1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
December 13, 2020
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy
The Call to Worship and Sermon today included poems and lines of praise written by some ladies who participate in a mid-day small group at Covenant. It is my prayer that as God spoke to the ladies then, God might speak to you through their words now.
CALL TO WORSHIP: (Words by Shelley)
Oh Holy God, I hear Your splendor proclaimed this Christmastide!!
The harmony of magnificent choirs of angels sing your eternal praises! …
Their song penetrates the fear and darkness of this world, filling my heart with immeasurable joy and profound hope:
Glory to God Most High and to His Precious Lamb, the Savior who brings salvation to humankind! …
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
At this time of year, you will find many a sweet aroma wafting from kitchens—sugar cookies, gingerbread, hot chocolate, mulled cider, to name a few. Each of these require a recipe, whether printed or passed down orally throughout the generations. Just the right amount of spices, just the right amount of mixing, just the right amount of baking or simmering can bring delectable delights to our taste buds and ‘warm our hearts’.
What we have in our scripture passage this morning is a recipe to live a life of faith infused with God’s peace.
Let’s start with the list of ingredients needed to mix into our lives:
What God in Christ Jesus wants us to do with these ingredients is to add them into our lives in order that our faith might be infused with God’s peace.
Step one is to take a bit of joyfulness and add it into our lives always, not just at a birthday celebration or when something good happens in our lives, but always. We are not with everyone we would like to be with during these pandemic times. We most likely have not always been treated fairly and respectfully by everyone. We have had unrealized dreams that have timed-out and yet, we are called to rejoice. Diana writes,
Joyfully I wait for you, oh my God, your love gives me joy.
Joyfully I welcome you, oh my God, your love is here and now.
Joyfully, you are mine.
Step two involves adding prayerfulness—that is unceasing prayer into our lives. Prayer is a deliberate communication with God. So to add this ingredient into our lives as God wants us to, means that we are consciously inviting God into our every moment. While we are working, playing, resting and doing all we do that fills our days, there is this ‘soul conversation’ going on with God. A ‘soul conversation’ is a conversation with God that runs 24-7. It involves being real with God and welcoming God being real with us; it means running things by God throughout the day and looking for God’s leading; it means inviting God to interrupt our thoughts and plans.
In 1982, the Today show in New York City scheduled an interview with Reverend Billy Graham. When he arrived at the studio, one of the program’s producers informed Graham’s assistant that a private room had been set aside for the reverend for prayer before the broadcast. The assistant thanked the producer for the thoughtful gesture, but told him that Mr. Graham would not need the room. The producer was a bit shocked that a world-famous Christian leader would not wish to pray before being interviewed on live national television.
Graham’s assistant responded, “Mr. Graham started praying when he got up this morning, he prayed while eating breakfast, he prayed on the way over in the car, and he’ll probably be praying all the way through the interview.”
Praying unceasingly is like an app on your phone that can run in the background, send you notifications, and is available for use as you want to avail of it; but unlike a phone app that drains your phone battery of its charge, praying unceasingly is anything but draining.
Step Three instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances. Adding thankfulness into every part of life can be a struggle. It can be difficult to mix in thanks in all circumstances. How does one give thanks when things are going all wrong? How does one give thanks when an innocent child is killed in a drive-by shooting? How does one give thanks on days when it appears that all is for naught? The important technique of mixing in thanks to all of life, is to start adding thanks in, slowly and genuinely — look for something that you can give thanks for, no matter how small or large. Perhaps you might thank God for a ray of sunshine that sheds light on your wall, for a blanket that feels extra soft and cozy, for safe water to drink. One thank-you given from the heart brings yet another awareness of a blessing; and another and before you know it, you will be able to give thanks in all circumstances. It may seem as a joke when some of you have heard me thank God for my neck because it keeps me from loosing my head—and as much as I loose my keys, you can understand why. But in all seriousness, thanking God for my neck is real because I don’t take my body for granted—there are so many little things that fit together in one body for life!
