Thanksgiving 2014 Fr. Ray Kasch
Some clever person posted this cliff notes on the Bible.
God: All right, you two, don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
Satan: You should do the thing.
Adam & Eve: Okay.
God: What happened!?
Adam & Eve: We did the thing.
THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.
People: We won’t do the things.
People: We did the things.
Jesus: I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don’t do the things anymore.
Healed people: Okay! Thank you!
Other people: We’ve never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.
Jesus: I have never done the things.
Other people: We’re going to put you on trial for doing the things.
Pilate: Did you do the things?
Pilate: He didn’t do the things.
Other people: Kill him anyway.
People: We did the things.
Paul: Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you have to stop doing the things.
PAUL’S LETTERS PART II
People: We did the things again.
John: When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime, stop doing the things.
I like it but I have to be a theological nerd here and point something out. As cute as this is, it plays into what the unchurched think that religion is all about. Religion is being told not to do what you want to do. To put it another way religion is focusing on the negatives, the “thou shalt nots.” Sadly even many Christians think and live this way. It’s all about what you can’t eat, what you can’t drink and where you can’t go. As a consequence a friend of mine used to say that too many of us live like we were baptized in lemon juice.
I submit to you that this day and what we have come here to do, is the real hallmark of Christianity. This is the day of Thanksgiving and we come here to give thanks. But thanksgiving is to be more than one day or one service, thanksgiving is to be the way that we live our entire lives. The Gospel is powerful enough to make that happen.
I know some of you follow Canon White who is called “The Vicar of Bagdad.” He can find something to give thanks about anywhere. This week he reported ministering in Christian refugee camps. This is what he said, “It is 4am and I am just leaving Amman to return to Jerusalem. We have had a day of intense grief and joy serving our refugees in Jordan. Total poverty, no possessions, little food but the Lord is still there.” This kind of indomitable spirit comes from the Gospel and from a life of thanksgiving. How do we get there?
First we must not underestimate the challenge. There is a saying in psychology that the bad is more powerful than the good. This is not a theological statement because if it were it would be a lie. Let me illustrate what the psychologists mean.
You have been asked to give a speech to very large audience. As you are delivering the speech 999 people are sitting on edge of their seats in rapt attention to your every word. But sitting on row three in your direct line of site is one guy with his head back, his mouth open and he is sound asleep. On your way home in the car, what are you going to be thinking, even obsessing about? Not the 999 but that one guy. We need to understand how powerful the bad can be so that we intentionally create a strategy to defeat it.
The easiest thing in the world is to be negative, to be ungrateful. But as Christians we know that we have been given the truth and the truth can liberate us from being bound by the bad. The truth can give us eyes to see and ears to hear and bring about a change in our hearts and in our lives.
As Anglicans we have been given a powerful tool to live in the truth. That tool is the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer is some 70% Scripture, either by direct quotation or a paraphrase thereof. In using the BCP to guide our worship, we are praying our belief and therefore what we pray shapes our belief. So I want to take you to one of the most beautiful prayers in the Prayer Book. It shows us how to be a people whose lives that are marked with gratitude. It is called The General Thanksgiving and I want to dissect it so that we can see the truths of it and be set free by those truths. It begins:
“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; ”
Here is where thankfulness begins, by acknowledging the goodness and loving-kindness of God. This goodness and loving-kindness is not just to us but it is to all men. In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus calls for us to love our enemies His rationale is because our Father in heaven “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain to the just and the unjust.”
If His goodness and loving-kindness falls on even the evil and the unjust then we never need worry that it will be withdrawn from us. His goodness and loving-kindness is His blessing for His children and it is a call to repentance for His enemies. The Psalmist tells us over and over that it never fails and it never fails because goodness and loving-kindness is not just something our heavenly Father does, it is who He is and He cannot stop being Himself.
This prayer expresses our thankfulness for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life. In it we are acknowledging that He created us, that He continues to sustain our lives and that He fills our lives with blessings.
I often wonder what must go through the mind of God when after doing all of this for us that so many go through their day to day lives without even giving Him a thought. What ingratitude we express when we fail to pause and offer thanks for our daily bread or for our family and friends or for that matter the very next breath that we draw.
But we don’t have to be those people. As we acknowledge our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life, we cannot help but have wonder and awe and this give birth to thankfulness. But it does not stop there!
The prayer continues.
“but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.”
We have been looking at the abundant ways that we experience God’s goodness and loving-kindness and we haven’t even come to Jesus yet! So here we give thanks for Jesus. We give thanks for past present and future.
We give thanks for His redeeming work upon the cross. We give thanks for being with us and ministering to us through the Sacraments, which are the means of grace. We give thanks for the hope that we have of His return, of our resurrection from the dead and of eternal life in His kingdom. This truly is inestimable love and that comes into even greater focus when we remember that there is not a bit of this grace that we deserve.
“ And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;”
Unfeignedly means without pretense. If will but stop to consider all that the Lord has done for us it will be clear that we need no pretense. Two Sunday’s ago Fr. Chris was supplying at another church and so he was not able to teach his Sunday School class. I did not want to cancel it so we played “Stump the Rector” where we open it up to any topic or question. The first question was how St. Patrick’s came to be which caused me to launch into the history and events over the last 18 years. I am embarrassed to tell you that I spent the whole class answering that one question. But what it did for me, and I hope for the participants, was to highlight just how faithful the Lord has been to us over the years. Parts of the story I had almost forgotten but to recount it all in one sitting made His goodness and loving-kindness undeniable. So it is a good thing for us to pray to be given a due sense of all of His mercies.
“and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; ”
This last part of the prayer gets to the nuts and bolts of how we can live lives of thanksgiving. We do so by moving the praise of God from our lips to our lives. We do so by being doers of the Word and not merely hearers. We live lives of thanksgiving as we surrender ourselves to His service. We live lives of thanksgiving by consecrating our lives to be holy and righteous before Him. That’s not just church talk that is practical Christianity
Look at it this way. How hypocritical would it be for us to give lip service in thanking the Lord for all He has done for us, but then turn around and live however we want to live? It doesn’t even make sense to bless Him for our creation, preservation and redemption and then live as if we are the masters of our own lives. We have justified outrage when we hear of priests who say Mass and then turn around and do something wicked. But are we any less hypocritical if we come here to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament and then go out those doors to lead unrepentant lives?
The best way we can say “thank you” to the Lord is to live how He calls us to live. That begins by acknowledging that our lives belong to Him. We are the sheep of His pasture.
“through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.”
The prayer ends in a very familiar way but don’t let the familiarity cause you to miss a significant point. It connects our thanksgiving to the honor and glory of the Holy Trinity. That is significant because the chief end of man is to glorify God and if we glorify God in our lives of thanksgiving then we will be doing
what we have been created to do.
I suppose in the end the cliff notes of the Bible get part of it right. God does not want us to do the thing. And if we are still doing the thing then we should probably stop doing the thing. But more than that God calls on us to live lives that glorify Him and lives of thanksgiving seem to do that the best.
St. Paul wrote some of his most beautiful words of thanksgiving while sitting in a Roman prison awaiting his execution. So I would imagine that most if not all of us could pray the General Thanksgiving with full hearts no matter what else we may be facing. The Gospel makes this possible. Thanks be to God and Happy Thanksgiving.