October 9, 2005
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
(SHOW VIDEO CLIP OF DIFFERENT MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH SAYING: "Whatever!")
"Whatever!" It's a mantra of today's world. Behind that one word, that neck thing they do, the rolling of the eyes and the tone of voice what's really being said by many people is: "Do what you want, it's not like you're going to listen to me anyway, or if you do, what are the chances you'll understand what I'm saying? Whatever!" There's a lack of hope and a I could care less attitude.
I don't know where it comes from. I'm not sure the professionals even know. But we're living in a "Whatever" society. And that "Whatever" attitude takes all shapes and forms. Some people say
Whatever happens is predestined and there's nothing you can do about it. That's fatalism.
Whatever happens is God's plan and I either earned it or I deserve it. That's determinism.
Whatever happens is good and for the best because the universe is good. That's optimism.
Whatever happens is bad because the universe if evil. That's pessimism.
Whatever happens, happens because we live in an irrational universe. That's absurdism.
Whatever happens. just happens, because things just happen for no reason. That's accidentalism.
Whatever happens is what I make happen. That's egoism.
You see, there's lots of "Whatevers" in the world today. But today, I want us to look at God's Whatever. And we find it in Paul's letter to the Church at Philippi. Philippians 4:1-9.
 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.
 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
 Yes, 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 coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.
 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
 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.
 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.
Those last two verse are the focus for today because they talk about living a life of God's Whatever. In the first seven verses Paul gives us the attributes for living a life of God's Whatever. He says it involves Rejoicing, Giving Thanks and Staying Focused.
A. I know, some of you are thinking, 'Yeah right. That's Paul. He could rejoice and give thanks any time he wanted.' Or you're thinking, 'Paul lived 2000 years ago, what does he know about life today?'
We forget the circumstances under which Paul wrote these things. He wasn't some preacher like me sitting in his nice office just writing a pie in the sky letter to his favorite church. Paul was in prison. Not only was he in prison, but every day of his life in prison, he was afraid for his life. Rightly so. You see, he was beheaded because he would renounce his faith.
That's what was going on in his life when he wrote these words. So, for him, this isn't some pie in the sky message. You don't mince words when your life is about to end.
Paul describes for us what a life of "God's Whatever" should be like. He basically says: "Stand Firm, Rejoice, Be Gentle, Give Thanks." Do all this so you can experience the peace of God which passes all understanding and then he says, this peace will guard your heart and your mind in Christ.
How are we supposed to do this? Through one simple thing: Stay Focused.
That's partly what this passage is all about. It's a prescription for how to pray. It's a prescription for how to think. It's a prescription for what to reflect and meditate on in prayer. It's a prescription telling us how to Stay Focused on "God's Whatevers."
B. The first thing we have to Focus is our Heart. A lot of us have grown up with poor self esteem. We weren't part of the in crowd. Or our idea of our self worth was influenced too much by advertising, television and the whole pop culture media. The truth is we can't ever live up to what pop culture says are the standards because those standards keep changing.
Those standards are often determined by popular crazes. Remember when it was cool to have tons of macramé items or CB radios or the 70's perm hairstyle. I had one. Or leisure suits. How about Beanie Babies. The dancing hamsters. Remember the Macarena? It's now been reduced to a Peptobismal ad.
Pop culture and the image of what is IN and cool and perfect changes nearly as fast as computer technology.
That's why Paul says: "Rejoice in the Lord, always. And again, I say Rejoice."
It's that discipline of "Always" that sort of alludes us at times. And yet, I've come to believe that the "Always" attitude is as much a spiritual discipline as Prayer, Bible Study, fasting, tithing and worship. It's an attitude that has to begin with centering ourselves in our relationship with God.
And the How of it is fairly simple. Through Prayer. When I was in Seminary I learned a very simple technique called Affirmational Prayer. It's very simple. And this is the one I start my day with every day.
