Give Thanks? For What?

“Give Thanks? For What?”

Psalm 100:1-5 (100:4) – November 24, 2021 (preached at the Morton Grove Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service, held at St. Martha of Bethany Catholic Church campus)

            What are you thankful for? I don’t know whether you or your family come up with a “gratitude” before you eat your Thanksgiving feast tomorrow. Except, it is becoming more and more common that as families and friends gather around the festive table that they go around the table and say what each one is grateful for. Sometimes, even before they begin to eat. The religious writer Diana Butler Bass calls this “the Turkey Hostage Situation.” No food until everyone comes up with a gratitude!   

            Some years we are more grateful and thankful than others. The psalm we read tonight features thankfulness as a highlight of worship. When we come into our houses of worship, we are supposed to be thankful. Grateful. Especially now, at this Thanksgiving time of the year.

I want to dig more deeply into Psalm 100, and see what else we can discover.

I love language. I loved English classes when I was in middle school and high school. Of course, I loved literature! I was – and still am – fascinated with the way language functions and is put together. This great interest in languages helped me when I went to seminary and studied biblical Hebrew and Greek, the original languages our Bible was written in.   

One helpful tip I remember when looking at the nuts and bolts of a Bible verse or paragraph is to break it down. Look at the different parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, and especially verbs. The verbs in Psalm 100 give us a great deal of insight into this psalm, or song.

Speaking of songs, this reading IS a song. This song gives us instruction of how to come into God’s presence – the how-to’s of worship. The African-American Lectionary commentary says, “The psalmist uses seven different verbs to call to the community to worship: make, serve, come, know, enter, give thanks, and bless. Although there are moments when we need to be still and quiet in the presence of the LORD, this is not one of them.” [1]

I really appreciate and enjoy those times when I worshiped in African-American congregations. Since I lead a congregation now myself, I miss those other opportunities to go, and see other congregations, and enjoy different praise structures and faith traditions in worship.

Yet, I wonder – what is it about this psalm that makes it so marvelous as a template for worship? If we go back to the verbs used in this song, this hymn of praise and worship takes on a more wonderful meaning. And institutional meaning.

True, I have attended worship in a number of different settings, over the years. In many of these, the basic outline of worship remains the same. The worshipers come together, and they know, they understand (as best as they are able) that God is the reason they gather. Then – and this is important to any worship service – they give thanks.

I remember a small, intimate worship service some years ago while I was on a retreat. About 15 people were gathered together. We did not have any of the outside trappings of a building, no special glass, no carved woodwork or stone, no music or musicians. Yet, that was a meaningful worship experience for me, and for many others in that group.

That retreat was not at Thanksgiving-time, yet we were all thankful and grateful the group of us had gathered together. Can you relate? Have you had a feeling like that, a similar experience where you and the other members of your group felt thankful about this holy experience? This worship opportunity where you felt thankful and grateful you and the other people in your group (any group – family, friends, congregation, retreat group) felt the same way? Indescribable, worshipful, beyond words, even divine.  

This psalm talks about experiences like that in worship, and says that giving thanks is an integral part of worshiping God. We can give thanks that God is our God. And, we can give thanks for all that God has given to us.

            I agree with commentator Larry Broding that thanksgiving is one of our primary attitudes of worship. “We are to be happy when we present ourselves to God. We are to be thankful when we are in [God’s] presence. Other attitudes are possible (sorrow, need, intercession, surrender, peace, etc.) but joy and thanksgiving should be our primary focus.” [2] And, this isn’t just at Thanksgiving. It’s at any time of the year.

For those among us who do not feel like gathering with family or friends at a dinner table tomorrow, I relate. Thanksgiving can be a difficult occasion, a complicated time. Know that there are friends who stand with you, or sit beside you, in your discomfort, grief or longing.

            Specifically, what about the upcoming feast tomorrow? Similar to writer Diana Butler Bass, are you and I familiar with the Turkey Hostage Situation? Are we going to hold our turkey – or whatever other kind of main course – hostage while each one around the table scrambles to come up with something they are grateful for? We are grateful for the stuff, the things of our lives! That is turning our annual day of thanks into a commodity-based occasion. [3] It is not helpful for us to twist or force “thankful” feelings and behavior in this way

            Going back to my great interest in language, I found Butler Bass’s alternative for this round-robin of “gratitude” to be a fascinating option. Instead, an alternative suggestion: Perhaps this Thanksgiving is a good time to ask some different questions regarding gratitude:

To whom or what are you grateful?
What challenges have you been grateful through?
Have you been grateful with others?
Where have you discovered gratitude within?
Has something in your life been changed by being grateful?
In
what circumstances have you experienced thankfulness?

            Any or all of these are marvelous ideas to ponder. Situations to consider. Again, this may or may not work for the group gathered around your Thanksgiving table. But, it certainly takes our minds off of the tangible, material things, the clutter of forced gratitude at Thanksgiving, and the myriad of stuff we might have randomly filling up our lives, like the stuffing inside of a turkey.

            Tonight, I hope and pray we all can “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;” may we all “give thanks to God and praise his name.”

             I pray a blessed and thankful holiday upon us all. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=98

Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009

[2] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Psalms/100.html

·  “How To Prepare for Worship,”Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[3] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/about

No Need to Worry!

“No Need to Worry!”

Matthew 6:25-34 (6:27, 34) – November 21, 2021

            There is no need to worry!

            What? You have GOT to be kidding. If your everyday life is anything like mine, there is A LOT to worry about. Worries at work (look at the church office roof!), worries at home (with family members sick), worries about everything under the sun, like a friend’s daughter, another’s brother, several people going through physical therapy. That’s not mentioning making ends meet, supply chain issues, and worries about healthcare. What isn’t there to worry about?    

            Our Lord Jesus was very serious here. He’s in the middle of one of His great sermons from the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. This is early in His ministry; the Rabbi Jesus teaches about the Law of Moses to a Jewish audience. Lots of rabbis did exactly that! Giving their own understanding about the Hebrew Scriptures and the Law of Moses.

            Jesus spends the first half of Matthew 6 talking about prayer. He even gives us that prayer template we say every week! The Lord’s Prayer. After that, Jesus talks about the attitude we are supposed to have. How we ought to think – and act.

