The Peace of God and the God of Peace

Delivered December 1, 2002 by Rev. Lloyd Umbarger,
Pastor Emeritus of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan and Parrish Associate at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church.

Sermon Text:
Jonah 3:10-4:11
and Philippians 4:4-9

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. 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 that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me and the God of Peace will be with you.” The word of the Lord from Philippians 4, 4 through 9.

I want to say again what a delight it is to be with you. This place is alive. All morning it’s alive. It’s my favorite place. I can see you know, people eat in the concourse all morning, have you noticed that? It’s a food court out there. And it ought to be and people are coming and going and having fun and greeting each other and welcoming each other. This is the best evidence of the presence of the Lord who came to serve us so well. And you are alive in worship and the spirit is moving in so many wonderful, wonderful ways. I want to make a comment. Is Jarret here who did the bulletin cover. Where is Jarret? Would you stand up? Alright. Folks, my wife is an artist so I know artists. It is not easy to do what he did to conceptualize Mary and the vulnerability of our Lord and that is the graphic way to depict what God decided to do for our salvation. Not just ours, Presbyterians or Christians, the whole world. The whole world. He laid aside everything he knew. Now if you want to read about what he laid aside, read Galatians 1 and 3, 15 to 25 in there where it talks about Jesus is the instrumentality of the creation of the whole world. Every design you can see came through Jesus. In his prior relationship to the father. He was not only on earth 33 years in a human form, he went back to heaven. He came a little embryo and it seems that God enjoys and I say enjoys because he does this so regularly, God seems to enjoy coming to us in slightly scandalous ways. Do you remember she was a teenager, she was pregnant before Joseph also got the message from the Lord that this was his doing and they got married, but they had to live with a scandal or the possibility. So do we. So do you. So do I. When the Lord gets incarnated in you, you’re going to live on the edge and if you don’t think so, someone else will remind you.

Alright. I want us to make the transition between Jonah’s attitude and Paul’s attitude. Jonah’s attitude if you recall was he was disappointed in God’s character. He finally ended up doing what God told him to do, although he tried to run and we all try to run. I don’t want to tell too many stories, but anyway I once went from physical education, I turned down a fellowship to the University of Illinois where the two deans of the College of Physical Education picked what they called their two top men and exchanged them and then you are on the faculty and you work for a Masters Degree and you teach in school and I get a letter from the phys-ed department at the University of Illinois saying, “Welcome to the faculty. Here is a list of ten sports. Check the three that you want to teach.” And I write him back a new letter because now I am asking a new question. “Now Lord, what do you want me to do?” And I was convinced that the Lord did not want me to go on and do further studies in physical education, recreation and health. And so I ended up turning down this fellowship. I am sure when the dean got my letter he was saying, “Thank God he’s not coming.” Because I went on to tell him why, because I felt that God was not calling me to come there and I gave him a few scripture references and can’t you see him just reading it, “What? I am so glad he is not coming.” Because I wasn’t sure what I was doing. And I turned that down and later an older cousin was driving me back to the campus and saying, “Well Lloyd, what are you going to do next year?” And I said, “I don’t know. I am waiting for the Lord to show me.” “I think he did. You blew it.” Because the word had gone through the whole family, Lloyd turned down a fellowship at the University of Illinois. I mean you don’t turn down fellowships. Well you do, if you don’t believe God is calling you to do it. But it isn’t easy and that is the point that I am trying to make and Jonah felt all of this turbulence and when the Lord said “go to Nineveh, the enemy city, and preach the good news,” he goes, “I am out of here. I am not going to do that.” So I go out to the University of Maryland and I won’t give any more details, go to seminary in Union, Richmond and spend a year and it was so slow. It was so slow and I am going from active to inactive. I am going from physical movement to supposedly mental movement and it was a tough transition.

