Sermon, Dec. 17, 2017

“Powering Through”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC

I Thessalonians 5: 16-24
December 17, 2017

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”                                                  — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18i

Here we are. The third Sunday in Advent. If you’ve been following the theme of each candle lit, this Sunday is the candle of joy. 1 Thessalonians 5 speaks directly to God’s desire for us to know joy. Our text puts it strongly. This is God’s will that we give thanks in all things.

Hard to do, right? But let’s take the text at its word. Our joy is God’s will. How can God admonish us to be joyous in all things?

Some folks have looked for joy all their lives. So let me say at the outset that I do not know the demons you are dealing with. I do not want to oversimplify life’s difficulties or their solutions. There are some in our midst who have had to deal with mental disease, who, through no fault of their own, have had to live with bi-polar disorder, depression or any number of difficulties for which simple solutions cannot and should not be offered. To you I want to say that you are examples of tremendous courage and faith. In comparison with your burden, my life has been far easier. So I want you to know that I do not blame you for the devil in your midst. Rather, I praise you for having done battle.

Having said all that, however, I am convinced of the truth of our text: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So what does faith give us that can see us through life’s valleys?

First we are not merely given an admonition to rejoice, pray and give thanks, we are given the tools to do exactly that. God is not asking us to overreach. God is simply asking that we make use of faith’s resources.

Listen to these words from Paul. He begins by asking a question:

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Have you owned this promise? Have I? There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God…. Nothing! A moment ago we spoke of living in our personal valleys. Now, in Romans 8 we see from the mountain top. Joy is found in knowing that though the darkness may be great, there is light still.

A pastor from a former era spoke about the hour of midnight when the Sun crosses the meridian. We don’t perceive the shift. It is still dark – as dark as it was a moment ago. But the light of the Sun is no longer moving away from us. It has begun its journey home. So it is with God. It may be dark, but the Sun has crossed the meridian and it will not be stopped in its course.

Note, too, that this text affirms what should not need to be said – namely, that God’s will in Christ is that we might live in joy. So many have made a religion into a dour discipline that limits human freedom. They live lives robed of joy because for them, God demands so much. But your sadness is not “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This may sound rather self evident, but I am convinced that a great deal of mischief is created when we forget this simple fact. God does not desire your sadness when you look at the state of the world. God desires a strong enough faith to see the victory that awaits.

Do not just light the candle of joy. Live joyously for if God is for us, who can be against us? Let us pray…

i1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

 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.  23May 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. 

25 Beloved, pray for us.26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.