            Let’s think more deeply about our Scripture reading for today. Wonderful Scripture! But, not quite our usual Scripture reading for Thanksgiving Sunday. Or, is it? Commentator Rev. Janet Hunt said “these words which come to us this Thanksgiving aren’t first about giving thanks, are they?  No, they seem to get at gratitude’s opposite – or at least that which keeps us from being grateful, namely worry.” [1] Especially during a pandemic. What is Jesus thinking of? How can He say “don’t be anxious!” “Don’t worry!” and really mean it?

            Worry is invasive, like a nasty, invasive plant. Those of you who garden are very much aware of these weeds, these choking, creeping plants that wind around the healthy flowers and vegetables we plant in our gardens. That worry weed can choke the life out of the good plants, if we give them half a chance. What can we possibly do about worry?

            Janet Hunt makes a confession: “In all truth, I am a worrier.  This is nothing new.  I carried my anxiety so deep that at the age of six I had nearly developed an ulcer and my folks had me going to a therapist (in a time when that was still pretty unusual) — with whom I never did honestly share the fears that troubled my little girl’s heart.” [2] 

            I have several friends with severe anxiety, too. They worry about a lot of stuff, all the time. This anxiety can be very real, and very debilitating.

One of my favorite commentators, David Lose, notices something important about this reading. He said it hit him like a two by four! How hard is it to hear Jesus say “Do not worry about your life.” David Lose does not think it is just about him! He thinks “we live in an incredibly anxious culture. The evening news certainly depends upon worries at home and abroad to attract viewers. Commercials are constantly inviting us to worry about one more thing — usually about ourselves! — the sponsored product should supposedly solve.” [3]

David Lose wrote these words about ten years ago. Since we are eighteen months into the pandemic, with all of its attendant fear, anxiety, distress and upset, how much more is worry an everyday companion for all of us! Plus, so many people – not only across the United States, but also across the world are seeking some way out, some way to alleviate that worry. Usually by waving some commercially sponsored magic wand or using some sponsored product.

Isn’t it simpler than that? I mean, simpler, in a straightforward kind of way? Not necessarily easier, but some way that Jesus can help us not to worry?

You remember that I said the Rabbi Jesus talks about the attitudes we are supposed to have. How we ought to think – and act. What does He say here in Matthew 6, just before telling us not to worry? He gives us a choice. We can’t serve two masters: we can’t serve both God and money. Serving money is another name for looking out for security. Giving our allegiance to money and security. Making money our lord – running after security at all costs.

If we make money and security our lord – our God, in fact – what does that do to the real God, the God of the Bible? As David Lose says, “Once we believe that money can satisfy our deepest needs, then we suddenly discover that we never have enough. Money, after all, is finite. No wonder we worry – in a world of scarcity, there is simply never enough.” [4]

So, how on earth are we supposed to NOT worry? The alternative Jesus invites us to consider is entering into a real, authentic relationship with God. Live in this relationship of real, true love and trust. Is there an end to love? I think you know the answer. You have love for all your families, for other close loved ones. When one is added – a niece, nephew, grandchild, in-law – your capacity to love extends, even doubles. We love to overflowing! Even more, as God is infinite, and whose love for us and all creation infinitely overflows, as well.

Jesus’s words “do not worry!” are a command! When we live in this relationship with God, this possible life of abundance, this life of love, caring and trust, all things become possible! Even the possibility of NOT worrying, even through a pandemic.

“Suddenly, in this world — Jesus calls it the “kingdom of God” — not worrying actually becomes an option.” [5] With a loving, authentic relationship with God.

Thank You, Jesus! Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to Rev. David Lose and his commentary article from Working Preacher, “Picture This,”

I took a number of ideas and several quotes from that article on Matthew 6:25-34.)


[1] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/11/no-more-worries.html

“No More Worries,” the Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/picture-this

“Picture This,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Always Giving Thanks!

“Always Giving Thanks!”

Ephesians 5:15-20 (5:20) – August 15, 2021

            When I mention “Thanksgiving,” what do you think of? The turn of the seasons? The coming of cold weather? Harvest time, pumpkins and spiced apple cider, turkey and dressing? Some people think of football and eating too much Thanksgiving feast, too.

Thanksgiving isn’t just for November, just for harvest time. But, before we get to the thankful part of this Scripture reading from Ephesians, we have to consider several commands and recommendations about how to truly live life as a believer in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s first command is to be wise people. Wise! Not foolish.

Most anyone can describe a foolish person, even pick them out of a group of people, because of their foolish, short-sighted thoughts, words and especially deeds. Who has seen someone being foolish? Either in real life or on television or movies? Often, it’s played up as a comic thing. But, when we see people doing foolish things or saying foolish words, we often can tell right away how foolish they are.

It’s more of a challenge to know the wise thing to do, the wise words to say. When my older two children were little, years ago, I attended church with another couple who also had children around the same age. I vividly remember my friend Mike saying – repeatedly – be wise. He would regularly advise his children to be wise, and cautioned them that it was more of a challenge to be wise. He would say that anyone could be good, without thinking very hard. Except, being wise takes a lot more thinking and discernment. Paul advises all of us to be wise!

Paul’s second command? Be filled with the Spirit. That’s a nice sentiment. But, how?

My husband Kevin was a cub scout and a boy scout. He often went camping with his troop, and they were carefully instructed by their scout leaders to clean up after themselves! No leaving trash around the campsite! They made sure the place looked even better when they left than when they first came. My husband still remembers one of his leaders would say, “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”

Yes, this is how to be a responsible citizen. Commendable to be a caring human being. However, this alone is not the way Paul intends the Ephesian believers to live out their faith. Paul reminds us that we Christians do more than that! We believers in Jesus Christ live out the Good News of Jesus Christ by transforming the world! In whatever way we can.

Sure, we can make certain that we keep things tidy, and clean up our mess. But, transforming the world into the image of God? That we cannot do alone. We need God’s help! We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit – and by God’s grace, the Spirit will partner with us! The Spirit will come alongside of us and help us to do God’s work – transforming the world![1]

And, it’s not only the apostle Paul who advises us to transform the world. One of my favorite Jewish expressions used by some of my Jewish friends is tikkun olam. “In Jewish teachings, any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created. Tikkun olam implies that while the world is innately good, its Creator purposely left room for us to improve upon His work.” [2]  

The third command of the apostle Paul? Sing and make music in your heart to God. That is one thing the Protestant church excels at! Certain denominations are just superb at singing and praising God in four-part harmony. My husband grew up in the Methodist church, and he remembers the church he attended as a boy. The whole congregation sang many hymns with gusto every Sunday. His family is musical anyway, but Kevin is really appreciative of sung music in four-part harmony. What a marvelous way to praise our God!

I do need to make a caution. With the rise of the Delta variant of COVID, please be cautious about singing in public, currently. I know that the apostle Paul tells us it’s a great idea! However, be prudent, be caring, and be wise in your dealings with others, for right now.

We are approaching Paul’s recommendation to give thanks. It seems as if Paul is winding up, getting ready to explode with words of praise in “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” We’ve seen Paul get all excited before! Remember, at the end of chapter 3, where Paul burst into a glorious benediction proclaiming the glory and majesty of our God.

We are looking to make a difference in the world, correct? That is what we as believers in Jesus Christ are called to do, correct? It’s not just an exterior thing. It is not just give, give, give, constantly doing things for others all the time. Yes, doing that is a way to please God, to be sure! But, we all need to nurture and restore ourselves, too. And, how might we do that? By praising God! By singing in psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit! This is not only a way for me to nurture myself, singly, but it is as way for all of us to restore and uplift each other, too!

Music is a marvelous way for all of us to give thanks, to express praise and thanksgiving to our God. I was trained as a church musician, originally. Music is very close to my heart, and has been, ever since I was a little girl. Paul’s admonition here in Ephesians 5? Like second nature to me! I love to sing and play and make music, and these words tell us that it’s a great idea for mutual nurture and uplifting, too! In whatever way, style or manner fits you and your culture, or how or where you grew up, God is so pleased when God’s people lift praises in music!

Which brings us, finally, to giving thanks. Thanksgiving is not just for a Thursday in November. It’s an everyday thing. A joyous thing! Something that we are all called to do, each day of our lives. We can always find something to give thanks for, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/geared-up-for-life/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3700275/jewish/What-Is-TikkunOlam.htm

Cheerful Givers

“Cheerful Givers”

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:7) – November 15, 2020

            Have you started thinking about Thanksgiving yet? Thoughts of Thanksgiving turkeys full of seasoned stuffing, mashed potatoes heaped high, creamy green bean casserole and tangy cranberry sauce bring sure-fire memories to many, many people at this generous, giving-time of the year. Except – will anything like an ordinary Thanksgiving celebration be possible this year? Can anything save this beloved holiday from the ravages of this pandemic and the stress and anxiety that seem to accompany it at every turn?

            Yet – with all the personal trials and tribulations that were continuing to happen to the apostle Paul, how could he even focus on generosity? Just two short chapters after today’s reading, in chapter 11, Paul talks about the dozens of times he was beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked, and repeatedly denied freedom of religion. Yes, I suspect Paul had a close acquaintance with stress, fear and anxiety. Perhaps he did not allow them to take root and settle down in his head and heart, but I suspect Paul knew these deep feelings pretty well.

What did the apostle Paul write just before our reading for today? In the paragraphs before today’s reading, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem. The Christian friends in Jerusalem certainly knew what it was like to be in distress, too! It’s then Paul tells more about giving. How to give, and why. How not to give, too.  

            Of course we are preoccupied. Many things are on people’s minds. Not only the coronavirus, and public health, but stress, uncertainty and political upheaval. Is there any reason stress, fear and anxiety would NOT be running rampant in the United States today?

            Who can possibly turn our minds to giving and generosity, with so much going on in our lives? How can each of us follow this command from God to give generously? Paul would remind us that many, many Christians in his day had lots of things going on in their personal lives, too. Many were truly persecuted in a way that would make our skin crawl; many were in trouble with the imperial forces and government, too. Yet – Paul praised his former church members for remembering the faithful believers in Jerusalem – sending them a much needed financial gift.

            There is a clear difference between certain people who give freely and generously, and other people who give like their arms are twisted behind their backs – out of a matter of grudging obligation. And oh! Can we tell the difference!  

            We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in verse 6: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul uses a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving out of obligation—being stingy.

            Do you know someone who is really stingy? Someone who is really pained to spend even one dollar of his or her own money? When I was young, there was an older man in our neighborhood who was exactly like this. So stingy he would creak when he walked. So stingy he couldn’t think of putting a penny in a Salvation Army kettle at the holidays.

            I suspect all of us know a tight-fisted person like this. Not at all the generous, open-handed way of giving that the Lord Jesus models for us. God never gives out of an attitude of grudging obligation, and neither should we.

            As each person purposes – or decides in their own heart, that is why we are to give. Did you ever think of giving because you want to give and because God has put it in your heart to give? To give out of the pure joy of giving? Paul had churchgoers remember the church – by sending a much needed financial gift.

One of my acquaintances knew a stingy old woman. So stingy, she would cut coupons and live on the bare minimum in her tiny house. But, she surprised us all after she died. Her will left $50 million dollars to Monmouth College. She never experienced the joy of giving away that money. She never experienced Thanks-GIVING. Don’t miss the joy of giving.
            Our giving “reveals the purposes in our own heart. “If we say we love the Lord more than surfing, but spend all our money on surfboards and do not give as we should to the Lord’s work, then the way we spend our money shows the purposes of our own heart more accurately than our words do. Jesus said it simply: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’” [1]

But, wait! If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing. Isn’t a warm heart and abundant blessings what we all really want?

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. This blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, sets out the bulletins, does the pandemic safety checks, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary—thank you. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. These are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that, too. God is pleased with whatever gifts you sincerely, truly offer with all your heart.

Alleluia, amen!


[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide2017-2Cr/2Cr-9.cfm

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Don’t Worry—Rejoice!

“Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – September 13, 2020

            I love Bobby McFerrin. His way of recording acapella music is absolutely brilliant. No instruments, but just him, as he sings, whistles, and makes other kinds of sounds.

In 1988, a song was released that went straight to the top of the billboard charts. Not only in the United States, but worldwide. That quirky song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” had no instruments, but just Bobby McFerrin singing, whistling and making other sounds with his body.  