It’s funny, I left and I went out to California and I worked with Campus Crusade at UCLA. I was around the Hollywood Presbyterian Church and it all came together out there around the Hollywood Church. I came back to seminary and when I walked in the front door, you know you would like to be greeted by one of your buddies like, “Hey, Lloyd. Good to see you again.” No. It was by this smart alec graduate student whom I never liked and he goes, “Well why did you come back here?” I said, “Because I couldn’t get a boat going to other way.” And it was true. God has a way of sending you back to where you said, “I am never going to do that.” Don’t even say it, you just wake up angels and they create all kinds of havoc. So here’s Jonah. Finally he goes and preaches a word and he preaches the gospel and repentance. He goes out on the hillside to watch their destruction because number one, they are not going to repent. Number two, he doesn’t want them to repent. He wants them destroyed. That’s going on in our world today, isn’t it? All over the place. So Jonah leaves you with that awesome question, because it is not resolved, but I just want to do a jump a transition piece now. There is a book called, “You Jonah: Poems by Thomas John Carlisle” and it is out of print now, but if you ever see it pick it up because it is such gorgeous stuff and he just has poems all the way showing you the whole movement of Jonah, through his dilemma and I call this Jonah’s Dilemma. He wants God, but he doesn’t want the God he’s got. That is true for a lot of people. So anyway, this God is merciful and he knows it, so this one is called “Tendrom.”

“The generosity of God displeased Jonah exceedingly and he slashed with angry prayer at the graciousness of the Almighty. “I told you so” he screamed. I knew what you would do, you dirty forgiver. You bless your enemies and show kindness to those who despitely use you. I would rather die than live in a world with a God like you and don’t try to forgive me either.”

Isn’t that priceless? Did you see yourself in there anywhere? I did and maybe that is why I love this poem, you see. Lloyd Ogilvie the chaplain of the Senate has this wonderful phrase, “We are most conscious in others of the unresolved conflict in ourselves.” It’s a great line.

Here’s another one called, “Indiscretion”.

“I do not hate you God. Please understand. You’re okay, A1, the very best, second to none I know, great and beyond my criticism, so I say, Amen to you and all your good intention. But I might be right about your indiscretion in forgiving folks gladly and shamelessly upon the least evidence of regret. I think you carry love too far.”

Do you know anybody like that? Our world is filled with them. Finally, the last poem is maybe the best and it’s called, “Coming Around.”

“And Jonah sulked to his shaded seat and waited for God to come around to his way of thinking. And God is still waiting for a host of Jonah’s in their comfortable homes to come around to his way of loving.”

That’s the gospel, isn’t it? Isn’t that great?

Okay. From Jonah then to Paul. He’s in prison. He’s taking his lumps, as all Christians are going to take. As a professor of the Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary says, “Hey, this is normal for the Christian life, get used to it.” But he’s rejoicing and he’s encouraging others to rejoice and I want to talk about this dilemma or this division between the Peace of God and the God of Peace. It’s a transition really. And the transition is this, first of all God wants to be inside you with his peace. That is a gift. And the peace comes from when we relinquish our real world and our real concerns to God. Relinquish, let go. Many times we talk about prayer as it ends up being bargaining. It ends up being, “I’ll do this if you do that.” Begging. I think there is nothing more pathetic, I mean people do it all the time and I don’t want to put them down, but I think from God’s point of view, it’s stop begging, as if somehow God does not want us to survive and to be useful and to be filled with his purpose. And a good many of our prayers are filled so much self-centered, concerning our wealth and our health and our whatever, and you know God is not ultimately interested in that. He wants us in our health or not health or brokenness or not and he will heal what he can and sometimes we will get healed and sometimes we won’t. Either way, he wants us and either way Paul says, Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice. It’s all good. Even the bad. God uses it. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t sit around and wait until you get your own image of yourself. Someone just came out of the second service and they came up to me and they were going through some personal trauma, but this is the funny part. She says, “I belong to this church, but I haven’t been coming for a while, but I heard you on the radio last week and I heard your voice and I wondered what you looked like. So I came today to see what you look like.” I said, “Well, were you disappointed?” “Actually no” she said. You never know. You just don’t know what images are floating around and you know, God uses anything and everything to get his attention and then she went on to tell me that her husband is dying of cancer. Was there a chance I might go visit him? I am going to go visit him. I mean that’s divine.

The whole spirit comes and brings the peace, so what God wants from us with all our situations, is not worry, “Do not worry” Paul says. And he is a veteran. He knows about this. Don’t worry about anything, anything. What God wants is for you to bring it to him and leave it there. Lord, in to your hands I commit whatever. And general prayer, okay those are some imperatives, “rejoice, rejoice, let your gentleness be made known.” I think gentleness is the ultimate witness we have. The world is aggressive. The world is anxious. And there is a lot of retaliation going on all over the world and what God wants as Jesus demonstrated, gentleness, gentleness, gentleness. There is time to be gentle. There is room to be gentle. You do not have to be aggressive, assertive, demanding. Gentle. Besides, gentleness drives people crazy.

