The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. E. Bevan Stanley
October 11, 2020
Proper 23, Year A
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but I am finding myself getting grumpy about this COVID19 thing, the divisions in our country, and not being able to gather with friends and family. Sometimes I am sad. Sometimes I am annoyed. Sometimes I am just tired. This world is not the way it should be. This world right now is not meeting my needs. Then I remember that it is not the world’s job to meet my needs. As mentor of mine put it once, the question is not: What would the ideal world be for the real you? The right question is : What would the ideal you be in the real world? The world around me is not going to change just to please me or make my life easier or more pleasant. Only I can choose, and perhaps change, my responses to the world. It is very common for most of us to think that the way we feel is caused by our circumstances or things that happen to us. Someone cuts in front of us in a line and we say to ourselves, “How rude and thoughtless!” We become angry. Then we go on to say that our anger is that other person’s fault. But notice that we chose to label the behavior of cutting in line as rude and thoughtless. That is narrative we chose to put on the event. We could have chose another narrative. For example, we could have said to ourself, “This person must have an urgent need to get through this line quickly. I want to help this person in their distress.” I choose the narrative that goes with the event. And by choosing the narrative, I choose the response I will make. I am then free to ask the question, What would the ideal me do in this situation in the real world?
Our total response to an event is made up four parts: thinking, feeling, action, and physiology. Of those, we have direct control over only two: Thinking and acting. If I ask you to feel happy, you cannot do it di4ectly; you have to think of something pleasant. If I ask you to lower your pulse rate, you cannot do that directly; you need to relax, take some deep breaths.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul is exhorting two women to get along. In the context of trying to patch up this relationship, Paul says, “Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice.” Choose your response and your actions, and it will free you to be your best self. Paul goes on to say, “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.” Worry is a feeling. How do I stop worrying? Paul suggests and action: Let your requests be known to God by prayer and supplication and thanksgiving. Hand your concerns over to God. Then the we will feel the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
So, when Paul says rejoice, how do we do it? We think about what is good in our lives, we say thank you. We praise God and each other. Paul understands this and at the end he tells us that what we think about changes us. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We choose what we think and do, and by those choices we can become happy and peaceful and improve our health.
This is one way to understand the story of the golden calf. Moses was up on the mountain with God a long time. One response would have been for the Israelites to say, “Gee, Moses must be getting a lot of good stuff from God; we can’t wait to find out what it is and how we are to be God’s special people.” Instead, they chose a different narrative: “We don’t know what has become of Moses, so I guess we are on our own with his brother Aaron. This God on the mountain is not dependable, let’s make a better one—one that we can see and won’t scare us to death.” They chose their response. They failed to ask themselves, “What kind of a nation do we want to be? Do we want to be a people that keeps faith and is loyal to the God that saved them from slavery? Or do we want to be like all the other nations around, interested only in pleasure and gold? And if we were to be a people of loyalty and faith, how would we behave?
Today, I am worried about the corona virus. I am worried about the election. I am worried about racism. I am worried about wealth inequality. The world is not ideal for me. I find myself getting morose or sad or grumpy. I am impatient for the COVID19 pandemic to ease so that I can dine with friends, visit my daughters. I want the world to change so I can be happy. That is asking for the ideal world in which my real self can be happy. The world will never be ideal, so if I pursue that road I will only court misery. On the other hand if I say to myself, “This is the real world. There is much we don’t like, or fear, but there is also beauty and love in it. The right question for me is: How would the person I aspire to be, my ideal self, act, think, and feel in this real world? My ideal self would be resilient and hopeful and loving. How would that person act? So, I take Paul’s advice and think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, excellent, and worthy of praise. There is actually plenty of it around—in our friends, in history, in nature. And I will rejoice always. If I do these things, I will feel better. Then this better self might actually be useful to someone else. And when that happens the world will be a little better place.
 Barnes Boffey, Success Counseling workshop