            Today’s Scripture reading has almost exactly the same message. The apostle Paul tells his friends from Philippi, “Don’t worry—rejoice!”

            These verses from chapter 4 are where Paul gives his personal remarks and admonitions to a very special community of believers. Stand firm! Be of the same mind! Help each other! Rejoice! Be gentle! Don’t worry! And, pray!

            Of Pal’s words, what particularly strikes me at this time is “Don’t Worry—Rejoice!”  That is a tall order for anyone at any time. But, now? With all that is going on in the United States right now? Not only the COVID pandemic, but also the uncertainty, fear and anxiety with our country’s general condition. Plus, the racial tension, the problems with the weather and the wildfires, and the political uncertainty all add to the general anxiety of many in this country.

            Seriously, where does Paul get off, telling me NOT to worry? He doesn’t know what I am going through! Or, does he?

We have talked about Paul in prison, throughout this sermon series in Philippians. Imagine, awaiting his trial for a serious offence. Shackled at the wrist to a Roman soldier night and day, Paul had absolutely no privacy. What a miserable situation! Or, was it?  

            Let’s look more closely at Paul’s admonition. Or, if you like to think about it in this way, a part of Paul’s home improvement description.

Plus, some of these seem so difficult to accomplish. I can’t do this stuff that Paul tells me to! As Alyce McKenzie comments, “I would read [this admonition] and try to psyche myself up. “Let’s do this! No anxiety! Who needs it? I am a competent adult. I just need to breathe deeper, summon more faith, and I can achieve this anxiety-free life Paul talks about. Let’s do this!” [1]

            But, anxiety and fear continue to rise up and threaten to swallow us alive. Especially with so much uncertainty swirling around so many, few of us find it easy to do what Paul advises. So often, our attitude can be the exact opposite of that rejoicing and trust in God that Paul commands of us.

            Let’s think about the people Paul was writing to, in Philippi. Many of those people were probably unlikely to have comfortable lives. Most were poor, many were slaves or indentured servants. Few would have had any idea of what we know today as peace, joy and security. Yet, Paul encouraged all of them to rejoice in the Lord. [2]

            Let me tell you, Paul was hardly in the prime place to be a quality motivational speaker. From a worldly point of view, that is. Face it, we who live in comparative security, wealth and luxury today are so much more likely to be the most worried and anxious – especially with the sizeable fear and anxiety swirling around us for the past number of months.

            So, how on earth do we do it? How do we rejoice in the Lord always? And again, Paul says, rejoice!

A few years ago, commentator Alyce McKenzie went to a fitness class twice a week taught by an excellent instructor. As she says, “She is both fit and motivating. She is so pleasant that we don’t even hate her when she is making us do the tenth round of squats that are the reason getting up and down from my writing chair today is so painful.

“When we are flagging in energy in the middle of a round of chest presses or push-ups, she’ll call out “C’mon, people! You’ve got this!” I can’t deny that it has an energizing effect. Class members will call out things like “Yeah!” and “Woo-hoo!” I don’t call out anything. I’m busy trying to keep breathing, but I do feel a surge of internal confidence. “I’ve got this! I can do this!”

            Here is camaraderie, teamwork, and togetherness at work. And, the togetherness, the teamwork of the Christian life is what Paul recommends to us in verses 2 and 3. Remember? Be of the same mind! And, help each other!

            All of Paul’s commands dovetail into his urging to pray—with thanksgiving. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”   

            All too often, our prayers are just a ‘shopping list’ we bring to God, without thanksgiving and seasoned with anxiety and fear. We are urged to be grateful, to count our blessings. While the apostle Paul would express himself differently, I think Paul would appreciate the laid back, trusting attitude of Bobby McFerrin and his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”   

Rejoice! Pray! Stand together in the faith!                                                                        Alleluia, amen.       


[1] https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/lets-do-this-alyce-mckenzie-10-06-2014.html

“Let’s Do This!” Alyce M McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2014.

[2] Hooker, Morna D., “The Letter to the Philippians,” The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. XI (Abingdon, Nashville, TN: 2000), 540-41, 547.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

God Gives Us Good Things

“God Gives Us Good Things!”

Deut 26-1-11 words

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (26:11) – November 24, 2019

This season we are in right now I call the thankful time of the year. We give thanks for the harvest just brought in to the barns across the country. We give thanks for fruits and vegetables harvested from our back gardens in cities and suburbs. And, we give thanks for God’s wonderful bounty of gifts poured out upon us all, regularly.

Our Scripture reading from the book of Deuteronomy lists a thanksgiving for the harvest for the Jewish people. It’s not only a thank-you to God, but chapter 26 lists a required offering of first fruits all Jews ought to bring to God. The first fruits—or harvest—of the season we bring to God, as an expression of gratitude and thankfulness.

What is more appropriate for our reading today than this Scripture reading, especially at this thankful, grateful time of the year?

Deuteronomy 26 begins with these words: “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name.”

Talk about making an actual, physical offering of the first fruits you have gathered from your farm, or orchard, or dairy, or hen house. Whatever we have the opportunity to gather from our harvest, that is what we are to present to the Lord

Yes, showing our gratitude and thankfulness to our God is truly important. But—does this Scripture passage say more than just a duty-bound thank-you operation? Our biblical commentator certainly thinks so. “God gave the unexpected and free gift of a new life to a group of stateless persons, making of them a people with a special relationship to him and giving them a ‘land of milk and honey’ to live in.” [1]

I can understand how this presentation of first fruits was so important for the Jewish people—finally with a land of their own after centuries of having no place to call their own. Wandering and landless. Just as Moses gave one of the biblical patriarchs as an example: this reading even mentions a “wandering Aramean.”

Moreover, the manner in which the Jews are to say “thank you” to God for material and spiritual gifts is important. That is what I hear when I listen to this chapter read: it has not only the instructions for presenting the first fruits of our harvest to God, but also the underlying reason why, in the first place.

“The members of the nation are invited to respond to this divine initiative by showing their gratefulness, and to do so by returning to God part of what God has given them. But how can we give a present to the invisible God? Here is where the institution of organized worship comes in, to enable human beings to make a symbolic offering to God and in this way to express their relationship to him.” [2]

So, we are not only to give God thanks individually, but we are instructed to do so in organized worship services. This is a way to gather together and to jointly—as a worshiping body—lift our voices to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving.

