could pay, because you couldn’t work while you were in prison!

So Handel made the unveiling of this new masterwork a benefit concert. They raised over £400, which would be about $86,000 in today’s dollars. He used that to pay off the debts of 142 men in debtor’s prison.

Our second tool, demonstrated by Handel, is to share your blessings. Don’t just keep them to yourself. I want to highlight two ways of sharing your blessings.

The first way to share your blessings is by telling someone else. In our first text today, Psalm 118, we see this: “Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” We are encouraged to speak our blessings aloud! Let Israel say, let the house of Aaron say, let all those who fear the Lord say “His steadfast love endures forever!”

When you tell someone else your blessings, your celebrations, your joys, you are investing in your own sense of peace. I tell this to my premarital counseling couples. I encourage them to be intentional about how they come back together at the end of the day. We tend to want to tell our spouse what went wrong: “You won’t believe what happened!” But I encourage couples to spend a few minutes sharing what went right first. That way you look forward to hearing what the other person has to share rather than dreading getting vented at. You can still vent later, but share what went right first.

So if you want to share your blessings verbally, pick someone and tell them one thing that went right every single day this week. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a friend to text. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s an email buddy. Tell another human one thing that went right every day this week!

Another way to share your blessings is to serve others. That’s what Handel did when he organized his benefit concert. It’s a bit harder to serve people right now with COVID. Some people have figured out a way. Delivering Communion on first Sundays. Whiz Kids continuing on Zoom. Cooking, cleaning, or delivering Thanksgiving meals. Dropping off meals for people who are sick or welcoming a new baby or having surgery. When you notice your blessings and that moves you to serve others? That grows the Lord’s peace which surpasses understanding within your soul.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, when we keep spinning our wheels thinking about the things that annoy us or anger us, we cultivate anger within our souls. Garbage in, garbage out. When we focus our thoughts on the things that are noble and commendable and pure, we cultivate God’s peace which surpasses understanding within our souls. Peace in, peace out.

If you want to intentionally pay attention to the good, as Paul recommends in our text today, you can pray through Philippians 4:8-9. You can notice and share your blessings verbally with someone else. And you can notice your blessings and serve others in gratitude.

Cultivate peace in your live by paying attention to the good. Notice the strawberries and parmesan on your plate, not just the inferior noodles. Amen.