The Lord is in Your Midst (In Belonging We Find Peace)
There are great promises in our texts today and this season is filled with
promises. We light candles every week to remember the promises, to claim them, to
affirm our faith in them. The lights of hope, love, peace, and joy shine in the dark places
of this world and each is sparked and fueled by the light of Christ. These lights cannot
be extinguished though at times it feels as though they are dimmed. The promise we
claim today is an elusive one. Peace can seem awfully hard to come by and yet it is a
promise of God. And what kind of peace are we talking about? Internal peace? External
peace? Everlasting peace? God’s shalom? It would be difficult to address all of them
and yet they are interconnected, I think. Our texts today may seem more to do with joy
but I want us to tune our hearts, our minds, and our ears to peace as we listen to these
(Read Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7)
I don’t know about you but I’d like to tell the Apostle Paul that he’s got some lofty
ideas and expectations. I’d like to tell him that his parting words to the church at Philippi
are beautiful but oh so unrealistic. Does he know what’s going on in the world? Does he
know what’s going on in my heart and mind? Does he know what’s going on at all?
Anxiety is running rampant in our culture and in our world…well placed anxiety. There is
no lack of cause for all that we may be feeling. There’s the macro, big stuff like violence
and threats of violence and oppression and poverty down the street and across the
world, unrest in our communities and tragedy at our borders, irreparable damage to
God’s creation. There’s micro, smaller stuff, too, that is personal, closer to home and
feels just as big like grief over lost loved ones, devastating diagnoses and diseases,
another fall, bodies no longer functioning they way they ought, old age; sky high
expectations at work and school, in families and social situations; the constant pull to do
more and be more and have more; there is division everywhere on the big side of things
and on the small personal side of things. People are afraid to talk to one another for fear
of not knowing where someone stands on something. People are afraid of what their
families and friends will think of them if they are true to who God created them to be. It
makes it difficult to be community, to build relationships, to trust one another with our
stuff, and to remember that we belong to God and to one another. So, Paul, your
benediction here sounds a little unrealistic to me. “Rejoice always.” “Be gentle.” “Do not
worry.” I’ll confess a few things to you now. I’m a champion worrier. Sometimes I find it
difficult to rejoice. And it’s hard to be gentle all the time; gentle with others, gentle with
myself. These are not easy things.
At first glance and second glance and maybe even third glance these words from
Paul hit me smack in the midst of all the anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. These
things feel impossible. They feel like one more impossible to accomplish thing and then,
I read the words again. “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.” These things are only impossible when we think
they are up to us. These things are only impossible when we forget God’s role in them.
These things are only impossible when we expect the big things in the world and the
small things in our lives to determine the state of our hearts and minds. The source of
our peace is not that which is external or even that which is internal, rather the source of
our peace is God at the center and in our midst. We cannot sense or know or even
believe that all is well or that all will be well without divine intervention. It may do us
some good to recall that all was not well in the world into which Christ was born either
and yet God intervened. Divine entrance into this mess of a world…that is our source of
peace. That is how we know that all will be well, the eschatological promise that though
things are not right now they will be. As Todd reminded us on the first Sunday of Advent,
we are not waiting for a baby in a manger for that particular divine intervention has
already taken place. We are waiting for the day when all will be made well, when all that
is not right will be made right. Emmanuel, God with us, will do these things.
It’s the proximity of God, you see, the nearness of the divine that puts our
troubled hearts at ease. In Zephaniah, the nation of Israel is assured that “the Lord is in
your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.” How often are we waiting for disaster? The
next phone call or text or headline that will bring bad news. The headlines program us to
expect bad news, I think. Life does, too, though. People we love suffer. We grieve
losses of all kinds. We worry about our spouses, our children and grandchildren, our
friends, and family. We worry about finances. We worry about the future. We worry
about the choices we make and the choices we don’t have to make. We worry about
whether we’ll be understood and accepted. We worry that this grief or this anxiety or
these feelings of inadequacy will never go away. We worry. And we hold on tight to
those worries. We cling to them.
Another way, though, perhaps the better way, the alternative we’re given as
people of faith is to give those worries to God. “Let petitions and praises shape your
worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” is the way Eugene Peterson puts
it. Of course we worry. Of course we are concerned for our families and our friends, for
their health and well-being, for their safety. Of course we are concerned for the world,
for our neighbors without food and shelter, for the distress and dis-ease we find
everywhere. Of course we are concerned for ourselves, for our own health, well-being,
safety, and sense of belonging. Paul reminds us that those concerns, those worries are
to be shared with our God who is nearer to us than our own breath. Again, Zephaniah
says “The Lord is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.” And “The Lord, your
God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory, he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love, he will exult over you with singing.” What a promise. What
a gift. Our creator God to whom we belong, rejoices over us, gathers us in, and brings
us home. There is no worry or concern or disaster that will separate us from that kind of
love. There is no worry or concern or disaster that God has not already conquered. In
this promise we find our peace.
The peace we are given is the peace of God that will guard, will stand sentry
watch over our hearts and minds, as Fred Craddock puts it. “Because God’s peace is
on duty”, Craddock says, we “do not have to be anxiously scanning the horizon for new
threats.” I love this image. The peace of God is standing guard over our hearts and
minds and in that peace we can rest. When is the last time you felt like you could rest?
What would it feel like to rest in God’s peace? Rest in the knowledge that you are
created and loved by God. Rest in the knowledge that God is at work and active in our
lives and in this world even when all measurable evidence points to the contrary. Rest in
the knowledge that God is in our midst taking care of you and me and this world God
loves so much. It sounds pretty good to me. Maybe Paul didn’t have such outlandish
ideas, after all.
As we rest, though, we remain alert to God’s presence and activity around us
and we do not take these words as an instruction to stop caring. Rather we trust that as
we care for others, God cares for us, for those whom we love and for this world.
Surrounded by that care on all sides, we can pray, give thanks, and rejoice assured that
God is in our midst. Whatever you are facing today and in this season, God is near to
you. In your grief, in your fear, in your doubt, in your anxiety, in your anger, in your
uncertainty, in your joy, in your thanks and praise, God is near to you. Be at peace, for
though all may not be well now, all will be well. Be at peace, for the Lord is in our midst.
That is the promise to which we cling. That is the promise of the incarnate Word. God
with us and for us. Be at peace and rejoice.


Rev. Alexandra Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church