Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Give Thanks

1 Thessalonians 5:14-24

Sometimes being thankful comes easily for us; those times when we get our own way, when life is treating us well, and our cupboards are full.  These are the times when being thankful is no challenge - although I would submit to you these are also the times when it is so easy to take such blessings for granted.

We also know there are times when things are not so good.  We have all suffered such days when even getting out of bed has been a real challenge.  Maybe it is fear or loneliness that paralyzes us.  Maybe we are grieving, maybe we suffer from some form of depression or other forms of physical pain.  I doubt there are many of us who do not suffer to one degree or another, for one reason or another.  We're human, and we are bound to have such days.

So reading encouragement or even admonishment from one or more of the biblical writers to "give thanks in all circumstances" actually compounds our misery especially when we are told that to do so is the "will of God in Christ Jesus"; and that failure to do so is to "quench the Spirit".  On top of whatever it is we may be suffering, it does not help that a generous sprinkling of guilt is added to the mix!

None of the biblical writers downplay the impact such suffering can have on the human psyche; however, we have to remember that the apostles and the prophets who gave us most of what we read endured much worse.  So while it may be easy for us to think they nor anyone else can possibly understand what our own brand of suffering is about, it is surely true that we cannot really understand what they endured for the sake of the Church and the Word of The Lord. 

So I suppose everything is a matter of perspective.  Yet it falls on us to have a proper perspective rather than to try and pretend what we are going through is unique.  It may be a new experience for us but it is also written in Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun."   

We are all challenged to one degree or another.  We are also assured, however, that such suffering, such misery, such pain, such loneliness is never in vain - unless we choose to stay in that pain and misery.  These are only some of the trials of life we must endure for the sake of "sanctification", Paul's earnest wish and prayer for the faithful.

Sanctification is not a word we use nearly often enough in the Church and among the faithful.  It never comes up in conversation.  We get entirely caught up in "justification", what some traditions refer to as "getting saved", and thus ignore what it means to "grow up" in the faith; what it means to mature. 

It is no secret we are all getting older by the minute.  It may be, however, the Church's best kept secret that with all our natural aging and acquired wisdom which goes with it, there is something more we need beyond that moment of "justification".  Our souls require "sanctification".

Methodism's John Wesley believed Divine Mercy has three components, each complementing the next rather than opposing.  There is, first, "prevenient" grace (or mercy) in which The Lord is already at work in our lives before we are aware.  We must consider The Cross to be that defining moment of Divine Mercy before we were even born!  Wesley likened this point as the "front porch" of a house.

"Justifying" grace (or mercy) is when the front door of this house is opened to us.  Because of The Lord's mercy, we are able to come in from the elements and find shelter from the storms of our past sins.  We are now under The Lord's shelter.

"Sanctifying" grace (or mercy) moves beyond the front door.  Just as we would not enter into a house and only stand just inside the door, so we also cannot only stand just at the threshold of "justification".  There is more.  So "sanctifying" mercy is likened to moving around inside the house.  As we explore each room and notice the appointments and fixtures throughout the house, we get to know more about that house.  It becomes more and more familiar to us, and our level of confidence in that house is raised.

Now of course we cannot imagine any physical structure so large or so grand in scale that we cannot get to know this house in pretty short order, so there are human limits to such a definition of "sanctification".  Yet when it comes to matters of the Kingdom of Heaven, there is no end in human sight of what we can discover as soon as we open yet another "door". 

Our Lord encourages us to "knock" on these doors so they may be open to us.  It is a life devoted to pursuit of spiritual perfection as it is written in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teachings about Christ" (6:1)

This matter cannot be overstated for any Christian, for this is how we grow up.  This is how we come to understand a little more each day, each hour, about the nature of the Holy One - and ultimately discover even more about ourselves.  Maybe this discovery involves more about our personal brand of suffering and how to overcome it.

We are quite familiar with our stations in life, very familiar with our human limitations and conditions.  We think we already know who we are and where we are.  It is all too common among Christians, however, that we may not be fully aware of exactly where we're going or how we're going to get there.  Whatever we may be suffering at any given time, whatever we may be challenged to endure may well be yet another "door" through which we must pass.

It is the sanctifying life filled with Divine Mercy that challenges us at every turn, but pursuing the Divine Will in Christ is entirely about moving beyond each moment - AND - having the increasing confidence of knowing we will not move alone

This is entirely the point of what it means to "rejoice always" and "give thanks in all circumstances".  It is not about being thankful for the misery for its own sake; it is about being thankful there is yet another door through which we are being invited to pass.  And each moment of "testing" (as it is written) prepares us for the next.  It is life's certainty that there will be more.

Our Lord is not playing with us arbitrarily.  Our Holy Father is preparing us for the moments to come.  Just as when we passed from one grade to the next in school, each grade is designed to prepare us for the next.  So it is with life, and the full embrace that we are truly not "getting older" (as the old TV commercial went); we're "getting better" with our Holy Father in Christ Jesus!  This is what it means to be "sanctified".

This is more than enough to be thankful for, so let us learn to give thanks in all things - the good and the bad; for in the end, it will all have been worth it.  This is our assurance; this is our Holy Father's Eternal Covenant.  Amen.

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