Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving Sermon

Sermon Texts

Deuteronomy 8: 7-18
2 Corinthins 9: 6-15

What does it mean to live our thankfulness? The passage we heard from the book of Deuteronomy is the witness to a God who delights in our delight. When we receive the gifts of God with a joyful and thankful heart, God is propelled forward with us—charged up by our gratitude. When we fail to live with thanks and joyfulness in our hearts, when we instead turn inward and live in complaints or dissatisfaction, God’s activity is veiled from our eyes. As we heard from Matthew last week, to those who have much, much more will be given. And to those who have nothing, what they have will be taken away and given to those who have much. This is not about material possessions, it is about living with joy and thankfulness in our hearts. When we share our thanksgiving with others, it has a way of multiplying and spreading. When we do nothing but complain and act callous with one another, we isolate ourselves and descend into “the outer darkness” of despair and lonliness.
Deuteronomy tells us of the end of the journey of Israel out of exile and into the promised land. At the end of the 40 years of wandering, they come to the cusp of a new era in their collective history. These people who have been on such a journey together have known God’s provision during the time they were in the desert, they have known God’s salvation from slavery. Now God asks them to be thankful in the bounty they are about to receive. Likewise, we are at the end of a journey together. This is the last Sunday of the Christian year. We stand at the cusp of Advent, waiting for the bounty which God will reveal in the Birth of Christ. This is a time to pause and lift up our thanks to God.
Though God leads us toward abundance and a bountiful life, the good life can cause us to forget about God and start thinking that we provide for ourselves. We have seen in the industrialized world a dramatic exodus from the Church. In parts of the world where there is much trouble and strife, the church is strong. God promises Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, but God knows that the ingredients are there for amnesia. One reason the Jews celebrate Passover every year is to prevent that amnesia. Keeping God’s prevents us from forgetting about God. By living thanks, we pattern our minds and hearts to dwell in the grace of God. If we simply accept the good without giving thanks, amnesia sets in and we begin to believe in another God. We begin to believe in the God who says we deserve what we have because we have worked for it. We begin to serve that God by taking without gratitude, by spending without thought of others, by living the “looking out for #1” life. When we forget to live thanks, we forget that God is God and that we are not. God saves us from that trap by commanding us to remember—to remember who we were and the journey we have taken as a people. To remember that the bounty we share is a gift from God. IN the sharing of thanks, we remind each other of our gift.
As Paul says in the second letter to the Corinthians, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” The more thanks we sow, the more thanks we will reap. If we live with a joyful and thankful heart, we will continue to live in joy. The generosity which is an outpouring of gratitude will multiply our gratitude. If we don’t feel thankful, then we probably need to give more. If we don’t feel a warm sense of gratitude when we give, we are probably too attached to our things and maybe we have the idea that we deserve what we have. Paul says, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Thanksgiving is about Thanks and it is about Giving. Sharing our thanks together is an “overflowing of Thanksgiving to God.” ThanksLiving is making this openness to God our lifestyle, our permanent dwelling place. Thanks-Living is making our heart an altar, and bringing the light of Christ to that altar.
Have you noticed that oftentimes, it is easier to generate a sense of collective victimization than collective joyfulness? When we get together with people we may not know, sometimes we bridge the gap of unfamiliarity by gathering around the things we despise. We pump ourselves up on our shared troubles or worries or whatever it is that unites us negatively. Politicians play on this human condition and build a following by talking about the negative attributes of the other candidate rather than the positive attributes of themselves. Despite what pollsters have said is a general public disdain for “mudslinging” or “attack ads,” politicians continue to utilize this form of campaigning because they know it works. Yes, it is our temptation to rally around our shared dislikes, complaints, and feelings of victimization.
What would it be like to identify with one another by our thankfulness? What if, instead of uniting around our shared dislikes, we instead found a common bond in our shared gratitude? This, I think is the community we are called to form under the banner, “Christianity.” When we live with thankfulness in our hearts and share that thankfulness with others, the things we have to be thankful for seems to multiply.