Do not worry about anything. But, number five, “in everything let your request be made known to God.” In everything, little or small. You have to start small, Lord here it is, but the Lord wants you to let it go and what I find a lot of people doing is, they make the prayer and then they say, “Okay now, how are we going to do this Lord? Now what I have in mind is this, this and this. You will work that out for me, won’t you? And it has to be done by four o’clock Friday.” We have all these demands and the Lord says, “I’m out of here. If you want to handle it, you handle it.” So the anxiety continues. You know the little stomach churns and won’t let go, you can’t sleep, that’s anxiety. And doctors make livings off of that. Giving you temporary relief. It’s a legitimate living. God has a better one. Give it to me. And then when you give it to God, he enables you to be free to go do something useful. And we have a hard time right there. “Now Lord, show me the blueprint of how this is going to work out and then I’ll be fine.” No, it does not work that way. And what happens is, it is going to take longer than you want, and it will happen sooner than you expect. There is somewhere in there, when in your freedom the Peace of God is the great AHA, as if it were all worked out, you still have that freedom and out of that, then you start asking questions. “Lord, what do you got?” In the meantime while you are working on that, what do you want me to do? Oh.” Well like this lady who caught my attention, actually it was weird. I can’t tell you how that, she was going out the door and somehow our eyes met and I went to her. Amazing. But that can only happen in God’s peace because otherwise you are not paying attention. The Peace of God is gentle and if you are not gentle, you’re not on the communication link and he waits for us to get gentle. Jonah’s great prayer in Chapter 2 is in the belly of the whale. Things got quiet, you know. Things got very quiet in there. He goes, “Ah, Lord, I think I’ve been forgetting you somehow.” He had time to pray. It was very gentle in there. It was a little squishy, but otherwise it was gentle.

So, the Peace of God is a real experience. It’s an AHA and you will know. A wonderful Christian educator, Henrietta Mears, Hollywood Press used to tell her students all of the time, “Peace is one of the few things that Satan can not counterfeit.” I think that is true. The Peace of God can not be counterfeited. And then God sends you off to do something creative and you go and it’s amazing, you will say, “I can do that. I can do that, it’s simple.” “Well, why didn’t you do that before?” “Because I was anxious about the world. I can do that.” He will call you to do something very practical, very simple and on behalf of someone else. The other part of this equation is the Peace of God is God works through peaceful means and so when the Apostle Paul says, “Concentrate, think, think, think. Put your mind on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Now that will keep you busy. And think of how much the world is on all the negative stuff, unfortunately. Our newscasts and so much of our conversations is “what a terrible mess everybody is in,” which is so obvious, but we have got to get past that, because God uses these events, gets people’s attention, and he wants us to think about what he is doing in the midst of all this turbulence.

Let me pull this together with a very practical thing that is happening in our world right now. Our God is much at work alerting the world to his love and mercy and there are a lot of folks very angry over that. There is a part of the world, the Islamic world that’s going through a terrible turbulent period. For 1,000 years they were pretty much isolated and if you want to read about this in a good book that does a nice job of balancing this out, there is a book called, “What’s so great about America” and it’s written by D’Souza, a young writer from India who is now a citizen in this country and he does a wonderful job of balancing this out and he is saying in effect, that the Islamic’s radical, or the radical Islamic’s disappointment with the west is that the west stands for freedom, we stand for virtue and he is saying, “Yes, we do stand for freedom and freedom means not just the opportunity to do things bad, which is what is being pointed out, yes in freedom all kinds of dumb things are done that no one is very pleased about. But also in freedom you can do incredibly good things and you see that’s why so much of the world as he points out, wants to be an American. They want to come to America and he gives illustration after illustration of young people all over the world, they want to come to America. And as you know, they are coming to the borders all of the time.

