Sunday, December 13, 2020


Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all 
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. 
Test everything. Retain what is good. Refrain from what is evil.

I Thessalonians 5

 “How much time do you have left?”  You don’t know, do you? I don’t know either! I may have 40 years or more. I may have 40 days or less. I may come down with COVID and have only 40 hours or less! I have been retired for five years, some of the busiest years of my life, but it would not be a total disaster if I died tomorrow. I am not ready to hang it up quite yet, but if I had to, I know that my life has turned out better than I could have imagined when I was growing up. I have done more, been more places and have met more people than I ever thought possible. Since I have no control over how long I will be here, I decided years ago that the only control I do have is to live each and every day as best I can. I decided that this is where I will put my energy, living well as I go along, not trying to predict when the end will come. In light of the present COVID epidemic, I want to “be ready,” not caught trying to “get ready.”

What we have in our second reading today is Paul advice on “how to live while we wait.” His advice is helpful today almost 2,000 years later. When Paul wrote this letter to Christian believers in Thessalonica, both he and his readers, were expecting the imminent return of Jesus at any time. Paul writes to tell them six things about how to wait for that return.

(1) “Rejoice always!” Paul does not mean that we should all be running around grinning like Cheshire cats and denying the painful realities of the world. Neither does he mean that we should go around depressed and filled with hopelessness. He simply means that, underneath it all, underneath all the pain and suffering of this world, underneath all our personal disappointments and setbacks, we should have the certain knowledge that in the end, everything will turn out OK because God said so! That means that under the choppiness of life, we can have a serene current of peace flowing just below the surface of our awareness.  As my favorite old hymn puts it, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.”

(2) “Pray without ceasing!” Paul does not mean that we should all become religious fanatics, spending every waking moment saying prayers and boring people out of their minds with our constant religious babble. He simply means that we should always live in a state of awareness of God’s love and presence as we go about our lives. He means that we should  always live aware of God’s care and presence and keep coming back to that care and presence again and again, especially when we are afraid and overwhelmed.   

(3) “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Paul means here that we should always focus on the big picture and not lose our focus during trying times. We are a spoiled people. We tend to see the glass as always half empty. It is possible to be thankful, even in times of tragedy. One of the most stunning things we have seen in various places inflicted by great national tragedies, is the number of people who were interviewed during the most dire circumstances who reported that they were “thankful” - thankful for being alive and for simple things like food and clothing. Yes, it is possible to be thankful, even as we endure great trials.

(4) “Do not quench the Spirit.” Here Paul challenges is to be open to new directions, new happenings and new people. He challenges us to be open to the possibility of going in a new direction in our life, when we need to, even if it is not something that we would have chosen for our self. As I look back over my life, I am amazed at the great people and things that God has sent to me when I opened my mind and heart to something I had never thought of! I have a small needle-point pillow on my bed even to this day, given to me by a now deceased Cathedral parishioner, that reminds me not to quench the Spirit. It simply says, “The Best is Yet to Come.” I give that pillow a pat every day when I make my bed. Yes, I am expecting some surprises from God, even in my old age! As Psalm 92 reminds me, “I (they) shall bear fruit even in old age, I (they) shall stay fresh and green.”

(5) “Do not despise prophetic utterances.” As Paul himself knew, prophets are people who tell us the truth whether we like it or not! Friends, it is hard to have our noses rubbed in the truth. Paul knew, what we all know, that if you really want to make someone angry, just point out their mistakes and sins and blind spots. - just tell them the truth. To live well, we need to be open to hearing things about ourselves that we would rather not hear. In truth, people who tell us what we want to hear are not necessarily our friends and those who tell us what we don’t want to hear are not necessarily our enemies.

(6) “Test everything, keeping what is good and rejecting what is bad.” Like the Thessalonians, we too live in a crossroads where everything, both good and bad, is always being laid at our feet. Therefore, we need to be discerning about what we keep and what we throw away. As the old saying goes, “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.” There are many good things going on in our world as well as many awful things. We need to question everything, constantly sorting out what is truly good from those things that merely look good. This is true of what we eat, as well as what we allow into our minds and hearts.

So, friends, in conclusion none of us knows how long we will be here on this earth, but we do have a choice about how we will live while we wait. In spite of illness, poverty and setbacks, we can choose to live in joyful hope as we await the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ - rejoicing always, praying constantly, being thankful continuously, always trusting the Spirit, never rejecting prophetic statements, forever testing everything, constantly retaining what is good and repeatedly rejecting the things that are bad. In other words, because we are bombarded with so many choices between what is good and what is bad, we need to be able to “discern.” “Discern” means to “cut in two,” to sort the good from the bad. We need to be able to wake up and smell the coffee and face facts! That, in my book, is the only way to live! That is how I am trying to live in whatever time I have left!        




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