1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Today’s reading is a message of encouragement to its readers, in the midst of persecution and suffering there is a call to rejoice, pray and give thanks.  This isn’t just a message for the Thessalonians, it’s for us too!

Rejoicing and giving thanks can be pretty hard to do at times.  The last couple of mornings when the alarm has gone off and it’s been cold and raining, I have to admit to wanting to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, snuggled down in my bed warm and comfortable.

As tired as I was feeling this morning though, I couldn’t help but be thankful.  Melbourne has had over 50mm of rain in the past two days, which is very much needed.  I have a warm and comfortable bed to sleep in and it’s my own fault that I don’t spend enough time in it, and I have something worthwhile to do that I need to get up early for.

When you think of the hundreds of people around our city who’ve been out in the rain and the cold, who don’t have a job to support themselves or their families, who won’t be getting a thousand dollars from the government to boost the economy and don’t even have a bed to sleep in at all, you could probably forgive them for not being joyful and thankful.

How joyful are you when then rent bill is due and there’s not enough cash to cover it, or when you or a loved one are sick, when you see another news item that says the stock market has dived another 6% or so.  Any number of things can make it difficult for us to be thankful or joyful.  Some of us may have even forgotten what joy feels like.

Apparently one definition for the Hebrew word for rejoice is to turn in a circle.  Perhaps it could even refer to dancing?
I see an expression of that sort of joy every time I get out my dog’s measuring cup as I’m about to feed her, she literally turns in tight circles with joy and anticipation as she makes her way to her food bowl, while looking up excitedly waiting for her food. 

We don’t see a lot of that sort of excitement in churches do we?  We come in, sit down, sing some hymns, and reverently behave ourselves.  Imagine if we could get rid of our inhibitions and react to the food that God gives us the way my dog reacts to the prospect of being fed?  I sometimes wonder what visitors think when they see us all sitting here expressionless during the service, but if we were to be too literal with our rejoicing we might scare people off anyway!

I do think though that you can experience joy without an outward expression of it.  I think you can feel joy within, almost like just a quiet knowing, a warming of the heart perhaps.  Where you can quietly sit and give thanks without necessarily having to dance in circles.  Besides, some of us would struggle to do that.

In most churches around Australia there is a harvest thanksgiving festival held at some point during the year.  Depending on the part of the country and when their particular ‘harvest’ is finished they bring their produce in and decorate the sanctuary of the church and give thanks to God for all his goodness.  Even churches in grip of drought have been continuing this practice.  Yet we don’t seem to follow this tradition here.

Even though most of us don’t rely on any form of primary industry or agriculture for our livings, God has still provided us with an income stream of some sort.  As far as I know we all have homes to go to, family and friends who care for us or that we care for.  We have so much to be thankful for and yet I think we miss an opportunity to at least once a year deliberately take the time to think about what God has given us and be thankful for it, and rejoice in it.  That’s something I’m going to discuss with the worship team in the very near future.

Perhaps over the coming days, you could reflect yourself on all that God has done in your lives, give thanks to him daily, pray for him to provide for you and thank him for what he has already done.

Remember also that we are just under two weeks away from Christmas, it can be a stressful time for us, we can get ourselves so worked up that we forget to stop and think about what it’s all about, what is the purpose of this festival?  Its to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, to remember why it was that God became human to dwell among us, so that we might receive forgiveness of sins.  Now there IS something to be thankful and joyful about!

God wants us to spend some time with him, he’s here with us, to bring us joy, if we can’t slow down enough to focus on him and hear his word and receive his gifts for us even at this time of year, what chance have we got for the rest of the year?

Take some time, hear his word, and let him be with you at this time and always.

Let his light shine into your life, to heal your brokenness, that’s what he came for, that’s something to be especially joyful about, your sins are forgiven! 

I think the best way to finish my sermon to you this morning is with the words of Paul to the Thessalonians:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.