This is not just for adults. Families can give thanks. We ought to look for opportunities to get our children and grandchildren involved, too. An excellent bible commentator I often reference, Carolyn Brown, mentions how we might possibly get our children involved in the giving of thanks. “Involving children in community services is a good way to draw a crowd and to introduce children to their community’s religious base.”  She also suggests that we “provide paper and crayons or markers for children (and older worshipers) to write poems or draw pictures of where they see God all around them.” [3] These are imaginative and creative ways to celebrate God and give God our thanks.

There are many ways we can celebrate at a joint Thanksgiving service to God. One way is to sing hymns of thanksgiving and celebration and thank God for the wonderful harvest, as we are in this service today.

Can we think of a better way to have everyone in our community gather together to give thanks for all the blessings we enjoy? Just like on this coming Wednesday, when our wider Morton Grove community will gather here in this place to give thanks.

I know that several people here in this service have attended many of the past community Thanksgiving Eve services. I would like to remind everyone that the giving of thanks is a universal expression of gratitude. We have a tremendous opportunity for everyone to gather together and give thanks, despite our variety of backgrounds and despite our religious differences.

Just as we collect an offering at the close of each service on Sunday mornings, so we will gather an offering on Wednesday night. Not only are we making a symbolic gesture of our worship through the gathering of people from diverse faith traditions and various world cultures, but we all can lift thanksgiving and gratitude together as a community, no matter when each of us separately and regularly praise and worship God.

Is there a better and more praiseworthy way for us today to give thanks to God? What is more, is there a better way for us to show God how much we care for and love God? The Jewish people have gathered for millenia, in regular praise and worship of God, and especially in thanksgiving for all God has done for them in the past.

Deuteronomy 26 tells us that each individual citizen was told to rejoice with the priests (or, in this case, Levites) and foreigners. God wishes everyone to come before the Holy One with thanksgiving, including foreigners. Just saying, but God repeated informs Israel that they are to treat the foreigners who live with them exactly the same as any citizen of Israel. God makes no distinction, and tells the people of Israel those exact words.

How wonderful to have that continuity across the ages. From the Jews, wandering in the wilderness, through the time of the Temple and what formal worship happened there, up through the times of the foundation of the Church and more recent centuries—we have always had occasion to gather together to give praise and thanks to our God.

Everything, even life itself is a gift from God above, enabling us to give thanks to God in all things. Isn’t this what the apostle Paul told us in his letter to the Philippians?  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

[1] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2014-10-01

“Giving back to God what God has given us,” Commented Bible Passages from Taizé, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3][3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-thanksgiving-day-october-14-2013.html

Worshiping with Children, Thanksgiving Day, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

How to Worship?

“How to Worship?”

1 Tim 2-2 pray, message

1 Timothy 2:1-4 – September 22, 2019

Have you ever been to a different kind of worship service? A service where people prayed differently, sang different kinds of songs, played different instruments, and even spoke in different languages? I have attended a number of different kinds. Worship of God can be diverse and different, depending on where we live, what each of us grows up with, and what kind of faith tradition we come from.

In today’s reading from the first letter to Timothy, we hear about instructions for prayer and worship. This letter to Timothy is one of the pastoral letters from the New Testament. In other words, this letter contains instructions for a church leader on how to be a better pastor and leader of a congregation. Including—recommendations for corporate worship and prayer.

This is not like the instructions from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew or the Sermon on the Plain from Luke, where our Lord Jesus gives specific instructions for personal, private prayer. No, this letter is from several decades later, when there were established groups of believers, and they needed structure and direction on corporate worship and prayer.

From 1 Timothy 2: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—” This sounds wonderful! I have experienced this aspect of prayer in practically every worship service I have ever attended. I suspect you have, too.

Whether prayer happens from the pulpit or lectern, or from the floor of the church, whether the prayer is offered by members of the congregation from the pews or seated in a circle, extemporaneously or written out, Paul’s recommendation of unified prayer is definitely one that has gone on as long as believers in Christ have gathered together.

However, the prayers we offer are not just generic prayers. I want to remind everyone (and I am reminding myself, too!), that we are encouraged to “offer prayers for all members of the human family during church services; prayer in the terms of: petitions (general requests to God), Intercessions (requests for those in need), supplications (requests for ourselves), and thanksgivings.” [1]  The apostle Paul is quite specific here! All of these different kinds of prayer!

I wonder: are your prayers—are my prayers—as far-ranging and thorough as these? Are these recommendations something we all can get on board with? Something we all follow?

Let’s continue with this reading from chapter 2. Who should we pray for? “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

We are not talking about good-tempered rulers. No, the kings, rulers and those in authority in the later half of the first century were not nice guys. What happens when we have mean rulers and cruel leaders, those in authority who do such wicked things as throw people out of their homes, put them in jail, even force them into exile, or even death?

Let’s take a look at the Roman emperors Tiberias, Caligula and Nero. None of them were particularly “good or nice,” several showed signs of mental instability, and these men were at the pinnacle of power in the Roman Empire for over 25 years. Yet, the apostle Paul recommended that his fellow believers pray for them, for other rulers, and “for those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

This was an instruction Timothy received for his regular worship services! What was the apostle thinking of? The Rev. Bryan Findlayson suggests “Such prayer seeks to restrain the powers of evil and so encourage peace and security. When society is in a state of peace, believers can freely serve both God and mankind.” [2]

Again, what about rulers and those in authority who persecute Christians? What about governments that destroy churches, jail church leaders and ministers, and make it impossible for Christians to live and raise families? What about those governments? Do we still need to pray for those wicked people? We are to pray for peace, but what kind of peace?

I would say, yes, especially for those wicked people in government who persecute Christians. “Most often our prayers for peace concern our own personal well-being. When society is at peace, life can go well for us and we can build that extra barn. Yet, the peace Paul has in mind is a positive environment for the proclamation and hearing of the gospel.” [3]

September 21st is the International Day of Peace. The website specifically for this day states: “Established in 1981 by unanimous United Nations resolution, Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.” [4] What a wonderful thing to contribute to building: peace.

