WARNING! This is a rather long post as it is a sermon (and was a short one) that I gave at a Community-wide Unity Thanksgiving service this past weekend. My prayer is that if you are reading this and are a Christ-follower, it will help re-frame Thanksgiving just a little. If you are reading this and are not a Christ-follower, then perhaps it will help you see what Jesus seemed to be more concerned about despite what we as His followers often miss it. Blessings and have a great Thanksgiving!
I got to thinking about this thanksgiving service several weeks ago. I was praying and wondering about what I should preach. Logically I thought, “I should preach a sermon on thankfulness. It’s a thanksgiving service.”
But then I got to thinking about how I am going to be preaching to a room mostly full of christians. I got to thinking about how we gather every week together to praise God for His goodness, celebrate His worth, hear from His Word about the world He wants to create within us and through His, and remember who we are through the Lord’s Supper.
I got to thinking about how every week we gather and are reminded of who we’ve been, who we are, and where we are headed. Then I got to thinking about who I’ve been and how I deserve hell because of my sin. Nothing more, nothing less. I got to thinking about who I am and about how God loved me and all of humanity so much that He would give His only Son who knew no sin to become sin for us; how Jesus Christ was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our sins; how the punishment that brought us peace was placed upon Him; how by His wounds, our wounds — the one’s deep within our hearts and souls — are healed.
I got to thinking that even though I am a sinful sin-stained weak man, because of what God has done for me and to me in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I am now a grace-covered, washed-in-the-blood-stained man who, when God looks at me, He sees me as in Christ, covered in the blood of His dear son, therefore made holy and made right in a relationship with Him. And now because of the Gospel of Christ, God looks at me and calls me lovely while He sings over me.
So I got to thinking of the Paul’s response to the Gospel in Ephesians chapter 1, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ…in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding…in Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.”
Now that is something I sure am thankful about.
So I got to thinking that preaching a sermon to a room mostly full of christians to remind them that they should be thankful is kinda like telling a young boy born and bred in the state of Texas that he should be a Dallas Cowboys fan. He just knows he should!
So I got to thinking, what should I preach?
Then I got to thinking about how this world needs a little hope. We live in a world full of people that need something to be thankful about. For some there’s not a lot of reason to give thanks in our world, you know what I mean? We live in tough economic times. We still live in a time of war. We live in a world full of sickness and death. We live in a world full of “haves” and “have-nots.” We live in a world where people are known not by their names, but by the past or their struggles. You’ve met them: him, the alcoholic; the widow; the orphan in that foreign country; the divorcee; the addict; black man; hispanic woman; arab; the immigrant.
I got to thinking that we live in world full of people that need something to be thankful about.
This week almost all of us are going to celebrate a holiday with people we love, just like we have done every year. Except some in here and many out there are going to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time without that someone they love.
Now they may need something to be thankful about.
This week almost all of us are going to sit around the table full of more food than we could ever eat. While some in here and many out there are going to look into an empty pantry just to find something to eat. Some are even going to have to rustle through the same old dumpsters and trash cans just so they can find another meal.
Now they may need something to be thankful about.
So I got to thinking, I am preaching to a room mostly full of christians. We’ve got so much to be thankful about in Christ, we shouldn’t know what to do with it all.
I got to thinking, we should give others something to be thankful about.
So I got to thinking about this story Jesus told in Luke 10.
Luke 10:25-37: Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the law?” He asked him. “How do you read it?” He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. “You’ve answered correctly,” He told him. “Do this and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. [same word as used about Jesus in Matt 9] He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day as he was leaving he took out two silver coins gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
We have almost always interpreted the moral of this story to say that every one is our neighbor so we should love everybody. But I don’t think this is what Jesus is telling this religious expert. The moral of this story was found in Jesus’ question in verse 36 and answered in verse 37:
“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said. Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
Jesus is trying to help this religious expert understand that he was asking the wrong question. Instead of asking “who is my neighbor,” Jesus is saying, “how about you ask, will I choose to be a good neighbor?”
The moral is not, “everyone is my neighbor.” The moral is, I am everyone else’s good neighbor.”
So I got to thinking instead of preaching a sermon on why we should be thankful, how about I just remind us that we as a thankful people, we should just go give others a reason to be thankful; we should be a thankful good neighbor. What would happen if we intentionally started being a thankful good neighbor? What would happen if we stopped looking for reasons to help people and just started helping? What would happen if we stopped putting people through this sort of mental application process? You know, asking questions like “will they use this money to really buy a meal or will they just buy more liquor?”
Or, “did they lose their job because they are lazy or did they really lose their job because of what they said?” Or, “if I do good for this person will they be willing to listen to my presentation of the Gospel?” Or, “if I keep doing good for this person will they just take advantage of my help and never learn to do for their self?”
I don’t know about you but I sure am thankful God doesn’t ask those questions of us before He does good for us. I sure am thankful that Jesus was always focused on being a good neighbor. So I am not very convinced that people who were told by Jesus to just focus on being good neighbors should be so focused on asking those questions. As if we have a right to do so. As if we are any better than or less careless with the gifts God gives us. As if we, a people who are reminded every week of who we are, what we deserve and what we have been given because of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, have a right to make that judgment call. Perhaps we should just be a good neighbor and let the Lord sort out the other details. That seems to be what Jesus did.
I don’t know, but I got to thinking that if we really are a thankful people, then we should be so thankful for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, that we should be compelled to be good neighbors to those who need a little something to be thankful about.
Maybe instead of one turkey I could buy two and give one away in Jesus’ name. I bet there is someone in your congregation who needs a turkey. The principle at your child’s school might know someone. There might be someone at your the office where you work. Or just drop it off at the local Fire station. I bet they will know someone in need. Or drop it off at Grove Christian Outreach. They’ll certainly know what to do with it. Just if you give away a turkey, do it in Jesus’ name.
Maybe instead of cooking one casserole, cook two; instead of one desert, cook two. And give one away in Jesus’ name. Even if you don’t know whether or not your next door neighbor has the ability to provide, I bet they would enjoy a gift of your homemade apple pie baked for them in Jesus’ name. Just if you give away a casserole or dessert, do it in Jesus’ name.
Maybe instead of only having your family over, invite someone else who doesn’t have their family this year. I bet they would enjoy your family’s company and everybody’s good cookin. Just invite them in Jesus’ name.
So when I was asked to preach this thanksgiving sermon, I got to thinking about Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:13-16: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
And I got to thinking, that if we christians decided that this Thanksgiving we were going to give a little more attention to being a good neighbor, we might give someone else something to be thankful about, especially when we do it in Jesus’ name. And then maybe they would see our good works and give thanks to our Father in heaven.
Now I don’t know what you think, but I think that’s something to be thankful about.