ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 7, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram THANKSGIVING & WORLD COMMUNION
AFTER GIVING THANKS
Psalm 111: 1 – 10; Acts 27: 33 – 44; Luke 22: 14 – 22
Thanksgivng Day! The day we gather with family and friends to feast on Turkey and pumpkin pie. In our complex world, even Thanksgiving has modern nuances. Everything from technology: To how we carve a turkey: To the food we eat: has impacted how we celebrate. However, the essence of the day is still the same; it’s the one day of the year set aside to give thanks. Not only is it an excuse for a great party, it’s a good thing to do – we take a break from the stress and/or the boredom of life to say, “thank you”.
What do your expressions of thanks look like? A quick moment of table grace at Thanksgiving dinner? Under what circumstances are you thankful? The happy ones where God is doing what you want, or also the times when God seems to have abandoned us? For what and whom are you thankful?
Giving thanks is a powerful action. It’s an expression, not only of appreciation and praise, but of trust. As we give thanks we acknowledge God’s provision. We remind ourselves of our dependency upon the One who provides for us and richly blesses our lives. When we give thanks, we offer encouragement to others. It says, “whatever our circumstances, there are things to be thankful for; someone greater than us is in control and watching over us; just as the past has held good things, God will always be with us. Being thankful opens the way for God’s work. God can work even if we aren’t thankful, but thanksgiving opens our hearts and creates space where God can act. Often we talk about God opening a window for us; gratitude opens a window for God’s Spirit to blow the breath of life and fulfill God’s master plan of redemption.
Let’s look at how this plays out in our two scripture readings. In Acts and Luke, the act of thanksgiving is mentioned, almost in passing, yet it’s significant enough to mention. In both passages, thanksgiving is offered as a simple table grace. Paul gives thanks before eating; and during the Passover supper, following the standard liturgy, Jesus gives thanks prior to drinking breaking the bread and drinking the wine. Looking more deeply into the circumstances of these two acts of thanksgiving gives us a sense for how remarkable they are.
Paul was a prisoner on a ship sailing to Rome. A terrible storm arose, and the ship was badly battered by the wind and waves. The drenched crew did all they could – they lowered the anchor, threw their cargo overboard and dumped the ship’s tackle. After 14 days of struggle, they began to make peace with death. But Paul had a vision in which an angel reassured him that everyone would live. So, he urged the crew and passengers to eat. Before they tucked in, Paul, “took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat.” (Acts 27: 35) An amazing thing happened. We read, “Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves” (vs. 37). In the end they were shipwrecked, yet not one person lost their life, just as the angel had promised. We see here how thanksgiving served as a reminder to Paul and a sign to the crew and passengers that God is worthy of our trust. God keeps his promises. God provides for our needs. We also see how thanksgiving lifts-up those around us. It indicates there is something for which to be thankful. It assures us there is hope. With renewed courage the crew went back to trying to save the boat; doing what they could do. Thankful people open the way for God to act; landing aground on an island may not be our idea of divine intervention, but God rescued them. They befriended the locals. Paul healed many of the native people. And no doubt, Paul being Paul, he witnessed them. God’s love and power was displayed, and the good news preached. The crew had help in rebuilding their boat and restocking supplies. What’s more, God’s larger plan unfolded: Paul went to Rome where he presented the gospel to Caesar.
Jesus gave thanks under even more dire circumstances. He knew for certain he be would be betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified, yet he gave thanks. He gathered his friends around and expressed his gratitude for their presence, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22: 15). Then he gave thanks to God, knowing, “This meal is the last one I’ll eat until we all eat it together in the kingdom of God.” The disciples were distressed and confused, but knowing Jesus was grateful to share the Passover with them and knowing that they’ll eat together in the kingdom, must have been of great comfort and encouragement. Jesus then gave thanks over the bread and the next cup of wine. Knowing what lay ahead, most people would have run away in horror and railed about how unfair God is to make them suffer. Jesus’ acts of thanksgiving speak of his deep confidence, his trust, in his Father’s love and faithfulness. As we give thanks we also confirm our faith. Each act of thanks declares: God is worthy, and God is trust-worthy. And, as we know, after this meal, God acted. As Jesus hung on the cross, we might conclude God had stopped acting and stepped back from human history. But when we look at the big picture and at what God intended to achieve, we witness God’s great act of redemption. On the cross, Jesus suffers for our salvation. Followed by the resurrection, God’s plan ends in victory. At all times, God is working to unite with us and give us new life. That alone deserves our thanks, each and every day. What happens after you give thanks?
