Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Hurried Life - Philippians 4:4-9/James 5:7-8 - July 28, 2013

There is a rhythm to our lives.  We wake, head to breakfast, out to work or school or other tasks for the day, the days subsides, dinner, evening, and a return to bed. The way of life we envision leaves amble room for reading, relaxing and spending time with the ones we love.  One by one we begin to add things to our schedule. Slowly but steadily the rhythm of our lives picks up speed.  It starts with a commitment here, a social responsibility there, a sports event here, a practice there - and the pace of our lives intensifies.  We want to be the son or daughter our parents expect - or the parents our children seem to need - or the grandparents that give our families stability - so we try to be everywhere our families need or expect us to be and the pace of our lives intensify. We watch our friends run or bike or mountain climb or hike and we do not want to get left behind and the pace of our lives intensifies.  We want to succeed at work so we find ourselves working harder and faster – and the pace of our lives intensifies. We want to make the most of our vacation time so we schedule every minute of every day to make sure we see all we want to see and experience all we want to experience so even when we vacation we can find the pace of our lives intensifying. We live in a culture that invites us into a frenetic pace of life.  It is so easy to become so over committed and over engaged that we simply sprint from one event to another.  There is no Sabbath. There is no rest.  The result is people that are hurried, harried bordering on exhaustion.  We run faster and faster and faster and at some point we come to a place where we want to yell, “STOP!”

Somewhere deep inside of us we know that we were not made for this frenetic pace.  Somewhere deep inside we know we need to stop running.  Somewhere deep inside we know that we need to rest. Somewhere deep inside we know that this is not what God intends for us.  We know that we were made some something different. We know better, but there is so much to be done and so little time to do it, so the race goes on.

The web is filled with studies, articles and videos that try to speak to the hurried way of life that has become our cultural norm. There are sermons from a wide array of minister and blogs, magazine articles and papers crafted by mental health professionals that identify the characteristics and potential cures for the hurried life.  Despite the of sea of resources, we just keep running. 

Is there an answer?  What does Scripture have to say to our hurried way of life?  What does God intend for us?  This morning we look at two passages that together paint a powerful picture of an alternative way of life, a way of life that is free of anxiety and defined by peace. The first of these two passages is   Philippians 4:4-9. Paul was writing to one of his most beloved congregations.  Over and over again he offers words of praise and encouragement for them.  When we come to these words we hear Paul offering a picture of a way of life that can lead them toward God and toward a life of joy. These are not a pitch of an idealist worldview that sounds good but is unattainable.  It is also not a pitch of the power of positive thinking.  Paul believes the way of life he describes as not only as possible, but as the only way that they can fully be who God calls them – and us – to be. 

Take a close look at this passage with me.  Paul proclaims; Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Paul begins with the grand call to rejoice!  Our hurried way of life can leave little time and little emotion for rejoicing.  In our dash from place to place, from event to event, from moment to moment, we miss relishing in what God is doing in our midst.  In our dash it is so easy to get caught up in the negative and frustrated by any sense of failure. In our race it is easy to become worn out, irritable and isolated.  We can find ourselves reacting in ways that our disproportionate to the moment.  We may feel like yelling, but have little room left for rejoicing.  Rejoicing makes us stop long enough to look and listen to God.  Rejoicing pulls us from our path and pulls us to the feet of God.  Rejoicing reminds us that it is not our story alone, but is supposed to be our story with God.

The passage next proclaims; Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Paul pictures a life of gentleness.  This is not a call to a passive way of life.  This is not a wimpy way of life. Gentleness requires effort.  It pushes us out of our self-focused frenetic way and stills us.  The anxiety and the anger have to fade.  The stress has to be pushed aside.  There is only room for God, and God is near.  Paul understand that this is not native to us, so he reminds us that we are to fill every moment with a God-focused and God-dependent heart and mind.  This way of life reminds us that we cannot do it all and it is not all up to us.  God is near.  God walks with us.  God hears us.  God will meet our needs. Slow down. Talk with God.  Trust God to respond.

For Paul, the response to our rejoicing and life of gentleness is predictable. He writes; And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  When I hear this passage the words of Jesus echo in my ears; Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) Peace.  This is not a word we hear resonating across our hurried lives.  Peace.  This is exactly what God intends for us. So what is stopping us from living lives filled with peace?  I believe that it is born in our quest to be self-sufficient.  We will never find peace on our own.  We will never find peace in our race from place to place.  We will never find peace in our clouded mind and angst filled hearts.  We will only find peace when our day and our way are defined by God’s way. Paul offers them another picture of what this looks like; Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  Paul longs for these people that he loved so deeply to claim a way of life that drew them toward what is good and worthy rather than by what distracts and destroys them.  He tells them – and us – to lift our eyes from the race and focus on what matters.  He tells them if they are not sure what that looks like to use him as an example.  I cannot offer that same counsel.  This is a place that where I have not been a good witness.  I have become too busy – too committed – too hurried.  This is a place where instead of preaching to you I am joining you in hearing this word from God and take a long uncomfortable look at my own way of life. God intends better for you and me.  As I challenge you to slow down, to trust God, to release your anxiety and your frantic lives – I hear the challenge and will seek to live this out more faithfully before you.

James 5:7-8 offers a different picture for us.  James teaches; Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.   James calls us to patience.  This is a word that is hard for me and for many of you.  Patience is a call to stop and wait. This runs counter to everything we know and do in our hurried lives.  But James speaks truth.  James that calls/compels us to patience, an way of life that understands that there really should be a natural rhythm to our lives. James uses the picture of the agricultural model of planting and waiting in patience for the harvest. To those that grew up on the farm this picture resonates deep within your hearts.  For those like me whose blood runs concrete it is a picture of a rhythm that seems foreign and even uncomfortable.  Planting and waiting – knowing that there is nothing you can do to hurry the process – demands a patience and trust that begins and ends at feet of God.  But this is exactly what God intends for us.  God moves in us and through us in due season.  We must learn to slow down and let God work at the pace that God alone intends.

Somewhere deep inside of us we know that we were not made for this frenetic pace.  Somewhere deep inside we know we need to stop running.  Somewhere deep inside we know that we need to rest. Somewhere deep inside we know that this is not what God intends for us.  We know that we were made some something different.  Our hurried and harried ways of life will never fulfill us or give us peace.  We were made for a walk with God born in rejoicing, defined by gentleness, freed from anxiety, and filled with peace.  We were and are meant for a rhythm of life where we slow down, embrace patience and trust, and experience the work of God in our lives.  We were meant to walk with God at God’s pace, not this craziness we create for ourselves. It is time to make a choice.  It is time to make a change. How will you – and how will I – respond?

No comments: