Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Home About Worship Music and Arts Parish Life Learning Outreach News Contact
Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sermon from November 25, 2010: Thanksgiving Day

Texts: Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen

Give Us This Always

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

A few years ago someone told me about a stress relieving exercise, which I have since heard from others is actually pretty good science and popular in the business world as well as in the spiritual realm. The exercise is to take three deep breaths, followed by meditating on the things for which one is grateful. I’ve tried it, and it actually does relieve stress, as well as bring a sense of peace and calm. And as I’ve thought about it since, I’ve realized how being thankful changes everything – it changes my perspective from an inner focus on myself to an outward focus on another, it changes my sense of stress and difficulty into one of joy as I think of the blessings I have, and it opens my heart to the goodness in the world as opposed to focusing on the problems or pain.

My mother loved Paul’s words which we heard this morning. These are words of deep and abiding faith no matter the circumstances of life. What moved my mother most especially were Paul’s words in verse 6: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Did you catch the significance of where thanksgiving comes for Paul? “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul invites us to give thanks while we’re making our requests, while we’re praying, while we are in supplication to our loving God. That, friends, is the depth of the gift of faith our Lord Jesus gives us, that we can be so confident in the love God has for us that while we are still praying for ourselves, for the needs of others, for the life of the world, we are already thanking God for answering our prayer.

Thanksgiving the holiday is often one where we think back on the past year, on our lives, and offer thanks to God. What Paul says is that we can even look ahead to our future and offer thanks to God for that gift as well. With the help of Paul, perhaps we can be deepened in faith this Thanksgiving, truly see how all our lives are in the hands of a God who loves us beyond compare, and truly thank the Triune God for gifts not yet received or even expected.

In some ways, Paul simply says this: how you think, what you focus on, will shape your life immeasurably.

This is such a mystery – but it’s been something I’ve found true again and again. I was talking to someone about their self-confidence not long ago. I said they had good confidence, to which they replied, “Only outside, not inside.” But that’s all you need – because if we enter into a situation and act as if we are confident, others will respond to us that way, and we’ll actually be more confident.

The same can be said about faith – if you act as if you believe, taking that step of faith, you will actually find you do believe. And Paul gives us many things to focus our lives on and actually live into. Listen:
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says. And it’s so important, he repeats himself: “Again I say, rejoice.”
“Don’t worry about anything,” he says.
Pray with thanksgiving: Act as if you’re already thankful and you will be.
And think about all these things, Paul says: whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, things of excellence, and things worthy of praise. It’s simple, Paul says – where your heart is, your mind, your thoughts, there will your life be. The peace of God will fill us instead of the anxiety of this world.

What an amazing promise! So at the risk of implying it’s only a matter of positive attitude – because it is, after all, God’s peace which comes to us – there’s a lot of evidence that how we think and focus shapes how our lives actually look.

Think of all the examples you might know of people who live this way. People who outwardly have pain and problems, or lack necessities, or deal with all sorts of setbacks, yet look at life with joy and peace. It’s because they are thankful – they know their blessings and are grateful for them.

And likewise, we can think of many who are richly blessed but somehow never happy, never satisfied, always complaining about their problems.

And on this Thanksgiving Day, Paul invites us to be like the first ones.

It’s probably why I love the hymn we’re about to sing so much – it helps me be that way.

I love Thanksgiving hymns – and most of the ones we’re singing today are core and traditional ones to me without which I’d feel less like it was Thanksgiving. But our next hymn is more recent – a 20th c. text set to a beautiful and familiar old Welsh tune. And in the last decade or so that I’ve known it, it has become so dear to my heart.

What’s beautiful is that the marvelous hymn writer F. Pratt Green simply leads us through all the things for which we can be and are thankful. And it becomes our thanksgiving prayer. It could easily be one you use at the table later today.

So stanza 1 speaks of the fruits of creation – all the gifts to the nations, all the agriculture and growing life that feeds us, and for the way our earth even holds care for the future in its bosom. And stanza 2 moves into the human realm – thanking God for all the ways we love and care for each other, including reward for our work, help for neighbors, and sharing our wealth with all in need. In these two stanzas, we give thanks for things in the realm of the actual bread and fish that Jesus gives in the feeding of 5,000 from our Gospel. But it’s stanza three that deals with Jesus’ claim to be more than all that, to be our Bread of Life.

And this third stanza is the one that always brings me where I need to be on Thanksgiving. It concludes: “For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us – thanks be to God.”

“For wonders that astound us”: may we always be open to seeing them. For me, this is most clearly seen in family and relationships – when after a stressful day or week, the joy of being hugged by one of my children, or of seeing Hannah and Martha back from college, or Mary’s kind and careful concern for how I’m doing. But it’s also the wonder of this amazing creation, this world God has made, of leaves and sunsets and rain and snow, of all the amazing faces of God’s children. There are so many things that we receive that we do not deserve, but which overwhelm us with wonder and that is God’s grace in our lives.

“For the truths that still confound us”: may we trust in God to hold us in them. Thanksgiving will be a time of sorrow and grief for some in our congregation, a time of seeing a huge gap where someone is no longer – each Thanksgiving there are new ones in that group, people who’ve recently suffered a key loss. One of our gifts as brothers and sisters in Christ is we share that burden together. And we stand together in this confounding truth: that though death looks final we know it is not. We know Jesus is raised and will raise us. And though there are times it seems not to make sense, seems to confound, there are so many times when we sense that deeper truth and joy behind all our confusion – our lives are in God’s hands forever.

“Most of all, that love has found us”: may we live boldly and joyfully in that love. At the depths of most human hearts is this fear: we are not lovable. But here is what gives us life: God’s love for us is as deep and high as anything we can imagine. It is a love which cannot be taken from us. It is a love that is yours, not because you deserve it but simply because God has it for you. This is how Jesus is our Bread of Life. This love faced death and broke its power. This love now is yours, placed in your heart for now and for always. And this love now calls you to love, to transform the world with that love. That will be part of our thanks as we go from here.

So rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice. Be thankful. The Lord is near to you.

And the love of the Lord has found you, forever. This is the Bread of Life for us, which nourishes and blesses us and changes us forever. This is what we ask God to give us always, just as Jesus’ hearers in today’s Gospel do, that we might have life. But even without our asking, God comes to us with wonders, truth, and love, and our lives are made whole and new, even in this broken world. And what more do any of us need than to rejoice in that? Thanks be to God!

In the name of Jesus. Amen

No comments:

Post a Comment


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church