Sorry for the back-to-back posting today, but it was a back-to-back preaching day! I preached at the Attleboro Council of Churches InterFaith Thanksgiving Service tonight. It was fun! The service was actually at one of the local Catholic Churches. I’ll be honest – I was NERVOUS getting ready to preach at a Catholic Church. But the priest was so gracious and humble in welcoming me – so was the congregation!
Funny story – the minister who coordinated the service, Doug, told me as we were processing in that I should sit in the “big” chair because I was preaching. So we asked Father Marc after the service who normally sits in that chair. Apparently the celebrant normally sits in it and I was likely the first woman EVER to sit in that chair.
Um, holy cow.
(Bad iPhone pic, but I wanted you to see the beautiful sanctuary!)
Here’s the sermon – enjoy!
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Giving Thanks And Giving Back
Grace, and Peace, friends of the Attleboro Council of Churches! It is so wonderful to be here with you all tonight. I was called to the Rehoboth Congregational Church back in April and have felt such a warm welcome from everyone in the council since then. I look forward to getting to know all of you much better.
There is something going around Facebook this month that has been kind of appealing to follow. In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, people are looking at the month of November as a time to give thanks. They are posting each day during the month about what they are thankful for. Their status updates have turned into “Thankfulness Posts”: Day 1 – I am thankful for ‘X’; Day 2 – I am thankful for Y; Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, etc. etc. etc. And the degree of thankfulness has a very wide range: Some days people are thankful for their families, for their friends and for their health and some days people are thankful for simple luxuries like dishwashers and Starbucks Holiday Drinks.
I have to admit, it has been really nice to follow this particular trend. Often times Facebook becomes a place where people post rants, complaints and other various annoyances. Those of you on Facebook know what I am talking about, right?
People tend to take to their statuses and complain about sitting in traffic, or having to navigate crowded stores, or obnoxious coworkers or professors, or politics, sports, the weather or the fact that it is Saturday night and their sermon isn’t finished yet (just me? ☺).
I would be willing to wager a bet that this practice of offering a daily “Thankfulness Post” has actually been very rewarding for most people. I think that, as a whole, our society is programmed to focus more on the negative than the positive. We see this in negative campaign ads, negative marketing of one product to promote another, and so on and so forth. This exercise freed people to push back against that norm and say, “No, there are blessings in my life – and I am thankful for them.” And even though I did not participate, seeing other people’s posts pushed me to think about what I was thankful for. It truly has been a blessing to extend the art of giving thanks – and I think it is an art – beyond just one day.
When I read the Thanksgiving lectionary scriptures for this year, I was really struck by how each of the scriptures took this practice of giving thanks, this art of giving thanks, and really pushed it one step forward. Take the book of Deuteronomy, for example. It is the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, the final leg of the journey we have been on with the Israelites through their exile. And we come into the story tonight when they are so close to the Promised Land.
As a whole, the book really brings to the surface the problem of balancing the juxtaposition of the past and the present, ancient traditions and contemporary needs. The people had been through a long exile and change was certainly on the horizon. Interestingly enough, 3,000 years later, on the tail end of a recession and in a fast-changing technologically-driven world, we are essentially doing the same thing; we dealing with those same issues, past and present, traditions and contemporary needs. We are looking for a balance and not sure where and how to find it. We are on the brink of change. And so this book really speaks to where we are as a society.
We see in this particular passage a call to never forget God amidst all of our blessings. “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commandments,” the scripture says. “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them … and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God.” We are called to glorify God for all that we do and all that we have. We are not here by our own vices; we are called to be a part of something much bigger.
We are called not to take to our Facebook statuses and say, “I am thankful for X, Y and Z,” rather we are called to take them and say, “Thank you, God, for X, Y and Z.”
“Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God.”
It is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of our lives, of the joy of our lives, of the pride of our lives and forget where we want our focuses to lie. I would argue the same was true 3,000 years ago when the Israelites were finally standing on the brink of the Promised Land. How easy would it have been for them to just rejoice, focus inwardly and start building their new lives? But no – they were reminded then by Moses that they could not forget the one that brought them into the Promised Land. And we are reminded through this story that we cannot forget the one that stands with us always. We cannot forget God when we count our blessings.
We are called to thank God, to praise God, to let God be apart of the blessings that we feel day in and day out, regardless of whether we are sitting within the four walls of our churches or out in the world. We are called to always give glory to God.
Now I could end my sermon there – but I won’t. ☺ Because I do not think that our work ends simply by praising God. We heard a reading from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth and in that letter, he said, “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. … God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
“So that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
We are called to give thanks – and then to give back.
Having faith, being part of a community of faith, being in covenant with those around you and with a higher being is not a passive practice – it is an active one. It is one where we are constantly pushing ourselves to go the extra mile, to push ourselves to our limits and then move beyond those limits.
And it isn’t easy. I think it is human nature to fall into traps of negative thinking. I think it is how we protect ourselves; it is how we survive; it is how we conform to society. But we are called as people of faith to push back against these instincts. And when we do that – that is when true ministry really starts to happen.
Thanksgiving is not a holiday that comes out of a particular faith tradition. But I would argue that it is a holiday that absolutely should be viewed through the lens of our faith traditions. We were called so many years ago to give thanks – but what are we called to do today? In our lifetime? In our churches, in our communities and in our world? What are we called to do?
I think we are called to give thanks – and then to give back.
I think we are called to give back by being an active part of our faith community; by supporting our leaders, our volunteers and everyone who walks through our doors. I think we are called to give back by making outreach, service and mission one of our top priorities. I think we are called to give back by thinking about how our faith can dictate our actions every single day – and not just when we are in worship. I think we are called to give back by speaking up for those who are disinherited, to offer healing to those who are sick and to give resources to those who are in need. I think we are called to give back and to do so by constantly pushing ourselves to do more, to try something new and to step outside of our comfort zone.
I think we are called to give thanks this Thursday. Like the Israelites, we can see the Promised Land and we are so thankful for all of the many blessings in our lives. But let us never forget to first give thanks to God. And then let us think about how we can repay our gratitude by giving back to those around us. Because I think when we start to do that, we will have so much more to be thankful for.
I pray that you all have a very happy and peace-filled Thanksgiving. And may you be showered with many, many blessings in the year to come.