And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
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. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Beloved, pray for us.1 Thessalonians 5:14-25 (NRSV)
Friends, every day from the moment we wake up in the morning to the minute we fall asleep at night, our lives are full of choices. Some days we are so used to making them, we don’t even think about it. Am I going to have coffee this morning? If so what am I going to put in it? Am I going to watch the news? Which channel will I watch? And what about breakfast? Am I going to have eggs or pancakes, cereal or yogurt or fruit, or just plain toast? Then, getting dressed is another whole group of choices. What color socks will I wear? Do I need a sweatshirt or sweater? Should I dress “casual” today or should a dress up a little? And what is the weather going to be like? Do you think I need a coat?
Our scripture reading today is part of a letter that was written by the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonian Church. In it, he reminds them to make good choices because, to be honest, they were really struggling. You see, it wasn’t easy being a Christian back in 50AD. The church was new, and it was already under duress. The Christian faith went against society’s expectations in the first communities of the Greco-Roman world, just like it sometimes does in our own communities today. But people didn’t just disagree on their beliefs. Christians were being persecuted. There were false prophets trying to mislead them. And Christians had to be very careful about the choices they made. After all, sometimes it was a matter of life and death.
Paul was very impressed by the faithfulness of the Thessalonians, especially in the face of their persecution. And he wrote today’s epistle to encourage them so that they would continue to grow in Christ because life was not easy for them. They faced a lot of adversity, and they had to work hard to make good choices. But even in the difficult situation that they were in, Paul told them: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.”
Now we do not, in any way, shape, or form, face the same religious adversity as the early Christians did. Our lives are not threatened because of our beliefs. But we do face other difficult situations, and we need to work hard to make good choices, too. Friends, recently because of the pandemic, I hear many people saying that they feel stuck. They don’t know what is going to happen next. They can’t do what they normally do. They disagree or feel nervous about restrictions. And they just want things to get back to normal again. Don’t we all!
But my friends, please, do not feel helpless or held back or even stuck, because every day, you still have choices to make. Every day, you can choose the way that you react to whatever situation you face. Every day, you can listen to the words of the Apostle Paul rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances. Because in so doing, as a Christian, you will also follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Friends, this week we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. I know that it is going to look and feel different for most of us. But the truth is our Thanksgiving holiday is not about having a picture-perfect meal. It’s not about the way we have always done it before. It’s not about football games and parades and large gatherings. Sure, that’s what we have made it over the years, and that’s what it has become in our minds. But what if this year, when many of those things can’t happen, we think about thanksgiving a little differently? And rather than focusing on what we don’t have and what we can’t do and who we can’t gather with, what if we choose to let go of the pressure that we put on Thanksgiving, to let go of the perfection and the stress, and to remember what the holiday is really about–giving thanks for what we have been given?
Friends, I hope, and I pray that this time next year we are back to our big gatherings. I hope we can gather with family and friends at church and around the dinner table, at parties, and football games, in restaurants, and big celebrations. But this year, let’s make good choices. Rather than being mad or sad or frustrated that we can’t have what we want and do what we normally do, let’s remember all the things that we are thankful for. If you need a few ideas to get you started, let’s listen to a few of our Oldtown friends:
(videos of people from Oldtown and what they are thankful for this year.)
Folks, we have a tradition in Oldtown on Thanksgiving Sunday. Now it has nothing to do with turkey or stuffing or mashed potatoes, but it does have to do with writing things down on paper–or this year, possibly typing them online. On Thanksgiving Sunday, we take time to think about what our church really means to us. Now I know that it has been a tough nine months for many of us. We have experienced illness and loss. We’ve had our world turned upside down by a pandemic. We may have shared less-than-friendly words with our friends and family members during the election. And it has been really difficult to not see each other in person, let alone hug each other. But as the Apostle Paul said, we should still give thanks in all circumstances, even when things don’t go the way we want or expect them to.
So, folks, on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I encourage you, to think about what this church means to you and, if you are able, to give thanks through your pledges and promises for the coming year. How might you be able to help support our church? And how might you like to get more involved? Friends, as we celebrated a few weeks ago, the Oldtown church has been around for three hundred and eight years because of the support of its members and friends. As a church with congregational roots, we are blessed to make our own choices, to govern ourselves, and to live out our faith as we feel called by God. But, because of that freedom, there is no money that comes from our denomination or other outside sources. Yes, we make our own choices, but because of that, we are also called to support ourselves financially.
Friends, please listen very carefully! This is not something to fear. This is not something to stress over or to worry about. All that I ask is that this Thanksgiving, you search your heart, rejoicing in all that our church has been and continues to be your life, praying for us, and continuing to give thanks in all circumstances whether we are gathered or scattered. And if you are able to pledge money, please be a generous as you can. If you are able to help out in other ways, promising to help serve in our varied ministries, I would encourage you to please volunteer for that as well.
As your pastor, I want you to know that I give thanks for each and every one of you. I know that you all have different stories and situations. And I know that some of you are able to help in some ways more than others. All that I ask, is that you do what you can, and whatever you and your family decide on this pledge and promise Sunday, that you never make a pledge or promise out of a sense of guilt or pressure, but only out of a sense of thankfulness and gratitude.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare to make our promises and pledges for the coming year, know that there is no right or wrong answer or right or wrong pledge or promise. Because we are all called to give as we are able and as God calls us to give.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!