Sermon for December 14, 2014

Sermon for Third Sunday in Advent

December 14, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Sermon Theme:  “Throwing out the Trash”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary; Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Five-year-old Jonathan was busy with his paints and brushes at his small table.  “What are you painting?”  his mother asked him.

“This is the house where Baby Jesus lived,” said the small boy, as he added a yellow star to the sky above the brown house.

When she looked at the painting again, the mother saw her son adding a man carrying two bundles under his arms.  She asked, “Is that one of the kings taking his gifts to Jesus?”

“No,” replied the boy.  “That’s Joseph taking out the trash.”

During this Advent season, as we prepare for the celebration of the coming of the birth of the Christ, we need to clean the trash out of our spiritual lives.  “How do we do that?”  we ask.

Paul tells us in our sermon text.  Today’s Epistle is not a soaring Sermon on the Mount like the one Jesus gave.  No, in our text, Paul sounds more like a Coach sitting on the sidelines during a game, tossing out encouragement as we maneuver the ball.  He yells, “Hang in there through all of it.  You can do it!”  Rejoice, pray thank, promote, affirm, abstain!  The coaching seems most authentic when the words come from one who has been there, just like a coach, who himself as a player in earlier years, fought hard to win.

Paul had been there.  He had been ridiculed, abused, suffered a “thorn-in-the-flesh,” shipwrecked, imprisoned.  He is a spokesman with authentic experience urging us to stay with our assignments.

So, Coach Paul is sitting on the sidelines, as we await the coming of the Christ, urging us to victory, saying:  “OK, Team, rejoice always!”  “Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances!”  “Come on, Team, do not quench the Spirit and do not despise prophecies.”  “Test everything, hold fast what is good, and abstain from every form of evil!”  “I know you can do it!”

Then, confident that with the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can do it, Paul blesses us with these words, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

All right, it’s half-time, and we’re going to try to make sense out of what our coach is telling us.  First, we’re to “rejoice always.”  To be sure, “Rejoice always” is not the same as “Have a holly, jolly Christmas!,” or “Don’t worry, be happy!”  We can rejoice no matter the weather or time of year if we can remind ourselves of the joy that comes when we are connected to God through Christ.

In other words, joy is possible if we do not confuse “joy” with “happiness.”  “Happiness” comes from the root word “hap,” which means “chance.”  Happiness depends on things going our way.  Joy, on the other hand, comes from the certain knowledge of our Lord’s abiding presence in all circumstances and of our coming victory through the power of the Spirit.  Paul is not telling us that we should live in denial of the pain in the world or in our own lives.  There is always pain in our world, and God also suffers as a result.

Rather, Paul is talking about a mindset.  An attitude.  We can be the “I am but a miserable worm” form of Christian, full of the woe of being human in the face of God, or, we can be the “children of a loving God, basking in the glow of His loving kindness.”

Now what did he say next?  Oh, yes, “Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.”

Taking Paul’s injunction to pray continually in a literal sense motivated scores of monks to hide away in remote monasteries, attempting to do the impossible.  Praying without ceasing has less to do with speaking words and more to do with leaving our hearts open so that God can contact us at any time.  We can become more spiritually attuned, more open to the movement of the Spirit, and more able to call on God or reach out to others when we attempt to keep in touch with God every minute rather than at certain prayer times.

Much of our praying is done in our hearts, with our sighs, our moans, our smiles.  All of our prayers are lifted up to God; if others don’t hear them, that’s all right, God does.

Bill Moyers, a former Baptist preacher, and one-time Press Secretary to U.S.

President Lyndon Johnson, was asked to bless the food when they had lunch

together.  And so he began, when President Johnson interrupted the prayer,

practically shouting, “Speak  up, Bill, I can’t hear a blankety-blank thing you’re


Moyers replied, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President.”

“And,” Paul adds, “we are to give thanks in all circumstances.”  You know, it is easy to give thanks when everything is wonderful.  Our children are whole; our food shelves are full; our bodies are healthy and our jobs are secure.  But does Coach Paul really mean for us to “give thanks in “all” circumstances?”

Matthew Henry, the old Bible scholar, was mugged.  His wallet was stolen.  That night, in his journal, he wrote these words:  “Lord, I am thankful first because I was never robbed before.  Second, I am thankful that although they took my wallet, they did not take my life.  Third, I am thankful it was I who was robbed, not I who was robbing.”  Now there’s an example of Paul’s call for thankfulness in all circumstances!

“Do not quench the Spirit and do not despise prophesies,” that’s the next part of the pep talk at half-time.  Quenching the Spirit happens when you pour cold water on the zeal of someone else’s worship of God.  It happens, for example when you reject contemporary music in a service or you insist on a rigid adherence to the use of ancient liturgies only.  When you think, “We’ve always done it this way!”

The literal meaning of “to prophesy” is “to reveal or proclaim God’s Word.   If you find reasons and ways to avoid hearing God’s Word, then you are “despising prophesies,” whether it’s talking or texting while the pastor is preaching the Word or whether you just don’t come to God’s House.

Finally, our coach says, “Test everything, hold fast what is good, and abstain from every form of evil.”  Let’s not give up using our brains, Paul seems to be saying, but let’s not simply reject what others are saying that they have heard from God.  As Jesus said, “No bad tree ever grew good fruit.”  Not every loud fault-finder is a prophet, and those who hear from God are not necessarily insane.

Indeed, Advent is a time to meditate on the Coming of Jesus, both His first coming and His second coming; and so it is a time to heed Paul’s injunctions in our text, and throw the trash out of our spiritual lives.

We all began our spiritual lives, as Trevor did this morning, through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, a time when we became children of the Heavenly Father, received the forgiveness of sins, and received the Holy Spirit.  As we participated in the Rite of Baptism with Trevor’s parents and sponsors, we reviewed and renewed the meaning of our own baptism.  This helps us all to live according to Paul’s injunctions, to keep the good in, and to throw the trash out of our hearts!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.