Philippians 4: 1-9 (NRSV)
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
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.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, 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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
"Let your gentleness be known to everyone." Doesn't that sound a bit risky or wishy-washy in a society where people are encouraged to "stand their ground," and in a time when unarmed teens are being shot, and in a world where gruesome executions are videotaped and shown worldwide? We live in a scary world; I saw a recent poll that reported that 67% of Americans feel more afraid now than they did before September 11, 2001, the year that the Trade Towers were attacked.
In the face of all of this fear and threat, is gentleness really the answer? Much of the media would tell us that it is time to arm ourselves, get tough, develop a thick skin, take no prisoners, not back down, and protect ourselves at all costs.
Where does gentleness fit in to all of that? Paul encourages us to "think about these things" -things are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing. Or as The Message puts it - think about the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
In other words, take a moment to think about God, to wonder where God is in the world, and what God is doing.
Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness is a determined choice in the face of brutality. Gentleness refuses to speak the language of hate and violence but still has the determination to deliver a strong message. It taps into God's love and peace. Gentleness displays strength in time of attack and offers grace under pressure. Gentleness chooses not to answer violence with violence. Gentleness provides courage in the middle of fear. Gentleness is a choice.
- Treating everyone with the respect that a child of God deserves? That's gentleness.
- Picketing outside of a store with unjust labor practices and refusing to work? That's gentleness.
- Hanging up a rainbow banner in the midst of prejudice? That's gentleness.
- Refusing to answer violence with violence? That's gentleness.
Paul assures us that gentleness leads us to peace. And peace is a much-needed commodity these days. Let us be gentle with ourselves and with each other so that God's can love to bloom in our hearts.
God, remind us that the gentleness that Jesus shared with the lepers, the sick little girl, the woman at the well, and the man at pool was a reflection of his strength and his determination to live and share your hope and new life. Amen.