July 9, 2017 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalm 46: 1-5; 10; 2 Thessalonians 1:-1-4; 3:16-18
Last week we considered the difference between happiness that is wonderful but transitory and joy, which can sustain us even in times of difficulty. Today, our theme is relaxation, which is enjoyable and beneficial, but can also be sporadic. Relaxation as a physical endeavor; taking time for ourselves, enjoying life and recreational pursuits, is a form of self-care that can lighten our spirits and help us return to our work and responsibilities with new energy and a refreshed attitude. Relaxing as a spiritual practice helps bring peace and fills our souls. It helps us become fully present in the now. Relaxing as a spiritual practice can lead to a life of inner peace.
What is the spiritual exercise of relaxing? The world of addiction recovery has two phrases that are central to it: “Came to believe that a power greater than I could do for me what I cannot do for myself” and “Let go and let God” The spiritual practice of relaxation is an act of trust. We place ourselves into the hands of our all-powerful Creator and loving Sustainer. Sounds nice. But do I really believe in a power greater than myself that can do what I can’t? Can I stop letting my ego run my life and allow myself to be guided?” Can I let go, release and take a break from work and worry? Can I stop trying to control everything? Can I stop judging myself or being preoccupied about what others think? Can I let go of having to be right all the time? Can I let go if things are not perfect?
It all starts with intent. I need to want to relax; rest in the Lord. What would I be doing if I wasn’t trying to control everything? How would I be feeling if I stopped being critical of myself or being concerned about what others think? And if that shift doesn’t motivate me, how about a good dose of reality that says no matter how hard I try, I can’t always be right nor do everything perfectly. So why spend the energy and time? Aren’t some things just good enough?
Once we decide that we deserve to relax as a way of being, that the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” are indeed truly meant for us then we can stop constantly striving to make our life turn out a certain way and start abiding in our loving God. “Be still, and know that I am God! Simple, but not easy.
For most of us being in control makes us feel safe and secure. It gives us a sense of purpose. And, we stand a better chance of having things turn out the way we think they should be. Though many of us have experienced that our preoccupation and attempts at control usually don’t result with our desired outcome and looking back we see that most attempts to control caused us anxiety and irritation, yet over and over again, we grab the controls. Prayer, asking help to surrender control time and time again, will help us grow in trust. It will remind us that there is a God and that we are not it. “Be still, and know that I am God!”
Trusting in God is a lifelong process. Like many aspects of the Christian faith, it’s a choice that we make over and over again. Once more, the wisdom of the twelve steps is helpful here. It counsels us to pray only for knowledge of God’s will for us and for the power to carry that out. Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will find me when you search for me with all your heart.”
In the book TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, p. 96 we read, “When I “Let Go and Let God,” I think more clearly and wisely. Without having to think about it, I quickly let go of things that cause me immediate pain and discomfort. Because I find it hard to let go of the kind of worrisome thoughts and attitudes that cause me immense anguish, all I need do during those times is allow God, as I understand Him, to release them for me, and then and there, I let go of the thoughts, memories and attitudes that are troubling me. When I receive help from God, as I understand Him, I can live my life one day at a time and handle whatever challenges come my way.”
One of the deepest longings of every human soul is for peace. In the famous quote about peace found in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you,” Jesus adds the caveat, “I do not give it to you as the world gives.” In the world we seek a peace with honor which is usually interpreted as peace once we’ve won; peace when we get what we want. Christ offers us peace now, in an imperfect world, among wounded and flawed people. Can we let ourselves enjoy life more and feel better right now when situations are less than perfect and relationships are faulty? Can we treat ourselves better, rest in peace now, despite our own imperfections or past mistakes?
In our second reading today we are witness to Paul’s deep affection for his Thessalonian converts. In this letter, Paul deepens the ordinary Jewish formula of greeting and parting words. In most of his letters, the Apostle begins with wishing ‘grace and peace,’ and closes with an echo of that wish. ‘Peace be unto you’ was often a form which meant nothing more than Ciao or Adieu. But here, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul turns conventional salutations into real, heartfelt desires and loving wishes. The relation between the two clauses at the start and end of the text seems to be that the second, ‘The Lord be with you all,’ is not so much a separate, additional supplication but rather a fuller statement, in the form of prayer, by which the former wish for peace is to be accomplished. Yet between these two loving aspirations Paul addresses issues which evidence that there are problems in this faith community. This group of new Christians has some active busybodies in it and also individuals who refuse to help out: in other words, there is conduct destructive of peace. There also were some people within the community who feared what they thought was the rapidly approaching Day of Judgment, and there were persecutions. The Thessalonians were in need of peace from outside, peace among themselves, peace in their own hearts, and peace with God. Paul doesn’t say, “Oh I get it. I understand. I know how you feel. You have a right to feel anxious, fearful, upset.” No, the Apostle prays that despite all of these very real obstacles to peace, they experience it at all times and in all ways.
The second thing to be suggested here is that it is the Lord of Peace Himself who is the giver of peace. Paul points to Jesus and what he taught throughout his adult life. Jesus is the ‘Lord of Peace’ because of the tranquility of heart and spirit that he displayed during all the calamities and changes and activities of His own life. He sorrowed, He wept, and He wondered. He was angry, He empathized, and He loved. And yet all these were perfectly consistent with the unruffled calm which marked His whole ministry. Jesus showed us that peace is not indifference, nor is it to be found in the avoidance of difficult situations. Jesus is the Lord of Peace because he modeled throughout his life that He was, at all times, in communion God. And that oneness included a oneness of wills. The surrender of self-will is peace. Obedience is peace. Trust is peace, and fellowship with the divine is peace.
The Thessalonians, as they listened to Paul’s prayer for peace, always, might have thought to themselves, ‘Always, by all means.’ That’s a big ask! Can it be fulfilled? And so the Apostle adds, ‘The Lord be with you all.’ ‘The Lord of Peace’ gives peace by giving His own presence. It is in experiencing His presence that they find tranquility. Today Paul might end with, “I really mean it guys. I’m praying that you feel God’s presence in your lives.” We cannot separate God’s gifts from the divine. The only way to get anything that God gives is to get God. It is God’s presence that does everything. When we experience God’s presence, the world’s annoyances seem very small and the greatest difficulties seem bearable. The secret of serenity is the experience of divine presence. We each need to determine where and how we best nurture that experience. In nature, in relationship with others, in prayer, in service, in music or in other arts, and then seek opportunities to have those experiences.
When I counseled couples having difficulty in their marriages, I encouraged frequent enjoyable times of intimacy and affection. Those times nurtured the relationship and helped them remember their love bond during conflicts, and helped them forgive each other and move forward. It’s no different in our relationship with the divine. We need moments of joy in the lord, times when we know that we are loved by God, experiences of simply relaxing in God’s presence. In dark times, these experiences of intimacy will help us trust and be at peace.
There are many ways in which the supreme good may be represented, but perhaps none of them is so attractive, as the goal of rest. How we enjoy resting after hard work or active play. We look forward to the times when we can relax. In many religious traditions the last prayer for a deceased person is that they be granted eternal rest. Let’s allow ourselves to rest in the Lord. Let’s let go of the obstacles to our inner peace.
(Words of Invitation) Now, as we come to the table, as we commune with each other and with the Lord of peace may we experience peace at all times and in every way. The Lord is with us. Let’s celebrate that together at the table.