A Weary World Rejoices – 1 Thess 5 – Thanksgiving
I love that video-it’s true, so spot-on and poignant. And let me add-that’s exactly how Monica plays ping pong! But can you say you’re thankful in 2020? As the video brought up-would you say 2020 was a wasted year-brush it aside, block it from your memory banks and pretend like it didn’t happen? Or would you agree that God didn’t waste a moment of it? That because He’s in control, because He’s working all things together for our good we can give thanks for everything? We’ll be looking directly at this verse this morning from 1 Thess 5:18-and if there was ever a year when the truth of that verse was tested it was this year! Or more appropriately stated if there was ever a year that tested our ability to live out that truth it was 2020! So that’s going to be our working question this morning-can you give thanks in everything throughout this year? Who went around the dinner table sharing what they were thankful for? Did you come up with something in 2020? Who couldn’t really answer that-but sort of scratched their head in puzzlement? You’re thinking I’m not sure there was much to be thankful for-whether that was all the time stuck at home having to quarantine and social distance, cancelling the vacations you were looking forward to, trying to keep track of masks that always go missing, rationing toilet paper that was never in supply, and now missing family and friends for the holidays. That for you-as it was for most-2020 was a year of disappointments, cancellations, and loss, truly unprecedented-and I love how the video said it’s unprecedented how many times we’ve heard the word unprecedented this year. But it was! So with all that 2020 has thrown our way-and we’d like to say the highs and lows-but it was mostly the lows-can you give thanks in everything? Was this a wasted year-or did God know exactly what He was doing?
I get a variety of EFCA emails-and one that I got this week said it this way-2020 continues to be a hard year. Covid losses mount. Some people have lost loved ones, good health or jobs to the pandemic. Others have lost a feeling of security and well-being. Everyone has lost a sense of normalcy. Many people long for a return to normal. Many of us will be missing normal this Thanksgiving. What if normal is not what God has in mind? What if the pre-Covid normal was an idol…something that was a muted version of the life God desires for us? Now that’s a powerful question! But what if normal was too easy, too smooth sailing where we felt like we were in control and could handle things ourselves? What if normal was an idol and God wants to take us out of normal to remove that idol and deepen our trust in Him-which becomes our new normal? What if normal isn’t being thankful because things went well this year-but normal is what it says in-1 Thess 5:18. That’s the passage we’ll be looking at this morning.
So here’s the new normal-Thanksgiving pic. Even the turkey has a mask on! And by the way the wild turkey that’s been roaming around the church has been suspiciously absent these past couple of weeks-so somebody had some fresh wild turkey! But I trust everyone had a great Thanksgiving feast-that the turkey, stuffing and potatoes were excellent-and you went back for seconds-even thirds! Or that you’ve been enjoying lots of leftover turkey sandwiches the last few days. But if there’s one thing Thanksgiving dinner does-it leaves us full. That you sort of push your chair away from the table totally stuffed, fully satisfied-and a few pounds heavier. But to leave the dinner table hungry shouldn’t happen-no one should go home from Thanksgiving still hungry and unsatisfied. If you did it was poor execution at the dinner the table! But as we’ve just been saying 2020 has left a lot of us emotionally unsatisfied. It has been a year of hunger and want and weariness. Probably very few of us can say we feel the same level of satisfaction this year that we have in the past. So our passage addresses where a lot of us are at right now-1 Thess 5:14. As you look across that list it’s not hard to identify with those categories-idle, fainthearted, and weak. I’m sure each one of us has had moments of feeling those exact things in 2020.
