(Note: This sermon was preached on the third Sunday of Advent in 2011, when these Dos Equis ads were still relatively new and creative).
Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I want to tell you this morning about my favorite series of beer commercials. Now I like beer–I’m from Wisconsin, where we drink more of it than we should and it shows. But I’m not normally much for beer ads. The exception is the ads for Dos Equis. Have you seen these? They’re the ones that feature “the most interesting man in the world.” “When he finishes his morning cup of coffee, he flies home from Colombia. His beard has done more than most men.” The ads show him playing a grand piano in the middle of the desert, or wrestling with Chairman Mao, or in a water-skiing pyramid.
If you’ll bear with me, I have a theory about why these ads are so appealing to some people. If you think of the typical beer commercial, it takes place either on a couch (usually while football is playing) or at a bar. The men–and it’s always men, right, because apparently women don’t drink beer–the men are doing something stupid to themselves, each other, or even to the women around them. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the guys in beer commercials are usually losers. No wonder a tiny Mike Ditka is always yelling at them.
But the Dos Equis guy is always doing stuff. He’s taking off in a jet pack. He’s rescuing sea otters. He’s living a life that’s bigger than sports bars and tailgating and embarrassing himself in front of skinny women in tank tops. And I love his tagline: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Stay thirsty for life, stay thirsty for big experiences. I have to admit, I like that.
It’s also not a bad way to put something St. Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians today. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”
This is an interesting choice of words for Paul. In other places in the New Testament, “quenching” something is always good. The fire that torments the wicked will not be quenched, Jesus warns. The flaming arrows of the devil will be quenched by your faith, Paul writes to the Ephesians. The fires that test and torment the saints were quenched by their faith, says the author of the letter to the Hebrews. All of these are things that you want to quench. But here Paul tells his readers to keep the fire of the Spirit going within them, to not extinguish that desire to do and to be good. To stay thirsty.
This is not just annoying moral advice, either. Paul had planted this church in a big, powerful city that stood on the main road between the Western and the Eastern halves of the Roman Empire. He was afraid that the Christians would wither under trials and persecutions. He was afraid that they would be tempted back to the more culturally-approved religions of the city. The Word of God had called the Christians at Thessalonica away from the idols of their culture. The Word had given them hope in the return of Christ in glory. The Word had begun to form them as a distinctive people, people who did not walk in the brutal and licentious ways of their gentile past. They were gathering faithfully and running well. But hope is not easy. Paul thought Christ would be back any day now. But time went on. Members of the Christian family died, and people wondered what would happen to those who died before the return of Christ. The Spirit was at work in the people, making them holy and giving them endurance. But Paul knew very well that you can stifle the Spirit. You can ignore the Spirit. You can refuse the Spirit’s leading. You can quench the Spirit that thirsts for works of love.
Now I’m going to suggest that we all know how this goes. I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I would guess that a lot of us have had a moment in the last week or so when we quenched the Spirit. When we knew we had the chance to resist a bad habit, or to speak up against a bigoted statement, or to apologize, or to drop an extra dollar in the Salvation Army bucket or the church offering plate. In fact, the difference between people who are touched with the Holy Spirit and those who aren’t is not that you here and I and all of us are better people. It’s that we are given the chance to try. This is not something to take for granted. When you think about how messed up we human beings are, it’s kind of remarkable that we have to talk ourselves out of doing the right thing every now and then.
It’s easy enough not even to notice our own bad habits. If you’ve ever battled an addiction, you know that its power comes from hiding itself. It makes itself ordinary.
It’s easy not to have even a hint that a cruel statement made about someone of a different race or identity than us involves us in any way.
It’s easy to not even consider that we might be in the wrong, or that our blessings are meant to be shared. It is easy to go with the flow. You can look at an ad with bunch of guys acting like fools, obsessed with women and football, and content to drink beer on their couches, without even thinking, “You know what, I’m made for something more than this. I am not what they say I am.” I might be content with too little. I might get a little worn out by waiting and hoping. But the Spirit is always thirsty for more. And if we don’t quench that Spirit, if we let it stay thirsty, we’ll be thirsty too.
This, I think, is what Paul is saying to this church that he loved so much. He’s not saying that we have to force ourselves into a rejoicing mood no matter what, or that we’re bad Christians if we forget to pray or don’t feel like giving thanks to God now and then. He’s not commanding us. He’s encouraging us–encouraging us to keep on rejoicing, to keep on praying, to keep on giving thanks, to keep on listening to that Spirit. “Rejoice forevermore,” the King James Version says, and I like that a little better. Give thanks forevermore. Keep resisting that urge to shrink your life back into the shape it had before you knew hope.
Paul understood very well that hope is difficult, hope is taxing. Hope demands more of us than despair does. And so he tells us not to quench the Spirit not so that we will always do what’s right. Instead, he’s telling us to stay thirsty for that hope. To stay thirst for the promises of God that we know and embrace all the more deeply when we do heed that Spirit, when we do thwart that bad habit even once, when we speak up while someone assumes we don’t mind bigotry, when we do say we’re sorry or share that blessing. These things are not just good in themselves, they’re not just God’s commandments. They build us up in hope for God’s future, which holds more for us than we can ask or imagine. That hope is why we don’t quench the Spirit of love, of understanding, of peace and good will. That hope is why we stay thirsty. Amen.