Each year I choose a theme verse for Living Brook Benefice, and these verses emerge from my own prayer and time with God, and now from the sharing in prayer and listening that the Living Brook Ministry Team does with me. In 2016, the theme verse is 1 Thessalonians 5. 16-18, and posters around the benefice will show the translation from the Christian Community Bible:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks to God at every moment. This is the will of God, your vocation as Christians.
Some may suggest that Paul’s command to rejoice always is not in keeping with the times. The news is full of fear, sorrow, tragedy, political vitriol, so what is there to rejoice about? It isn’t true that somehow the 21st century is less safe, more scary, more violent or more difficult than any of the history of the world before now. Ok, so terrorists have weapons that can do more damage in a short time, but so do the defence forces that stop the terrorists. There has always been warfare and brutality. In Paul’s day Roman soldiers or rebel zealots could come sweeping through a village using their swords indiscriminately and raping and looting on the way. False imprisonment and unjustified executions happened frequently. Paul himself was a victim. So when he tells us to rejoice always, he isn’t speaking from some golden age when everything was lovely and rejoicing was easy. He was speaking from days not so different from our own, because there are humans now who are as some humans always were – desperate for power and control, on their own terms only, and willing to take it by force.
But the rest of the humans are also as humans always were, in Paul’s day as now. We are loving, and supportive and generous. Most humans want the best for each other as well as for ourselves. That’s why in Paris, or Beirut, or Mali, or wherever terrorists show their masked faces, there are far more humans trying to help, to defend, to comfort and to heal. That’s why we react in communal prayer or with collections, or at the very least telling each other how sad that event was. We are good people, made in God’s own image.
Paul asks us to rejoice always. To look for the good around us, not to focus always on what is bad. He asks us to name and number the things that we can be glad in. Our partners, our children, our friends. A beautifully performed concert, a moving piece of writing, the tastiest meal we’ve had in a long time. A splendid view, a glorious sunset, the warmth of the sun on our faces. An event that we’ve arranged that lots of people attended and enjoyed, that warm feeling when a community comes together to help with a project, the comfort of a conversation with someone who really understands you. I could go on, and so could you – there is a great deal to be glad about, and once we start looking, a great deal more to be glad about than there is to fear or regret. And when we start to see what is good, the bad stuff is put into perspective. It’s still bad alright – it’s bad because it goes against the human instinct to be ad do all these good things. But there’s a lot more good than bad in this world, because God made it and God modelled us. So if we remember to rejoice we will not only feel better about it, but almost certainly we’ll be better equipped to cope with the bad and perhaps to create an atmosphere that will stop at least some of it happening in the first place.