Reflections on Rejoicing, Gentleness, and Peace

"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." - Phil. 4:4-7 (NRSV)

These verses are part of Sunday's Revised Common Lectionary, and the words rejoice, gentleness, and peace feel... foreign. Every morning as I check the news it seems as if one cannot escape from the latest campaign words of Donald Trump, the speech by Jerry Falwell Jr., the continuing rise of Islamophobia, etc. I see post after post on Facebook from friends who are outraged, along with posts and shares from people who are fearful for their lives.

"Where is the rejoicing, the gentleness, and the peace, O God?"

These are the words my soul cries out and chants. I don't know about you, but I'm tired. I'm tired, distraught, and heartbroken that rejoicing is found in words of hatred, gentleness found in a call to arms, and peace as only achievable by violence.

"Where is the rejoicing, the gentleness, and the peace, O God?"

I'd much rather take the easier way and adopt alternative translations for these words. I'd rather say "farewell" (alt. translation of "rejoice"). Farewell to the oppressive and power-hungry. Farewell to people who embrace the same label as "Christian" that I do, but cling to a theology so vastly different from mine. I'd rather people be "reasonable" (alt. translation of "gentleness"). I'd rather we be reasonable about gun-control and gun-laws. I'd rather we be reasonable when it comes to how we respond to people who are different from us, rather than trigger happy, ready to point fingers and place blame. And peace...I'd rather be the agent of peace instead of trusting in the elusive and unknown "peace of God."

"Where is the rejoicing, the gentleness, and the peace, O God?"

But the beauty of the scripture I cling to and strive to follow as a Christian means living out a faith that is hard, and one I am called to wrestle with day in and day out. To accept that I am not the ultimate author (praise the Lord), and the fact that translators have not opted for "farewell," but "rejoice," not "reasonableness" but "gentleness," and not merely "peace," but the "peace of God."

The rejoicing, the gentleness, and the peace -- the trusting in the peace of God -- begins with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Supplication is "the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly." Prayer and supplication, asking and begging -- these entail positions of vulnerability, postures of openness. It means that perhaps we don't know as much, or aren't as sure, as we'd like for others to believe. It means that we don't have all the answers, and that we aren't as in control of this world as we'd like to believe. It means opening ourselves up and asking for the seemingly impossible, that our Muslim brothers and sisters be seen as fellow humans also striving to lead lives of rejoicing, gentleness, and peace. That our brothers and sisters of other races are striving to be seen as equal, that we are all part of one family, that we need to learn rejoicing, gentleness, and peace from our brothers and sisters. It means understanding that our politicians and leaders will never be God, and so to expect the peace of God to come from them is an unrealistic expectation.

And dare I ask it, but could it mean less sharing of Facebook posts and more prayer? That for every post we share, we're spending just as much time in "prayer and supplication with thanksgiving"? That we're more concerned with making ourselves vulnerable before God and others, rather than displaying our seemingly right/correct agendas?

Friends, I believe that we are called to be the embodiment of rejoicing and gentleness by living lives that place trust in the peace of God. We are called to rejoice in the Lord. Not in mankind, especially those in power and use their voices to oppress, silence, or belittle. Our God is one who rejoices in the voices we would try to silence.

We are called to let our gentleness be known to everyone. Gentleness. What a lost word today. People want to be seen as strong, as independent, as respected, as equal, as genuine...but gentle? Gentleness feels so opposite to strength and respect -- words that so many desperately seek to be known for--and yet, it is our calling that we would be known for our gentleness. Not for our fear or our judgment or our phobias, but for our gentleness. To be gentle also does not mean to be a pushover or be without opinion or voice, but is the ultimate position of humility and grace. And we are called to make our gentleness known to everyone. Yes, everyone. (No alternative Greek translations there.)

We are called to allow the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And this peace of God, it's a peace that surpasses all understanding. Meaning that we cannot understand it, and yet, we're called to trust it, to allow it to be our guard (perhaps even guard our gentleness?). And this is not an active peace; it is not a peace that will be accomplished with a simple to-do list. It is the peace of God, belonging to God, and is given to us because we cannot bring it about by our own human finitude. God's peace requires us to trust in God.

Perhaps, just perhaps, during this season, as we begin to look towards a new year, we can examine who and what we rejoice in, how we show gentleness, and live in a way that proclaims a trust in the peace of God, we'll feel a little less weary, a little less defensive, a little less quick to judge, and much, much more loving.