Wednesday, December 16th —by Linda Eastwood

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18   Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.   (Common English Bible)

When my mother died back in 2010, I remember just how I felt when one of my fellow seminarians told me to rejoice, because my Mum was now with God and was watching from heaven. Those were words that I did not find in any way helpful at the time. I was in deep mourning, and I would have given anything to have my Mum back, just as the families of 300,000 people in the US, and over 1.6 million around the world, would probably give anything to have not lost their loved ones to Covid.

And yet there are some people who use the Thessalonians text, above, to (intentionally or not) instill guilt – as “bad Christians” – in those who can’t always find it in themselves to visibly rejoice and give thanks to God “in every situation.” Don’t they remember that even Jesus, on the cross, went through a feeling of total abandonment by God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul was writing to gentile-Christians suffering from persecution by the community and empire around them, and trying to figure out how to live in what they thought were the last days before Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world.  Not exactly the situation we’re living in now, but I suspect we can feel the parallels!  And when Paul talks of “Spirit-inspired messages” (most Bible translations talk of prophecies, or prophets), in this context he means words from church-members who feel inspired by God to share. Think, for example, about the comments many of us are sharing during Facebook-live worship right now; I’m glad that I’ve been seeing plenty of affirming and positive messages. But while Paul tells us to listen, he’s also telling us to “examine carefully” and “hang on to what is good.” You don’t have to internalize negative and hurtful messages – even well-meant ones!

If life feels really hard for you in the situation we’re in right now, then don’t let anyone else use “Rejoice and give thanks” to make you feel guilty about sadness and hurt. Yes, do look for whatever you may still feel thankful for, and try to seek out the deep inner joy that Pastor Julian talked about on Sunday, but know that you don’t have to hide sadness and hurt – even anger – from God. Let it all out in prayer, knowing that God, in Jesus, has been there too, and is right alongside you.

PRAYER: God, our creator and protector, help us bring our hurts and griefs – even our anger – to you in prayer, knowing that you understand them, and that you walk alongside us in every situation. But then help us to seek out those things for which we really can be thankful, and to reach for the deep internal joy that only your peace can bring, so that we can find the strength to move forward, trying to “hang on to what is good” and to do your will.  Amen.