SERMON from 11-20-11: “The ‘Thanks’ in Thanksgiving”

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And 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. 9 As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

The ‘Thanks’ In Thanksgiving

Imagine sitting down for a great dinner after slaving over a steaming hot stove for the better part of the day. You enter the slightly cooler air of the dining room and made your way around the table to find your seat. After taking your seat, you note the relief in your feet and lower back at having rested them from their labors. You have just shoved the first savory slice of turkey into your mouth, began to savor it, and are interrupted by your child–who is apoplectic because you haven’t yet prayed. Said grace. Given thanks. Begrudgingly, you set your fork down and proceed to fold your hands to pray–working the last shreds of turkey to the back of your mouth and down your gullet. You eventually realize this is what you should have done in the first place, but it takes you a bit to get there in your head.

Has it ever taken you a bit to “get somewhere” in your head? It is the reason that coaches give pep talks to their teams prior to games. Some things are easier for us to prepare ourselves for, other things are harder. Thanksgiving can be something for which we need to prepare.

Some of us cannot wait for it. The idea of our mom’s house filled with the smell of turkey, dressing and fresh-baked rolls just gets our mouths a-waterin’. We look forward to the football. That is, we look forward to the point where we stick our heads into the kitchen just in time to say “what can I help with” as the last dish is dried–just to say we tried. I will give some of you the doubt. Maybe you were in on the clean-up–if only so you could secure the best left-overs for yourself. For you, Thanksgiving is a great day.

For others, Thanksgiving can be a stressful–and maybe even painful–time. At the Forest UMC, we just planned and executed a Thanksgiving-esque dinner for hundreds of people. That is stressful enough. However, planning a dinner at your house for 25 people can be a whole other beast–literally. How much food and who is going to make what? Will there be any squabbling this year? Will Uncle Ted get drunk again? An estranged relative is back for the first time in years and people are uncomfortable about it. What if this is mom’s or grandma’s first Thanksgiving without their loved ones. What about the people who haven’t seen their loved ones for years, and who will probably be alone this thanksgiving? Not just stressful, Thanksgiving can also be painful.

However Thanksgiving happens for you, there is nothing we can do about it. The hands of time bring us here every year. Usually, this stuff happens so fast that we have to struggle to remember it all once it happened. Whether it was painful or happy, hopefully we have that little child–from within or without–crying out to you from the chaos, “you haven’t given thanks!” That’s why, as we are preparing for the busiest traveling weekend of the year, we come to our Father’s home here–to give thanks.

Paul is calling upon the people in the Corinthian church to give thanks–but under very different circumstances. See, Corinth is situated in an important commercial area. There is a strip of land which connects the northern portion of Greece to the south. Since most commerce was traded via waterway, the key was to find the quickest route to your destination. Instead of taking the time to ship goods down around the southern tip of Greece, Corinth was perfectly situated to take goods and ship over their thin strip of land to save time. This made Corinth the home to many people from many different walks of life.

The Corinthian church, then, had to contend with many different world-views and those who would destroy a tiny movement such as the one Paul brought to them. Particularly, Paul is referencing the church’s disagreements over who is teaching what. I would think it is much like today. There are so many different people teaching different things about the same passage of scripture–it can be a daunting thing which to consider. It could even weaken or destroy your faith.

To that end, Paul encourages his friends in Corinth to give thanks and remember what it is God has done and why it was they were where they were. Do you ever find that it is easy to let yourself be pulled down into all the tangential crap that creeps up in our lives–almost to the point that you forget where you were in the first place? That is the reason Paul is writing a second letter to the church in Corinth. And in the midst of their trials, Paul is calling on them to remember.

I don’t really go verse-by-verse through a scripture when I preach. That’s what bible study is for. Preaching is for building up, encouraging and inspiring. There is a great nugget within this scripture that I think we need to digest. And this nugget is 100% meat.

Paul says that we should give as we want to give, not as we have been compelled to do. In this instance, Paul is talking about stewardship, but it can be applied to many things. So, what Paul is saying that whatever it is we do in the name of God, we should do it because we desire it. Likewise, whatever it is we do for god, we should do it because we desire it.

My translation of the Bible finishes that sentence with the phrase “cheerful giver.” It denotes a sense of loving what we are doing because we desire to please God with the fruits of our labors. We should not give apprehensively. We should not give under duress. We should give because it will please God. Not only do we give of our time and talents, but we give praise and thanks out of our genuine feelings of love and adoration for that which is the source.

Paul goes on to explain that last bit. We do not give apprehensively or under duress because the One who has given us all that we have is able to give it to us in abundance. We won’t, of course, know the full extent of what God’s abundance until we have finished our work on earth. So, we have to negotiate what it means to understand God’s abundance in the midst of a world which makes doing so very difficult.

It is not uncommon for food banks to receive more requests for assistance around the holidays. However, given the current economic hardships that most of us have seen–if not experienced first hand–it should come to no surprise that they are receiving more than the usual spike in traffic.

You probably know a family that is experiencing their first Thanksgiving after having gone through a painful divorce. Not only have they experienced financial hardship, now they must work out who will be spending the holiday with who. Remember back to the Thanksgiving gathering, and add on the added stress of a family going through a situation as heart-wrenching as that.

Let’s say you are a widower. Your kids have all grown up and moved on to live lives with their own families. Sure, you may be able to make it to their homes for Thanksgiving dinner, but you still have to return home to that empty house. As you sit and replay that happenings of the day, you glance over at the empty recliner or old knick-knack. All over again, you relive the pain of not having them there to share those memories.

Never is it harder to answer a question than when someone looks over at you and asks “where is God when it hurts.” I have been in the ministry for 7 years, and I always feel inadequate in answering that question. Sure, I have experienced pain, but that pain is never guaranteed to pass us by. Sometimes, it hits us like a freight train–because a car has ran us into it. Giving thanks in the midst of that? I don’t think I’d have the energy; sometimes I don’t.

I can remember when Emily and I were going through a particularly difficult time. Her father, who is also a United Methodist pastor, sent us a postcard. On it, there was a quote from Rob Estes. It says, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” It still hangs on our refrigerator.

If we find ourselves in the midst of great pain and suffering, the worst thing we could do is to let that pain pull us further into our own particular hell. It may be difficult. Strike that. It probably will be difficult. However, the apostle Paul is reminding us that we have someone on our side who can give us an abundance. That abundance is enough to pull us through to the other side of our mess. Or, it is enough to help sustain us in the midst of our own particular hell.

And that’s why we give thanks to God. No matter what it is we are doing. Whether we are overwhelmed with planning for the family feast or overcome with the pain in our lives, we have a God who promises to always be with us–and that is why we give thanks to God.

So, don’t be annoyed at the child who has just interrupted your first succulent bite. Thank them for their faith…and thanks be to God for that. AMEN!

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