Sermon for May 13, 2018
Boxers often say it isn’t the punch you see that knocks you out, it’s the one you don’t see. When you get hit by something you couldn’t see coming, your whole world is shaken. It’s not like rolling with the normal punches life gives us. This experience is transformative. It changes the game for you from that point on. For those who’ve experienced this, there is no questioning, no doubt, when you’ve been hit by something like this. It changes you.
What you do question are all the things you found you relied on before because, if this could happen when you thought you had things under control, what else are you missing? Where is the next unseen shot coming from? How you respond to these moments in life will determine if they become destructive, or transformative.
In the verses to follow below, from Philippians 4, read verse six alone, before going on to verse seven. Write some thoughts down about this verse, in the context of being in a crisis described above. Be honest and try not to write down what you SHOULD feel but what you do feel. Does it make you feel hopeful, or helpless? Is it something you feel like you can do when you’re confused and in pain or does it make you feel as though it’s just too high a standard to really practice? Whatever you think and feel, write it down.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Next, in verse seven, write down what you feel after reading this section. There is no right or wrong answer, for either example, so just connect with your basic thoughts and feelings about each. Compare some of the things you write down about this verse with verse 6. How are they the same, or different. Do they inspire different actions or thoughts?
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
There’s a hint, within verse seven, that spoke to me after I read these verses. Your “hearts and your minds” are specifically called to our attention. When I read these two verses, I was struck by how verse six activated my intellect, my desire to act and understand, while verse seven activated my heart, my connection to God that is beyond intellectual understanding.
If you stay with the boxing analogy, verse 6 is the aftermath of the punch that came out of nowhere. You’re reeling, you’re trying not to be anxious and in a panic, looking for a way back to what makes sense, ironically thankful to even be conscious and have a chance to go on, and looking for some help from above. You’re looking for a way to survive the moment and get your bearings again. It’s a time to survive, not understand. It’s a time of a strange and magical intermingling of the mundane and the divine. You’re both soundly caught in the situation you’re in but also, because of the severity of the problem, forced to look to God because you know this is beyond your own ability to deal with.
Verse 7, in contrast, is a transformative experience, beyond the intellect which was so badly deceived when it was blindsided, in which you begin to experience a peace which you couldn’t previously conceive of. You might have seen this in a person who, despite being faced with something which caused great anxiety to you, even as an onlooker, seemed to be serene in a way that did not fit the outward circumstance. If the boxing analogy is still working for you, this is the “seasoned” fighter. This is the person who can weather the storm and survive moments that rattle those new to the game.
What you may not have seen while admiring someone with this sense of calm and peace in a storm, however, is that person’s verse 6 moment. You didn’t see them when they were shaken and trying to get through things. You see them in their verse 7 moment, when they’ve found a peace beyond understanding- and it literally has a divine touch to it.
When this transformation occurs, it carries along the mind, the understanding with it. As the verse says, the heart and the mind are then guarded in Jesus. They are together, never to be touched,in the same way again, by the worldly divisions which made you vulnerable to suffering in the first place.
You can apply these verses to so many experiences in life. Maybe your child became sick, you lost a job, you were betrayed by someone you trusted- the world has innumerable ways of giving us a punch we never saw coming. It is so easy to get caught in verse 6- not even in actually doing what it says but even in just being angry, furious even, at the seeming injustice and pain of the situation you’re forced to go through. If you go deep enough into that place, however, you will find there is a stark choice- find a way to work with the spiritual medicine given to us, or be consumed by the other option.
This is a step toward God, and away from destruction. It’s even the smallest affirmation of the light, even when you feel surrounded by darkness. It has nothing to do with success or failure, in our common worldly sense, and everything to do with a simple turn toward God. God is asking us, beckoning us, to take that first step from where we are, toward Him. When we do that, a Grace, a peace “which transcends all understanding”, becomes available to us.
For anyone who’s in a crisis, who’s been caught by the shot you didn’t see coming, go to God. Go with whatever you have at first, but just go. If it starts with anger, sadness, frustration, or even doubt and unbelief, take that first step and give whatever it is you have to God. He can only transform what you are, not what you think you need to be. If you can just get through this part, you don’t have to see how the next part will happen. You don’t have to “know” how the peace of God will come. When you really understand this, you’ll see that, in a similar way the punch you never saw had a power beyond the punches you could see, the power of God will be unleashed, in a transformative way, when you give up the need to see it before it hits you.