When we worshipped virtually at the Emmanuel Chapel on November 1st, Pastor John read to us once more from Paul's Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 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. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Pastor John had us begin our focus on verse 5: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. (ESV) or “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (NIV) or “ Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near.” (NASB).
After three translations we get the point. “Let your gentle spirit (the fruit of the Holy Spirit) be CONTAGIOUS.
In this bold-print year 2020, for most of us our first mental reference to contagion is Covid-19 disease, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing it. So, Pastor John showed us an enhanced picture of the spiky-ball-like nanoscopic SARS-CoV-2 entity bedeviling all humanity this year.
In Orange County we have just been additionally exercised by a couple of raging grass fires. A momentary incendiary element, such as a downed power line, and the CONTAGION of fire on dry grass becomes terribly dramatic terribly quickly.
So Pastor John got us tuned into the dynamics of CONTAGION. Then he got to the point: our emotions can be contagious. We each are very prone to being affected by another person's emotions, be they sad or glad. He then gave us an example of contagious human emotion. A parent seems to almost accidentally hit her child on the side of the head. The worried parent immediately expresses her concern emotionally. The baby, quite attuned to its parents, is immediately affected by the parental emotion and begins to cry, even though it was not at all actually hit. Such is the contagious character of human emotions, an integral part of the human spirit.
In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul implicitly contrasts the spirit of the law with the letter of the law. Pastor John illustrated this for us by using the example of Chief Judge Frank Caprio. Judge Caprio found it ridiculous that a motorist would be fined for being ten seconds out of line with a parking regulation. Obviously the motorist was complying with the spirit of the law, so in his gentleness according to his discretion he let her off from the letter of the law.
When we are gentle to the point of contagiousness it inspires the opposite of being anxious.
We read from 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 24-28 “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Obviously, fellows, the Apostle Paul wrote this to encourage each one of you young people to anticipate joy in a life of active Christian ministry? Well, like the Christ before him, he was certainly forthright about what really following Jesus means. But in this instance his primary purpose was to demonstrate that his true faith in Jesus Christ gave him the inner ballast, the fundamental calm, to get through the worst that a hostile world could throw at him. (Our Maker certainly made Paul a very rugged fellow as well that he survived it all.) Paul's abiding hope and expectation was that this example of his incredible calm no matter what would be contagious to the Philippians, and all future readers of the letter...including us!
We read from the Gospel of John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” That is the Christ speaking, both warning his disciples and reassuring them. The Christ Himself faced the supreme anxiety concerning excruciating death and separation from the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the point of sweating blood and yet offering humble obedience. How contagious we must find that example when facing our own (relatively trivial) crises? The more that Jesus's character rubs on us the more the fruit of the Holy Spirit grows in us, including the facet of gentleness, the calmness of spirit.
We read from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 8: 22-25 “One day Jesus said to his disciples, 'Let us go over to the other side of the lake.' So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, 'Master, Master, we’re going to drown!' He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 'Where is your faith?' he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'”
No denying it: a panic attack is real. But our God is infinitely more powerful. As Pastor John reminds us, we are far safer with Jesus in the storm than without Him on shore. This is summarized in the contemporary saying “No Jesus no peace; know Jesus know peace” …
….and thus not being in pieces with anxiety!
Finally, remember that Pastor John mentioned the Disney character Ho, the Kung Fu Panda bear who must find inner peace. He makes deliberate choices in reaction to calamity and so is instructive to the other characters of the Disney animation, and to the young audience.
Our pasts do not determine our futures. Jesus effectively says “through your belief in Me, I determine your future.” So, do not let any sadness from any cause become such a part of you that you cannot let go. Fellows, as you grow in years for sure you will see all around you people who are pitiful prisoners of their pasts and of all of the hurt and wrongs in the past. They can't let go!
But you – each of you - whatever life throws at you, let absolutely nothing destroy your spirit, the incomparable gift of peace that you have in your Almighty God.