1 Thessalonians 5:12-22


            According to the secular calendar it is Black Friday.  The worship of consumerism is in full swing at the cathedral mall with accompanying liturgies of parking, finding great deals, and standing in long lines waiting to confess to larger credit card debt.  Yep, I know that sounds cynical.  There is nothing wrong with a crazy good bargain and thinking of gifting others, but, at the same time, we need to acknowledge that the whole shopping experience mirrors religious movements much more than we might want to admit.
             The Christian Year, with its annual rhythm centered round the life of Christ, offers an alternative way of keeping time and living life.  Today is the last Friday in the Church Calendar.  Sunday is a new year, beginning with Advent, and we again journey with Jesus throughout the seasons.  Today’s New Testament lesson contains several staccato-like exhortations from the Apostle Paul at the end of his letter.  Just as Paul wanted to get some quick instruction before the end, so we need to hear these biblical imperatives at the end of the Christian Year, as well as keeping them in mind in order to avoid the orgy of shopping within this next month.
             The compact list of commands is almost overwhelming:  admonish the idle; encourage the fainthearted; help the weak; be patient with everyone; do not repay evil for evil; seek to do good to everyone; rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; do not quench the Spirit; don’t despise prophecies (exhortation of other believers); test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.  
             Rather than having our eyes glaze over wondering how we can hold all these imperatives together in our lives, let’s focus on one.  It is better to begin with one command and be diligent with it than it is to walk away and do none of them at all.  One suggestion is to list all these exhortations and ask the Spirit to show you which one to work on in this holiday season.  Keep in mind that one command in each decision you make and every conversation you have with others in the next several weeks.  See if it becomes a habit for you.  Observe how it changes your life and those around you, especially at the mall….
             Patient God, your steadfast love sticks with me day in and day out.  Help me to weave your commands so thoroughly into the fabric of my life that it transforms the way I interact with others.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

1 Timothy 6:11-21

            Today’s New Testament lesson could not more pertinent for contemporary Christians.  These verses come as the conclusion to the Apostle Paul’s letter to a young pastor in Ephesus, Timothy.  The epistle is filled with encouragements, exhortations, and warnings of how to go about conducting ministry.  Paul left Timothy with some pointed instruction to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.  These are the qualities that ought to inform every practice in the church and the Christian life.  Paul also goes on to say that he entrusted Timothy with a sacred trust, to guard the message of faith in Christ given to him.  This good news of forgiveness and grace through Jesus must be continually upheld because there will always be others distorting and diluting this wondrous salvation.
 
            These two exhortations, to both pursue and to guard need to be held together at all times.  To only pursue virtuous practices apart from guarding the message will cause slow erosion and compromise of the faith entrusted to us – to only guard the gospel without any attention to the pursuit of godly virtues will lead to ornery and combative attitudes and behavior that completely undermines the very gospel we seek to uphold.
 
            So, then, we must fight the good fight of the faith keeping in mind what and why we are fighting.  We are battling for the hearts, minds, and souls of people who need the life-giving message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  We are to carefully apply the poultice of grace to the incredible need of the world’s people, using all the virtues of righteousness and godliness at our disposal.  Badgering, bullying, and bludgeoning people with the truth are unbiblical because it ignores the virtuous practices that are integral to faith.  On the other hand, love without careful gospel proclamation misses a central thrust of Paul’s letter to Timothy.
 
            We are to make sure we are fighting for the right things, through always upholding the faith delivered to us through sacred Scripture, and through always using love and gentleness in everything we say and do.  Pursue and guard; think about both words today as you interact with a variety of people, and see what God does in and through you.
 

 

            King Jesus, Lord of all, help me to keep your commandments in ways that are consistent with the gospel of grace so that your church is encouraged and your world is blessed with both the message and the medium.  Amen.

Hebrews 3:7-19

            Although many people do their outdoor grilling with propane and propane accessories, there are still some who go with the old charcoal grill.  The key to a good hot grill is in the stacking of the briquettes into a neat pile before lighting them.  If this is not done, it is likely the white hot fire will never get going.  At the most, the briquettes will become warm but quickly grow cold and die.
 
            The New Testament lesson for today operates with the same principle.  “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  Just as a pile of charcoal needs all the individual briquettes together in order to become hot and not grow cold, so every Christian needs other Christians to speak into his/her life every day.  If this dynamic does not happen, the heart will grow cold and hard and eventually lead, if unchecked, to a falling away from the faith.
 
            There is much we can learn from the Korean church on this matter.  Every day they have opportunities early in the morning to gather together for prayer and encouragement before going off to their jobs and busy lives.  There is a reason that the Korean church has grown hot for God with many Christians and lots of missionaries going all over the world.  It would be not only wise, but necessary to re-think and re-do our American spiritual practices to better accommodate and reflect an obedience to these very verses in Hebrews.
 

 

            Blessed Holy Trinity, I have been made in your image – the image of the triune God.  Help me to reflect that image every day by encouraging my fellow believers and allowing them to exhort me toward love and good deeds in the faith of Jesus Christ.  Amen.