Sermon :: November 20, 2016 – Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Good evening! Thank you for being here. Before I start, I want to give you a heads up – Jesus loves you, no matter what. Deal with it. It’s such a blessing to be able to worship together and give thanks together, as a community, as a community of communities, and I’m really honored to be here. My name is Bryan Odeen, I’m the Intern over at St. Paul’s Lutheran and, being the new guy on the block, as far as clergy are concerned, I was voluntold to give the sermon today. I’m really so pleased to be able to be here with you all tonight.
I find this service to be really meaningful in a lot of ways. Not many communities have something like this, being able to worship together, being able to come together to give thanks, being able to make a statement that, despite what sometimes separate us from one another, that we have much more in common than we have divisions.
Our readings for today get at that, I think, in a very cool way. In a very relatable way, the apostle Paul is writing to a congregation Colossus who are experiencing divisions and strife among themselves. As a country just coming down from a very contentious election and campaign season, it’s appropriate, I think, to ask ourselves how we can be united despite our own differences. As individuals within a larger community, how can we work for the common good even when we might disagree on what that looks like?
Paul gets to the point, in our reading today, about how that looks – compassion, forgiveness, kindness, patience, love, thankfulness. These are the traits and characteristics of people who are working for the betterment of all, not just some. These are the characteristics of people who are more concerned with making sure all have a voice, a place at the table, and the freedom to live without fear. That’s the vision this country is striving to build itself on, right? An interesting thing about these characteristics is that, while they are easy to say don’t necessarily cost much, they are often a challenge to live into. It’s hard to forgive people who have wronged you. It’s difficult to have compassion in the face of fear. It’s tough to be kind and patient when we are trained to seek vengeance. And love, which binds all things together, can be especially hard to come by in situations where we disagree.
That’s a fact. That’s the truth. But another fact, which I hope we can all name and see, is that these practices Paul names for us are cyclical. They build on each other. They gain momentum as we live them out and, before, long, what starts as one act of compassion and love to someone else can begin a new trend and a new movement. Where one person can be a spark of kindness and forgiveness, the fires of love, the fire of the Holy Spirit, can spread.
Or take thankfulness, for example. That’s why we’re all here, right? To be thankful and show our thanks. I want you to think of something, right now, that you are thankful for. If you can find one thing, just one thing to be grateful for, I know that you can find two things to be thankful for. If you can find two things to be thankful for, I know you can find ten. If you can find ten things to be grateful for, I know you can find a thousand things to be grateful for. Why is this? Because, when we’re really paying attention, we will find that often our lives are much richer, much more abundant, than we often see at first glance.
We often spend our lives looking at the next thing we have to do, not looking at the things we have received. We are worried about the next bill that’s coming due, the next assignment and test that you’ll have to complete, the next appointment, the next meeting, and the next project, job, or raise, hoping it will help make us happier. We can do all of this our whole lives, be very successful, look like we have it all together, and never be happy. When we live life like this, we can find it very difficult to stop, take a look around, and realize what we already have.
As a Christian, I am so thankful that we have a holiday solely for the purpose of giving thanks (even if we spend part of that day planning out Black Friday shopping). Because, as much as I believe that God loves, forgives, and provides, if I’m not paying attention, if I’m not taking time to receive it, it will never feel like enough. I have seen this play out in my life, where I forget to do this, I forget to give thanks, and I begin to convince myself that I have nothing to be thankful for.
But the shocking piece of thankfulness is this: the antidote to that feeling of discontentment or discouragement or greed is not more stuff, but more thankfulness. The antidote to fear is not safety, but love. The antidote to hatred is not isolation, but compassion. Now, God knows we have real issues of poverty at work, both around the world and around our community, but those of us with the resources to combat that will never feel we have that ability if we don’t first stop, take account of what we have, who we are, and why we’re living, and then, with thankful and generous hearts, we can help our neighbors who need it.
As we, as a nation, take time to stop, take time to be thankful, maybe eat a little too much, I hope that we can truly see how blessed we are. God’s love for you knows no limits. God went to cross to show you that. We have received so much and we have such an opportunity, each and every day, to live compassionately, kindly, patiently, lovingly, and thankfully. My hope and prayer is that you truly stop and give thanks, each and every day – notice the joys in your life and share them. Amen.