Text for the day: 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. (1 Thessalonians 5)
Introduction: Have you given thought to your Thanksgiving gathering? For many, this day is a time for joy, merriment, and amazing food — but for others, it's a source of stress and anxiety, thanks to family drama around the dinner table. So here is the question for today: Is it possible to be thankful under difficult circumstances?
St Paul seems to think so: here is our text for the day:
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.
Let me give us some context to this text: to do so I need to take you to an ancient city in Greece called Thessalonica.
It was founded in 315BC and named by a Greek King after his wife – who was the sister of Alexander the Great. Thessalonica was important because it had a seaport on the Aegean Sea and so became part of a major trade system. In 148BC it became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia – and 50 years after Jesus, the Apostle Paul visited this city.
His visit did not go well: He spent three weeks teaching about Jesus in the Jewish Synagogue, and a number of people chose to follow the way of Jesus. But the Jewish leaders of the city heard rumours that Paul was teaching about a new King called Jesus who would oppose Caesar. They were afraid of Roman soldiers shutting down their businesses and they chased Paul out of the city. This was a messy and unpleasant event, which involved a mob dragging Paul’s host through the streets, and rioting people, and a gathering of city officials. Paul and Silas escaped Thessalonica after dark, and travel 45 miles at night to the southwest city of Berea.
This was not a happy event: and here is where things get weird:
Do you know the very first letter Paul writes – in fact the oldest writing in the whole of the New Testament? It is the letter to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica. The city that chased him out at night – is the first city on Paul’s heart: and here it gets even more weird – because of the tone of the letter!
I would have expected Paul to write a letter that refers to the difficulty of being a disciple / perhaps a complaint about how hard it was to leave like that – and how hard the rest of the journey was – because people from Thessalonica followed Paul to the next city and persuaded them to chase Paul out of Berea.
Listen to the letter Paul writes: He is reflecting on what happened to him in his visit to Thessalonica:
5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!
: Paul speaks of how life can change in an instant – and just when you think that there is peace and security, sudden destruction will occur. He was peacefully preaching in the Synagogue …..and then he was running for his life. Paul’s life was not securely fixed: And all of us say “Aha I understand this”
This is the one big thing I have learned in South Dakota – life can change in an instant:
• For example: do not think that you understand the weather: just when you think it is a lovely day – everything changes!
• The same can be said of the economy, or of the politics of our day, or of our own personal circumstances: we think we are healthy, until we are not; we think that all is well with our family, until it is not.
I am reminded of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, who is quoted as saying "change is the only constant in life." The fact is: we do not have control of the environment around us. (of course we wish that we did – and some even try to keep control by making more rules, or by erecting walls, or in my case - by telling my daughter to keep away from the long haired musician!) What we do have control over is our response to what happen s to us:
Let me read a bit more of the writing of St Paul:
15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 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.
Paul – who had suffered great evil at the hands of the people of Thessalonica – responds by saying : “do not repay evil with evil”. This runs counter to the world we live in – ours is a world that says – make sure that you get your revenge for the evil done to you. No so says St Paul: instead seek to do good to all people.
Paul then goes further and says that when you are doing good, do it with a heart full of joy. Give thanks in all circumstances. Here is Paul reminding us of an important lesson. He had struggle in his relationship with Thessalonica. Even so, he is thankful: he is grateful that there were people who heard the Gospel – and that God had accompanied him.
Again this is counter to our culture: We come to expect the good things and complain when things do not go our way. We give thanks when we are happy and we curse when we struggle.
Here is the invitation for this month: let us learn to give thanks: Giving thanks is not a natural action: we have to learn to say thank you / we teach our children to say thankyou / and as we grow older it is easy to forget this lesson.
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
2. Come to our Thanksgiving Breakfast
3. Complete a Pledge Card.
4. Join in celebrating the people who set us an example of faith: the Saints who have gone before us.