November 21, 2018
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Did you know that something is missing this Thanksgiving? When I was at Walmart the other day I realized it. There was a couple who had about 20 years on me who were franticly shopping for Thanksgiving and they couldn’t find the items they were looking for. The husband was in his hunting mode and his wife was 6 steps behind him and she had both arms up in the air and a quizzical look on her face. I don’t know if she was exasperated with him, with shopping, with Walmart because they never put things where you can ever find them, or with this day that we ironically call Thanksgiving.
Something was missing at that Walmart on Monday. On Tuesday I witnessed the same thing. Different store; same problem. After leaving Costco and getting into traffic, a number of shoppers voiced their displeasure with the whole experience by telling other drivers that they didn’t like how many people were on the road or were driving too slow or were blocking traffic. They hit their horns and held them for a long time to speak their frustration.
Something’s missing!! Do you know what it is? Joy. Joy is missing. I remember a few years ago I preached a sermon that meant a lot to one of the worshippers. Life wasn’t very good at that time for them. They were going through a bunch of frustration and they didn’t have much joy. They counted how many times I used the word joy in my sermon. She said to me upon leaving the service, “Do you know how many times you mentioned “joy” in your sermon?” I didn’t, but she did. It was missing from her life at that time and she wanted it once again.
I wonder, is it missing from our lives? Today we celebrate Thanksgiving in this service – thanksgiving and joy go together. Our three-verse text connects the two, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Joyful always. That is what is missing. But we’re Lutherans and I think it is impossible for us to be joyful always. “Be reserved always.” We can do that. “Be quiet always.” Sure. “Be stoic always.” We’re good at that. But “Be joyful always?” Impossible!! Except it actually is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”, for Lutherans and for those who aren’t…yet. “Be joyful always.” If it has been missing I guess it is time to find it.
But don’t accept a false substitute for joy. Too often we have a temporary joy. If everything is good, if life is fine then we are filled with joy. But when things go sour we have nothing left – joy has evaporated. Joy is not connected simply with circumstances, it goes much deeper than that.
About 30 years ago a Jamaican sounding song became popular – it was “Don’t Worry; Be Happy.” (I bet Mike could have done that for our sermon song if I had told him!!) Bumper stickers came out with that slogan. I think you could get a tee shirt with a bright yellow smile that captured the thought. But the slogan, song or shirt isn’t enough. It has little lasting power.
But for believers in Jesus there is a reason to be joyful always. Psalm 16 tells us, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Verse 11)
In the verses just following our text in I Thessalonians 5, Paul gives his defense for such a directive of being joyful always, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (Verses 23-24)
Something is missing when Someone is missing. If God is not present in our life than we cannot have a lasting joy. If we do not know the love of God shown in Jesus Christ, joy will not endure. But when we know the truth of God shown in the great love of Jesus Christ we have joy that lasts.
In the preaching journal called Emphasis the author’s notes from Thanksgiving of 2006 hit the mark, “For Thanksgiving does not begin with our gratitude, or even our bounty. The first principle is the generous providence of God. He is the source of our bounty. And he is the proper recipient of our worshipful gratitude.” (Pg. 34)
Something will always be missing if Someone is missing. Thank God for everything that you have. I hope that your list of thanksgiving is just too long and too numerous and too exhaustive, I know mine is. Thank God for what you have on the outside and thank Him for everything on the inside. Let’s see, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” (II Corinthians 1:20a) “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.” (II Corinthians 9:8)
Joy comes through Jesus. The triad of joy and prayer and thanks come together beautifully in us always. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Pastoral ministry is a joyful life. One of the greatest joys I have during the week is visiting our home bound. Our older folks have a great deal to share. One of the oldest folks that I visit monthly is Magda Merbach (I think she must be Irish!!). Magda will be 100 years old on the last day of May this next year. Magda was born in Austria and was there when Hitler and the Nazi’s took over her country and when the Allied forces bombed Vienna day after day. She fell in love with an American GI and has spent most of those 99 years in the States.
When I saw Magda recently she said something that I noted. She said, “It took me too long to find out what was important in life and what was not.” Since I’ve known her I can tell that she knows what is important. Jesus is important. God’s mercy is important. God’s promises are important.
Have you got that figured out yet? Do you know the things that are important? Do you know the things that are secondary or even unimportant? Do you know the difference?
Something will always be missing until we know and trust and follow Jesus. Joy is missing if Jesus is missing. But you have Jesus and Jesus has you and you are given joy.
Something missing? Not anymore!! We have Jesus. Jesus has us. We really do have joy. Amen!!