"Lord, through Your Son Jesus, You love me, once a sinner, now a saint, forgiven and saved by grace. And because You love me, I love myself, unconditionally."
You pray this prayer three times. Each time pausing to image it, or imagine what that would feel like in your mind and heart and very spirit. Linger on that thought. Linger on that feeling. Then you pray again and image it again. And then you do it a third time.
With that image of yourself and your relationship with God, your heart and your mind and your spirit are focused. And you can live in the "Always" attitude of "God's Whatever."
A. Most Eastern religions say stay focused by emptying the mind of all distractions. Paul tells us to fill the mind with Whatever. "God's Whatever." Let me remind you what Paul said those Whatevers are: "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." These are "God's Whatevers."
Let me give you a couple of examples of those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.
B. [SHOW CLIP: Recipe To Ease Hunger]
Now, there's a young woman whose heart and mind are focused. Oh, I'm sure she has problems and things don't always go her way. There are probably even times when she has trouble keeping the "Always" Attitude of "God's Whatever," we all do. But she exemplifies "God's Whatever."
C. [SHOW CLIP: Wings for Sick Kids]
There's a group of people whose hearts and minds are focused. I'm sure at times they too have trouble keeping the "Always" Attitude of "God's Whatever." But their selfless act of flying families of children in need of medical attention to their treatments and doctor's appointments exemplifies "God's Whatever" being lived out in their lives.
D.[SHOW CLIP: Harvest of Hope]
According to the USDA, more than 3,000 pounds of food per second is wasted in the United States. They also report that 1/5 of American food, an estimated 130 lbs. per person ends up in landfills. 49 million people could be fed with our wasted food.
According to Bread for the World, One in 10 people in the U.S. lives in a household that experiences hunger or the risk of hunger. And 7.3% of U.S. households have lower-quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need.
The Society of St. Andrew program Harvest of Hope and groups who help in the ancient Biblical practice of gleaning are example of the "Always" Attitude of "God's Whatever." (1)
When we focus on ourselves, sometimes life can get pretty hopeless, especially when we compare ourselves with the moving target of public opinion and pop culture. But when we remember that we belong to God, whatever happens in life, we can move from the worlds Whatever, Could Care Less attitude to the "Always" Attitude of "God's Whatever."
I ran across an old hymn. It was written by August L. Storm, for the Swedish Salvation Army in 1891 translated into English in 1910. The reason it grabbed my attention is because it doesn't just tell us to just "count our many blessings" it goes so far as to name some of the unpleasant aspects of life as well.
Thanks to God for my redeemer, thanks for all thou dost provide,
Thanks for times now but a memory, thanks for Jesus by my side;
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime, thanks for dark and dreary fall;
Thanks for tears by now forgotten, thanks for peace within my soul;
Thanks for prayers that thou hast answered, thanks for what thou dost deny
Thanks for storms than i have weathered, thanks for all thou dost supply;
Thanks for pain, thanks for pleasure, thanks for comfort in despair;
Thanks for grace that none can measure, thanks for love beyond compare.
Thanks for roses by the wayside, thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside, thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, thanks for heavenly peace with thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, thanks through all eternity! (2)
I can't promise you that the "Always" Attitude of "God's Whatever" or the Affirmational Prayer I shared with you or reaching out through service to others will end all your negative thoughts. But know this, Christ didn't die on the cross so you would still be burdened by a load of guilt or a load of negative garbage in your life. Christ died on the cross in the garbage dump of the world so you could be set free from all of that. Paul is simply saying focus on that.
According to Dr. Elinore Kinarthy, the average person has more than two hundred negative thoughts a day: worries, jealousies, insecurities, cravings for forbidden things, etc. Depressed people have as many as six hundred. We can't eliminate all the troublesome things that go through our minds, but we can reduce the number of negative thoughts by changing our focus. (3)
"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."
1. www.endhunger.org (Society of St. Andrew)
3. Dr. Elinore Kinarthy in Homemade, Sept., 1988
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