I Thessalonians 5:16-24
“Now Thank We All Our God”
The elderly couple slowly, gingerly made their way from the parking lot to the sanctuary of the church. He with an oxygen tank; she with a walker. It had been a rough year for them. He was diagnosed with a lung condition. She was recovering from cancer surgery. Their daughter was seriously ill.
“I am so happy you are here,” the pastor said at the door, “I did not think you would be able to make it.”
“It is Consecration Sunday,” the man said, “and the Lord has been so good to us, given us so many blessings. We did not want to miss an opportunity to express our gratitude.”
It is Consecration Sunday, a day for dedicating our tithes and our lives. My prayer is that you too have come for an opportunity to express your gratitude for blessings. That it is not a day in which you feel burdened or coerced or even ambivalent.
I have to admit that I find preaching on Thanksgiving to be one of the most difficult preaching assignments of the year. I mean, other than saying, “we ought to be thankful,” what is there to say?
And that is the problem, is it not? Thanksgiving, a genuine expression of gratitude, cannot be commanded or coerced. It is like your mother, after you forgot to say “thank you,” prompting you with a not-so-subtle, “You’re welcome.” Sure, then you say “thanks,” but it does not mean the same at that point.(1)
Thanksgiving cannot be commanded or coerced. It has to come from the heart.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” These words come from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to Christians who lived in Thessalonica. The Christians there faced circumstances similar to what we face today: An anything-goes society that made it difficult to know how exactly to live as Christians in the midst. The Thessalonian Christians felt anxious, discouraged, frustrated. But Paul told them to give thanks in all circumstances.
With the storm and the flooding and the political division and tension of this fall, maybe we feel like expressing lament is a more appropriate expression. Yet of all of our responses to events and circumstances in our lives, blessed or challenging, great or small, one of the most powerful, and yet most often overlooked response, is that of thanksgiving.
Have you ever noticed just how powerful it is not only to receive blessing but also to name it and give thanks for it? Maybe you are at dinner with family or friends, and it is one of those meals, prepared with love and served and eaten deliberately, where time just stops for a little while and you are caught up and bound together by a sense of community and joy. And you look around the table, and maybe raise your glass in a toast, and say, “This is great. This time, this meal, all of you here. Thank you.” And in acknowledging it and giving thanks, the blessing is multiplied.(2)
This afternoon we will gather for the Community Thanksgiving Service with other believers at St. James AME Church on Shine Street. Shine Street borders the section of the city that just a few years ago was designated by an UNC study as one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the state. Shine Street is where the river came into the yards and up to the doors of the houses before it stopped.
And even though we are still recovering from the second 500 year flood in 17 years and even though we will be sitting in a city with a crime rate higher than both the state and national averages, we are going to have a service naming and giving thanks for our blessings. And I have no doubt that we will be caught up and bound together by a sense of community and joy. And as we speak the blessings, they will be multiplied.
David Lose says he thinks gratitude is the most noble of all emotions. Because gratitude draws us out of ourselves into something bigger, grander, larger than we can imagine and joins us to our Creator, the very font of our blessings. But gratitude is also powerful because it frees us from fear, releases us from anxiety, and emboldens us to do more and dare more than we could ever imagine.
In 1885, the London Times ran a series of editorials honoring the 100th birthday of Sir Moses Montefiore, the British financier and philanthropist knighted by Queen Victoria. The editorials commented on, his generosity, his honesty and his willingness to come to the aid of anyone in need. One story was particularly telling.
It seems a young man asked Sir Moses, one of the wealthiest men of his era, how much he was worth. It was considered an ill-mannered inquiry, and in the face of it Montefiore paused for a moment’s reflection, and then he named a figure, one that fell far short of his questioner’s expectations. The response was met with an objection; surely he must be worth 10 times as much as what he said!
Sir Moses smiled. “Young man,” he replied, “you did not ask me how much I own. You asked me how much I am worth. So I calculated how much I have given to charity this year, and this is the number I gave you. You see, in life we are worth only what we are willing to share with others.”(3)
I am thankful for you and the way you share with others. Over and over I encounter God’s blessings in you. I am thankful for the way you see a need and you respond. Whether it is building a wheelchair ramp or feeding first responders or taking a meal to someone’s home or placing a prayer shawl around the shoulders of someone who is hurting.
I am thankful for the way you pledge and give year after year so that we are able to bridge the gap between what God is calling us to do and what is needed to do it.
Of all of our responses to events and circumstances in our lives, blessed or challenging, great or small, one of the most powerful and yet most often overlooked responses is thanksgiving.
The Rev. John Claypool, an Episcopal pastor, faced the difficult task of burying his ten-year-old daughter from leukemia. Claypool struggled long and hard with her illness, her suffering and her time cut short. In the face of such immense loss, Claypool shared with his congregation, “I need you to help me on down the way, and this is how: do not counsel me not to question, and do not attempt to give me any total answer. Neither one of those ways works for me. The greatest thing you can do for me is remind me that life is gift, every last particle of it, and that the way to handle a gift is to be grateful.”(4)
So as we dedicate our lives and a tithe of the gifts we have received, let’s go forth as heralds of blessing and bearers of words and deeds of gratitude in this community. Let’s give thanks for what we have shared together as the body of Christ.
And we will not only experience multiplied blessings; we will share them with the world.
- David Lose, “Preaching Thanksgiving,” November 21, 2010, Dear Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1514
- David Lose, “Second Blessing,” October 7, 2013, Dear Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2796
- Kalyan Banerjee, “My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Rotary,” The Rotarian, www.rotary.org/president.
- John Claypool, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler.