Out of Place Celebrations
I Thessalonians 5:16-18
First Baptist Church Laurens
November 4, 2018

One of my favorite documentaries is called There’s No Place Like Home. Its focus is Dr. James Naismith who invented the game of basketball. More specifically, it is the story of the very original copy of the rules of basketball, which Naismith wrote by hand, and which have been preserved until this day. For years, that original copy was in the hands of a private individual. The film, There’s No Place Like Home, tells the very interesting story of how this original handwritten set of rules made the journey from that private owner to being on public display for all to see at the University of Kansas where Naismith taught and coached for over 40 years.

Rules are important. They give our lives structure. They remind us of what we should do and of what not to do. Rules give you and I as well as our lives the guidance we need – whether those rules pertain to a game, the business we are in, our educational institution or our life of faith.

Further, the best of rules are those that we ultimately know by heart and that we come to live by in almost an innate way. When our rules reach that place in our lives, we no longer have to remember them or recite them before we act. Instead, we simply live into them, naturally and subconsciously – almost like the way that we breathe.

The truth is that this way of living subconsciously with rules and guidelines happens more often than we might think. When we are 15 or 16, we learn the rules of the road. At first we have to remind ourselves of these rules as we go through our driving checklist. But, after a while, we don’t have to think about checking our rearview mirror, putting our hands at ten and two or driving and breaking with one foot rather than with two. Eventually, we simply do it. What started as rules to remember becomes after years of constant use a natural part of our daily routine.

I really believe that the goal is for us to get to a similar place with the rules that God wants us to live by. We may have to recite them and be reminded of them right now, but the end game is that we will be able to live into them without thinking about them. I also believe that the three statements, the three rules for living if you will, that are contained in these three verses from I Thessalonians that we begin a month long focus on today can and should ultimately fall into this category. They really are three significant life rules which if followed can lead us into a life characterized by gratitude – rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances. Again, we may have to remind ourselves of these attitudes right now, but the hope, the goal, the end game is that we would simply find a place in our lives where we enter into each day and situation knowing that even in this – joy, prayer and thankfulness – are the attitudes that should carry the day.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. The first of these is the invitation to be people who rejoice…always. In her writings on this statement offered by Paul at the end of Thessalonians, Linda McKinnish Bridges points out something very interesting. She says that perhaps the English word that is most akin to the Greek word being translated here as rejoice is actually the word Hello. This Greek term that Paul uses here that we render rejoice was often used in everyday life at that time as a word of greeting. “Welcome good day, Welcome good person, I am glad to see you”. The idea here was that of entering into a situation, a conversation, or into the renewal of a relationship with someone with gladness and again with rejoicing. (Linda McKinnish Bridges, I & II Thessalonians, page 163)

Of course, as you know, the word hello, is a word of glad greetings too. According to Webster’s Dictionary, it really did not become a commonly used term in everyday American life until Thomas Edison chose it as the word to use when answering the telephone as opposed to the word chosen by his rival Alexander Graham Bell who preferred the word “ahoy”. That’s right as in “ahoy there mate”. Over time, hello became the better and preferred word. with some original telephone operators even being known as Hello Girls. Hello, though we may not fully mean it, nonetheless implies that it is good to hear your voice, good to hear from you, and that we welcome this chance to talk. (Hello, wikipedia.com)

Linda McKinnish Bridges’ connection of Rejoice with Hello helps I think. What she reminds us of if that if we enter into, or if we greet a situation, conversation or relationship with gladness, we are much more likely to end it with the same attitude. If we go into the places we find ourselves, if we enter into the conversations of the day, if we simply receive the day with a perspective of gladness and gratitude and rejoicing to God for this new opportunity, it can make all of the difference in how we live through it.

All the difference – for both us and for the Kingdom of God. Saying hello to the experiences of our life with rejoicing makes all the difference for us in that it helps us to see the good in all things, to name the possibility in all occasions and to recognize that God has the ability to offer good gifts to us in even the worst of situations. At the same time, saying hello to the experiences of our life with rejoicing also makes all the difference for the Kingdom of God in that we bear witness to the ability of God and God alone to keep us hopeful and to transform even life’s hard places for our betterment. When we live and receive life this way it makes a huge, huge difference and those who see us live this way don’t forget it.

Don’t hear me wrongly, I am in no way suggesting I have arrived in this regard – far from it. Instead, I have to say to you that I feel more at the beginning of this journey than at the end. I too struggle to enter into life’s challenging places with rejoicing. Yet, I know that it is the right thing for me to do. I know it is place where I need to grow up. I know it is a place where I need to offer my children a better example. I know it is a place where my witness could be stronger. I know that rejoicing always is the right thing even though it is not my strong suit.

When I think about this, I am reminded of an occasion when Ann Marie and I were to have a visit one night with another couple. On the day of the planned event, word got to me that they had just suffered a tragedy in their family and the suggestion from the person who shared that news with me was that maybe it wouldn’t be the best night for our visit to them. In turn, I called and suggested that we could come another time in light of what had happened. I still remember the man’s response. “It is sad and disappointing what has happened in our family this week, but, that doesn’t have anything to do with our excitement about you coming over. We’ll see you at the planned time.” Truthfully, it felt like an out of place celebration.

And, yet, this is life, if we wait until every element in our lives is worth rejoicing about, we won’t do much rejoicing. But, if we pray for God to give us the ability to enter ever occasion with the greeting of joy – again to say hello to the people, moments and occasions of our life with joy – we might just be amazed that they end there too.

Bob Reccord, has written extensively on the life of faith for many years. In one of his pieces, he tells the story of a difficult time in his own life when he was recovering from a severe spinal chord injury. The surgery was involved, the recovery was long and Bob began to feel very sorry for himself and on the verge of being depressed. One winter day, he was sitting out on his screened in porch. It was cold, cloudy and dreary. It felt and looked outside about the way he felt on the inside. As he lamented his place in life, a bird came, landed nearby and began to sing. Bob said that if he had had a gun, he would have blown the little bird to bits. The singing annoyed and irritated him. It certainly wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

The very next day, the weather was 100% better. The sun was shining. The clouds were gone and the warmth felt good on his face. Back on that same porch, Bob couldn’t believe it when the same bird landed in the same spot and began to sing again. Truth be told, there was no way to know if it was the same bird. But, it looked identical and the singing was the same.

Bob said that this particular moment was a turning point for him. For that bird singing on two successive days in completely different conditions forced him to come to an understanding about his life. The bird sang. That little creature sang if it was cloudy and cold or sunny and warm. It didn’t matter. He sang. That little bird chose to be rejoice no matter what. It really was his choice too. And, it is ours. Amen. (Bob Reccord, as told in Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves, pg. 112)