King Edward the Confessor was the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, except for King Harold’s brief and ill-fated reign which ended at the battle of Hastings in 1066.
A Confessor is a Saint who wasn’t martyred, yet confessed the faith through an extraordinary life. St. Edward the Confessor was a King who cared for his people, strengthened the Church, and advanced the Gospel within his realms. Lest I turn this homily into a history lesson, I will turn from his specific deeds of Christian charity to the Epistle text from Philippians 4 chosen to commemorate him. For we are all called to be confessors of the faith, and thus always need to turn to the instructions of the Sacred Scriptures.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
This is no mere “power of positive thinking” nonsense. There is no such thing as “good vibes,” especially any that are somehow caused by good thoughts or character. That is superstition at best, and Paganism at worst. Rather, the biblical injunction to rejoice always is about our recognition that God is good all the time, and that all the time God is good! Now, to be fair, there is a difference between “rejoicing” and “being happy.” Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes with little control on our part. To rejoice, however, is to find joy in the deeper realities of life – like the goodness of God – even if our present circumstances are saddening or otherwise upsetting. The next verse also sheds some light on how we are to rejoice always.
5Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.
When we are able to rejoice in the goodness of God even in the midst of worldly sorrow and pain, that joy becomes a witness. Knowing the goodness of God, and the great grace He shows us in the Gospel enables us to forebear this life’s sufferings and challenges in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Faith is no mere crutch for the emotionally needy, but a rock without which nothing can stand forever. Knowing that “the Lord is at hand,” we can rejoice and forbear the worst of what this world can throw at us, no matter the cost. The next verse drives this point home even more clearly:
6Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Now there is a real test of a mature Christian! How often do we go about in anxiety and worry? How paralyzing such worldly concerns can be! And yet, in the midst of our sadness and difficulty, we have a place to turn our heads – a God who will hear. Not only can we turn to God in prayer, but we should turn to God in prayer. This verse is not making a suggestion, but a command: let your requests be made known to God. Even the very act of speaking our problems aloud to God – be it in the company of other Christians or not – can be very therapeutic. But, lest you think this too is some sort of self-help scheme, the next verse sets us straight.
7And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Whose peace will keep our hearts and minds? Not ours, but God’s. Will God’s peace solve all our earthly problems right away like a fairy godfather? No, God’s peace will keep us in Christ Jesus. This is a promise of perseverance in the faith, and in relationship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is no promise in Scripture of “Your Best Life Now,” as I’m sure you all know by now. The Christian life is marked by its endurance of suffering more than its comfortable prosperity. Our peace is from God, not from the world, nor from within. And that peace keeps us safe and secure in the one thing that matters the most: in the hands of Jesus Christ our Lord.
8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
You may be familiar with the saying, “if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This verse takes that thought and runs even further with it: “if you’ve got nothing nice to think about, don’t think about it at all.” As you know, there are a lot of things in this world that are unpleasant, unsavory, toxic, and evil. This verse doesn’t tell us to ignore life’s problems. But it does forbid us from dwelling on evil thoughts. If you hate the music those kids these days are listening to, stop grumbling about it and put on some Beethoven, or Sinatra, or whatever. If the political climate of this election season keeping ruffling your feathers, stop reading so many incendiary articles and pick up a good book – or better yet, The Good Book. For the fruit of the work of faithful Christians always makes for encouraging and helpful meditation.
9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
Saint Paul concludes these verses with this more personal statement: he wants the church he planted to continue following his good example. As he said a few verses earlier, “the Lord is at hand,” and now he reaffirms that the God of peace will be with us. When you know that your parents or your boss was looking over your shoulder, you made sure you were doing what you were supposed to be doing. Paul is giving us a similar sort of reminder: God is with you, so let that be a motivation for you as you learn to rejoice always, to forbear the difficulties of this life, to make your requests made known to God, and to receive His peace.
When we have godly earthly leaders, like when Edward the Confessor was on the English throne, it can be easier to live virtuous lives directed by the teachings of Christ through the Scriptures. But when the world is more overtly against us, we have to put all the more effort into affixing our hearts and minds to Christ. But no matter how much effort we find ourselves having to put in, we must always remember that our peace is not only in the Lord, but from the Lord. When you think you have muster up your own sense of peace and quiet, you are drawing from a well that will go dry in no time. It is only from the well of the Spirit that we find the waters of life without end. Turn to the Lord, seek His face, receive His peace, and think on those good things that point you to Him and the truth of His Word. Amen.