The internet has gone in to these countries in Iran, he points out and you see this everyday in the paper that Iran is in the biggest turmoil because the young people are saying, “Enough of this narrow, legalistic, hard-nosed point of view” and they are going to force change. It’s not going to be pleasant. Christians needs to be the first ones to back up our Islam brothers who are trying to hang on to their own faith. The moderate Islam of which the word Islam means peace, needs our help because they’re having trouble fighting that radical element in their own group, because of the extreme disappointment that is going on. What’s happening is the anger of the people who are losing and this is D’Souza’s point in his book, that the radical viewpoint has already lost. 9/11 and succeeding acts are lashing out of desperate acts of people who know they’re losing. They’re not going to win the world’s affection this way. In fact, I make the claim and I have said this to many congregations, unless the moderate wing of the Islamic movement can get under control their faith, there will come a time when Islam will go the way of communism. Nobody will choose it. It’s dumb. Who is going to want to raise their kids to go out and become time bombs out of hatred? No one’s going to chose that. It will not exist. So as Christians we need to go out of our way to exert the gentleness of Jesus, the mercy of the Lord, to let them know folks they’re included in this great love that God has for the whole world. Everybody is invited into this incredible mercy and we need to share the world’s goods and we are the church, with the presence of Jesus and that’s why missionaries are out there and that’s why they are getting buffeted about, and they will, but that’s why we are going to cut back on our own eating, great opening act, right. We are going to cut back on our own eating to have food for others.

There is a wonderful article in today’s Sunday paper about Geneva. Have you read it? You got to read it. And it talks about John Calvin as being the one who started much that is going on in Geneva right now. They take a few shots at him, as Calvin always gets, but John was incredible. He is often called the father of representative democracy, the father of public school education. He was the one who encouraged the church, “live frugally, save money and you will have money to help others” and the word would get out across Europe. “Hey, you going to start a new business? Go to Geneva, they got money there.” Is it any secret to discover that Geneva is the banking center of the world? United Nations has their headquarters there. The International Red Cross. A lot of it can be traced back to the deacons in the church, St. Pierre’s Cathedral. I have been there and its exciting and what was most exciting was the guide says, and we are in this big cathedral, “Actually John Calvin didn’t like this cathedral. He liked the auditorium across the street.” I couldn’t wait to get over there. But the auditorium was much like this. It wasn’t a great cathedral, it was a big room like this and there was a desk, one step up and John would be in there teaching at 7 o’clock in the morning before people went off to work. He would teach the Bible, and theology and these are the things he taught. Calling upon Christians to be frugal so that your resources were available for the spirit of God to go help other people and I think that is what we have to do today and the way we are going to help our Islamic friends around the world is to get food out there, and to get clothing out there and to get ideas out there and to keep on doing what we are doing with a wonderful sense of gentleness. That is the Peace of God and the God of Peace bringing his world into completion and to wholeness. The world salvation simply means wholeness. He wants the whole world and he is going to use us to get it done. Isn’t that exciting?

Let me conclude with this Psalm. This is one of the great Psalms that has meant so much to me and I urge you to go memorize this Psalm. It will take you a couple of months, but it’s worth it. Psalm 16. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.

“Protect me O God for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, you are my Lord. I am no good apart from You. As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble in whom is all my delight. Those who chose another God, multiply their sorrows. Their drink offerings of blood, I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup. You hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. I have a goodly heritage. I bless the Lord at all seasons and in the night my heart instructs me because I keep the Lord in front of me and because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad and my soul rejoices. My body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to shale or let your faithful ones see the pit. You show me the path of light. In your presence there is fullness of joy. In your right hand are pleasures forever more.” Amen.

Sermon Notes:

The Apostle Paul’s Imperatives in Philippians 4: 4-9 (NRSV)

Rejoice in the Lord always
Rejoice in the Lord always
Let your gentleness be made known to everyone
Do not worry about anything
In everything let your requests be made known to God
in prayer (general)
in supplication (specific)
with thanksgiving !!!
Think about these things – –
whatever is true
whatever is honorable
whatever is just
whatever is pure
whatever is pleasing
whatever is commendable
any excellence
anything worthy of praise
Keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me
The Apostle Paul’s Assurances in Philippians 4: 4-9 (NRSV)

The Lord is near
The Peace of God (which surpasses all understanding)
will guard your hearts (emotional control)
will guard your minds (mental stability)
The God of Peace will be with you
“Because the day of Christ is near and because the peace of God stands guard, the church can rejoice. In the face of abuse and conflict the Philippians do not have to press their case. They are to stand firm, yes, but they can be forbearing not overbearing. In full confidence of their trust in God, they can devote time to prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.” – Professor Fred Craddock