First of all, I think everybody took a turn at being idle. Certainly our front line workers and health care workers put in tons of time and hours and energy-but in one way or another we all had moments at home during lockdown that we’ve never experienced before. Time at home where we probably wondered-will I always be at home, is this going to continue forever? I know many people who set up offices at home and have been there ever since-which is great. But I think idle has been something we’ve all felt in one way or another this year. As it was often said-the pandemic gave us the gift of time-the question was how we used it. Were we productive with it-or idle? Depending on your translation-the word could also be translated as undisciplined-which again I think is another word that so aptly describes where a lot of us have been. All this time at home, this season of new normal has forced us to be more disciplined in making new habits, especially in being more intentional in our spiritual lives than we ever have before. When there’s distance with the body of Christ because we can’t physically be at church and have to watch it online-it forces us to come to grips with our spiritual walk. Will I discipline myself to keep going and spend time with the Lord, reading His Word and speaking to Him in prayer? Will I discipline myself to cling to Him and grow in Him when I’m alone at home? Or will I be undisciplined and spiritually idle? Have I been spiritually idle this year? Did I put on the spiritual brakes when pandemic and lockdown started and I haven’t disciplined myself to start back up again? Have I hit the spiritual pause button and never resumed? But what does the passage say-admonish the idle. To challenge one another to get going and resume our spiritual lives. To tell one another it’s worth it, don’t stall out, don’t throw in the towel or blame 2020 for why your spiritual life has flatlined-but get back up, shake off the dust and keep running the race. That’s Heb 12:1-2a NIV. Have you done that? Or look at Heb 10:24-25 NIV. There’s that command to encourage one another, to spur one another on. Which of course makes us think of a cowboy wearing his spurs to poke the horse to get going! A painful but much needed jab! Maybe you need to poke a friend to get going-to give them a painful but much needed jab! Or maybe you need the jab. To be reminded that 2020 isn’t a good reason to stall out spiritually, that 2020 isn’t the excuse to put your spiritual life on pause as so many have, instead 2020 is all the more reason to seek Christ and cling to Him! Back to our passage-1 Thess 5:14. Because it’s not just the idle-it’s encouragement for the fainthearted and help for the weak. And who doesn’t feel a bit fainthearted and weak from this year? Who hasn’t been timid or fearful from what we’ve been through-or what’s to come? Who isn’t a bit worn out and weary? I think we all are!
So what’s the command-not only to encourage and help-but be patient with everyone. Patience for all these people on the list-the idle, the fainthearted and the weak; the worn out and the weary. What would our world look like if there was an abundance of patience given to everyone? What would our church look like if there was an abundance of patience displayed to one another? That instead of dealing with people in a demanding or critical or judgmental way, what if there was patience? Pt1:Patience isn’t something we demand from others, it’s something we show others. Because isn’t that often the case-we demand patience in how others should respond to our shortcomings or struggles-give me time, give me some space and I’ll get there, show me some grace. But then we lack patience for the shortcomings of others and grow very demanding or critical-Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they shape up? But this is a call to be a people of patience with one another-to be a people of long-suffering with others, unwilling to write them off or give up-but to keep encouraging and keep loving. The word patient means to have a long-fuse. Someone of patience doesn’t blow-up easily or let their anger or frustration dictate them. Would that describe you? Someone with a long fuse-or are you more of a firecracker; someone who explodes far too quickly and easily at the shortcomings of others?
I always find it to be one of the most ironic passages in the Bible-but Jonah wasn’t patient with the people of Ninevah. He wanted God to strike them down right away because of their bad behavior-so when God showed patience, when God responded with grace and saved Ninevah instead of punishing it-Jonah blew up like a firecracker and blamed God-Jonah 4:1-3. Here’s Jonah blaming God for being this way. He’s fuming that God would be gracious and merciful and slow to anger-all the whole forgetting how God was that way with him by rescuing him from the belly of the fish. Jonah was pleading with God to save him, forgive him and show him mercy when he was sloshing around inside the fish guts-but as soon as he was spit out and back on dry land-forget the mercy and patience! And I think we can be a lot like Jonah-being overly critical, demanding and impatient with others-insisting they pay for their mistakes and get their due-but all the while begging God to forgive our mistakes and go easy on us. So back to Pt1. Just as God’s been so patient with us-the way His love steadfastly endures, the way His mercies never come to an end, the way He forgives and keeps no record of wrongs-so we are to display and demonstrate that same love, that same patience to others. As we go back to our main passage look at what Paul says that logically follows this call for patience-1 Thess 5:15. Repaying someone evil for evil is how we’re naturally wired. You did that to me-just wait until you see what I’ll do to you. And we put a target on someone’s back and try to make them pay and make their life miserable. But that’s exactly the opposite of how we’re called to live as followers of Christ. Instead of retaliating evil with evil we’re to take the opportunity to do good. Instead of trying to get even, we’re to use it as a window to show grace. What if the next time you wanted to get back at someone you purposely chose to do good to them? What if the next time someone deserved to be treated badly you treated them graciously and kindly? Wouldn’t that be remarkable? But that’s gospel-centered living! Howell, 160. And when we trust God to do His part-it’s because we know that God has everything under control, it’s all working towards His purposes, so we don’t have to take matters into our own hands. But that’s what repaying someone evil for evil is-it’s not believing that God’s in control, it’s not believing that God will bring about justice in His timing, so it’s us foolishly trying to play God by obtaining our own justice. Lord, you can’t be counted on to get this done-so I’ll do it for you. Or like Jonah thinking-Lord, you’re not going to treat this person like they deserve so let me do it for you. You’re going to show them too much patience and grace-and we can’t let that happen! As if we somehow think we’ll convince God on that point-Oh yeah-you’re right-what was I thinking with that patience and grace idea-you go after them and get them for me-good call. Of course not! But that’s our thinking when we try to take matters into our own hands and repay evil for evil. We put ourselves in the position which we were never meant to take. God’s in control-He’s working all things together for His glory and our good-even the hard things-so our role is to trust Him, waiting on Him, and…1 Thess 5:16. Second shortest verse in the Bible-but so crucial!