Moreover, as the apostle Paul reminds us, peace in the world involves a positive environment for proclaiming and hearing the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is our government corrupt? We need to pray for the members of a wicked and corrupt administration, then. What matters even more is that we are safe to proclaim the Good News of the Lord, and to provide for a way to let everyone know the Good News of salvation through His name.

Division and divisiveness is not conducive to spreading the Good News. This current-day division and animosity between people who call themselves believers must make God very sad. Christians of all communities and all ethnicities ought to have their wonderful belief in Christ to unite them. But, no. Sadly, believers all over the world allow politics to divide them.

The Rev. J. Vernon McGee had this to say: “We need to pray for our country, and we need to pray for those who have authority over us. If you are a Republican and a Democrat is in office, pray for him. If you are a Democrat and a Republican is in office, pray for him.” [5]

We have been thinking about the unity of believers from all parts of the world for several weeks now. In our bible study, we are studying the book of Philippians, and talking about how the apostle Paul and his friends preached the Good News to a diverse and different population in the regional capital of Macedonia, Philippi. Diverse and different individuals came together to worship the Lord Jesus Christ, and God made it possible for them all to join in worship.

What a wonderful example to lift up! Can we do the same, here, now? We here at St. Luke’s Church can strive for the same unity and friendship, despite differences in our families, the languages we spoke as children, or the towns where we were born. We can also come together in worship, despite differences in worship styles, or singing, or prayer.

I pray at the beginning of most services here for God to bless our time in worship, and especially to aid us in lifting our vices in words, prayer and song. This is truly what God calls us all to do. Moreover, God looks upon every voice raised in prayer, praise, or song as legitimate worship, no matter what, no matter where, no matter how. We are all encouraged to do the same. We have God’s word on it!

Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

 

[1] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday25ce.html    “Worship in the Church,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://internationaldayofpeace.org/

[5] McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible: 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Vol 5, (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1983) 436.

Thanksgiving for All

“Thanksgiving for All”

1 Tim 2-2 pray, words

1 Timothy 2:1-4 – November 18, 2018

Have you ever had a community leader in the local news—perhaps even someone you know—who annoyed you? Got you so mad, you wanted to hang them up by their toes? Something they said, or did, or some stand they were taking. How could they do such a thing? What cockamamie words to come out of their mouth! We mutter, “Good grief!” or “I cannot believe it!” and roll our eyes, again.

Why did Paul even write to Timothy? True, Paul and Timothy had a close relationship. Just think of someone older, who showed you how to do some work, or perhaps had some good advice for you. A mentor, someone who was wiser than you, back when you were first learning how to do things, or first were an apprentice. Or, perhaps you were a mentor for some young protégé, and had the joy and satisfaction of teaching them the ropes.

The Apostle Paul had some wise words for his young protégé Timothy about just such a situation. What does Paul say again? We are to pray. Listen: “I urge, then, above all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.”

Great advice! But, all of these describing words are kinds of prayer. Paul is being quite specific about prayer. Each of these four terms has a different meaning or nuance. The four Greek words used here have different applications, too. First, petitions, or deesis. This is an appeal for a particular need. Then, prayer, proseuche, a general word for prayer that often occurs in petitions. Third, intercession—exteuxis, which captures an urgent and bold request. Last, eucharistia, or thanksgiving, which means an expression of gratitude. [1]

Isn’t that what we celebrate today, on Thanksgiving Sunday? Isn’t that what we concentrate on at this time of the year? There is a problem. Paul mentions that we are supposed to pray for rulers and those in authority over us. Which brings me back to where I started.

I say again, have you ever had a community leader in the local news—perhaps even someone you know—who annoyed you? Got you so mad? Something they said, or did, or some stand they were taking. How could they do or say such a thing?

If ever there was a time that would test our willingness to pray for those in authority, now would be the time. Am I the only one who is aggravated by politicians? Not to mention the contentiousness of the recent election season! This bible passage could well be a real test of our willingness to follow God’s word.

Except, in Paul’s day, the local politicians—rulers—those in authority—had a lot more control over their constituents than those here in the United States. This is the second time Paul advises his readers to pray for those in authority. (He does so in Romans 13, too.) The emperor at this time was Nero, who was quite antagonistic towards the brand-new sect called Christians.

The commentator J. Vernon McGee says we are to pray even if we have a corrupt administration. If we transpose Paul’s words to today, McGee says the Democrats ought to pray for the Republicans, and the Republicans ought to pray for the Democrats. In a polarized nation and world this is a call to pray for people with whom we agree and for people with whom we disagree.  “We are to pray for whoever is in power. Remember that the man who was in power in Rome when Paul wrote was bloody Nero, yet he says we are to pray for kings and those in authority, whoever they are.” [2] Some of the leaders Timothy and his friends were to pray for were Romans who were trying to imprison and even kill as many Christians as possible.

God willing, we need to pray for all those in authority over us, no matter what, no matter who or where they may be. Paul’s words remind us that our leaders and those in authority depend on God’s guidance, grace and mercy.

Timothy is not only encouraged by his mentor Paul to pray for leaders—above all—but also to pray for all people. Not only to pray, but to intercede for, and give thanks for all people. That is every single person. All. All means all.

That is really difficult! Pray for ALL people? Pray for the funny looking guy at the drug store? Pray for the lady who talks to herself at the supermarket? Pray for that couple across the street with the weird looking clothes? What about the homeless person sitting on the sidewalk? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. We are to pray for, intercede for, and give thanks for ALL people. Especially these people who seem strange, or weird, or don’t speak like we do, or who walk funny, or a hundred other differences. All means all. Paul tells us to pray for everybody.

This is the thankful season of the year, when we express our gratitude to God for all the gifts we receive throughout the year. Gifts of family, friends, food, shelter, and many other blessings. Things that make us happy to be alive! But, where did this modern idea of Thanksgiving come from? Frances Woodruff has a brief history of the origin of our holiday.

