I talked about Irene in the Philippines and her ability to be so thankful in the face of some pretty grim stuff. I said I would love to preach on the Thessalonian text in order to vent and let my frustration out and I asked if that was the purpose of this text. Was Paul telling the Thessalonians that they should pray, thanks and rejoice always as a Law and a club to give them the back of his hand for not doing so? The more I look at Paul’s words here the more I think we have and are missing something very important as preachers and the way we preach, as hearers and as believers.
Rejoice comes from a word that has as it’s roots the word for joy and grace as well. Christians rejoice and are grateful and joyful because they are mindful of God’s grace. His grace has rescued us from darkness and transformed us into the kingdom of light and mercy and peace. Joy as a characteristic of Christ. Jesus, for the joy set before him despised the Cross. Christ “joys” in saving us. We “joy” in being saved as Paul says at the beginning of this letter “in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” (1:6). Since joy is part of the character of Christ, it is a part of the gifts that he dispenses to His people in the church.
So as a preacher how do I answer someone who tells me they believe in Jesus – they just don’t go to church? The church is the place Christ has chosen to dispense his gifts including rejoicing. The church is what Christ wants the Holy Spirit to gather us into. The church is his body and the church is his bride.
Where are we going to get the ability to rejoice in all things if not in Christ through the church? Glade commercials? Target adds? Midnight basketball? Hockey? Politics? There is a made up joy that puts on a happy face in the morning and by the evening gets pretty saggy and sad. The zombie smiles of he walking dead are pretty frightening when compared with the radiant joy that we see even in the tear streaked faces of the Irene’s of this world. They can rejoice and be thankful because they see the world through the lens of a Savior who came, who comes and who will come again.