A recipe can be a flop by adding in the wrong ingredients or not treating the ingredients with the proper care. So lets explore how, in following the recipe for a life of faith infused with peace, we can make the most of the ingredients and have a successful result. For these life recipe ingredients of joyfulness, prayerfulness, and thankfulness to feed our lives properly we must avoid
- quenching the Spirit
- despising the words of the prophets
- failing to test things
- doing little to hold on to what is good
- getting caught up in forms of evil.
First, we are cautioned about quenching the fire of the Spirit, which means to put the Spirit out, to extinguish it from someone’s life or situation. For example, I have known people in life who have grown close to God and been in the process of deepening their faith, and then they have met someone and gotten wrapped up in the relationship so much so that they have lost sight of God, and unintentionally quenched the Spirit. It takes some intentionality to keep the Spirit bright and burning in one’s life. …. Sandy shares in the following poem what it means to handle our life’s recipe ingredients well by not quenching the Spirit:
Traveling, traveling, traveling
Through this tunnel of darkness
Looking for that bright star
That steers us out of bleakness
The year started bright and shiny
But then it quickly dimmed
And now all we can think of
Is will this ever end
We can almost see that light now
It’s calling us to hold fast
Just as the Three Riders
Followed its beam long past.
Waiting, waiting, waiting
We hide ourselves away
While keeping watch on that flicker
That foretells a better day
With Hope we pray to reach it
Still learning what really matters
With Faith we know we’ll get there
God’s promise to us he offers
With Joy we celebrate the small things
As did Mary that tiny hand
And in this dark hour lest we forget
To us was born the great I Am.
Second, we are cautioned against despising the words of the prophets, which can destroy ingredients of life with God just as quenching the Spirit can. Prophets by their very nature do not always bring words people want to hear, but they are words that are needed to be delivered and heard. Prophets are filled with the words of God, passion for justice and peace, and courage to deliver God’s word. We need to intentionally be alert to God’s words so that the weight of the world and worry can not hold us back from rejoicing, offering unceasing prayer and giving thanks. Mary Lou illustrates the opposite of despising the words of the prophets in this poem:
Hope was born on Christmas Day
May it live in our hearts all year, we pray.
Wise men sought him years ago
that, one day, we may come to know
his love and guidance is always there.
So, how could we ever have a care?
Third, we are reminded that, just as in baking and cooking, it is important to test the temperature of ingredients whether they are too hot or too cold or just right for a tasty treat, so too it is important to test everything for faithful living. Does it pass the test for good rather than evil, for life-giving words rather than life-taking words, for encouraging life with God rather than excluding God from life?
Fourth, we are cautioned about doing little to hold on to what is good. It is important that we not lower our standards. Anything we might add to our recipe of life needs to be of top quality. If you were making a gourmet chocolate cake and you went to the effort to get the freshest eggs, the finest ground flour and the best vanilla on the market but decided to use some of your son’s cheap waxy chocolate candy as the chocolate ingredient, you just cheapened what you bought for the cake. As they say, one bad apple can destroy the whole bunch. We must insist on putting in what is best for the recipe. Karen gives us words of encouragement and hope to focus on including the gift that makes us better chefs for the feast of life:
Christmas brings joy
and just think it all started with a baby boy
In the world there is hope
but right now we all need to be able to cope
The world is scary
but think how it was for the Virgin Mary
But she did as God wanted
and giving birth to a Savior she never flaunted
Christmas brings joy and we can all
enjoy love and peace for us all
No matter how great or small
Through his Son his shows his love
and it fits us all like a winter glove
Christmas brings joy and on Christmas day
He is here forever and always to stay.
Fifth, we are warned to abstain from evil in any form and so avoid getting caught up in it — whether it be in the form of power, drunkenness, pride, selfish desire, lust, or lying, to name a few. Indulging even a little evil is dangerous because it puts one on a slippery slope into junk food binging. No evil belongs in the life recipe for success, lasting joy and everlasting peace.
As we put together the ingredients of joyfulness, prayerfulness and thankfulness and seek to make the most of them in creating a delicious dish of God’s grace, we are building a life with a faith that infuses our spirit and soul with God’s peace. As it says in verse 23 of our passage today, “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.”
As Margaret invites us, let us “Sing praises, praise the Lord, for he is coming.” as we reflect upon the gift of the Prince of Peace through sung word.