“This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. On Thursday, everyone in our country will stop and give thanks for all their blessings. In the early days of our country, families picked their own day of thanksgiving. People celebrated on different days whenever it fit their schedule. Then 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln received a letter from Sarah Hale. Mrs. Hale suggested that there be a National holiday of Thanksgiving—that everyone in the country stop on the same day and give thanks. But at that time, our country was at war. The fighting made times sad, food scarce, and money tight. It was hard for people to feel thankful. People thought, We can’t have a holiday now! We don’t have time for a party! There are too many problems to be solved! But President Lincoln and the people soon realized that gathering together was just what they needed to do, especially in those tough times.” [3]

Whether the times are tough, or not-so-tough, whether fraught with danger or filled with peace, Paul tells us to be thankful. He tells us to have an expression of gratitude in our hearts, which will help us to stay positive and keep our eyes on God. Just as people through the years found that gathering together and being thankful together was a wonderful corporate celebration, so, too, with today. So it was in Paul’s day, as well.

Prayer, intercession, and being thankful are surely attitudes and practices that draw us together. Just as at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service this coming Wednesday, where diverse friends from all over the Morton Grove, Niles, Skokie and Glenview neighborhoods come together, we all can be thankful. We all can praise God for another harvest safely gathered in. We all can praise God for warm families, good friends, and another year coming to a close.

All this thanksgiving is good, and it pleases God our Savior,” who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” That is, all people, from all over the world.

God willing, amen. May it be so.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1769

Commentary, 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Christian A. Eberhart, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] McGee, J. Vernon, Through the Bible, Vol. V., (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 436.

[3] https://onthechancelsteps.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/gather/

“We Gather Together,” Frances Woodruff, On the Chancel Steps, 2012.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Thanksgiving to God

“Thanksgiving to God”

2 Cor 9-11 thanksgiving, words

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (9:11) – November 19, 2017

Today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, many people across the United States celebrate as Thanksgiving Sunday. “According to the Internet there are 12 nations – large and small – who celebrate in one form or another their nation’s Thanksgiving Day; whilst other forms and styles of celebration include local “Harvest Thanksgiving” services.” [1]

Both scripture readings this morning feature words of gratitude and thanks to God for giving us our many blessings, and specifically for the blessings of the harvest. First, our psalm for this morning lets us know God has provided so much for us to enjoy. Not only the bounty of the harvest, but more than that. Our Psalmist lets us know God has made the earth and water, and everything else, and provides everything for humanity’s benefit.

Let me read again from Psalm 65: “You, God, soften the earth with showers and bless its abundant crops. 11 You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. 12 The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture, and the hillsides blossom with joy. 13 The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy!”

All this bounty is considered to be given to humanity to enjoy. All the harvest and bounty that this psalm celebrates is what the apostle Paul talks about in his letter to the church in Corinth, too. Except, Paul goes one step further.

When we read Paul’s suggestions in this passage today, he urges the believers in Corinth to be generous. Sure, in Paul’s previous letter, in 1 Corinthians, the people from that church were collecting for the poor and persecuted Christians in Jerusalem. Now, with this updated message to Corinth, Paul praises the church for continuing with the collection for the saints in Jerusalem, and urges them to be generous. He broadens his suggestion and encourages them to give gifts freely. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

What about that last phrase, anyway? “God loves a cheerful giver.” Sure, Paul is urging his fellow Christians to be generous. However, this goes over and above mere giving of alms, or slipping a dollar in a panhandler’s cup, or even a five-dollar bill in the Salvation Army kettle in the holiday season. Paul lets us know we ought to give cheerfully (Gr. hilaron), or “hilariously,” in the sense of very joyfully. But, he doesn’t want us to throw our money around needlessly. And, not in the sense of thoughtlessly, either.

Money, charity, and giving are discussed in the Bible in several places. I will highlight one: “cheerful” givers always receive God’s loving approval (Prov. 22:8). So, God wants all of us to be cheerful, generous, and open-hearted.

There is a problem here, and Paul mentions it. “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

One of my favorite bible commentators, Bob Deffinbaugh, writes “Some people simply do not enjoy being generous. It causes them great pain to give up more of what they possess in order to bestow it upon someone who needs it more than they do. Once I suggested to a friend who was dying that she give away some of her possessions while she was alive, so that she could enjoy the act of giving while she was still alive. I had seriously misjudged the situation. This woman did not want to give anything away before she died, because she found no pleasure in giving. Only after her death, when she could keep her possessions no longer, would she reluctantly will them to someone else. How sad.” [2]

This is a cautionary tale for all of us. Certainly, the idea of reluctantly giving away money or worldly goods is something most of us associate with Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol fame. I know very well that there are great numbers of people who only give “grudgingly.”

So many people love their stuff, don’t they? Or, if not “stuff,” then they are awfully attached to their money, or even their time. Some might hate to part with anything of value, period.  And, especially, “We should not give because we feel there is no alternative, or because we think others will look down on us if we fail to give.” [3] It’s sort of tGod’swisted and perverted, and just like the Pharisees. That is the exact opposite of the reason Paul tells us to give.

As Bob Deffinbaugh relates, “To use an analogy our Lord employs, when we see a brother who has no coat, we don’t have to own a coat factory; all we need is two coats (see Luke 3:11). The reason we may not have the means to give to the poor is because we have not sown from that which we have in order to reap more to give. We, like the widow who cared for Elijah, may need to give first to those in need, and then look to God to supply our needs.” [4]

We can follow Paul’s words and suggestions, and ask—how would we celebrate God’s blessings to us? How could we give thanks? Like I suggested to the children earlier today, we can be generous. Give of what we have. If we have a little extra food or canned goods or pasta, give that. If we have an extra coat, give it to a coat drive. If we have some free time, volunteer or donate that. If God has been good to us and we have some extra money, be generous with whatever God has blessed us with.

When my husband and I were hiking through a state forest some years ago, we came across a stream. The path turned and followed the bubbling, flowing stream. As my husband and I continued walking, we came to a little waterfall, where the water bubbled and traveled downward from one level to another, and then went rushing along its merry way. I think of giving like this. Paul lets us know that generous giving flows out of God’s generosity to us. If we dam up that trickle of giving, we might end up with a backload of water that can’t flow, can’t run free and clear, and cannot transmit God’s blessings to others.

When we understand that everything—every single thing!—we have comes from God, it is much easier to share what we have with others. God supplies both the seed and the harvest. He is the one who makes us rich so that we might be generous on every occasion. Our giving is a demonstration of thanks to God. We thank God for what God has given us by giving it away!

