Meditation on 1 Thess. 5:16-24
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Pastor Karen Crawford
Dec. 13, 2020
Audio file of Pastor Karen’s message:
Video of “Light One Candle for Joy”
Our women’s book group finished the study of Joanna Weaver’s Lazarus Awakening this past week. We have been meeting on Zoom, I want to say, since April or May, beginning with Beth Moore’s study, Chasing Vines. We decided to meet after our church building closed because we were longing to be with our Christian friends, face to face. And we wanted to encourage one another in our walk with the Lord.
Lazarus Awakening highlights spiritual truths in the gospel of John’s account of Jesus raising his friend, Lazarus, after he had been in the tomb for 4 days! This is proof that Christ is the Messiah, God’s Son, and was a shadow of what was to come—Christ’s own death and resurrection, with the promise of our resurrection with Him. Joanna’s teaching videos were filmed in the Holy Land, where, among other places, we visited the place thought to be the actual tomb of Lazarus on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives in the biblical village of Bethany, east of Jerusalem. Visitors access the tomb by descending a flight of 24 uneven, rock-cut steps, then passing through a square antechamber or vestibule with a stone seat that serves as a place of prayer. The remains of the deceased were laid in the lower burial chamber, measuring a little more than two square meters. Tradition says that Jesus was standing in this antechamber or vestibule when he called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Outcasts from village life often lived in these vestibules or mid-chambers in the tombs. Joanna warned us about those who settle for a kind of mid-chamber living today, stuck in our Christian walk, held captive by our own fear or doubts. Sometimes we choose to NOT really live as Christ has given us the freedom and power to live—courageously and joyfully, by faith, listening for the One who is Love call our name.
On this Third Sunday in Advent, we light the pink candle for joy! On this day in the church year, while we are still reading about John the Baptist preparing the way and not Christ’s birth, we remember and give thanks for the joy that is always present with us in our ever-changing circumstances of our lives. This is a joy that nothing, not even a pandemic, can take away! This joy in the Lord, as Nehemiah told God’s people long ago, is our strength!
This joy is experienced when we draw nearer to the Lord, seeking His will. The psalmist sings in 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The Apostle Paul connects joy with hope, peace, and faith in Romans 15:13. They are inseparable companions. He says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope.” Paul tells the Galatians in 5:22 that joy, along with love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and faith, are all fruits of the Spirit—evidence of the Spirit’s dwelling within us and transforming us into Christ’s likeness.
In our reading in First Thessalonians today, Paul connects joy with prayer and giving thanks to God. This letter is the oldest document we have in the New Testament and is filled with hope and instruction for those living in these in-between times, waiting for our Lord to come again and wondering what will happen when Christ DOES finally return. This hope is much needed by the early Christian community, Paul’s first audience, living as a persecuted minority, struggling with disappointment when Christ takes longer to return than they expect.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,” Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” This little-used Greek word translated “quench” is often applied to extinguishing a lamp, as in the Parable of the 10 Bridesmaids in Matt. 25:8, when the foolish ones say to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” What Paul is saying is that if we fail to rejoice, pray, and give thanks to the Lord, we can actually block the Spirit’s work in our lives. That reminds me of Joanna Weaver’s mid-chamber living!
We can choose to be miserable and even tell ourselves that this is God’s will and the best we can do. But that’s not what God wants for us. Joy isn’t something that comes from outside of us; it’s a gift from God within us. Paul says in Philippians 4, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
How then, should we live, while waiting for our Savior? Paul tells Christ’s followers in 1 Thess. 4:1 to live lives that are pleasing to God and “do so more and more.” Meaning that this isn’t something we necessarily know how to do, not at first. It’s something we learn, just like Paul had to learn to be content in the changing circumstances of his life. This goes against the natural bent of human beings. Let’s face it. We like to complain and look back at the good old days, when things were better or easier or just more comfortable. But the Christian life is always moving forward—and that means learning new ways through practice, by faith, and with the Spirit’s help. It’s like anything new—the hardest part is the first time we try to make the change, but never forgetting why we do what we do and the One whom we love and serve. We have to remember our purpose in life—and hold fast to what is good, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, abstaining from every form of evil.
John the Baptist is a great example of one who knew his purpose in life; he was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, though he wasn’t even sure, at the time, who the Messiah was. He wasn’t intimidated by the Pharisees and religious leaders asking him, “Who are you?” He knew who he wasn’t—not the Messiah, not Elijah. And, empowered by the Spirit, he was willing to do the work God equipped him to do.
Are you willing to join with the Spirit and do God’s work, too?
After our group’s last meeting for Lazarus Awakening on Thursday, it was hard for us to say goodbye. We wanted to linger in that spirit of joy and peace experienced since we began meeting via Zoom last spring. We have decided to continue meeting after the first of the year for another study. It might be another book by Joanna Weaver. We haven’t decided, yet. There’s plenty of room for you, if you want to join with us, too. What matters, we have decided, is that we come together to build up one another in hope and faith and share our joy in the Lord.
On Thursday, we concluded our study by watching Joanna’s video, “Light of Eternity,” before breaking into small groups to discuss how, then, we should live—in light of the fact that there is MORE to come. We liked her list of suggestions so much that I want to share them with you now. Here they are…
“Live fully. Don’t waste today regretting the past or fearing the future, for it may be your last day on earth. Make it count for God.
“Hold things loosely. Since we can’t take our possessions with us, enjoy what you have, but don’t cling so tightly to stuff or fall into the trap of always wanting more.
“Value people highly. People are the true treasures of life, worth nurturing and investing in, for they are the only thing on the earth we can possibly take with us when we leave.
“Travel lightly. Don’t carry baggage from past hurts, and don’t pick up grudges as you go. Life’s too short to be voluntarily miserable.
“Love completely. Let God reveal His love for people through you. Be tender-hearted, not hardheaded, patient and quick to forgive, merciful and slow to judge.
“Give freely. Don’t hoard what you have. Instead, share it with a joyful heart, and you’ll be given more. Generosity releases blessings as sowing seed leads to harvest.
And…. “Look expectantly. Keep looking up even as you walk here on earth, always ready and waiting for the imminent return of Christ. Be heavenly minded so you can be of earthly good.”
Friends, LOVE is calling your name. Come out of the tomb! Don’t choose mid-chamber living in fear and doubt.
You have a purpose—to bear witness to Christ, your Savior. The joy of the Lord is your strength! That joy is available to you RIGHT now—a gift from God, a fruit of the Spirit.
Live fully and courageously, in Light of Eternity! For there is more to come!
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank you for giving us life and all that we would need to live this life and be pleasing to you. Thank you for sending Jesus, our Emmanuel, to lead us back to you when we went our own way and to remain with us always, strengthening us with your joy. But Lord, the days seem so dark right now, as we live through this pandemic. We are dealing with many changes and grieving loved ones and experiences we enjoyed in past Christmases, including our worship in our beautiful sanctuary, singing together all our wonderful hymns of praise. Teach us how to be content and even joyful in all circumstances, giving thanks to you in prayer without ceasing, abstaining from every form of evil. Remind us that in our every wilderness is the hope of your miraculous provision and, ultimately, the wilderness will end at the River Jordan, the beginning of the Promised Land. Grant us courage to live fully and not settle for mid-chamber living. You want so much more for us. Open our ears to hear Love call our name and obey you, more and more. Amen.