Time for
doing.

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.

Today’s message from scripture is one of doing (while rejoicing).

As we listen to Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians, it sounds much like the instruction of every parent when they drop their children off somewhere. “Always be respectful. Listen closely. Pick up after yourself. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Call me if you need anything. In fact, just call me period.” The list goes on. Most of the time those words are not even heard, because our children know them by heart. They have heard them repeatedly. But, like Paul, we have to wonder if they connect. Hearing is different from grasping and doing.

Reading Paul’s list of final exhortations, we are called to tune in attentively. Not only to listen, but to put these easy to remember admonitions into practice: REJOICE, PRAY, GIVE THANKS, DO NOT QUENCH, DO NOT DESPISE, TEST EVERYTHING, REFRAIN FROM EVIL.

Like to Letter of St. James, the First Letter to the Thessalonians is thought to be one of the earliest writings in the Christian community. Paul is laying out directions for how Christians are to live. What are we to do every day? These things: REJOICE, PRAY, GIVE THANKS, DO NOT QUENCH, DO NOT DESPISE, TEST EVERYTHING, REFRAIN FROM EVIL.

We do not really hear it in English, but in Paul’s Greek, he laid these out in poetic form, a sort of mnemonic device, with a special rhythm so they would be easily remembered. He wanted the faithful to have this in their ears, on their tongues every day, like a song you cannot get out of your head.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things! These imperatives are to be our individual response toward God. We are to recognize God as the source of our daily joy and we are to offer Him thanksgiving. We are to do so regardless of what is going on around us or even very close to us. We are to find joy and reason to give thanks ALWAYS.

Especially telling, the Thessalonians were facing tragedies and deaths at the time of this letter. Things that were not joyful were shaking their faith, darkening their hearts. Paul reminds them as he reminds us – If these human and earthly things, which have no power over the person faith, over people with the promise of eternal life, and who look to the immanent return of Christ can shake us, what value is our faith, our devotion, our worship? People of real faith cannot be shaken because we stand on Christ Jesus. We own His salvation.

The next set of admonitions apply to us as a faith community, as the Church. We together are to recognize God working right here, among us. Do not quench the Spirt, do not despise prophetic words, test everything and retain what is good! God is at work here, and we see it daily, weekly. We are to take full part in that and re to do it together. We are to be open to God’s voice through the work of the Holy Spirt while at the same time testing to ensure we are consistent with scripture and Holy Tradition.

We are not to be passive or complacent in this time of waiting. We are to sing Paul’s song of God-centered action – rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, discerning, and testing. We are to live this song, this poem. It is to be the rhythm of our lives – our imperative as Jesus’ people. Let’s be His!

Now
what?

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Of all the questions the disciples must have had, the one on their minds between the Ascension and Pentecost resonates best: I saw the crucifixion, I saw the risen Lord, I saw Him ascend into heaven, now what?

Pentecost was an annual event in Israel. It is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word for the Festival of Weeks commemorating God’s giving of the Ten Commandments forty-nine days after the Exodus. It is also called the Festival of Reaping and Day of the First Fruits.

What beautiful imagery to answer the question of: What is next?

God chose this day to send forth the Holy Spirit to infuse us with His new and living Spirit. The Jews were commanded to count the days and weeks after the Exodus as an expression of their anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah. We are no longer beholden to Torah Law as a teacher – pointing to all our wrong acts and thoughts, and prescribing a remedy, but are made strong, powerful, and free in the Spirit by our profession of faith and belief in Jesus. We have a different kind of longing, anticipation, and desire. The Spirit prompts us to declare our faith and then infuses us with His gifts changing us radically so that we only desire to live in Christ and live in His glorious kingdom.

What was next was that through the infusion of the Holy Spirit the entire world is offered this opportunity for freedom. No longer beholden, one would be free if they chose to follow the prompting of the Spirit. One could hear of Jesus through those Apostles, the sent, who have already been made strong, powerful, and free by the Spirit. They could not only hear, but join in and be made co-heirs in Jesus sharing fully in the Spirit’s gifts.

God chose this day because it was the day of reaping. Passover marked the end of the season of the grain harvest with the reaping of wheat in the Land of Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Passover.

The Spirit is given so every season will be a season of harvest. Jesus told us: “So ask the Lord who gives this harvest to send workers to harvest his crops.”

Two thousand years later the Spirit prompts us to go and reap and bring in the many. What now? Rejoice, live in Jesus, proclaim Him, and gather His harvest. The Holy Spirit is in us and with us for exactly this work.

Rejoice, and share
rejoicing!

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Today we read a message of hope and rejoicing from the Prophet Zephaniah.

This message is found near the end of the third chapter of this very short book of prophecy. More than two-thirds of Zephaniah’s prophesy deals with judgment and can be considered, more than any other prophecy, as one of devastation, death, and Divine judgment. The Day of Judgment is pictured as a time of darkness, anguish, distress, destruction, plunder, and threat to all life, human and animal alike.

Israel had turned from God to false gods, fake gods of wood and stone. Israel’s leadership was unjust and abusive. Zephaniah’s prophecy occurred just before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

Today’s world is much like Zephaniah’s. Political leadership in our country and throughout the world is unjust and abusive. Most of the people in our country and across the world have turned from God or have turned to false gods who promise that through some set of works and deeds a person might be saved. Our world is filled with terror. In the not to distant future we will likely know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone affected by terrorism. We are only a few degrees of separation away.

Here we sit amidst all this turmoil and tendency to fear. We ourselves fear for our families, children, grandchildren, friends, and coworkers. In less than two weeks we will gather with them to celebrate Christ’s coming among us. Today we are reminded to rejoice! To rejoice!!!

If we, like ancient Israel, only lived for today, like politicians and believers in false gods, then we have reason to fear. We, rather, live forever. We have been delivered, not by works and deeds, but by faith in the One who has saved us. As Zephaniah foretold: The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior. We need not be afraid for even if terror comes to our door, we have already been delivered to eternal joy.

We have reason to rejoice. More than that, we have reason to share our joy with the world. We must offer a share of our rejoicing to all people of good will. Those who follow false idols will be saved by our gift of joyful faith and perhaps even a politician or two might reject evil and also rejoice.