It occurs to me about very month or so that preaching is a dangerous business. I’m glad it occurs to me only about every four weeks or so or I probably wouldn’t do it anymore. It is a nerve wracking experience as it is but to think of it as being dangerous can be debilitating. I’m not joking about this like I do with some things. Preaching is a great privilege. It is also a great responsibility and it is terrifying. God wants His Word to be spoken. The foolishness of preaching is the way God chooses to deal with the world.
I spent a lot of time thinking about yesterdays blog and Irene from the Philippines, who by my count, gives thanks in the midst of a very depressing and scary situation, at least eight times in a very short note. We have the 3rd Sunday in Advent coming up and that marvelous lesson from Thessalonians – 1. “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. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
I want to preach this text. I want to crawl into the pulpit and really let go. Paul tells you to rejoice and pray and give thanks always, and you folks can’t even rouse yourself out to church once a week to give thanks for anything, even the good stuff. We have people around the world that live in the most difficult situations giving thanks over and over again and meaning it and you complain and become bitter and angry when the hockey team loses, or the weather gets too cold. You don’t know the meaning of rejoice. You don’t know how to give thanks. You treat prayer as if it were the key to the great candy store in the sky and when you don’t get your way you pout. Paul says that this is the will of God for you and you have proven over and over that not only do you not do the will of God, you don’t care what His will is.
O yeah, this text will preach. But here is the danger – do I really want to say that? Yes I do! Is it really true what I want to say? I think so, and by the way I include myself in the “you folks”. But is that what Paul is saying? There is the danger. I dare not get my message mixed up with God’s. When I preach I must be able to say “Thus saith the Lord”.
This text and may Advent texts are really about the coming of Christ at the end of the age. The gift we get from God is that because of Jesus death and resurrection we are living in the end time now. We are free to be thankful because the old has passed away and the new creation of God is here in Christ. We are free to be always rejoicing because that is what our hope has confirmed in us.
Of course we are not being told to keep a set of rules or regulations or perform to make a preacher happy! This is not a command that must be fulfilled. This is not a chance for the Pastor to rant and vent his frustration with empty pews and declining attendance. Rather, Paul is showing the work of the Spirit in the church which is the place that God has chosen to dispense His gifts. In the midst of life that seems to be falling apart and days that grow darker and darker, it is the Spirit’s work that produces and sustains prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving. We have come to call these things “fruits of the Spirit”. They are always connected with the church, the assembly, the called out ones.
That is why all these folks that say they believe in Jesus, they just don’t go to church are deluding themselves. They are solipsists. Sadly their numbers are growing.
More on this and mission, worship and even praise throughout the week.