Too often, giving thanks is reserved for Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a one-day event. One day with family. One day, when we actually taste our food. One day, when we worship and sing God’s praises. One day when we acknowledge our dependency on God. Once that day’s past, it doesn’t take long before we’re back in the rat race; speeding to get to the next class; rushing to get the kids to their lessons; hurrying to the dining hall where you’re seated with someone who grates on you. For others, we simply fall back into our regular routines. Either we don’t have time to give thanks, or we don’t think we have much to be thankful for. Being thankful once is pleasing to God. Being a thankful person who approaches life with a grateful heart is a powerful action. As we’ve seen, it declares our faith in God and reminds us of all we owe him. It lifts-up those around us with hope. It opens a way for God to act. So, how do we become people who live in constant gratitude? Here are a few practices that allow us to grow in gratefulness.
• One is becoming more mindful – paying attention to what is, right now. The wonder of the sky, the smell of food, the sound of lake water, the laughter of children, the changing trees. Even in the worst situations, the darkest night, or when we’re facing death, if we look for beauty, we’ll find it. And seeing it, really seeing it, fills us with awe for God, wonder for creation and gratitude.
• Expressing our thanks to God is not only our gift to God, it’s God’s gift to us. When we express our thanks to God we come into his presence. It’s a holy moment. That’s why we do something called worship – to show God our love and gratitude. We practice worship by joining with our faith community each week to express our thanks together. Yes, we can be thankful at home or on the golf course – but I wager most people don’t give God a second thought in those situations. Without corporate worship our praise is like the sound of one hand clapping. In community we feed each-other and we feed off each other. Everything, especially our thanks to God becomes richer.
• We can foster expressions of thanks outside of church. This weekend is a perfect time to start. Before dinner, each person can name something they’re thankful for. Many of us say grace only before a formal family dinner; we could express thanks at every meal. When those words of thanks are someone else’s words or said by rote, we could stretch ourselves to add a sentence or two of our own.
• Journalling is another way we can develop thanksgiving in our homes. Every night before bed, you could write down 3 very specific things for which you were grateful that day.
• Family and friends are life’s richest blessings, for which we thank God. We can do as Jesus did, by telling people how much they matter. Recently, I was speaking to someone who said they’d encountered a friend they hadn’t seen for years. That friend made a point of expressing how much and in what ways this person had blessed their lives. How beautiful is that?! To learn your life has counted for something in ways you didn’t even know. This week I got an email about a local charitable organization. In it the director expressed their needs and gave credit to some companies for their support. Sadly, there was no mention of the many volunteers who make the work happen. So, I sent off a response, first expressing thanks for the fine work they do, and then pointing out how encouraging a word of thanks, spoken publically, would be for those volunteers. Thankfully, the writer responded with love and humility, thanked me for pointing this out and updated the message to include those volunteers. Words of thanks to one another, lift each other up. They lift God up as well, cheering his heart and giving him glory.
• What more could we be thankful for than the redeeming work of God? How much hope we gain from remembering Jesus’ resurrection and the kingdom to come? It is not by accident that The Lord’s Supper is also called The Eucharist. The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving and the “long” prayer we say is called “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving”. In that prayer we remember all God has done for us throughout history and beyond; we celebrate his great power and his undying love. By doing so we are making a statement of faith – we are telling God that we place our trust in him alone. God then blesses us once again by feeding and sustaining our spirits, as he does our bodies. We come to the table with thankful hearts because Jesus is here, spiritually joined to the elements, he’s here in our midst and he is here in our hearts. By coming to the table and giving thanks we open a way for God to do something new and wonderful.
May our thanks continually grow “so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4: 15).