And, what is the final point of Paul’s suggestion? What is the most wonderful thing God gives us? Praise the Lord for God’s unmatchable, unspeakable, unsurpassable Gift—Jesus Christ! Jesus and the grace He freely gives to us is the reason we give to others.

We give thanks that our generosity is rooted in the generosity of our God in the person of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can say “Happy Thanksgiving,” indeed.

Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/pentecost23[30]c_2016.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 65, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2016.

[2] Religious Affections: A Study of Paul’s 2 Corinthian Correspondence 12. Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15) https://bible.org/seriespage/12-keeping-your-commitments-2-cor-816-915  Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

[3] http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/2corinthians.pdf

2 Corinthians, Expository Notes, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2005 edition.

[4] Religious Affections: A Study of Paul’s 2 Corinthian Correspondence 12. Keeping Your Commitments (2 Cor. 8:16-9:15) https://bible.org/seriespage/12-keeping-your-commitments-2-cor-816-915  Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh, Th.M.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Every Blessing in Abundance

“Every Blessing in Abundance”

2-cor-9-7-thanksgiving-word-cloud

2 Corinthians 9:7-12 (9:8) – November 13, 2016

At this thanksgiving time of the year, people are more liberal with their donations. Soon the Salvation Army kettles will be out in front of stores and supermarkets, and we will hear the ding dong of bell ringers asking for gifts. The food pantries and clothes closets appreciate extra donations, and all manner of other charities will receive additional gifts, too. The holidays are a time to give liberally to all kinds of organizations and charitable institutions.

This brings me to our Scripture passage for today. This giving time of the year reminds us of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. In the paragraphs before today’s reading in chapter 9, Paul asks for a collection to be gathered together. This collection of money is to be given to the persecuted, needy church in Jerusalem.

It’s then Paul tells more about giving, in general. How to give, and why. How not to give, too. People have all kinds of reasons to give: giving to provide for others, in a righteous kind of way. Giving to help others, in a loving way. Or, giving out of obligation, in a grudging way. There are many different kinds of ways to give, and attitudes to have while we contribute. The Apostle Paul talks about a few of them in this reading today.

God loves a cheerful giver. Paul says so! In the verses just before today’s passage, Paul praises the believers in Corinth for such a bountiful gift for the persecuted church in Jerusalem. So generous! They understood why the money was needed, certainly.

We have a proverb of Paul’s day included here, in our first verse: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Here Paul is including a common saying of the day to illustrate his point. Talking about bounty, about being generous, and about grudging giving—being stingy.

What is all this about sowing and reaping? To us, in a 21st century, urban context, most of us are not very familiar with planting and harvest, sowing and reaping illustrations. Some are—those of us who have green thumbs, plant lovely gardens, and reap a bountiful harvest. You will more easily understand what Paul is saying here.

We have it in a little different fashion, a verse later. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”

Let me give an illustration. Better than that, let me show you what Paul is talking about here. I have some bookmarks with 2 Corinthians 9:7 printed on them. I will take the liberty of passing them out.

(I pass out the bookmarks, first, reluctantly. With a somber face, not looking people in the eye, sighing, rolling my eyes, and not very pleased to be giving out bookmarks at all. Halfway through, I change my demeanor. I pass out bookmarks with a cheerful smile, with a happy attitude, and wishing people the best as I give them bookmarks.)

Did anyone notice a difference? What was that difference?

Was I a reluctant giver of the bookmarks, at first? “I can’t believe I have to do this.” And “I wonder whether I can leave soon?” Rolling my eyes, and sighing. I did not show a very good attitude, at all!

How about the second half of the bookmarks? The second half of my giving? How was that? Was I a cheerful giver? Was I kind and welcoming?

How did you feel receiving the bookmark from a reluctant giver? How about the cheerful giver? Which kind of giver would you prefer? Which kind of giver do you think God prefers?

We will read this verse once more: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” These are wise words from the Apostle Paul. This giving cannot be done reluctantly, or under compulsion, because then it isn’t for real. The reluctant giving is grudging. Out of obligation, and a heavy, unpleasant responsibility.

Paul would tell us, “No! That isn’t that way God wants you to give!” Instead, we are to give in cheerfulness, with joy in our hearts. We are to give freely and positively. God will love us for that positive, cheerful attitude. What is more, the whole action and the whole feeling of the heart will then be framed by love. God’s love! God will express love toward us, and each of us will express love toward our fellow people in need. And, whomever else we need to give to.

But, wait! There is more! Paul goes on to talk about what more God will do. If we have this generous attitude towards giving, being open-handed, positive and cheerful, then God will bless us abundantly with every blessing.

You can kind of see this from the way the sentence is translated into English, but Paul is making sure his readers know that God will absolutely, abundantly provide. God will certainly multiply all with great abundance. If we have generous attitudes, God will provide every increase, so that we will abound in every good work.

Let me caution everyone here. God is not talking about purchasing salvation. That is not even being discussed. We are saved already.

We have been justified by God, and we are now and always God’s children, beloved and cherished. However—as we know from our own children, beloved children are not always cheerful and generous. That is just Paul’s point here!

God wants us to live abundant lives. God wants us to be kind and cheerful and generous. God wants us to be abundantly blessed, and have heavenly gifts rain on our heads. What is the hinge, here? Giving. If we have a kind, cheerful and generous attitude towards giving, God is essentially giving us a high five!

We will live abundant lives, blessed and enriched in every way.

What a marvelous promise. What wonderful words. And, this is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” but it is a blessed promise from God! This is not only for our gifts of treasure, for our gifts of money. But, this blessing is for our gifts of time and of talents, as well.

For the person who comes and volunteers on Sunday mornings to start the coffee, stuff the bulletins in the hymnals, or turns on the lights in the sanctuary and lights the candles—thank you, so much. For the person who bakes a cake or makes a table decoration or repairs the church building—thank you. Those are the gifts of time and of talent, and God is so pleased with that. All of those things, and many, many more.

Paul’s final words from this reading today: “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.” See? Our cheerful, generous giving supplies the needs of the saints. The needs of the local church.

We end as we begin, with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to our fellow church members, to our friends and neighbors, and ultimately, to God. Thanks be to God for God’s abundant blessings. And, thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of salvation.

Alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Pam Auble and http://www.ucc.org/oghs_resources_2013-resources_activities for the excellent suggestion of a reluctant giver and a cheerful giver.)