Let’s take a moment to experiment with this. We’re a community of believers, and I would hope that we have a lot to be thankful for, yet it is sometimes easier to think about our prayers of need or struggles than our prayers of thanksgiving. Let me be the first to share with you some things I praise God for.
I’m thankful for…….
My wife Lara being a supportive and challenging partner in marriage. My son Wesley living with such delight and wonder at the world—it helps me live with delight and wonder. My sister being a bold person who is seeking a career which she will be passionate about. I’m thankful for my parents inspiring me to follow my heart. For watching football games with my son. I’m thankful for green mountains turning red and gold and orange and yellow. For windchimes on my front porch. For the faithful witness of a great co-worker. For a community of believers who have been receptive to things I say in this pulpit that stir my heart—what a blessing it is to hear that something you have said has made a difference to someone else!
Take a moment and write some things you’re thankful for. Try to be specific about it. Instead of just saying, “I’m thankful for my wife.” Write on that piece of paper what it is that makes you so thankful for your wife. Is it her cooking? What is it about her cooking? Do you like the way she puts more chocolate chips in cookies than the recipe calls for? Well write that! Don’t just write, “I’m thankful for deer hunting season,” what is it about deer hunting season that you love? Spending time with family in the woods? Being away from church on Sundays? Write that! Try to be as particular as you can.
Now, because we are a body, because we are a congregation who can be strengthened by shared joys, I want you to find someone here in the congregation you’d like to give this list to. Thanksgiving is a sharing. We as a community of believers have to get real with each other and share our gratitude with one another. This is “living” thanks. We share our praise and thanksgiving together as a body of believers. Because the Living Christ is here among us when we gather together, our shared thanks in that Living Christ elevates our thanksgiving to God’s holy throne. Instead of just giving the list to your mom or dad or wife or husband, try instead giving that list to someone across the aisle on the other side of the sanctuary. Share with someone you may have known for less than 5 years. Share with someone you may have had a disagreement with in the past. It is sharing our thanks together which unites us, so let’s strengthen that “blessed tie that binds.” Take the next couple minutes to stand up and find someone to share your list with. Don’t take a list from more than one person, I want everyone here to have a list from someone else.
This kind of activity is the heart of our denominational heritage. IN the early days of Methodism, worship was a small group gathering in a person’s home. The small group met each Sunday and shared prayers of thanksgiving together as a family. They served one another by being accountable to one another. A traveling Anglican priest who was part of the Methodist movement would travel around from group to group and would serve the sacrament occasionally. (this is where our denomination gets the tradition of the iteneracy.) Sharing thanks, being in conversation with one another is not some peripheral part of our heritage. It is central. Some may see our emphasis on thanksgiving and fellowship as “being a social club” in lieu of “real religion” I would offer that instead, it is an enactment of the communal reality of the Triune God. Last week at our “junior youth” gathering, one of the kids asked about friendship in the Bible. I told him that the very nature of our God is friendship because we believe in the Trinity. The Trinity is one and three—three dimensions of God in an eternal process of relatedness. The picture on your bulletin is an icon of the Holy Trinity. As you see, the three figures of the trinity are seated around the table of fellowship. The circle formed by the interior of their fellowship signifies the eternal nature of this aspect of God.
As you sit around the Thanksgiving table this week with your friends and family, I hope that you might take a moment to really be stop and consider what we are doing. We’re not just stuffing ourselves silly with turkey and scalloped potatioes and green bean casserole. We’re not just napping on the couch while NFL teams clash in throwback uniforms. We are carrying on a great tradition. Gathering around the table of fellowship with our family is a true act of worship. God opens to us the treasure of gratitude. By giving thanks, by living thanks, we glorify God and we enhance our own existence. We can either toot our own horn by going through life without a grateful heart, or we can listen to the symphony of thanksgiving. God does not just demand thankfulness because God has a fragile ego. God invites us into a dance by setting a pattern of gratitude.


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