Do you think that’s possible? Is that something you can do? Or is a statement like this negated because of the year we’ve had. As if Paul put a little asterisk next to it-Rejoice always (except for 2020-not sure what’s going to happen then but I’ve heard it’s bad so you’re off the hook!) Not at all! This year more than ever is when these 2 words are so important-Rejoice always. And how is that possible? Given all of the pain and stress and loss of this year, how can we do it? That’s Pt2:Joy isn’t something we work on, it’s something we live in. Joy is very different from happiness. We all know that happiness is a fleeting emotion, it comes and goes before we know it. But joy is a stable reality as followers of Christ. Joy isn’t something we try and muster up or produce, joy is where we’re placed when we turn to Jesus. Look at what He says-John 15:9-11. Every time I read that I’m struck by how Jesus didn’t say our joy would be partial or halfway or almost there-but it is full-complete and total. He didn’t say work hard to feel joyful, He said-My joy is already in you. It’s not something to go get, it’s something you already have by trusting in Me. Have you ever thought of joy that way before? Something you already possess, something that’s yours because of who you are in Christ? Back to Pt2. And because we live in it-we can rejoice always. That no matter what the world tries to throw at us, no matter how dark or dreary things get-nothing can take away, remove or replace the joy of Christ within us. Look at Paul’s confidence in Rom 8:18. Paul’s life is centered on the hope and joy of Christ-and all that’s in store for Him as a follower of Christ. The glory to be revealed is the glory of eternity, the glory of the new heavens and earth and being in the Lord’s presence forever and ever. So Paul says the struggles of right now, the challenges and difficulties of today, aren’t even worth comparing with that. Now I don’t think Paul is minimizing the struggles of today-he called them sufferings, he’s identifying that they’re difficult-but he’s putting them in the right perspective as he sees them in light of eternity and what God promises. Howell, 163. That brings us back to-1 Thess 5:16-18.
Giving thanks isn’t God’s suggestion for us. It’s not His advice or something to do if we have a spare moment-giving thanks is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus. Pt3:Giving thanks isn’t something God suggests, it’s something He commands. The practical, daily application of where our joy becomes a reality is seen by how we’re able to give thanks in all things. Joyful people are thankful people. It’s hard to filled with joy when you’re grumbling. It’s hard to experience joy when you’re pointing out all the negatives in life and complaining about all that’s gone wrong and how life’s unfair. The biggest complainers don’t tend to be people oozing with joy! But when you lift your eyes off your current struggles (of which we all have plenty) and begin to see the gifts and blessings God has given you-whether that’s your spouse, your kids, friends, good health, a warm home, a supportive church, a job to pay the bills and a car to get you there-and your list could go on and on. But when you see all those blessings from God-even in a year like 2020-you can’t help but be filled with joy and gratitude because God hasn’t left you or wandered away-but come right to your place of need. Instead of all the negatives from this year, how has God blessed you this year? Instead of all the complaining and wishing this awful year would just end already-how has God been with you throughout the year? What things has He done in your life in 2020 that you need to thank Him for? GK Chesterton said-The worst moment for an atheist is when he’s really thankful and has no one to thank! Isn’t that so true! Great void in the sky I thank you for all these blessings in my life! No one says that-you can’t! But we have a God to thank and worship and praise in all things because He’s given us everything we need. And most importantly He’s given us what we need most-the gift of His Son.
Pt4:Rejoicing isn’t something based on feelings, it’s something based on what we know is true. Never once has God said the reason to rejoice is because you’re feeling good and life is great. We’re called to rejoice because the truth is good. We called to rejoice because the news of the gospel is good. We’re called to rejoice because our hope is good-so very good-because our Savior has been born. Look at Isa 9:1-2. Gloom, distress, darkness-sounds a bit like 2020-but this was written in 700 BC-and the truth hasn’t changed-a light has dawned and His name is Jesus-Isa 9:6. We don’t rejoice based on our feelings, we rejoice because of what we know is true-and this is true-our Prince of peace has come. This is what we’ll be examining this Christmas-A Weary World Rejoices. What a great line from O Holy Night. The world may be weary, you may be weary-but we can rejoice in what we know is true-a light has dawned, our Savior’s been born, Jesus has come-to save us and give us eternal life and joy! A weary world rejoices indeed!