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Sermon for 22 October



Philippians 4:1-9

We’ve been working our way through Paul’s beautiful letter to the church community in Philippi over the last few weeks. In the first week I gave some background to the letter and then talked about Chapter 1, and what Paul teaches us about living with disappointment. And then Craig took us a bit further in and talked about chapter 2, and its call to humility. And last week Simon took us through chapter 3, and what Paul has to say about pressing on in faith. And today I get to talk about the glorious first half of chapter 4, which give us a glorious, insight into the heart of living with freedom in the midst of the ups and downs that life throws at us. 

And next week, Faye is going to tie it all together and talk about what Paul tells us about the secret of being content.

And today we’re at the heart of what Paul has discovered and desperately wants to share with his friends in Philippi - and now with us. And there are 4 simple words that have the potential to change everything, 4 short words that are the secret of Paul’s peace and joy - ’The Lord is near.’

Philippians chapter 4, verse 5 - The Lord is near. God isn’t far away, off beyond the clouds. God isn’t the one who pushed the button to get the Big Bang going and then wandered off to do something else. God hasn’t given up on us because we’ve messed it up one time too many. No. The Lord is near.

And when Paul says ‘The Lord’, he means Jesus. Jesus is near. Jesus, who is God among us, God with us, God in the midst of us. 

In Eugene Peterson’s Message translation of the bible, John’s gospel opens like this -  ‘The word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.’ Jesus is God as our neighbour, living as one of us, with us, alongside us. 

And even when he moves on and returns to the Father, at the end of the gospel his parting words are ‘I am with you always, even to the end of time’.

The Lord is near.

Now we all know that with our heads. Yes, of course the Lord is near. But when we know it with our whole being, the fact that the Lord is near, changes everything. Here are some things that ‘The Lord is near’ means for us:

It means that life isn’t random or aimless. We’re not just a bundle of DNA that happened to evolve into homo sapiens. And we’re not just at the mercy of the blind forces of the survival of the fittest, or the genetic code that we happened to have been born with. No, the Lord is near. This is the Lord’s creation and he cares about it. He is involved in it. It is his. He is Lord, he is ruling over it with love and grace. The Lord is near.

And it means that the world sits in a framework of meaning. That there is such a thing as right and wrong. It means that justice matters, that forgiveness matters; and that it matters that we notice the harm done by hatred and evil and pride and self centredness. These things matter because they mattered enough to God that he came near and got involved. And if they matter to Him, they really matter. The Lord is near.

It means that we are not on our own. We are never, ever on our own. Not when things are going great. Not when life is miserable. Not when we know where we’re heading, not when our next step seems hidden and impossible. Not when we’re feeling on top of the world. Not when we’re at the end of our tether. The Lord is near - near enough to walk with us, to pick us up when we fall, to point us in a new direction when we mess up and take a wrong turning. The Lord is not far off, the Lord is near.

And it means that it doesn’t depend on us. The Lord is near. That’s just how it is. And if we forget about him, He is still near. And if we don’t believe in Him, it makes no difference, he is still near. And if we rage and scream and shout at him, he is still near. The Lord is near; at all times, in all places, for ever. You can’t chase him away, you can’t make him turn his back on you, you can’t disgust him. He won’t get bored with you, lose interest in you or give up on you. The Lord is near.

It means that the past is dealt with. The Lord is near and he can’t be defeated by our problems or failings. He came near, near enough to carry all our shame and guilt and to deal with them on a cross, and to defeat even death. He came near enough to share his body and blood with us, and to promise to keep feeding us and sustaining us, whether we feel worthy of it or not. 

Last week you were invited to write down something that burdens you and to throw it away, and to be free. If you did that, if there’s something from your past that you’re carrying around and which you need to lay down, do it, know that the past really is dealt with. Not ‘sort of dealt with’. Not dealt with while you’re in church, but waiting for you at the door when you leave. Not ‘dealt with so long as you’re really well behaved from now on.’ Jesus didn’t ‘sort of die’ in order to ‘sort of deal’ with our shame and guilt. He really died in order to completely and utterly set us free from the things that we have done. The Lord is near is a promise that it is all dealt with. Really. Properly. You can be free. The Lord is near.

And if the past is dealt with, it also means that the future is assured. The Lord is near, and he has promised to be with us to the end of time, and when that day comes, to be with us in a new way, when he will rule over a new heaven and a new earth, and all suffering and crying and sorrow will be finished. Because the Lord is near, we know where we’re heading and we can trust our destination.

The past is dealt with, the future is assured, and the present is safe. We are safe. You are safe. Can you hear that? Really. Deep down. You are safe. The Lord is near. Whether you ‘feel’ it or not. The Lord is near. And if the creator of the Universe is near, you’re safe. If the one who knows the intricacies of the sub atomic and the magnificence of the Universal is near, then it means you’re safe. 

I was given a prayer a while ago and told to say it every day as I wake up. ‘I am Hugh, in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in a strong and unshakeable kingdom.’ Say it for yourself. ‘I am ….., in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in a strong and unshakeable kingdom.’ The Lord is near and I am safe. 

That’s it folks. That’s the secret that Paul offers us at the heart of his beautiful Philippian letter. The Lord is near.

You know, the gospel is sometimes taught like this - ‘God is good. You are bad. Try harder’.

That is a lie.

The gospel actually says - ‘The Lord is near. Open your eyes and know it to be true.’

 The Lord is near and that’s the truth.

We can’t change it, we can’t make it more true by pleasing God nor less true by messing up.

All we can do is to say yes, Lord. You are near. And then to keep our eyes on Him. 

And then says Paul, when we accept that, then ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ The Lord is near, and as we learn to live in that truth, we discover that there is a peace guarding us which is way beyond our teeny tiny understanding of how things work. 

I know someone who went through a terrible time - first her sister died, and then 3 years later, the sister’s husband also died, leaving 3 young children in this woman’s care. As a result they had to leave their whole life, including work and home, to move in with these bereaved children. I said to her once - it must have been hard to hold on to God in the middle of all that terrible suffering. ‘No’, she said, ‘no. It was only because God was near that I got through it at all.’

And I know that many of you have experienced something similar -  the peace, which makes no human sense, which comes from knowing, in the midst of the worst of times, that the Lord is very near. I hear people say it often - ‘it was when things were at their worst that I most knew that God was near.’

Paul wrote this from the midst of his own suffering. Locked up in prison, far from the communities that he loved, facing long term imprisonment, and the very real threat of a painful death. But he knew the truth. The Lord is near, and as a result, he knew that the guards who kept him locked up would never have the final word. A greater truth guarded him. The peace of God, which guarded his heart and mind. 

The Lord is near. It’s the truth. Nothing we do will ever make it more or less so. All we can do is to say yes, and to step into that truth, and to know the peace of God guarding our heart and mind. The Lord is near.


Posted: 22-10-2017 at 13:17
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