"This sloth is the most serene being you will ever find." said the monk who had shown him up. "He has acheived a state of complete and total serenity."
Intrigued, the squirrel went forward to speak to the sloth. He took the sloth's hand to shake it, only to discover that it was cold and immobile.
"This sloth is dead!" exclaimed the squirrel.
"Of course he is." said the monk. "How do you think he acheived complete and total serenity?"
Serenity- that elusive peace that we all strive for. The universalists believe that serenity is the ultimate goal of religion. Of course, I don't agree. Our religion is not about what "works for you" or makes you feel good. But we should strive for serenity because it is a measure of spiritual maturity.
Think of it this way- a student does not go to school to get A's. He goes to school to learn. But he strives to get A's by completing all of the required goals set before him. The A is not the intended end of his education, but it is the natural reward for academic achievment. It is also the measure of how well he has done. Plus, it makes him feel good.
Likewise, serenity is not the ultimate end of our spiritual journey, but it is a natural consequence of growing as we should. we acheive it by accomplishing the goals Jesus sets out for us. As we acheive greater serenity, it marks us as spiritually mature. And yes, it makes us feel good.
In this sermon, we're going to examine three questions: What is serenity? Why do we need it? How do we get it?
What is Serenity?
Based out of the same monastery is an organization called the brotherhood of serene grazers. These grazers read that serenity equals inner peace. Thus, they have bred a very special kind of grass which resembles white flags. As they eat the flags, they are assured inner peace.
Serenity does mean peace, but not in the sense of a state of non-conflict. It means being without anxiety. So what exactly does that come down to? If serenity is the lack of anxiety, then there must be as many kinds of serenity as there are anxiety.
When I think of anxiety, three types spring to mind. The first is material. The second is mental. The third is spiritual.
Material anxiety is the most easily seen. It doesn't necessarily come from things. It quite often comes from people. Always, it comes from outside ourselves. People have invented a number of ways to battle material anxiety. Most of them involve the words "if only". "If only I were wealthy." "If only I had better health." "If only the office dullard would stop bugging me." "If only, if only" the woodpecker cries. "...The wood on the trees were as soft as the skies." Unfortunately, freedom from material anxiety is never going to come in this life. Even those in Heaven may not acheive serenity of this type until the end of the millenium.
How do you combat material anxiety? Let me answer with a proverb: "Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get." The secret is having enough joy to overcome material anxiety even when circumstances aren't conducive to happiness. Remember when I told you to make a list of things that give you joy? Keep those things in your mind and they'll create joy in your heart.
The second type is mental anxiety. Worry. Fear. Panic. This kind of anxiety originates within us, and it's often quite destructive. That's not to say that it can't be stimulated by some outside source, but it comes from within our minds. Certainly, it gets in the way of things. It's hard to enjoy life when you're worried. It's hard to try things when you're afraid. It's almost impossible to get anything done when you're having a panic attack.
The third type is spiritual anxiety. It comes from DEEP within, and it is often the hardest to understand. I have to say that I myself can't understand it because as one who was saved very young, I haven't experienced it. I'm told it's a longing- a hunger. You don't know quite what it is you need but you know that there's a hole in your life that needs to be filled. We see people trying to fill that void all the time. Some do it with things, some with other people. Others drink or do drugs or experiment with alternative sexuality. But we know that we are meant to be companions of the creator and only be fulfilling our purpose can we ever hope to fill that void. (See the end of Ecclesiastes)
Why do we need serenity?
Keaton the ox was never interested in pursuing serenity. Whenever his friend, Almar the donkey would bring up the subject, he'd merely say "I work better under stress."
One day, Almar got really curious and asked Keaton "Why do you want to work so hard?"
"So I can be successful." said Keaton.
"You mean successful as in making lots of money?"
"What are you going to do once you have all that money?"
The ox smiled and said "I'm going to buy Finland. Then I'm going to have it towed to the Carribean. I'll have my own air-conditioned tropical island."
"Why do you want your own island?"
"That way, I can live someplace where nobody will ever bother me."
There are many people in the world who, like Keaton, place no value on serenity. (At least not consciously.) So why do we need it anyway? Here are some of the results of it...
It guards our hearts and minds (Ph 4:6-7)
It pleases God (Romans 8:8)
It gives life (Romans 8:6)
It proves we belong to the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17)
And of course, it's good for your health. It lowers your blood pressure, prevents ulcers, aids digestion, improves your immune system, lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke and makes you smell better, too.
Serenity makes you more likeable as it makes you a great deal more pleasant to be around. It reduces grumpiness and complaining and turns your concern to others instead of yourself.
How do we acheive serenity?
Think back to the story of the storm on the sea of Gallilee. What did the disciples do when the storm was rocking their boat? Did they try to calm the storm themselves? Of course not. They knew they couldn't do that. It would have been stupid to even try. They went to the one person whom they KNEW could do something. Of course, they didn't know WHAT He was going to do. It was the Lord who said "Peace, be still" and made the storm subside. He was the only one with that power. Of course, the disciples were so amazed that they were more scared after Jesus had rescued them than before.
The spirit (That's OUR spirit, with a litle s) is like the sea of Gallilee. when storms arise in the spirit, it's not possible for us to make those storms go away. Not on our own power. To attempt to acheive this on our own is stupid. Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive to acheive serenity. Absolutely, we should. But if you're trying to do so under your own power, you'll fail. It has to be done in concert with God.
God is the author of peace. (1 Cor. 14:33)
Jesus is the means of receiving peace. (John 14:27)
What we need to do is step aside and allow God to work. How do we do this? Let's look at what we read today.
From verse 4- Rejoice in the Lord, always.
From verse 6- Be careful for nothing. "Careful" has a different meaning today than it did for King James. A better translation might be "Don't worry about anything." You can't always make the problem you're worried about go away, but you can make a conscious decision not to dwell on it, but to trust God with the problem. If God doesn't solve your problem, there's two possible reasons. One is that He's got something good in store which will come out of it. The other is that it's really not that important.
Of course, the third reason God might not solve your problem is because you have not accepted Christ as your savior.
If you never have, I invite you to do so now, so that you can know the spiritual inner peace that passes all understanding.
For the young in Christ, I'd like you to simply take comfort in the knowledge that you can have inner peace. That though this world will not afford you the luxury, you can acheive it through God's grace.
For the mature among us, My challenge to you is to constantly improve your relationship with God and thus acheive an even greater level of serenity, but also to teach it to those who are less mature.
Pastor Oren Otter
May 27, 2006
Today's reading: Philipians 4:4-9
4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.